Thursday, May 05, 2016

Reprint: Furbaby

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So, two years ago, Kerry Clare's mothering anthology, The M Word, was published.

Kerry asked contributors to write updates to their M Word essays. My essay, "Primipara," was about my decision to only have one child.

"Primipara" was my first published essay. Though I was really very glad that Kerry asked me to write something, the actual writing-something process was excruciating. I was worried about what I had to say and how I was saying it. The essay seemed so long compared to a poem or even a suite of poems. And I distrusted double spacing: it looked flabby and weird.

But I persevered and got through both Kerry's and Goose Lane's edits. And then we launched it at McNally's, with Kerry Clare and Kerry Ryan and a visual artist/mother and jam-filled imperial cookies in the shape of a baby's head. (WE ATE BABY HEADS!)

Though I'm more comfortable with the essay form now, I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about this time. My daughter is almost ten but her status and is still an only child. What had changed was that we added another dependant to our household, which was a big step for us, being leery of dependents generally.

So: this essay is about kittens and daughters and love and claws. And I wrote it in an afternoon when I was avoiding another essay.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Tracking the progress of the sun

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Tracking the progress of the sun through McNally's atrium: a 2016 Authors for Indies event.

The conceit behind AFI is that authors step in and show their appreciation for independent bookstores by working in the bookstore for a day, hand-selling books or doing readings.

Last year, I was in Hamilton's Epic Books for AFI. I talked about Robert Kroetsch's The Studhorse Man and Roewan Crowe's Quivering Land and ate cupcakes and talked to bookstore patrons.

This year, I AFI-ed at Winnipeg's McNally Robinson Booksellers, which is of course probably one of the best independent bookstores I've ever worked with, read at, or bought books from.

McNally's chose to have nine participating literary authors take part in a reading on Saturday afternoon. The format was that each of us were supposed to choose a book to recommend. We each had eight minutes to read a passage from that book.

I chose Anne Szumigalski's A Peeled Wand: Selected Poems of Anne Szumigalski (Signature Editions). Here's what my recommendation looked like:

"This book includes work from twelve of the the late Saskatchewan writer’s poetry collections. It was published posthumously by Signature Editions and edited by Montreal poet Mark Abley, Szumigalski’s literary executor. But all of that is details: what’s important here is that the poems are so very good. Beginning with the publication of Woman Reading in Bath (1974) when Szumigalski was 52, she took on everything from sex to identity to spirituality. The poems that came out of those investigations are strange and smart and sad. They deserve to be read and re-read."

The event itself was fun. It was great to read a handful of Szumigalski's poems and to have eight of Winnipeg's best writers talk about books and writers they enoyed.

As you can see from the pictures, it was a sunny day outside, so writers slid in and out of patches of lights from the Atrium's windows.

My thanks to Authors for Indies and to McNally Robinson, for being the consummate host.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Wine & Words 2016

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Writers! Actors! Wine! What else is there?

(My poem "Collapsar" is being performed by Justin Otto, which I'm greatly looking forward to...)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Animal Internet could help species survive

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by Ariel Gordon

My smartphone pings. My sister has texted me, reminding me that I’m supposed to make a salad for our family dinner this weekend.

Another ping — this time from my electric car, letting me know it’s fully charged.

I could go to the store for lettuce, but instead I spend the time watching a peregrine falcon nest on the roof of the Radisson Hotel via webcam. I’ve been binge-watching the chicks since they hatched.

So far, according to Munich-based writer Alexander Pschera, I’ve just accessed three different Internets: Human, Internet-of-Things and Animal.

Pschera has written several books about the Internet and media in his native German, but Animal Internet is the first one released in translation in North America.

There are a few facts that underlie Pschera’s examination of the Animal Internet. The first is that according to the World Wildlife Fund, Earth has lost half of its animals in the last 40 years. The second is that the average American child spends over 50 hours per week on electronic devices and less than an hour outside.

To Pschera, those are the results of ecology. He believes that attempts to protect endangered animals by separating them from people has only distanced us from the natural world and hasn’t slowed the rate of species loss. And the Human Internet has only widened the gap between people and nature.

"But I watch kitten videos and look at pictures of wild animals on a regular basis," one could protest.

Pschera counters that images of something are not the same as the thing itself.

"Over the last two hundred years, the real animals have been replaced by likenesses. The process is dialectical: the further we distance ourselves from nature, the more we produce, reproduce, and disseminate images of animals — all without moving a single step closer to nature in the process."

What’s needed, Pschera says, is direct access, either in person or online, via the Animal Internet.

Pschera thinks that being able to watch a peregrine webcam or "follow" a wolf on Facebook will allow people to connect with animals in a way that nature documentaries and information-dense signage at provincial parks can’t. "Seeing creates knowledge and knowledge leads to action," he writes.

His logic is that interest in a single wolf leads to affection for wolves in general, which leads to advocacy that will protect wolves and the ecosystems they need to survive.

Pschera also believes that gathering data on hitherto-unstudied species, particularly migratory animals, will enable us to better plan for their protection.

But what are the ethics of the Animal Internet?

Pschera claims that there are currently nearly 50,000 wild migratory animals equipped with GPS units. Will having a large population of plugged-in animals enable us to better predict and therefore protect against natural disasters like earthquakes or avalanches? Perhaps. But does having a better early-warning system justify capturing and attaching sensors to ever-increasing numbers of wild animals?

Also, how will we go about monitoring the wealth of information created by the Animal Internet? Pschera says a global monitoring system is needed and quotes German scientist Martin Wikelski, who is attempting to partner with the European and German space administrations to implement this idea.

Are there dangers inherent in the Animal Internet? Yes. For instance, poachers could use the information provided to them by GPS units to more easily find their prey. And allowing people into land trusts and conservation areas might result in paved strips in the wilderness blanketed with discarded Tim Hortons cups.

Is the Animal Internet the answer to our environmental problems and increasing use of the Human Internet? It’s hard to say.

What is certain is that Pschera is an interesting guide to the issues — technological, scientific and philosophical — that derive from such radical thinking.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Authors for Indies

McNally Robinson Booksellers present
Authors for Indies Group Reading

Saturday, April 30, 2:00-3:30 pm
Where: McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Avenue, Winnipeg)
Cost: FREE

Authors for Indies is a day when authors show their appreciation for Canadian independent bookstores. We’re thrilled to be participating once again - this year with a special twist.

Rather than have booksellers wander through our shelves to recommend books we will have them on stage reading selections from some of their long time favourites.

Participating authors include Erna Buffie, Méira Cook, Anita Daher, Jeffrey John Eyamie, Ariel Gordon, Maurice Mierau, David Bergen, Roewan Crowe,and Joan Thomas.

Over the past 25 years, Erna Buffie has written, directed and produced numerous award-winning documentary films, and has interviewed some of the world’s most interesting scientists and thinkers, including David Suzuki, Gloria Steinam and Jane Goodall. In 2011, she wrote and directed the multiple-award winning film The Changing Sea, and in 2013 she won a Canadian Screen Award for her film Smarty Plants. Erna lived in Montreal and in a seaside home just outside of Halifax before returning to the prairies and the city where she was born and raised. She now divides her time between Winnipeg and a small cottage on Long Pine Lake in the Whiteshell, which she shares with her husband and their little grey mutt. Her first book, Let Us Be True, was published in 2015 via Coteau Books.

Méira Cook was born in Johannesburg and worked as a journalist in South Africa. Since coming to Canada, she has published widely as a poet and fiction writer. She has won the CBC Literary Award for poetry, the Walrus Prize for poetry, and the McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year Award.

Since 2002 Anita Daher has published more than a dozen books for children, adolescents and teens in Canada, the United States and Europe. When not word wrangling she enjoys inhabiting characters on stage and screen. Anita is also a member of the Crosseyed Rascals clean improvised comedy troupe.

Jeffrey John Eyamie is a Winnipeg screenwriter and novelist who worked in the writers’ room of Less Than Kind (HBO Canada). His comedy pilot Split Level was accepted by the National Screen Institute's Totally Television program. Jeff spent his formative years catching gophers in Virden, Manitoba. He is the author of No Escape from Greatness (Turnstone Press).

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer. Her second collection of poetry, Stowaways, won the 2015 Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. When not being bookish, Ariel likes tromping through the woods and taking macro photographs of mushrooms.

Maurice Mierau is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Autobiographical Fictions. His memoir Detachment won the 2016 Kobzar Literary Award and the 2015 Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction. In 2009 he won the ReLit Award for poetry. He lives in Winnipeg.

Artist and writer Roewan Crowe experiments with queer feminist reclamation practices often entering into fatal wounded landscapes—sometimes violent and xenophobic —to explore possibilities for regeneration. She’s been touring Lifting Stone, an ecosexual performance/installation that creates intimate stone encounters and is the author of Quivering Land (ARP), a gritty meditation on the possibilities of art to reckon with the ongoing legacies of violence and colonization. Crowe’s paid gig: Associate Professor in the department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Winnipeg.

After writing two novels set in the past, Joan Thomas chose Winnipeg for the setting of her first contemporary novel. The Opening Sky won McNally Robinson's Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award. Joan was honoured in 2015 with the Writers Trust Engel/Findley Award in recognition of her body of work.

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I'm going to be recommending—and reading from—Anne Szumigalski's A Peeled Wand.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Suffrage 100

"With this issue, Prairie Fire marks the 100th anniversary of some women’s right to vote in Manitoba (a right that would be inexcusably denied to First Nations women for another 36 years). This milestone is commemorated with a number of short pieces by Manitoba women.

The issue also includes fiction by Alanna Marie Scott, Margaret Sweatman and Meg Todd; non-fiction by Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt; and poetry by Sylvia Legris, Jan Zwicky, Yvonne Blomer, Kate Cayley, Tanis MacDonald, Maryann Martin, Julietta Singh, Vivian Vavassis, Christine Wiesenthal & others."

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I'm pleased to say that I have a suite of poems called "No Votes for Women!" in Suffrage 100.

Here's how I described it for the issue: "Poems to & from Nellie McClung (1873–1951) on the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of (White) Women Getting the Vote in Manitoba."

It was strange 'writing-about,' because I usually discover what the 'about' is after I've finished writing a poem. Beyond that, it took me quite a while to find a way into working with Nellie McClung's writing, both technically (found poems? cut-up poems? dictionary poems? glosas?) and in terms of tone. 

Nellie was most often earnest. When that didn't work, she used gentle humour, cajoling her audience into coming around to her point of view. 

I was most often angry while working on these poems, which culminated in the final poem of the suite, "Give us our Due."

The thing that saved me? A buncha great women poets, specifically Basma Kavanagh, Kerry Ryan, Yvonne Blomer, Tanis MacDonald & Leena Niemela. They read and re-read these poems. They pushed me to take them further, to not hide behind technique. 

Which is why it's so lovely that Yvonne & Tanis have poems in the same issue. 

My thanks to editors at Prairie Fire for asking if I'd submit something and to the staff at St. John's College Library at the University of Manitoba, who kept me in books-by-Nellie.

Friday, April 01, 2016







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On Thompson's Millennium Trail. Boreal forest!

Reprint: A Poem a Day for NPM

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So my introduction to the NPM in the WFP site is up on the Winnipeg Free Press website.

The intro relies heavily on Robert Kroetsch's Seed Catalogue, of course...

They'll post a poem every weekday in April, starting on April 4.