Thursday, July 24, 2014

A week away

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I'm looking forward to this: Summer-y poetry! Slurpee and zucchini poetry!

Funny, but while Brecken and I were chatting, we realized that she and Adrienne Gruber had published a poem of mine in Backyard Ashes, the little SK-based lit mag they published back in the day.

I don't remember when or which poem, of course....

Monday, July 21, 2014

Death camas

These are apparently called Death Camas. Because they're poisonous to livestock and to people. (No poetry here, eh?)

I should mention that I only have names for these bits of flora because staff at the Parks Canada office put together a pamphlet called "Flowers in Bloom Checklist."

It was helpful because my in-car field guides only cover aspen parkland and boreal forest. And short-grass prairie is NOT either of those...

Speaking of galls... are some on teeny tiny wild rose plants at the very bottom of the 70 Mile Butte trail, completely engulfed by galls.

I wonder how they'd compare, nutritionally, to rose hips. Could you make rose gall tea? (After discarding the buggy tenant, of course...)

Wolf willow

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I'm particularly fond of willows. They're host to the most interesting galls. The yellow willows glow so magnificently in the fall. And in the spring I always like getting a snootful of big, ratty pussywillows. It reminds me of my grandmother's backyard and how she'd always trim some branches for her biggest vase. And then we'd eat peanut butter and marshmallow square.

But I'd never seen Wolf Willow before, despite a stay at the Stegner House in nearby East End.

Here it is in bloom. (Thanks to Harvey Schmidt for the ID!)

Low everlasting

Also called Pussy Toes. (You can tell I'm from Manitoba because I almost wrote "Toews.")

This is from our walk to the medicine wheel/radio tower just outside of Val Marie. Apparently, this is/was PFRA land...


Photo from the top of the 70 Mile Butte trail in Grasslands National Park by Anna Deal.

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So we spent nine days in and around Grasslands National Park in Val Marie, SK in mid-June. (And it has taken THIS long to post the pics...sigh.)

It was raining or overcast most of the time we were there, but there was only one day that we couldn't do the walk we wanted. And even then, after reading all day and playing games and drawing as the storm blustered outside, we were able to get in an evening walk up and down the looong gravel driveway of the hotel where we were staying and then also drive into the park.

The day we were left, all the consecutive days of rain had taken their toll. The road into the park was washed out, as were several other smaller roads. I had wanted to hike the 70 Mile Butte one last time, but the trail would have been nothing but gumbo, so we skipped it.

If anyone is a wildflower and bird enthusiast, I'd strongly recommend Grasslands in June. I found a respectable amount of mushrooms, given that this was the shortgrass prairie - think bleached grasses and heat and cactus - and I hadn't really expected to find any.

The best part of our trip, I think, besides the new-to-me wildflowers, was spending a bit of time with poet/birder Brenda Schmidt and her husband Harvey. Suddenly, there were birds everywhere. And they had names!

I also got really fond of my daily observation of the family of great horned owls, two adults and two juveniles, who lived in a tree on the hotel's property. (On the stormy day, they hid in a little valley bisected by a fence, sitting on the posts & looking very stoic...)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to Prevent a Shark Attack

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I think there are still spots in next week's workshop, if anyone has talented but aimless teens...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

PBN: Beverley Brenna & Marc Mongeau

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From the spring 2014 issue of Prairie books NOW.

Worth noting is that PBN has been completely reformatted, from tabloid to magazine.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lucky #2

She came out of her room wearing her mother’s necklace.

The one whose locket was a big black eye bumping against her breastbone.

Artwork by Darryl Joel Berger.
Her father saw her even in all his rushing around, his goggles about to be lowered over his glaring eyes.

He gestured with his sandpaper chin towards her room: Go take it off.

She shook her head, hanks of hair popping out from behind her ears.

He shuffled his booted feet on the flagstones at the door and pursed his florid pink lips: Be careful with it, then.

She scowled magnificently. 

(Her sister hopping in the living room. Her sister, her eyelids smudged like a newspaper, even freshly awoken.)

He left, his motorcycle having a coughing fit in the lane. Goggles lowered.

She spent part of the day staring at the picture of her mother as a girl. The one in the silver frame on the little table next to her father’s chair.

In the photo, her mother wore a knotted handkerchief. The knot rested on her breastbone. Mother, daughter, mustache, locket.

Her mother looked blank.

(Her sister hopped. Her hair needed brushing.)

* * *

Darryl Joel Berger said of this lunchtime collaboration, both of us hazy with summer, the work we're doing, and the work yet to be done:

"lucky #2; the second in a series of drawings that don’t have to mean anything; what they should do is act as a writing prompt, especially for certain meandering poets."

I think that last bit is unfair, but I appreciate Darryl's ability to draw florid mustaches, so I'm buttoning my lip...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Approaching the forest

Last week, I posted this question in a couple of different spots on Facebook:

"So I've been reading a lot of creative non-fiction books about small farms (Brian Brett's Trauma Farm and Luanne Armstrong's The Light Through the Trees being my favourites) and conservation generally (Trevor Herriot's The Road is How and J.B. MacKinnon's The Once and Future World). And I just started Charlotte Gill's Eating Dirt. But I'd like something forest-y, and, failing that, something on urban nature. Got any suggestions, internets?"

And the internet provided. People recommended books I knew, books I'd heard of, and books waaay outside my usual stomping grounds.

As the suggestions came in, thick and fast, I thought it might be useful to share the lit bounty here. And then, when I saw how long it took me to cut and paste everything out, I was sure...

So here's the list, arranged roughly by subject area:

Trevor Herriot's The Road is How: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire and Soul
J.B. MacKinnon's The Once and Future World
Sharon Butala's The Perfection of the Morning & Wild Stone Heart
Brenda Schmidt's Flight Calls: An Apprentice on the Art of Listening 
Brian Bartlett’s Ringing Here & There: A Nature Calendar
Iain Reid's One Bird's Choice: A Year in the Life of an Overeducated, Underemployed Twenty-Something Who Moves Back Home

Deanna Kawatski’s Wilderness Mother: The Chronicles Of a Modern Pioneer
Richard Louv's The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Beth Powning's Seeds of Another Summer: Finding The Spirit of Home in Nature
R. D. Lawrence's The Place in the Forest
Roy MacGregor's A Life in the Bush: Lessons from my Father
Sigurd Olson's Songs of the North
Paul Lehmberg's In The Strong Woods: A Season Alone in the North Country
Bernd Heinrich's The Trees in My Forest
Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods

Brian Brett's Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life
Luanne Armstrong’s The Light Through the Trees: Reflections on Land and Farming
Robert Hart’s Forest Gardening: Cultivating an Edible Landscape
Rhona McAdam’s Digging the City: An Urban Agriculture Manifesto
Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer 
Jenna Woginrich’s Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life
& Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One's Own
Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love

John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed
Charlotte Gill's Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe

Barbara Klar's The Blue Field & Cypress
Nora Gould's I see my love more clearly from a distance
Di Brandt's Now You Care
Jan Conn’s Jaguar Rain & Beauties on Mad River
Alissa York's Fauna

David George Haskell's The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature
John Waldman’s (edited collection) Still the Same Hawk: Reflections on Nature and New York 
 Charles Siebert's Wickerby: An Urban Pastoral
Jonathan Rosen’s The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature

p.s. If you're curious about the photo, I stopped by the U of M Bookstore to try to find Alissa York's Fauna after it was recommended twice. They didn't have Fauna, but they did have this title, which looked too interesting to pass up.

p.p.s. Please suggest any additional titles, if you've got a moment!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Out-of-Town-Authors: Brian Bartlett

So I've been getting emails via the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada's listserv for the past few years. It's hard to describe, but the writers and academics who make up the group are very much MY people. I feel at home among it's discussions, even if I don't actively participate.

I first heard about poet Brian Bartlett's Ringing Here & There from the ALECC listserv and promptly emailed him, asking if I could interview him.

Of course, I launched Stowaways and was rained on in Grasslands National Park for two weeks while we were corresponding, so I was more than a little hazy. (Ahem.)

But I'm pleased to present this interview with Brian about his eighth book. Enjoy!

What do you want people to know about Ringing Here & There: A Nature Calendar?

It belongs to the 'book of days' tradition, with 366 paragraphs, one for each day of a year, running from April 1st to the following March 31st. But it took exactly two years to draft; the book weaves together selections from 24 months. The settings range from forests, shores, and marshes to kitchens, classrooms, and backyards, but every entry in some way acknowledges non-human natural things. As the back cover says, it’s arguably my “first book of prose,” but it’s generically mixed, blending field notes, metaphor, memory, fact, dream, science, philosophy, social observation, quotation, and collage.

The conceit to this book—beyond that it’s a book of days—is that the entries were all posted as Facebook updates within the initial FB maximum of 420 characters. How did writing with a 420-character constraint compare to working with other forms?

My preface to the book talks about the entries being “shorter than sonnets & longer than haiku.” Any form defined in part by length involves playing within pre-set boundaries. Since the form I chose didn’t also dictate necessities like rhyme and lines of certain lengths, I didn’t feel the pressure of form as much as I would’ve, say, in writing sonnets. But the 420-character max, though crazily random (and abandoned by Facebook itself long before I finished my experiment), presented an appealing challenge, which I met in a playful, grateful spirit—grateful because the space limit constantly coaxed me to write with concentration, whittling down longer drafts.

Some poets would go into paroxysms at the very idea of sharing early drafts of your poems (Prose-poems? Micro-fictions? Diary entries?) but you did it frequently over two years. How did you do it? Also, were you at all worried that "giving the milk away for free" via social media would negatively affect sales for the book?

The initial drafts were written and revised by hand in a journal, then revised further within Facebook before posting—so the first versions with an on-line readership weren’t in fact “early drafts.” (And let’s face it, the readers would’ve been few; I have no illusions about how many Facebook members actually see or read any posted item.) Many entries were revised again before publication in book form, but I’d hazard a guess that with most days 80-90% of the work preceded the Fbk sharing. As for “negatively affect[ing] sales for the book,” my guess is that the postings have probably helped sell a few copies, more than discouraging sales. But as I know well from decades of publishing poetry, the readership for any kind of writing not seen as mainstream is tiny. As a poet, I don’t find that quantity of sales is much of a relevant consideration. Best to hope for an appreciative few.

In Ringing Here & There’s introduction, you note that most poems “ended up assigned a day other than the one on which they originated, but usually I kept them within a month of their original creation.” Given the fact that you’d at least partially eliminated chronology as an organizational principle, tell me about ordering 366 paragraphs selected from the 440 or so you drafted.

Chronology was still the primary “organizational principle.” Sometimes I kept entries very close to their original dates, if they involved natural things like the arrival of a particular species of bird, or the year’s first sighting of a flower. In many other cases, I juggled the entries to provide contrasts on a page—contrasts of setting, tone, style. Some entries weren’t “month specific” or even “season specific,” so I had more liberty to insert them weeks away from their original placement in the calendar year. As soon I as realized I was going to be creating a one-year cycle with entries written over two years, I knew that the sequence would be both faithful to the unfolding of the months, and somewhat reshaped in retrospect. That’s a fictional component in what I thought of as “non-fiction.”

As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach readings? What do you get out of them?

Public readings are chances to escape briefly from the solitude so vital for writing. They also give what’s written an expanded existence, moving it into a space of the literally spoken and heard. I enjoy doing readings, for encounters with a visible audience and for a bodily projection of the chosen words from mouth, tongue, lungs, etc. Yet I don’t think a choice needs to be made between the poem on the page and the poem performed—a poem benefits from the various realms of being possible for it. It bugs me when someone insists “the true nature of poetry” is oral—or written. Why can’t poetry have several natures, or a complicated nature?

Have you ever been to Winnipeg? What have you heard?

I’ve been to Winnipeg a couple of times, but not in over twenty years. The first time I was on a solo see-Canada train ride from Vancouver back to Montreal, where I was Iiving at the time. By the time I hit Winnipeg my money was running low, so I stayed in a cheap, very grotty hotel. That led to a three-part poem called “Hotel of Dust,” which appeared in a couple of my books. Winnipeg intrigues me, partly through the films of Guy Maddin and the music of The Weakerthans, Christine Fellows, and J.P. Hoe. I’ve love to spend more time there.

What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

Christopher Hibbert’s London: The Biography of a City, in preparation for a trip to London this summer (my kids’ first overseas trip). That’ll be my sixth visit to London, so I figure now’s the time to get deeper knowledge of its past.... Over a year ago I began another nature-writing project, this one all drafted “en plein air,” by some body of water—river, lake, marsh, brook, vernal pond, bay, ocean, etc. The prose entries in this “Waterside Journal” are sprawling, layered, each several pages long—very different from the concise entries of Ringing Here & There. I didn’t realize how much I’d revel in the act of writing outdoors. Sometimes strangers have stopped and asked, “What’re you doing?” or “Are you fishing?”