Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reprint: Free Range Reading

Here's a snippet from Toronto-based poet and novelist Mark Sampson's recent review of Stowaways for his blog, Free Range Reading:

"The poems in this collection grapple with both the wild and the mundane, the animalistic nature of nature and relentless responsibilities of parenthood. Many of these pieces, especially in the first two parts, are in fact about collisions between the feral world and the domestic one. In poems like “Wingless Females”, “Little Pig,” and the collection’s title poem, Gordon shows us how the natural world can insinuate itself into small, household moments."

Mark is in the process of launching his latest novel, Sad Peninsula, and will publish a collection of poetry with Palimpsest in the coming year or two.

Yay! Fun!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Calgary/conference books

(l-r) Ann Eriksson's High Clear Bell of Morning, Micheline Maylor's Whirr & Click, Joan Shillington's Folding the Wilderness Within, and Richard Harrison's Worthy of his Fall.

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Kelly Hughes, who owned Aqua Books, used to say "Give a poet $1.00 and they'll spend $1.50 on books."

Which seems sad but also right-on-the-money.

Here are the books I brought home with me from Calgary. Though I will note that I traded for a few of them. (Which still costs me money, given that I have to pay for my own books, but still...)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Hosting The Raven Sonata

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Of the many things I happen to know about Kittie Wong, two make me happy:

1) The novel that she's been working on for many years, on her own and also within the context of Jake MacDonald's on-going creative writing class, is finally done. And she's asked me to help her launch it...

2) The apple tree in Kittie's mother's yard makes great apples: deep red, crisp, and kinda-sorta tasting of white wine.

Friday, September 19, 2014


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Yesterday morning, I took Sally Ito's creative writing class at the Canadian Mennonite University for a walk in Assiniboine Forest.

My assignment: To lead them through the forest in an hour and fifteen minutes, providing them with a variety of writing prompts. I also larded them with information about aspen parkland flora and fauna, the history of the forest, and anecdotes about The Forest Perv and the 2000 small plane crash at the far edge of the forest.

Their assignment: To write three forest/poems based on our walk.
At Sally's request, I also read three forest poems from Hump before we set out. "Fall back: off leash," "Fall back: the last good day," and "Enclosure #41: on the occasion of a poet's visit." (I was surprised to realize that Stowaways contains exactly ONE forest poem...)

Interestingly, four of the students chose to freewrite on their phones as opposed to notebooks.

Fun! My thanks to Sally for asking me to lead this workshop again...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Salt Spring-ing

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I've never been to Salt Spring before...whee!

My fervent thanks to Yvonne for setting this up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Earth Works Like a Poem

Winnipeg is infamous for its 1919 general strike, but what really moves us to action is trees.

"If you ever want to lose elected office in Winnipeg," said [former] mayor Glenn Murray wryly, "say something bad about a tree."
Winnipeg Tribune Photo Collection

Case in point:

In 1957, the city announced that it would cut down a large elm that stood in the centre of Wolseley Avenue and Greenwood Street. It had been planted in 1860 by horticulturalist and market gardener Mary Ann Kirton Good but by the turn of the century it was considered a traffic hazard.

As city crews arrived, a group of women led by Mrs. Borrowman, gathered around the tree: “They are going to have to chop us down too if they want to chop our tree,” said the women.

According to George Siamandas’ Winnipeg Time Machine:

“As the city employee approached the tree with his buzz saw, an old grandmother with an axe shouted out ‘We don't think you should do this.’ A crowd of three hundred had gathered to support the 12 women that were now guarding the tree. [Newly elected mayor Stephen] Juba then emerged from the crowd and was convinced by the women to find a way out of it. On the premise of public safety, Juba put an end to that day. Mrs Borrowman kissed the mayor on the cheek and invited him to her place for tea.”

On Hallowe’en 1958, the tree was dynamited by an unknown arsonist. Mrs. Borrowman asked to have a piece of the tree so she could have an “electric lamp made.”

Case in point, this one from 2014:

There is a 25-metre elm in front of Patricia Kuzak's West Kildonan house.

In April, the 76-year-old woman ran out of her house barefoot and in her bright red housecoat to rescue her tree. Sewage and drainage upgrades were being conducted by city workers and a private construction crew and the hole they were digging was potentially damaging the tree’s roots.

According to an article in the WinnipegFree Press by Ashley Prest, Kuzak said,

"I said, 'Get the hell out of here. I'm phoning the press, I'm calling the city, I'm getting an arborist out here.' And they did," said Kuzak.

Afterwards, Kuzak put signs on the boulevard, alerting workers to the perennials planted under the snowdrifts. She and her husband plan to monitor the tree closely for any signs of damage.

"I told Bob, if that tree is down, I'm down," Kuzak said. "The tree is more important than the house. You can build a house. You can't build a tree."

So it should be clear that I come from a place that is incredibly proud—and destructive of—urban nature.

People shake their fists at crows, cankerworms, squirrels, merlins (Oh the poor poor songbirds!), and deer in their yard eating their perennials down the ground. Men in the city’s employ wield chainsaws exuberantly and back their machines into boulevard trees.

But they also fall in love with the peregrines who rear young on the very tops of our downtown hotels—it mimics the cliff habitats they prefer—watching them via webcam. They feed the winter-thin deer, despite pleas from city naturalists to ‘let nature take it’s course.’ They tell those men in machines to get the fuck away from their trees, and, when the trees finally succumb to disease or old age, come out of their houses to watch the chippers work. (The children echoing: Vroom!)

After a childhood vacationing in a shack on an island in Minaki, after an adolescence rowing on the Red River, with its obnoxious waterskiers and naked men on the riverbanks, I’ve realized that I’m most comfortable in spaces that neither completely urban nor completely natural.

Where I work is who I am. As such, I specialize in urban/nature poetry.That is, I work at the following questions: What’s the difference between wild and tame, natural and unnatural?

Also, my urban/nature poems all have people in them. Because they’re a part of the narrative too. And not just ambivalently mourning the birds that smashed against our windows or the neighbourhood cat mowed down by a car. But living in that space with the urban adaptors, the commensal, the exotics, the drought-resistant natives. That nature isn’t something you visit or adjacent to a rented cabin-in-the-woods.

So you might say that I have both impulses: tree-hugger and arsonist. Mycologist and stomper-of-boulevard-mushrooms: They might be poisonous! The children!

My poetry doesn’t have an overtly ecological bent. But I think of my poems as a refocusing of a particularly grimy lens, as a gesture towards the complexity at work on a patch of land, whether it be urban/rural or urban/suburban.

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And then I read my poem "Bicker" from Stowaways, which is infested with merlins and housecats and neighbours.

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These is an ever-so-slightly cleaned-up version of my notes for my first Under Western Skies panel. Note that I did not directly answer the panel's implicit question. But other poets did. And, together, we provoked a wide-ranging conversation about art-making and the self and nature that was, well... completely invigorating.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Taking on first-world love

This was my favourite question/answer from my recent interview with Fernie, BC-based writer Angie Abdou for Prairie Books Now about her fourth novel, Between.

Angie's answer was too long to make it into the article intact, but I liked the progression of the thought, so I thought I'd include it here in its entirety:
What was it like taking first-world love, marriage, and parenthood as subjects while being in the middle of them yourself?

That's a good question. In my acknowledgements, I thank my family and comment that I know this book was a particularly hard one, for everyone.

I believe parents very quickly forget the intense challenge of raising young children. Once children are older, parents are quicker to give advice and talk about "right" ways to parent and "wrong" ways to parent and parenting strategies that "work" and parenting strategies that "don't work." People who are right in it are never so smug.

As I moved out of the young children stage, I couldn't let myself forget its intense challenges—the strain it put on my career, my relationship, my sanity. I wanted to remember, exactly, so that I could capture those challenges in an honest and detailed way on the page.

That meant dwelling on that stage more than I should have—and also dwelling on gender inequality around being a working parent, a working mother. Such a focus didn't really put me in the best frame of mind for dealing with my own specific challenges. I was angry a lot of the time, and occasionally despairing.