Wednesday, April 09, 2014

River with Obsolescent Buildings

“Downtown Problems, Patterns, & Influences," from A Market Analysis for Metropolitan Winnipeg by Reid, Crowther & Partners, 1967.

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Huzzah! My poem, "River with Obsolescent Buildings," was shortlisted for Arc's 2014 Poem-of-the-Year contest.

Which means that my poem was included in the Readers' Choice Award and available for download via's Arc's website, though without my name attached.

I didn't feel like coercing people to vote for me, to have to coyly parse out details of which poem was or was not mine.

So I didn't.

This is my third Arc shortlisting. I didn't win, place, or show the other two times. But I'm glad to be included again and, like always, I'll wait to see how the main contest - and the Readers' Choice thingy - shakes out.

(If you were also semi-secretly shortlisted or love a semi-secretly shortlisted poet, the winning poems will appear in the Summer 2014 issue...)

In the meantime, here's a map that poet Laura Lamont shared on Facebook one mid-winter afternoon. I wound up using some of the text in my poem - credited, of course - so I thought I'd share it too.

Check out the Manitoba Historical Maps Flickr group for lots of other intriguing maps. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Sunday, April 06, 2014



Cracked heel




Snow hills

All photos Assiniboine Forest, Winnipeg, MB. April 05, 2014.

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So my desktop died today. And I spent most of the first sunny days in ages in the buzzing silver hive of the Apple Store at the mall, dragging folders to safety.

I saved my essays about the Forest - or, rather the beginnings of my essays about the Forest - and then ran to the Forest.

M and I walked through granular old snow. And skirted puddles. And held hands.

There was nothing moving in the forest besides disobedient dogs and the odd chickadee.

And then I found a patch of unearthed grass, at the base of a snow hill. The snowplow would push the snow off the path onto these hills, all winter long.

So I stood there on the sodden ground, with last year's grasses moistly rotting, and tried to smell the earth. I have a terrible sense of smell, so I only got the faintest whiffs through my usual congestion. And M couldn't get anything, either.

It'll be a long time before all the snow melts.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Lost in the wilderness

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by Ariel Gordon

Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants
By Jane Goodall with Gail Hudson
Grand Central Publishing, 420 pages, $33

In 1960, 24-year-old Jane Goodall arrived in Tanzania to study chimpanzees.

Sent by British scientist Louis Leakey, the former secretary initially had to be chaperoned by her mother. Goodall later obtained a PhD from Cambridge University in ethology, a branch of zoology that studies animal behaviour, based on the her work at the Gombe Stream National Park.

Goodall began by studying our closest relatives, discovering their propensity for using tools and hunting small mammals for meat. These were startling revelations in their day, since it was believed that using tools was a human trait and that chimpanzees were vegetarian.

More than five decades later, Goodall is still far from home, and still part of the conversation about what it means to be human.

The octogenarian spends 300 days a year on the road, lecturing on conservation and raising funds for both the Jane Goodall Institute, which funds ongoing research at Gombe, as well as Roots and Shoots, a global youth-education program.

This spring sees the publication of her 25th book, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants, the third book she's co-written with journalist and former spirituality editor for, Gail Hudson.

Refreshingly, Goodall is upfront about her credentials: "Of course I am best known... for the study of the Gombe chimpanzees... But there would be no chimpanzees without plants - not human beings either, for that matter. And the chimpanzee might never have materialized for me had I not been obsessed, as a child, with stories of the wilderness areas of the planet and, most especially, the forests of Africa."

And so, in Seeds of Hope Goodall (and her co-writer) describes her specific history while also presenting a brief history of the different kinds of plants and trees, and how they have been cultivated over time. Goodall relies heavily on stories from the environmental and community groups she works with.

She also delivers a handful of big ideas with her anecdotes: Organic food is healthiest, the effects of GMOs on humans aren't fully known, mono-cultures aren't sustainable over the long term, we need our forests to be fully human.

All these big ideas bear repeating; the problem with Goodall's approach to these issues, however, is that readers aren't left with a big picture. The material hopscotches geographically between England and Africa, the two poles of Goodall's life, with stops nearly everywhere her tour bus has paused in between - but there's very little cohesion.

Also, although Goodall is reliably charming, the sections that include material outside of her first-hand experience and/or limited areas of expertise feel like they were written by an inexperienced speechwriter.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Goodall and her collaborators were accused of plagiarism last year by the Washington Post after the American edition was released.

Goodall subsequently apologized and pledged to work with editors to correct future editions. Potential readers will be glad to hear the Canadian edition has received a relatively thorough going-over.

But even that last-minute tinkering wasn't enough to save Seeds of Hope; though its authors are earnest, the book isn't half as compelling as it should be.

Those looking for a local equivalent should dip into The Global Forest by Ontario-based botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger, who is also interested in working with storytelling and environmental advocacy.

J.B. MacKinnon's The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be, shortlisted for this year's Charles Taylor Prize for non-fiction, is also worth a read as it digs into the archeological record and challenges some of the assumptions underlying the main tenets of conservation.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer who once considered a career in science journalism.

Thursday, March 27, 2014




All photos Assiniboine Forest, Winnipeg, MB. March 9, 2014.
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The forest was full of snowplow mountains. And we climbed them, myself and Cynthia and our two girls. And it was cold and the snowbanks were still thigh deep.

But I found these things and we got in a good walk on top of that. But then I clean forgot to post them...

I'm looking forward to the rest of the snow melting. I'm looking forward to something other than white and grey, these faint traces of colour.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Small Books Big Country: Venue #42

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I always thought I was somewhat foolish for putting together multi-city tours for my chapbooks. But Kevin Spenst WINS!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


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A clump of greenery at its base and a macro shot of one of its stalks.

Warm fuzzy

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I have no idea what this is. But it was in a buttery pot of sun and it was...fuzzy.


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There were climbing vines clothing the walls of the Palm Room. And where there weren't vines, there were marks where there had been vines...


Green fruit

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These are papayas. They were growing over one of the gardener's entrances to the Palm Room. Elsewhere, there were small bunches of bananas.

I wondered, looking up, my glasses ever-so-slightly fogged, if the gardeners pick the fruit. And, if so, what do they do with it - do they share it or do they take turns taking home a single ripe fruit?