Sunday, June 12, 2016


From Jenna Butler's FB feed. So good/concise/organized, I had to steal it:

"Thrilled to be readying for a book tour/conference out east with two exceptional poets, Ariel Gordon and Claire Caldwell. We'll be reading at several stops along the route, and we'd love to chat with you if you're in the neighbourhood, friends.

Tuesday June 14, McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg, 7 pm (Ariel and Jenna)

Friday June 17, BioSci Building, Queen's University in Kingston, 10:45 am, "Spotting Artists in the 'Wild'" panel at the Association for Literature, Environment and Culture in Canada conference (Ariel, Claire, and Jenna)

Saturday June 18, Novel Idea Bookstore in Kingston, 6:30 pm (Ariel, Claire, and Jenna)

Monday June 20, Belljar Cafe/Bar in Toronto, 8 pm, Common Readings: The June Special Translations Edition (Claire, Eric Charlebois, Malcolm Sutton, Jessica Moore, Beatriz Hausner)

Tuesday June 21, Another Story Bookshop in Toronto, 7 pm, "Writing the Environment" (Ariel, Claire, and Jenna)"

Saturday, June 11, 2016

In Conversation: Carmen Aguirre

By Ariel Gordon
Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION

Carmen Aguirre is a revolutionary artist.

The Vancouver-based writer is a political exile of the 1973 Pinochet coup d’├ętat in Chile, a survivor of the Paper Bag Rapist, and an actress who was warned early in her career she’d mostly be offered "Mexican hooker and Puerto Rican maid roles."

Aguirre will be launching her second memoir, Mexican Hooker #1: And My Other Roles Since the Revolution at McNally Robinson Monday as part of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival’s spring literary series. The event will also feature Chilean-Canadian journalist Claudia Garcia de la Huerta.

Aguirre conducted this interview with Ariel Gordon via email.

Free Press: Something Fierce, your previous memoir, covered your childhood and early adulthood in Canada, Chile and other South American locales. The Globe and Mail’s Francisca Zentilli called it "an insightful journey into the formation of a revolutionary soul." What made you want to delve into your adult life, as you transitioned from a revolutionary to an artist?

CA: The first memoir was a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a political thriller. In it, I explored themes of political commitment clashing with personal desires and living in a state of terror, due to being in the Chilean resistance during the Pinochet dictatorship.

When I toured the first book, the questions that kept coming up from readers were: what happened next, how did you find meaning in your life after living a life so full of meaning as a youth, and how did you heal from the trauma of living in chronic terror due to state terrorism? It was in responding to those questions that I found the material to write the second memoir, which is all about healing and also about finding meaning in an artistic journey.

In choosing the theme of "healing" for my second book, I inevitably felt that I had to include the trauma of being raped as a child and how I healed from that.

That story, the story of the rape, ended up being the through-line, the spine of the book.

It’s the story that we keep going back to, that orbits until it lands in the centre of the narrative and stays there.

FP: Tell me about the hubbub after Something Fierce was nominated for, and then won, CBC Canada Reads in 2012?

CA: To be honest, I had never heard of Canada Reads because I’m not a radio listener. So I didn’t get what a big deal it was until the book made it into the Top 5.

I had also never heard of Shad, because I don’t usually listen to rap.

When I was called a terrorist within the first five minutes of the debate, my whole body froze, and I felt a great deal of fear. I was glad, however, that Shad and I had prepared for that statement and that he was able to handle himself so well when it came up.

I think it brought an important discussion to the forefront, which is: what is a terrorist? Who do we get to call a terrorist? Do we get to call the Jewish resistance during the Warsaw ghetto uprising terrorists?

I was amazed and elated when the book won because it was the dark horse of the five and it tells a story that is not often read by the mainstream.

FP: How is writing memoirs different from writing plays?

CA: Plays are much harder. I think playwriting is the hardest form to write in: it’s very taut, it’s very limiting, and you have to grab the audience immediately and never let them go.

It is through my years of playwriting, at failing miserably at it most of the time and on the odd occasion getting somewhere with it, that I learned to write a book.

I already knew so much about structure, theme, organizing principles, stakes, objectives for the character, conflict. Writing a memoir was easier.

FP: Early in your theatre training at Vancouver’s Studio 58, your instructors told you that you were "entering a racist business where more often than not I would be offered Mexican hooker and Puerto Rican maid roles." Since then, you’ve written or co-written 25 plays and have 80 acting credits, which is a success by any measure. But is the film, television and theatre world any less racist now than when you graduated?

CA: I believe it is less racist, but there are colleagues of mine who believe it’s the same or even worse. I can totally see why they say that. They say that because some people in the theatre, film and TV industries believe that we are now in a post-racial society and that the struggle is therefore over. What this means in practice is that white people are now playing roles of colour because it’s believed that now, "We can all play everything." The problem is that it doesn’t go both ways, so we still have to be vigilant in making sure that actors of colour are actually getting the parts that were not available to us not so long ago. In an ideal world, I do believe anybody can play anything, but we are very far from that. In the current Canadian theatre scene, only 3.7 per cent of women we see on stage are of colour. Of those, almost none are playing lead roles. We clearly have a very long way to go.

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

CA: I am reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words and Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. And the tabloids. I always salivate over the tabloids, which are my addiction, along with dark chocolate. Right now, I am writing a new play called Anywhere but Here and a novel entitled Three Virgins. Neither is going well.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

middle-aged mushrooms

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Purply mushrooms. Bottom pic is from May 28 and the top from June 9. Not the same cluster but on the same log.

So: 12 days apart.

Middle-aged! Mushrooms!

forest coral

* * *

Went for a walk in Assiniboine Forest with a colleague in town for a publishing conference. It had rained the day before/several days in a row, so the forest was boggy in low places/most places.

Which is to say that I walked around said conference for a couple of hours in hiking boots that smelled of bog.

The best part of the walk were the clusters of coral mushrooms that seemed to be everywhere in the forest. The best part was how green everything was. All the different plants in the understory. The shushing of the trembling aspen leaves. My feet in puddles, the bottoms of my pants wicking moisture up.

Friday, June 03, 2016

A reading with Jenna Butler

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I have a bit of a lit-crush on Jenna Butler. She's prolific, she's a great community member, and she's always heading off to a retreat in the Arctic or Ireland or Latvia. All of which is in addition to teaching English and creative writing at Red Deer College and farming/beekeeping in northern Alberta.

So: productive, adventurous, generous.

Which means that I'm thrilled to be reading with Jenna three times in June, in Winnipeg, Kingston, and Toronto.

I haven't yet decided what I'm going to read at the Winnipeg event, non-fiction or poetry, but I'll read SOMETHING urban nature-y.

See you there?

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Four books + two blue mugs

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For today's books column on Dahlia Kurtz' program on CJOB, I plan to talk about these five books:

Aqueduct: Colonialism, Resources, and the Histories We Remember by Adele Perry (ARP Boooks)
Dopamine Blunder: poems by Lori Cayer (Tightrope Books)
Jane Dying Again by Deborah Schnitzer (Unlimited Editions)
The Shadow Over Portage and Main, edited by Keith Cadieux and Dustin Geerart (Great Plains Publications)
Arctic Comics, edited by Nicholas Burns (Renegade Arts Entertainment)

(You'll notice that there are only four books in the picture. It's only that it's difficult to take a picture of a PDF...)

Or, put another way, one experimental novel, one book of non-fiction, one collection of poetry, one anthology of weird fiction, and a comic book set in the north. Three Winnipeg presses, one from Canmore, and one from Toronto.

The segment is part of a monthly books column I do, which so far is great fun. You can listen live or check it out after-the-fact here, by selecting June 2 and 2 pm, though you'll have to fastforward to 2:30, which is when I'm on the air.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

CFS: Poetry and Prose about Menstruation

Having a visit from Aunty Flo. Moon time. Being on the rag. Whatever we call it, most women menstruate once a month for three decades or more. But in addition to pink-wrapped pads and tampons, Eurowestern women also receive the following messages: don’t talk about your period. Don’t talk about cramps or bleeding through your clothes or having sex while you’re menstruating. Menstrual blood is dirty and talking about it is vulgar. When women do speak up, men often dismiss their politics as moods and hormones and “that time of the month.” But as long as there have been women, we have been telling each other stories about our first periods or that time we stained a chair or a skirt or went swimming for the first time with a tampon. In many Indigenous cultures, menstruation is sacred: menstruating women are considered powerful and connected to the earth.

So let's talk about menstruation, its onset and its disappearance, with all its counting, calendars, surprises, myths, jokes, embarrassments, power surges, possibilities, stains, equipment, and sheets in cold water. Let’s talk about the body and the land, feminism and the environment, gender and disability, age and class and race.

We want your poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and mixed genre pieces about menstruation for an upcoming anthology: women and non-binary identifying authors only, please.

To submit work, please:
  •  Send up to 5 poems, or prose and mixed-genre pieces of 2,000 words or less to us at
  •  Include a 100-word bio. 
  •  Let us know if this piece has been published previously, including where, when, and whether or not you retain the publishing rights to the work. 
  •  Deadline: October 15, 2016. 
The collection will be published by Frontenac House in fall 2017, and edited by Rosanna Deerchild, Ariel Gordon, and Tanis MacDonald.

Rosanna Deerchild is an award-winning Cree author and broadcaster. Her family is from the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation located near South Indian Lake, Manitoba; she grew up in Thompson, Manitoba. She has worked for a variety of Indigenous newspapers and major networks for over 15 years, including APTN, CBC Radio and Global. Her debut poetry collection, this is a small northern town (Muses’ Company), won the 2009 Lansdowne Prize for Poetry, and she launched her second book, Calling Down the Sky (Bookland Press) in 2015. She is a co-founder and a member of the Indigenous Writers Collective of Manitoba. She lives in Winnipeg and works as the host of Unreserved for CBC Radio One.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer with a background in science and journalism. Her second collection of poetry, Stowaways (Palimpsest Press, 2014), won the 2015 Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. She is currently writing creative non-fiction about Winnipeg’s urban forest, which is slated for publication in 2018 with Wolsak & Wynn. Gordon works as promotions coordinator at University of Manitoba Press and is a frequent contributor to the Winnipeg Free Press, Prairie Books Now, and Quill & Quire.

Tanis MacDonald is the author of three books of poetry including Rue The Day (Turnstone Press), as well as the non-fiction The Daughter’s Way: Canadian Women’s Paternal Elegies (WLUP). She is Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

For a vaseful of lilacs

Rhubarb plundered from a friend's garden last year.
I have an idea for a poetry project.

I want to trade someone in Winnipeg a poem for a vaseful of lilacs. 
And later, a poem for two handfuls of rhubarb. Or a bowlful of prairie roses/bagful of mint/bag of apples/massive zucchini....

The way it would work is that the week before the 'thing' come into season, I put out a call.
 If you've got an abundant lilac, you pledge me a vaseful. You give me 5 words of your choosing, which I will incorporate into the poem. Then, in a week's time, you deliver the lilacs and I hand over a fresh poem.

M would photograph the lilacs/rhubarb/prairie roses/mint/apples/zucchini.

You get a custom poem. I get the lilacs/rhubarb/prairie roses/mint/apples/zucchini I would normally shake you down for anyways...and, eventually, I have a bundle of bartered poems. 
So who has a lilac bush and NEEDS a poem written just for them (and then poetry audiences everywhere)?

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I just posted this to FB and have already arranged for my first poetry barter! 
The words are: dinosaur, birds, love, childless, peace.