Monday, October 12, 2015

Bats and bats and niche

Photos by Mike Deal.
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Here are a few pictures from the McNally's launch of Basma Kavanagh's Niche on Saturday night.

I read an excerpt from my essay on bats in-the-walls. With some anxiety, because it is so new.

And Basma read a variety of poems from Niche, including one with a reference to Little Brown Bats. Which we had sort of planned in advance but still made me giggle in the moment. If you aren't familiar with Basma's work, Niche is a great place to start. I really deeply admire this book...

My thanks to Charlene Diehl and the Winnipeg International Writers Festival for the conversation, to Michael Deal for the photos, and to Kristian Enright and McNally's for the gorgeous hospitality...

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Vote! Vote now!

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Now this post isn't about poetry or the forest or food or mushrooms, but: we voted at the advance polls in our neighbourhood on Saturday.

You should vote too, either on Sunday or Monday or on October 19! (One idea I like but didn't personally implement: bring someone to the voting station that might have difficulty voting otherwise...)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Out-of-Town-Authors: Basma Kavanagh

Basma Kavanagh is a poet, visual artist and letterpress printer originally from Nova Scotia who now lives in Brandon, Manitoba. She produces artist's books under the imprint Rabbit Square Books. In addition to her latest collection, Niche (Frontenac House, 2015), she is the author of the chapbook A Rattle of Leaves and Distillō (Gaspereau Press, 2012).

I'm as pleased as punch to be helping Basma launch her Niche at McNally Robinson Booksellers on Saturday, October 10 at 7 pm, as part of the Winnipeg International Writers' Festival fall literary series.

After the readings, Basma and I will be interviewed by WIWF Artistic Director (and poet) Charlene Diehl.

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?

Readings make me really anxious, but just about everything makes me anxious! I actually enjoy readings, despite my nerves. I see readings as my chance to share my work as I hear it, and to personally connect with readers. I put a lot of thought into each reading. A fellow artist recently told me that she sees the book of poetry as the musical score, and the voiced poems as the music performed; I think this is a great analogy. I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to how best to voice the poems, to make this live, shared aspect of poetry writing more interesting.

In Niche, you mark the passing of species, their extirpation in Nova Scotia and broader extinction in North America. Which should be enough, in and of itself, but you take it a step beyond that and try to show what it means for humans to live in an emptied-out, "car-ad" wild. It takes the lightest of touches not to be righteous or preachy in these situations. Can you tell me how you managed to write ecopoems that are both hopeful and catastrophic? 

Catastrophe has a vital role in nature—it opens the way for the new. I think that understanding that is the beginning of finding hope in our current situation. I'm sure some of the poems or drafts that I cut were preachy or righteous. I often have to write my way through my own anger and indignation to arrive at something gentler. Using humour helps, and also writing from a place of compassion towards our mistakes and limitations.

You suggest in these poems that metaphors and myths come from the natural world, are fed by the natural world, the same way flora/fauna are. Can you expand on that idea?

Everything comes from the natural world, which is really just "the world." Language, religion, poetry, science, technology: everything we have thought or made has come to us from the world, from observing and interacting with what's out there. I think when we interact frequently and closely with the living world it is very easy to find the patterns and powerful places and creatures that give birth to our myths, to experience (and intuit) the connections among things that give us metaphor. Myth and metaphor are nurtured by the continued complexity of the living world, even if that is as interpreted by or through us (the eyes and ears of the world). They are similarly threatened by a reduction in complexity, in much the same way that plants and animals are threatened.

What was it like working with Frontenac House and editor Micheline Maylor?

It was delightful to work with Frontenac House and Micheline Maylor. Most of my contact was with Micheline, who is an excellent editor (as well as an excellent poet). Working with her on my manuscript was a real learning opportunity. Now that the Quartet is complete, I look at the four books together with an even greater respect for Micheline's vision and abilities. Frontenac was very agreeable about letting me have input into the appearance of the book-something that is quite important to me—and working with their designer was a great experience as well.

That’s right—you’re a visual artist as well as a poet. Tell me what an artist's book does that a trade collection can't. Tell me how you discern the impulses to write/draw/paint.

The essential definition of an artist's book is that it integrates form and content. Sadly, there are few publishers out there able to invest in that kind of work, so as an artist (book artist) and micro-publisher, I have the freedom to make book objects that reflect or express their content, which is thrilling for someone who writes, draws, prints, works with paper sculpture, and binding. This is the place where many of my primary interests intersect.

Regarding the final part of your question, I'm not sure I'm very discerning. I feel like I muddle along, I do one kind of thing, and then I do another. It might depend on the impulse, or on the energy I have available to meet a particular impulse, or the materials at hand.

You’ve spent the bulk of your life in Nova Scotia—with stops on Vancouver Island and in the Arabian Gulf—what was the impetus for the move to Brandon?

We’re part of the steady stream of easterners who come west looking for work opportunities. In Nova Scotia, many of us are faced with the unfortunate dilemma of choosing between having a career or living at home. For the time being, we’ve chosen "having careers".

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The last pick!

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Yesterday was my last Fruit Share pick of the season.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful pick. The tree was huge and hadn't been pruned in a long time, so most the apples were twenty to thirty feet off the ground.

But they were bright red and the ones the other three pickers and I sampled were both crisp and sweet.

So, with three ladders, two small children, four (adult) pickers, and one fruit picker tool we managed to pick approximately 150 pounds of apples.

This was one tree that was unaffected by the odd weather this spring and summer. In Winnipeg, the Goodland or Norland varieties were ripe two to three weeks earlier than normal. On the picks I went to, the apples were ripe but not very sweet. (I also heard more than a few stories about trees that didn't produce any fruit this year...)

These apples were juicy and had a taste similar to honey or a sweet white wine.

It was a great last pick. I had two other apple picks and a grape pick, but this was the best one, I think, both in terms of the company and the fruit.

I don't have grand plans for what I'm going to do with the fruit. I'm going to core/slice some of them and then dry the slices on my food dehydrator. I don't have enough room in my fridge to store them there, so I'm going to try the box + layers-of-newspaper method and see how far into the winter they'll last...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fall Literary Series

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I'm very pleased to be reading with Basma. I recently read her second book Niche, and it left me feeling both enriched and and cleaned-out. I wished that I'd written it...

I'm glad to report too that the Winnipeg International Writers Festival will be presenting the event as part of their fall literary series, which includes a Q&A session with Artistic Director Charlene Diehl.

Charlene interviewed myself and Kevin McPherson Eckhoff as part of an WIWF Afternoon Book Chat back in 2010 when Hump came out and it was great fun. So I'm looking forward to more of the same...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Canzine Winnipeg

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I'm reading at this event. Here's hoping that John Fluevog's sponsorship includes a kicky pair of shoes...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Out-of-Town-Authors: Camilla Gibb

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION

Camilla Gibb is the Toronto-based author of four novels, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated Sweetness in the Belly (2005).

Until I started writing down what was happening around me, I couldn't see it, Camilla Gibb says of the creative process behind This is Happy.
Five years ago, when the then-41-year-old Gibb was eight weeks pregnant, her partner announced she was no longer in love. Gibb realized she would have to face pregnancy and mothering on her own. She'd also have to come to terms with her childhood and early adulthood—which included both a PhD in social anthropology from Oxford University and stints in a Cambridge psych ward—and reconcile the violent, abusive, and frequently homeless father she avoided when she could with the chosen family she'd painstakingly assembled.

The result of all of this is the memoir This is Happy. Gibb was in Winnipeg on Sept. 17 to talk about her new book.

FP: 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?

CAMILLA GIBB: It's the rare moment when reader and writer meet over the experience of a shared text. I get to understand how things are "heard" and received by others. And we get to laugh, commune, and share our stories in the same space, reminding us of our connections to others through stories.

FP: This is Happy is written out of your own history, out of your family's history. What were the hardest things about this project for you? Was there anything surprising in it?

CG: I had to come to terms with many things throughout the course of writing it —complicated and painful relationships, unresolved issues, people I wanted to understand through a compassionate lens, myself included—none of that was easy.

Until I started writing down what was happening around me, I couldn't see it. I was more in my head than in the world, and writing it down allowed me to become more of a participant. I had no idea where it would end up, where I would end up, whether there would be a happy or happy-enough ending. I was pleasantly surprised.

FP: How was writing a memoir unlike writing fiction? Or is all writing writing?

CG: The approach to writing is largely the same; I think the experience of how we read it is where the biggest difference lies.

The character's personality and point of view have to be rendered wholly enough to take the reader, convincingly, through a story, whether that story lies in truth or the imagination. Fiction and non-fiction use most of the same narrative techniques—plotting and pacing, a structure with a beginning, middle and an end, characters who go through some kind of transformation. We are inherently storytelling animals and we are always biased, whatever the story or its source.

FP: The description for This is Happy includes the phrase "Gibb revisits her stories now in relation to the happy daughter who will inherit them and she finds there new meaning and beauty." I'm curious about this idea. How did turning your life into a story help you find meaning? And what does it mean to have your daughter be your ideal reader?

CG: One has to make sense of the past in order to be able to pass it on to the next generation. I had to find the coherence in my own stories, the narrative thread, the themes that link my past and present, the causes and effects. I read my life differently as a consequence. I see it as a much more hopeful story than I might have otherwise. And this is one thing I can offer to my daughter—hope. It is, as Isak Dinesen said, "All sorrows can be borne if we put them into a story."

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

CG: Reading: two memoirs. Etgar Keret's The Seven Good Years and Jenny Diski's Skating to Antarctica. Writing: essays about what it means to be atheist.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.