Monday, March 20, 2017

NPM in the WFP 2017

For the second year in a row, The Winnipeg Free Press will be hosting a National Poetry Month project.

Every Saturday in April, poems by Winnipeg writers will appear in the 49.8 section.

Eligible writers: Winnipeg writers. NPM in the WFP is committed to a diversity of voices: emerging, PoC, spoken word, Indigenous, established, LGBTQ+, and page poets. If your work was featured in the 2016 edition of NPM on the WFP, you may still submit, but the priority will be new writers.

  •        Email previously unpublished poems on the theme of “Time” to
  •        The DEADLINE for submissions is March 25, 2017.
  •        Submit a maximum of 5 poems. Each poem should be no more than 25 lines.
  •         Please submit your poems in one Word document (PDF or RTF also acceptable).
  •        Send a short bio (max 40 words), both in the body of the email AND in your submission.

About the Editor: Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer. 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.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

In Conversation: Eden Robinson

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by Ariel Gordon

Eden Robinson is a Haisla/Heiltsuk writer based in Kitimaat, B.C.

In November, she was given the 2016 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award, which recognizes mid-career writers for a remarkable body of work.

The most recognizable of Robinson’s five books is her Giller-shortlisted first novel, Monkey Beach. The Washington Post called it a "spiritual mystery" for the way it combined the supernatural — based on Haisla culture, of course — with a dark, pop-culture infused murder mystery.

Her latest book, Son of a Trickster, is the first of a projected trilogy. It is the story of Jared, a smart-alecky teenage boy whose emerging supernatural powers are interfering with a home life that includes a single mother with a drug-dealing boyfriend, a flatulent pit bull and a father whose bills he pays.

Robinson will launch Son a Trickster Feb. 12 at McNally Robinson. The event will be hosted by NCI-FM’s David McLeod.

FP: Your books explore addiction and dysfunction; they’re bleak and irreverent while also focusing on indigenous culture and spirituality. They’re also so unexpectedly tender.

Eden Robinson: Our society has such a stigma about people coping with mental trauma. It makes us uncomfortable, so we don’t want to talk about it. We don’t provide affordable, easily accessible services, yet we expect people to stiff upper lip through absolute hell, and then we dump on them when their lives fall apart because the only relief they can find is through drugs or alcohol. You see it with residential school survivors. You see it with soldiers with PTSD. You see it with first responders. The hard work of healing is done by the traumatized and their families, often with no training and no support. Amazing, resilient people rise out of this, but a lot of good people are crushed.

FP: What are your goals, your hopes, when taking on all of these big subjects?

ER: My sympathies are with the people coping with impossible circumstances. But I’m not a big fan of morality tales or telling people what to think. And I miss this TV show called Roseanne. And I love Trickster stories. And I have a random brain. So you mush all that together, and my big hope is that people are entertained by my crazy stories.

FP: What have you learned about your process, four books in?

ER: I pushed myself hard when I was younger and had absolutely no work/life balance. I don’t regret my ambition, but I couldn’t do it again because a) my body would rebel and b) family is too important to put on the back burner. Relaxing about my work habits has led me to enjoy writing again. Darkness still exists in my material because, in my heart of hearts, I’m still a goth girl writing moody poetry in my room. But I hope the sense of joy in creating comes through on the page.

FP: Who are the writers you look to? Who are your influences?

ER: Every book has a different set of challenges, so I look to different writers to use as touch stones and inspiration. For this book: Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson; When Fox is a Thousand, Larissa Lai; One Good Story That One, Thomas King; Kiss of the Fur Queen, Tomson Highway; Tracks, Louise Erdrich; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams; Celia’s Story, Lee Maracle; Lyric Philosophy, Jan Zwicky, Indigenous Poetics, Ed. Neil McLeod; Tales of the Kitamaat, Gordon Robinson.

FP: Your novels are published as literary fiction, but they could easily work as fantasy. Have you ever considered throwing over literary festivals for comic cons?

ER: I would love to be invited to comic cons. I’m a huge indiginerd.

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

ER: I just finished an advanced copy of Claire Cameron’s The Last Neanderthal. She can write warm and fuzzy, and then breath-taking violence, and then cutthroat office politics. I really enjoyed it. Both her female narrators were warriors in their own ways. Last week, I read Railroads and Totem Poles by Janet Rogers. She was the poet laureate for Victoria and is a mesmerizing spoken-word poet. Powerful and witty.

I’m working on Trickster Drift, the sequel to Son of a Trickster. Having accepted his heritage as the son of a witch and a Trickster, Jared decides the best way to cope is to become a medical sonographer and argue with his friends about which actor made the best Doctor Who. Since he hasn’t got a lot of savings or funding, he ends up couch surfing in Vancouver with his aunt, Mavis Moody, an eccentric writer and activist. Not based on anyone. Total fiction.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Winter view

University of Manitoba Greenhouses, Winnipeg, MB. January 25, 2017.

* * *

I attended a lunchtime lecture at the University of Manitoba this week. On the way between the Tier Building and St. John's College, where I work, I stopped to peer in the greenhouse windows. I'll always stop to look at their collection of hoary old plants, but in winter it's especially necessary.

Leaving the college later that day, heading home, I stopped to look out at the attached garden. There's a spot where the furnace exhaust pipe exits the building and I like it because the venting warm air keeps that spot snow and ice-free.

So there's this warm dry expanse of mulch, then a ring of wet mulch, and then snow. The wet ring actually has groundcover growing on it, despite the temperatures/conditions only a few inches away.

And there was a brown rabbit nibbling on the groundcover.

Imagine being a herbivore and discovering something growing/green in the middle of's almost an end-times scenario but it was one I sort of didn't mind.

Monday, January 16, 2017

My Runaway Fave

On a bleak day in early January, I asked people on Facebook for their favourite nature-y spots. There was a twister of suggestions and counter-suggestions that continued over the next several days.

In the end, I compiled a list of all their suggestions because I wanted to remember them but also because I thought some of you might also need nature-y suggestions.

From Clearwater Lake Provincial Park, July 2016.
So here goes:
From Riding Mountain National Park, July 2015.


William Lake Provincial Park in southwestern Manitoba.—writer Julie Kentner

Have you spent time in Whiteshell PP? It has lots of hiking and biking trails, and accessible canoe routes. The tunnels on Caddy Lake canoe route are worth the trip. —writer Donna Besel


Camp Shekinah outside Waldheim, SK (north and a bit west of Saskatoon) is my favourite place in the world. It's also very close to Batoche and Duck Lake, so you could immerse yourself in the Riel Rebellion history. —writer Lynne Pieper Martin

Crooked Lake Provincial Park in the Qu'Appelle Valley is sweet. And the back roads are wonderful —poet Bernadette Wagner

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park and Area

You can drive down from Cypress Hills to Havre, Montana, on the Milk River. I think there are more badlands along the Milk. Also, just south of Havre are the Bearpaw Mountains, where Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce finally ended their 1500 mile flight to Canada from eastern Washington. —novelist Bob Armstrong

You can also hit Grasslands National Park on the way to Cypress. It's a complete "wilderness" park for the prairies (no development; no camping within sight of any road (but you can camp there), pack in everything you need and pack it out again, some incredible landscapes and tons of archaeological features to see right on the surface. And lots of snakes. —archaeologist Jordi Malasiuk

Cypress hills in S Sakatchewan is amazing...and you can go to Eastend, SK, to see the TRex museum at the same time. And apply to write at the Stegner house while you're at it! Nearby is The Old Man On His Back tall grass prairie reserve which used to be the Butala ranch. Would love to see that as well.—novelist Erna Buffie

I've been to Cypress Hills. Went for an amazing horse ride.—poet Ashlyn Haglund

Cypress Hills is great, and especially the road between the two provinces, if it isn't muddy. You go by a couple of historic battle sites.—scholar Jason Wiens


Waterton Lakes National Park in SW Alberta. You can take the International Peace Boat across Waterton Lake to the US side, without a passport, even! It's my favourite place in the world (on a non-windy day!). You could do Cypress Hills and Elkwater for a few days, then zip across to Waterton within a couple of hours! And between the two is Sweet Grass, MT, which is an special eco-system and spiritual site. —writer Lori D. Roadhouse Haney

Yes, Waterton! Especially in that period of the Wildflower Festival.—poet Alice Major


How about Yukon! Tombstone Territorial Park… —Poet Joanna Lilley

Yukon. Just for the midnight sun.—artist Grant Guy

Cape Breton Highlands Nat'l Park. —editor Jill Wilson

Gros Morne. Like Iceland in Newfoundland.—textile artist Cara Hehir Winsor

Gros Morne rules. Best geological tours in Canada too!—Julie Rak

Also, the small amount of Ontario’s Silvia Grinnell I got to see is, well, a whole different landscape.—union organizer Craig Saunders

Silvia Grinnell is southwest of Sudbury—it's on my to-do list too, it was a favourite Group of Seven location.—Bob Armstrong

Parc Forillon in Gaspésie (sea and hills, seals and bears).—poet Bertrand Nayet

Yoho if you haven't. It's my runaway fave.—Julie Rak

Kootenay or Yoho for mountains/glaciers/waterfalls. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) for badlands and grasslands— they have a 100 mile mountain biking trail connecting the north and south units of the park travelling through national grasslands. West coast rainforests on Vancouver Island for big honkin' trees. (Check out Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew at the southern end of the West Coast Trail). Pukaskwa National Park or Sleeping Giant Provincial Park for the rugged coast of Lake Superior. Forgot to mention Mount Robson and Mount Assiniboine—the two most beautiful big mountains I've ever hiked to. Each is a long backpack in with multiple day hiking areas once you're at the basecamp at the mountain.—Bob Armstrong

You could go to Yellowstone before it blows up, too.—Lori D. Roadhouse Haney

Thursday, November 03, 2016

On making poems from Other Poems

I read Calgary-based writer Richard Harrison's latest book for a Prairie Books Now article while sitting at my dining room table during the first writing day I’ve had in ages.

And even though I came to it tired and ever so slightly resentful at giving away a part of my day, I recognized so many of the poems, the feelings, the images, the ideas. On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood made me feel sad and glad, its poems inspired me and made me think about craft. And I was grateful for writing days and books like his to read in the middle of them...

So it should come as no surprise that my interview with Richard later that day was equally as surprising and generous.

I particularly liked this call/response, but couldn't make it fit into the 500 word article I was writing. I thought I'd reproduce it here in its entirety. 

AG: Many of these poems discuss other poems, other artworks. Is this mode borrowed from your other life as an academic? Also, I would really like to know how you manage to make responses to poems into poems.

RH: Maybe so. I was hosting an event earlier this month for WordFest, and I noticed the same thing in the work of the novelists I was acting as host for—how important documents (books, letters, archives) were to the main characters in the novels. Peter Behrens' responded that this trope probably did come from the fact that writers and academic people are in some sense people who follow books into life, but that it wasn't always the case. I liked the idea of following a book into life -- sometimes as a map, sometimes as a hypothesis. I know I do it. Books are part of life, but they are about life, too; taken at their greatest distance from any notion of author, they are life reflecting on itself. Life is full of contradictions, so so will be any collection of books that a person finds significant to them.

I think I'd think that whether I was an academic or not, but certainly being an academic as well as a writer accentuates the tendency. On one level, "finding my voice" meant accepting those elements in it.

Thank you for seeing my responses to poems as poems in their own right. I'm glad about that. It's difficult to not get caught up in other poems when writing my own, particularly, in this book, with the poems my father treated as touchstones to his life, like "Fern Hill" and so on, playing key parts. In the end, though, now that I'm thinking about it, using poems within poems ought to be (or is when it works) like treating any other things right when they are in poems, too. A poem may never be as lovely as a tree, but a poem about a poem should treat the two the same: they are there to be responded to within the poem, they are there to be a way to get at something that the poet needs to write.

Does that answer it? I'm not sure. If I answered with this analogy, maybe that's as close as I can get right now. I once was asked to write and read four poems for four of the greats of hockey in my day, and one of them was Gordie Howe. So I met Gordie as part of the event that I had written the poems for. I actually met Gordie twice. The first time was in the lobby of the hotel where the event was to take place. And when I met him there, I became like every other fan he's ever met — thanking him for his great career, saying how much he meant to me, to the game, blah blah blah. And I watched him forget me even as I was in front of him. And he was a famously kind and attentive man.

Then I stepped back and let him take the elevator to the reception and I thought, "I'm going to make a mess of this if I do that all night. I need to be who and what I am. Gordie doesn't want me to meet the surface of him, he wants, like we all want, be encountered as a human being." So when I next met Gordie (about a half an hour later; he had forgotten so I got the do-over), I was able to introduce myself as the writer of the poems and so on. And we got along very well. We talked, and my poem meant something to him and the story had a happy ending.

The point I think I've found in that story is that I had to get over the fact that other poems were Other Poems in order to write about them as the poems they were — as something someone made that had meaning to me, a meaning I wanted to explore through the language and images that those poems brought to mind, whether they were words in those poems themselves or arose from them. I guess the shortest way to say this is "treat them like anything else." But it took me years to be able to truly feel that.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

In Conversation: Diana Beresford-Kroeger

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by Ariel Gordon

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is an Irish-born and Ontario-based author, scientist and environmentalist.

Her latest project is the feature-length documentary Call of the Forest, which was produced with Winnipeg’s Edgeland Films and Merit Motion Pictures.

Five years in the making, the film investigates humanity’s profound biological and spiritual connection to forests, from Japan to California and Ireland to Germany, from Vancouver Island across to the great Boreal Forest.

Winnipeg Free Press: What was it like going up into Manitoba’s boreal forest near Poplar River First Nation and working with some of the peoples there?

Diana Beresford-Kroeger: What is amazing there is that for the last 5,000 years, the people of Pimachiowan Aki, they have a pristine forest, they have a pristine boreal forest. Now let me tell how important that is: no forests anywhere in the world have been described botanically, from the ancient forests to the modern forests, we have no botanical description of them. Some of the species underground, we still don’t know what they are. In the Bloodvein area, those forests have been standing for 5,000 years and then some. So the pattern of growth within that forest is absolutely unique.
I saw all kinds of unique things in this area; it was like a paradise to me. It is a jewel in the heart of this whole continent and the aboriginal people have sacrificed so much to save that place. They’ve pushed away the gold miners and all kinds of people so as to save it. They have been guardians of this area for 5,000 years. Nobody on the planet has managed to do that.

FP: Manitoba is home to a generous swath of Canada’s boreal forest. Can you tell me more generally why it’s important to preserve the boreal forest?

DBK: The boreal forest is not one forest. It is a forest system all over the crown of the planet, like the tonsure on a monk. The boreal forest sits like a divine monk in meditation of the planet itself, going all across North America, going all across northern Europe into Russia’s taiga, going into northern China and northern Japan, into the Kuril Islands.

It is the last functioning intact forest left on the planet. And just in case you’re not sure of what this forest does, it oxygenates the atmosphere and absorbs carbon dioxide. What the boreal forest also does is produce prostaglandins from some of the trees and it is an activator in the atmosphere. It produces aerosols. It produces forest-bathing chemicals that bathes the whole of the atmosphere in the spring and it benefits people, even down in the south, even the people in Ottawa. So it floods the atmosphere with health-giving beneficial chemicals.

Fifty years ago, 100 years ago, we scientists did not know what a tree does. We didn’t fully understand it. The aboriginal people, hundreds of years ago, thousands of years ago, knew this by way of meditation, they knew it by way of ancient wisdoms. And their teaching was that the trees were sacred. And the trees are sacred, now in science we know the sacredness of the trees. We can’t cut the boreal down: we have to maintain it.

FP: Another aspect of your message is the importance of urban forests.

: Well, first of all, let’s look at the children of the people in urban areas. They live in a concrete castle; everything they see is concrete or stone or asphalt on the road. They don’t see nature. And that becomes the landscape of their minds, of their imaginations. So the urban forest produces, on a very basic level, the landscape of nature for these people. And that instils some little tiny bit of feeling for nature, because we are part of nature, we are part of the tapestry of nature. The people who are walking on the city streets they earned the right to have a little bit of nature in their homes and in their hearts.

Then, on the next level, the particular trees that you have in Winnipeg, the species called Ulmus americanus. Now what they do is something really, really unusual, in that the elms in particular have trichomal hairs on the undersides of the leaves and they act like combs, pulling the particulate pollution out of the air for the human family. And that’s 2.5 micron pollution, which is about a 10th of a pollen grain; it gets into your lungs and causes asthma and other problems. When you have trees there like you have in Manitoba, like you have in Winnipeg — Winnipeg is unique on the face of this planet, believe you me —what happens is that the pollution load is really really low.

FP: Winnipeg has one of the largest collection of mature elms left in North America, but climate change, disease and age are taking its toll on our canopy. Do you have any advice for Winnipeggers, both in terms of how we might preserve what’s left and how we might best go forward?

DBK: My suggestion would that every second tree you plant be a burr oak, a Quercus macrocarpa. They’re super drought-resistent, wind-turbulent resistant, just as the elms are. So if you lose your elms to disease, you won’t lose your oaks.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.