Monthly Archives: May 2014

Sharing the Confusion and Pain of Coming of Age | Review of “Praire Ostrich” by Tamai Kobayashi (2014) Goose Lane Editions

The coming-of-age novel is a very important type of book. Not only is a reader given an outlet to share their pain they received from when they grew up but others learn how to avoid causing upset to others. It is great to see new voices creating new coming-of-age novels using the 1970s and 80s as settings for their stories, giving new awareness to problems of the human condition. One such novel is Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi.

Page 7-8

Egg Murakami is eight years old and her feet are perfect. Not everyone can say that. She dangles her feet over the edge of the bed and clicks her tongue. The crisp autumn light spills over the ledge of her window, throwing shadows across the floor. Mornings are new, like a fresh sheet of paper. Mornings are new, without any mistakes. she can hear her mother in the kitchen, the metallic clatter of the kettle on the stove. He big sister Kathy twists the tap in the bathroom, a squeak that runs through the pipes in the floors. It is almost peaceful. Nekoneko, her puppet Kitty with the homemade eye patch, stands guard on her bedside table, gazing over the smash and scatter of Lego and dinky cars strewn on the faded russet rug. beneath her window lies the barrens of southern Alberta, the stunted grass that sweeps into the Badlands. To the right the sagging barn with its long wire pens, Left, the stubble fields that roll to the horizon. She taps her heels together. The low groan of the barn gate rumbles through the air. The ostriches burst from their enclosure, shaggy feathers hovering above the ground, legs a blur of spindly angles, as if in flight after all. Across the pen, down the line of the fence, they run with a frantic energy – then stop, stiff, as if confronted by an immovable object. The ostriches spin, twirling, their swings spread as if to greet the day, heads held high in a dizzying, exuberant dance.

Kobayashi has written an excellent story about eight-year old Egg Murakami. Her family is not quite dysfunctional but not a perfect family unit since her brother’s death. Mama Murakami drinks to excess and Papa has moved into the barn on their family ostrich farm. And big sister Kathy is in love with her best friend. The story deals with Egg’s day-to-day exploration of what life is suppose to be like and what it really is.

Page 17

The doors of the bus fly open and the aisle is a mass of gangly legs, jutting elbows, the shove and holler as the stampede to the yard begins. Egg hunkers down and waits – the rush is like rattling stones in a soda pop can. When she hears, “Last one off is a dirty, rotten egg!” she stiffens, but no that is not for her. With the big kids out of the way, Egg peeps her head above the green vinyl seats to make sure the coast is clear. Then she grabs her bookbag and lunch box.

Egg steps off the bus into the dazzle of light. First day of school and everything is new like a stack of birthday quarters. She taps her feet together. The blue whale has a heart the size of a car, and the speed of light is the fastest ever. These are facts. Irrefutable. Egg holds the word on her tongue as she steps toward the playground. The grit of the dirt crunches beneath her feet; she likes the shuffle-scratch sound. she takes a deep breath. The freshly mown scent of the football field tickles her nose and the white gravel of the baseball diamond actually seems to sparkle. A part of her, that twisty tight part of her deep in her chest, loosens ever so slightly as the warm brush of light glows against her skin. School is books too, the best Dictionary of all and Evangeline Granger in the library. A once upon a time and a happily ever after.

It’s a new year and everything can be different.

Kobayashi has documented the thoughts of a eight-year old well here. All the joy and angst, the fun and the fears, the happiness and the sorrows, the errors and the confusions are written about here as well as some new emotions other writers may have overlooked.

Page 55-56

Later that night, when Egg creeps down the stairs in her slippery socks, she sees Mama in the living room, slumped in the big chair. The television is on the late night show of Onward Christian Soldiers. A pledge of ten dollars a month gets you a Bible with a golden pin. The choir, all dressed in white, sings with an unearthly fervour “Are You Washed in the Blood?” but Mama does not stir. The electronic glow of the screen bathes her in a ghastly pallor. Dead dead dead and Egg almost screams.

“Egg, go upstairs.” Kathy’s voice comes from behind her. Kathy’s hand is on her Mama’s shoulder, jostling her.

“She’s not dead, is she?”

“No,” Kathy says with a glance at the bottle on the coffee table. “She just  . . . could you turn off the television?”

Egg clicks off the set. She can smell the acrid liquor, like the clinging scent of gasoline.

“I want to help.”

“Go to bed, Egg. You’ll be in the way.” Kathy leans forward. With a deep breath, she loops her mother’s arm around her shoulders and lifts her to her feet. Kathy eases her Mama up the stairs, the creak and stagger, the scrape along the wall, the groan of the mattress springs as Kathy rolls her mother into her bed.

As Egg hovers by Mama’s doorway, she realizes Kathy has done this all before. A queasiness shifts in the pit of her stomach.

Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi is more than likely one of the most profound books of this year. A true coming-of-age novel that documents the  complexities of growing up. It is a must read.

*****

Link to Tamai Kobayashi’s website

Link to Goose Lane Editions page for Prairie Ostrich

 

The Imagery that Comes through Words | Review of “The Breakfast of Birds” by Andreas Gripp (2013) Harmonia Press

It is amazing how a certain combination of words can convey a meaning or an emotion to the mind’s eye. Poetry is definitely one such means of communication that create a feeling inside a person like not other form of art. And Andreas Gripp’s The Breakfast of Birds is prime example of how the right combination of words can evoke strong imagery to the mind’s eye.

En Route to the Commonplace (Excerpt) Page 2

I take the same route to work

in my car every day. That in itself

is not interesting, nor where I work

since those are just two of the mundane

things that don’t make up poems,

unless they are boring ones that no one

wants too read except the author

who must have been really bored

to write it.

What does matter

is that I pass the same set of cars

each morning going in the opposite

direction, all of us locked in this routine

that’s needed in order to pay our various

bills.

Again, none of this will fascinate,

although it’s sad that we can’t all get together

for a drink sometime on our day off,

though since we only see on another

as the brevity of a blur

that’s unlikely to happen,

no one knowing anyone else’s name,

or even where they’re specifically

headed.

Gripp uses words in a terrific manner in this book. He has a phrasing that I haven’t read in a long time. It is clear and very simple yet very descriptive.

Clover Page 6

I’m rewarded by the clover

grateful I haven’t plucked it

as a weed.

See I there,

among the herbs,

full of triune faces,

sprouting yellowing flowers

just as pretty

as the ones

that grace the yard,

its nectar no less worthy

to the eyes

that best discern,

the ones that buzz and stop

when spotting colour.

This collection is vivid and deep. Every phrase seems to have a easy-to-grasp meaning or conveys an emotion.

 

Leaving the Beach (Page 50)

The seagull

takes our discard

upon its dive,

that piece of rye

we cast aside

because the crust

was much too dry,

 

abandoned in what signifies

the lack of what is moist –

sand in all its coarseness,

 

grains of which take flight

whenever winds whip up

their gales,

or when the lucky

ride the down of wings

of birds

indebted to bread.

The Breakfast of Birds by Andreas Gripp is brilliant collection of poetry. The mind’s eye is easily awaken by the combination of words Gripp and one can easily grasp the emotion he conveys.

 

*****

Link to Andreas Gripp’s website

Link to Harmonia Press’ Blog

 

 

 

 

Trevor Ferguson has just released The River Burns, (Link to my review) his seventh novel under his own name. Well known for writing what he calls “the human experience,” Ferguson teaches creative writing at Concordia University and recently answered a few questions for me.

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1. You recently released The River Burns. How has it been received so far?

A: The reviews and public reaction has been splendid. We’re in a relatively new era, where so many readers are able to post their responses on-line, as blogs or as part of interactive sites for readers. So it’s great to get that insight into reactions, and its particularly great when the response has been so positive. One common thread is that many readers begin by saying, “I’ve never heard of Trevor Ferguson before”, so it’s clear that I’m finding a new audience as well, and that’s heartening.

2) How much of your writing is based on personal experience? Do you include other people’s personal stories in your novels or do you rely on your imagination to come up with some of the situations in your books?

 

A: I don’t go to the well of personal experience directly. I have a lot to draw upon,  and did  my time in and around the logging world  of  northern British Columbia, for example, which informs my logging world here in Quebec. That was a different time than this one though, and so I’m more comfortable using personal experience  as  a  resource  that  underscores  and  evaluates  my  imaginative interests. I’m an imaginative writer, conspicuously so perhaps, that’s what drives my books, whereas mirroring what has already been lived never feels sufficiently vital  to  me  to  be  worth  the  effort.  I  also  believe  that  the  imagination  can transcend the personal more readily and come to grips with a broader  canvas of human experience.

 

3) Who are some of your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

 

 

A: My literary world has always been viewed through a wide-angle lens. And it still is. I’ve just read, Three Stations, a crime novel by Martin Cruz Smith, and also A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, which is what it claims to be (science  abbreviated  and  simplified).  I’m  reading  April  Fool’s  Day by  Josip Novokavich now and I’m expecting to get back to Anna Karenina once again, after a  forty-five  year  absence,  to  see what  I  think  of  that  book today.  (Summer project.) My hierarchy of favourite writers keeps Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy high up the ladder.

4) Most of the writers that I have interviewed for this blog seem to have a major presence on the internet through a website and on social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter.  But it seems you only seem to be on Facebook alone. Is there a reason for that?

A: I try not to spread myself too thinly. After all, I’m a writer, and that means focus and time alone and time to mull  and ponder and just imagine. Not to mention, writing for uninterrupted stretches of time. Too much interference can affect how the words arrive on the page, and so the tech side and the media side have to be managed. I don’t have any grievance with the necessity, only that they not take over one’s life too much. So I do place limitations.

5) Have you taken part in any public readings of any of your novels? If yes, how did you like that experience? Do you have any readings of The River Burns scheduled yet?

A: I’ve done a number of public readings, including one to a large audience in Wakefield, the setting for  The River Burns.  I have another one this week, my fourth so far in Montreal. Once again at a bookstore. I love public readings and put a lot into it. Looking further down the road, I’ll be at the Eden Mills (near Guelph, ON) Writers’ Festival in the fall, but other than that the readings are mostly behind me for this book. But I love to read and perform, for sure.

6) Are you aware of any reading groups or book clubs that have read any of your novels? If yes, what was that experience like for you?

A: Over the years I’ve stepped into a reading club or two, and the experience was most  enjoyable.  We had a good time and found much to discuss.  That someone is, on occasion, grumpy about what I’ve written is par for the course and very much part of the fun.

7) Your biographies list that you write both books and for the stage. Is there a preference that you enjoy doing? Do you have any new stage performances coming up?

A: I was pleased to extend my writing experience to the stage. After 25 years at my desk writing novels, it was fun to be working with other artists—directors, designers, actors—and to have a “live”, rather than an invisible, audience. But at a certain point I found that I was doing too much—without exaggeration, I took stock one winter and discovered that I was involved in projects for the stage, for film, for television, plus two novels, plus teaching writing, and so had to say, Whoa, pull back and take it one project at a time. I presently am contracted to write three crime novels under my other name (John Farrow) so that will be my focus for awhile.

8) There are a number of people who follow my blog who are ‘trying their hand’ at writing. Do you have any advice for them if they are uncertain of what they are doing?

A:  Hard to do that in a vacuum. Everyone is at a different stage and dealing with different problems. Read a lot and write a lot are the prerequisites. I’ve never spent one minute of my life “waiting” for inspiration, I just do the work. What has to be realized though is that writing means training the mind to do what you want it to do. So when writing a scene, write it though and finish it before revising. If you constantly fix it as you go, which the computer sometimes tricks us into doing, the mind never knows what it is that the writer wants. You want the words to flow out of your head, rapt and engaged, and only when that process is done is it time to revise. The second step, after getting good flow onto the page, is to learn to enjoy revising,  as  there is  equal  magic and pleasure there,  it’s   not drudgery. Enjoy every aspect, because it’s a long haul, and you’ll only get through the long haul if you’re enjoying yourself along the way.

9) How do you like living in Quebec? Does it’s cultural scene help you with your writing?

A: I enjoy Quebec and obviously it’s been a choice to stay here. No question, it hurts the career to be here, I’d be better off in Toronto or New York or London. English Quebeckers do suffer a certain cultural invisibility. But this is a fine place to work and live, and when my career was suffering the most, French readers stepped up and supported my work in translation, so that was a huge bonus for which I’ll always be grateful. French readers kept me afloat when otherwise I may have drowned.

10) Your bios. list that Seaforth, Ontario as your birthplace. Have you made it back for any visits recently?

A: Actually, Seaforth is where the hospital was located, but my first home was a town called Hensall, Ontario. I arrived in Montreal when I was three years old, so I don’t have big ties to Hensall. My parents pretty much hated the town, as well. I haven’t been back recently. Probably the last time was about 20-25 years ago. At that point, it hadn’t changed much. It’s a very, very small town. In my second novel, (The River Burns is my tenth), which was called Onyx John, I took a few cracks at a town that I called Hensvale. I changed the name because I knew that I was being mean. But after the book was published my mother was upset that I had changed the name, she wanted the town (a hamlet,  really)  to have its comeuppance.

 

*****

Link to Simon & Schuster Canada’s page for “The River Burns.”

Facing Hard Facts about Ourselves | Review of “Earthbound” by Kenneth Radu (2012) DC Books

We are all faced with situations in our life that shatters and upsets our core beliefs. An event or a circumstance occurs and we are stunned to our inner psyches trying to figure out how to deal with it. It is a common occurrence in the human condition and Kenneth Radu writes about those situations in his collection of short stories called Earthbound.

The Ice Storm – Page 1

Driving home from the hospital Julie kept repeating to herself that all kinds of families populated the world and not one of them needed to apologize. She would soon join the ranks of divorced mothers with three children. The legal separation itself last year had been relatively painless, although she did drop some of her wedding pictures into the garbage disposal by the sink, and had asked Roger not to call for at least a month before beginning the weekend visits to the children. Mutual friends, divorced or not, had consoled at first, then drifted away. Her parents had squinted chagrin and tried to sympathize. they both liked Roger. As they had been married for half a century, Julie doubted if her mother and father could possibly understand they dynamics and stress of modern relationships. they seldom went to the movies, preferring restaurants, lawn bowling with their septuagenarian friends, and backgammon.

These are stories truly reflect situations that most of us  experience. The protagonists may be the most stable of individuals but act out because of some sort of dark instinct inside themselves. This makes for a brilliant and thought-provoking read.

Road Rage – Page 29

Just before the light changed, the car shot across the intersection and veered suddenly into the lane of oncoming traffic and passed a FedEx truck. Billy lost sight of it because he wasn’t about to risk a pass. At the next set of lights, though, the truck turned into the left turning land and, lo and behold, there was Mr. Hotshot-in-Black forced to a stop by too many cars crossing the intersection. The lights changed. The black car squealed ahead and, without signalling, made a sharp turn at the next corner. If everyone followed the rules, there was a greater chance of survival. In one way or another, the army had drummed that idea into him until he half-believed it. Shagging a chick or two in his recreation room certainly broke the rules, according to his wife. He thought he had lost track of the car when it veered around another corner down the road, without signalling.

A residential neighborhood. Suppose a child ran out on the street, chasing a ball. Just as that shirtless boy in baggy white trousers had run on to a dusty road to pick up and fondle a grenade that looked like a baby armadillo in the searing sun. It exploded in black smoke. If he hadn’t done so, Billy’s jeep would have ridden over it. He had been ordered not to stop for civilians under any circumstances. The car pulled into a driveway in front of a bungalow. Should he recite all the statistics about the thousands injured annually, the thousands maimed and killed by inept drivers ignoring the rules of the road? The soldiers ripped and sundered on the road?

Radu has a fantastic writing style and the stories he has constructed here are very complex at times. Not a quick read but one that is thought provoking and engaging.

Candles Page 99-100

Alexei was good. Sandy was good, too. Cicely was good. His father, too, swept away in the flood, swept away to another life somewhere. Like Anastasia, maybe even Alexei wandering through Siberian forests, traipsing among the Ural mountains, trying to find his way back to life, to his family who missed him so much, so much, it hurt to remember his father, lake a paper cut on his finger. “Yuri, dead, Cicely you let go, dead, dead, don’t you understand, dead!” his mother had screamed at him when she cried in the small apartment kitchen. He had tried to console her, crying himself: “Maybe, Cicely’s not drowned, mama, just lost, maybe.” She pushed him away, raised a fist against his face but did not strike.

Earthbound by Kenneth Radu is an emotional collection of short stories. A must read for anybody interested in the human condition and a must read for anybody struggling with human emotions.

 

*****

Link to DC Books Canada page for Earthbound

 

 

 

Janet E. Cameron’s debut novel Cinnamon Toast and The End of The World (Link to my review) is a brilliant coming-of-age novel set in the 1980s. The Nova-Scotia author now living in Ireland recently answered a few questions for me  – especially what is next in her writing career.
*****
1)  So how has the reaction been to Cinnamon Toast and The End of The World been so far? Has there been any particular memorable feedback to the novel so far?
A: I’m not sure overall what the general reaction has been. You send this stuff out into the world and get little bits of information here and there as to how it’s doing and the rest is guess work. There was a great review in the Globe and Mail about a month after it was released in Canada, and a starred review in Quill and Quire a few weeks later, both majorly yay-inducing moments for me. Also it’s been nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Evergreen award, which I think has gotten it a bit of attention. Occasionally I’ll have someone contact me on social media or by email to tell me they liked it, and then I’m skipping around the place with joy. I’ve even had a few people say it’s one of their favourite books, and when that happens, there’s really no feeling like it. (Not that all reader feedback has been positive of course, but then, people who hate your book rarely make a point of emailing to tell you this, thank God.)
2) I’m curious about your back story. How does a Canadian writer find herself in Dublin, Ireland?
A: It was because of the 2002 FIFA Soccer World Cup! I was teaching at a private school in Tokyo the year Japan and Korea hosted the world cup and the city was flooded with international fans. I happened to run into one, a cute curly-headed journalist, when I was out with a group of friends. Three years later I was married to him and living in Ireland.
3) Are working on any new writing right now? If yes, are there details you can share with your fans?
A; My fans? You mean my mom? Well, you can tell her that I’m working on a novel now, but it’s giving me a lot of trouble and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to be a book. It’s set in the same town as Cinnamon Toast and the main characters are a couple of minor figures from that book. It deals with the aftermath of a suicide, so anyone who thinks the first book was a bit miserable will probably not find this one a fun-fest either. If it ever gets out there.
4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
A: You know, it’s funny. Every time I claim someone as a favourite, they release something I don’t like, and then I want to call up everyone I’ve told and say I’ve changed my mind. I think Edmund White can be wonderful, especially when his backdrop is the American mid-west. I loved Douglas Adams when I was a kid and can still quote chunks of the Hitchhiker books. Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness is a great book that was a big influence when I was starting to write prose, and recently my big favourite is Ruth Ozeki’s
A Tale for the Time Being. I try to keep an open mind and read everything. Right now I’m about halfway through Lisa Moore’s Caught and the writing is pretty much blowing my tiny mind.
5) When you write do you get inspiration from your own life or from the lives of others for your stories?
A: I just make stuff up, mostly. If my life is involved, it’s less interesting for me, or at least more difficult. I did have a suicide in my family back in 1989, which is one reason why the second book’s giving me so much trouble. That said, I enjoy using real places and sticking little details from the real world into what I’m writing. But you have to be careful with that in case someone gets the wrong idea. I gave Stephen’s father the nickname ‘Spider’ and had him living on the North Mountain in Nova Scotia, so a friend wondered if I was writing about Spider Robinson, the science-fiction author. I had to clarify that when, to my surprise, Spider himself ended up reading the book. (He liked it, which made me super, super happy.)
6) You seem to have a presence on some of the social media platforms like Twitter. Does being on those platforms help you with your writing?
A: I think they’re a time and energy drain, actually, but I’ll admit I’m addicted. It’s easier to post a blog article than to publish a book, and the reaction from readers is pretty much instantaneous, so it can be very rewarding in the short term – which makes it a dangerous distraction from the rest of my writing. Publishers encourage you to use these outlets, although no one can measure how much social media helps with sales and recognition and we might all be just guessing here.
7) Do you do a lot of travelling? Do you make it back to Canada much? (Now that WestJet is offering service between Ireland and Canada I would assume it would be a bit easier.)
A: That service won’t start until the fall, but it might make things easier. The problem is that there’s so much of Canada – my sister and mother are in Edmonton and my dad is in Nova Scotia. So once you’ve arrived, there’s still a lot of travelling to do, and it’s not exactly cheap. I’m on an extended visit to Nova Scotia now, but I don’t imagine I’ll be back soon once it’s over. I just can’t afford it.
8) Has Cinnamon Toast been involved in any book clubs at all? If yes, did you participate with their discussions at all?
A: Yes, it’s been interesting. I don’t know how many book clubs have covered it, but I was able to attend one meeting in person in the fall, which was pretty great. We had cinnamon rolls, of course. I’ve also Skyped book clubs in New Zealand, Vancouver and New Brunswick. Sometimes this goes well and sometimes it’s a bit awkward, depending on the connection. Once I couldn’t see more than one person at a time and just had the impression of getting yelled at by unseen voices with every fourth word cutting out. But for the group in Vancouver, there was a big screen and a great connection and it was like being there.
9) Have you done any public readings of Cinnamon Toast at all? If yes, what was that experience like for you?
A: I’ve read from it a number of times, usually as part of a double or triple/quadruple bill with other authors. I got to read twice at the Festival of Authors in Toronto last October, which was really quite amazing. I like reading for a group, but tend to get stuck on the same bits to read because I know they work and it’s difficult to take chances on something you’re not sure of when you’re nervous. But I’ve got another reading coming up in early June and I’ll just have to force myself out of the old comfort zone this time.
10) There are quite a few people trying their hand at writing fiction right now. Do you have any advice for them?
Edit. Edit your little heart out. Edit until you’re ready to go mad, then edit some more. It’s the only way you improve. And be patient with yourself. I know when you’re finished something, impulse to run out and share it becomes overwhelming – writing is about communication after all – but I always regret sharing anything without a cooling off period first. You will probably find you want to change something or even give it another few drafts before it’s ready to get out there and meet people.
*****

“I got a note from a pipeline welder who works in Alberta’s oil patch; he wrote to say that reading Oil Man changed his mind about Northern Gateway” | Q&A with author Arno Kopecky

The Northern Gateway project has been mention numerous times by the talking heads that appear on our screens for the past couple of years. But it took Arno Kopecky to explore British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest region and put his findings into a book titled The Oil Man and the Sea (Link to my review) to fully describe the area involved and what the project would do to the area. As Kopecky prepares to give a speaking tour of Ontario, he answered a few questions for me.

*****

1) So how has the reaction been to The Oil Man and the Sea so far? Have you received any memorable responses to the book?

A: A few months ago I got a note from a pipeline welder who works in Alberta’s oil patch; he wrote to say that reading Oil Man changed his mind about Northern Gateway (which he’d previously supported), because he hadn’t realized how dicey the tanker routes and Enbridge’s so-called Marine Safety Plan were. So that was probably the best personal response I’ve received, though I’ve been gratified by positive reviews in places like the Globe & Mail, National Post, Literary Review of Canada, as well as warm personal notes from a lot of strangers all across Canada. Alas, the most memorable response, the one most indelibly printed in my mind, came from a man I met during my sailing trip, a man I admire greatly, who emailed me to say that what I’d written was a pile of offensive bullshit, and that my lies had pissed off a number of well-respected leaders in the north.
2) You are about to do a reading tour of Ontario. Are you hoping that the your readings will bring some awareness to the central coast region of British Columbia before the Northern Gateway project goes through?
A: It’s true that BC’s north-central coast contains a globally significant wilderness, and I’d love to share a sense of its magnificence with Canadians who may not know much about it. But more importantly, I want to talk about what Northern Gateway has to do with the rest of Canada’s pipeline battles, especially Ontario’s. This is about much more than any one pipeline, company, or oil spill, however catastrophic it may be. For instance: the National Energy Board refuses to include climate change in its consideration of environmental impacts for any public hearings into new pipelines, be it Northern Gateway or Line 9 or Energy East. Yet the oil sands are Canada’s biggest, and fastest-growing, source of greenhouse gases, the primary reason we’re failing miserably in our attempt to reduce overall GHG’s. That’s what gives the lie to anyone who accuses pipeline opponents of not-in-my-back-yard-ism…in the absence of any coherent national policy on climate change, and without any substantive federal support for alternative energy systems, slowing down these pipelines is the most viable option Canadians have for slowing down national emissions.
3) How long have you been practicing journalism? What inspired you to get into that field?
A: My first journalism gig was as the arts and culture reporter for a newspaper in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2004, but it wasn’t until I followed that with a pair of internship’s at Harper’s in New York and then The Walrus in Toronto that I realized how entertaining and illuminating journalism — specifically, long form, narrative journalism — could be. And as I started to practice, it turned out to be something I could do, which was more than I could say for the art of fiction.
4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
A: John Vaillant is a hometown hero of mine whose writing has been a big inspiration. Rushdie, Marquez, David Foster Wallace, to choose a representative from a few other countries. At the moment I’m struggling through Democracy In America by Alexis de Toqueville, a French aristocrat who traveled through the US in the early 1800s to study the new world’s grand experiment.
5) You seem to be doing a fair bit of travelling. Is it something you enjoy? Will you be continuing to travel in the future?
A: Yep, I do love travel. Still do a fair amount of it and always will, but I’ve been falling ever more deeply in love with the west coast of Canada (I live in Vancouver), and find my urge to gallivant beyond this zone is diminishing. I’m 37, so, clearly, getting old.
 
6)  You seem to be somewhat active on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those formats for your work?
A: Ha – “somewhat” is the operative term, for sure. I should be way more active than I am. I see it like The Force, with a dark side that every Jedi must contend with. Trying to make sure you’re adding something genuinely valuable to that Force, rather than merely self-aggrandizing or naval-gazing banalities, is a constant challenge, just as not getting sucked into the latest elevator brawl caught on YouTube requires an act of willpower, however small. But there’s the real possibility that social media can actually improve the lives of those who use it, and so, my struggle continues.
 
7) Are you working on any new works right now? If yes, are there details you can share with your fans?
A: Nothing big in the works just yet. I do have a feature that I’m excited to see come out in the June issue of Alberta Views magazine (www.albertaviews.ca), describing the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s Honor-The-Treaty battle against oil sands development in their territory, just north of Edmonton. Beyond that…stay tuned!
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Kopecky speaks:  at the Ottawa Public Library on Sunday June 1; at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library on Wednesday June 4; at Hamilton’s Lawn Bowling Clubhouse (Churchill Park) on Thursday,  June 5;  and at Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation on Sunday, June 7.

Reflecting on our Uncertainty | Review of “Omens in the Year of the Ox” by Steven Price (2012) Brick Books

There seems moments in our lives when we question who were are and what we have done. It comes to us late at night or while on vacation or especially when reading. Omens in the Year of the Ox is a collection of poetry by Steven Price that ponders our existence in unique ways.

Page 13 The Crossing (excerpt)

So. At the end of the middle of your life

you wake, rain-shivering, to a white railing

in a shriven dusk. A strangeness churning

under the hull, the great blades boiling through

ferruginous waters. So the ferries sail still

in this late age, vast holds half-full of souls.

And so you rise, each day, more than you were.

Exhausted, maybe, into silence. When Bridges

wrote, How is the world’s bright shift held

in such a cluttered line? Hopkins, in a rage,

had no answer. Or none beyond his poetry.

Rain in silver ropes overrunning his faith,

his metre marking long great gulps of night air.

So the waters gulp at the mournful hull,

so the rusted bolts bleed.

Price’s words here are dark, mysterious and filled with unique references to mythology and classical literature. But there is also something introspective in the lines. Something almost indescribable yet something that we all feel.

Auto-da-Fe (page 34)

Grace is like fire, says Augustine of Hippo, extending the metaphor: burning a man must be done with skill if he is to last. Most die with merely their calves on fire. I remember a dark swale of grass, a girl lifting her shirt. Folding back her cuffs to show her scars. Cigarette burns in small white lesions on her wrists. When burning a man, one must tether faggots and twists of straw up the stake to the head. In this way he will burn in stages and not be overwhelmed. She ran her fingers through her hair and her hair in the dusk was singed by the fire of that setting sun. As a toddler Augustine had played in the courtyard while his mother bathed, the bones glowing in her ankles. Augustine says in the sunlight the hands of our mothers burn like sunlight, like they aren’t there at all. It is never what we think. She rubbed her scars and said, Fire eats and eats in order not to die. I said, We are so alike you and I.

These are complex poems written in different styles. They need to be read again and again, at different times of the day and while suffering from different moods. Price’s words enlightening and thought-provoking.

Three Blues

II. VAGRANCY BLUES –   (Page 65)

Got to lurk,

shine an shirk,

ain’t nothin so sweet as steady work

Got to thank the man.

 

Got sun, sand,

coalblack tan,

an ever man workin just as hard as he can.

Got to thank the man.

Got bed, board,

ten to a ward,

shiny new collar for each of us, lord-

Got to thank the man.

 

Got time, time,

askin no dime,

punchin that dirt on God’s county line

Got to thank the man.

Ever day,

night an day,

watchin the good man give us our pay –

O right proper one a these days

we goin to thank that man,

I say we goin to thank that man.

A complex yet thought-provoking read, Omens in the Year of the Ox by Steven Price is a fantastic collection of poetry. The different styles of verse are interesting but the ideas Price brings forward are certainly enlightening.

*****

Link to Brick Books page for “Omens in the Year of the Ox”

Coming of Age in the Eighties | Review of “Cinnamon Toast and The End of the World’ by Janet E. Cameron. (2013) Hachette Books Ireland

For those of us who were teenagers in the 1980s, we know there was a particular difficulty trying to be a individual during that era. Specific social  norms were set out and – no doubt – the scars from trying to be ourselves AND being liked by our peers still show on us today. Janet E. Cameron has documented how difficult it was coming-of-age to adulthood then in her novel Cinnamon Toast and The End of the Word.

Page 1

‘It’s not the end of the world.’

That’s what people will tell you. That’s what people will tell you when they want to say, ‘Your problems are stupid, your reaction to them is laughable, and I would like you to go away now.

‘Oh, Stephen, for God’s sake, it’s not the end of the world,’ my mother will say, over and over again, in tones of sympathy of distraction. Or sometimes plain impatience.

So of course if she’s ever running around looking for her keys and cursing, I’ll always tell her, ‘It’s not the end of the world, Mom.’ And if she’s really been pissing me off, I’ll scoop the keys up from wherever she’s left them and stick them in my coat pocket. Then I’ll settle back to watch with a sympathetic expression while she tears the house apart looking. Lost keys? Not the end of the world.

I’m not an asshole to my mother all the time, by the way. It’s just sort of a hobby. There’s really not a lot to do in my town.

Cameron has written a great novel through the eyes of Stephen Shulevitz. We see get to see and understand his world in 1987. Three months left of high school in the small town of Riverside, Nova Scotia, he should be excited that he is leaving that way-too small town, but Stephen’s world is ‘about to end’ when he realizes that he has fallen in love with the wrong person.

Page 76

I couldn’t help thinking that if Mark were here, he’d despise me for the things my mother was saying. I wasn’t sure why, but I was pretty certain he would.

If Mark were here. The image took hold suddenly, like a hand closing over my throat. If Mark were her with me instead of her, instead of Lana. If it had been him under this sloping ceiling, passing me a bottle of vodka to drink. Star anise. Shoved up against the wall, shelves pressing into my back, fumbling with buttons and zippers, half dying. Hands full, mouth full. Of him.

Jesus Christ. I was losing my mind.

Cameron’s grasp of the language that Stephen would use is excellent. She is able clearly show his frustration in dealing with his mother, his distant father and his friends.  Not only is this a great book in showing about rural teenage life in the 1980s but is a great YA novel for any teenager to read.

Page 142

‘It’s these stupid pills,’ Lana said, swiping at her eyes with her fist. ‘You know. The birth control pills – they get me all emotional for no reason. I’m happy, Stephen. Honest. I’m glad you could trust me . . .’ She broke down again, her body trembling against mine.

We lay back under the trampoline in the cool grass with our arms around each other. It was nice under there. Like being a little kid hiding out in a tent in the backyard imagining nobody can find you. The grass pressed against us and left patterns creased into our skin. We were on our sides. She asked me how long I’d been attracted to guys. I told her probably forever.

‘Even when you came to my house? That first time? When your mom got drunk?’ There was a little hitch to her breathing and I was afraid she’d start to cry again.

I ran my hand along her back. ‘You were so nice to me that day. It really turned everything around. That this cool girl from Toronto wanted to be my friend.’

‘You mean the fat girl with the dippy name.’

‘Don’t say that. You’ve beautiful, Svetlana.’

Cinnamon Toast and The End of the World by Janet E. Cameron is a brilliant coming-of-age novel. The language is realistic and colourful, making this book a great read. Hopefully we will get to see more from this author.

Link to Janet E. Cameron’s website

Link to Hachette Books Ireland’s site for ‘Cinnamon Toast and The End of the World’

 

Reflections of the “Old Country” | Review of “Romanian Suite” by Kenneth Radu (1996) Brick Books

Many of us have those “stories from the old country” lodged in our memories that our family has instilled in us. They are brilliant flashes of thoughts and recollections that come to us from time to time when certain situation occur. Kenneth Radu has collected some of those memories and thoughts in his collection of poetry called Romanian Suite which is a brilliant read.

 

Page 13 The Gardener  (except)

My grandfather sat outside

under a white moon, dust ringing

his eyes and locust larvae glowing

in the devastated fields.

He played the pipe still,

remembered the old village

and told stories to his new wife

and their children, which passed

like a song from their mouth to mine.

In my garden I plant pumpkins

more for aesthetics than nutrition,

take time from the piano to dig deep.

Radu has been on my ‘to-read’ list for a while and I am sorry that it is just now I discovered his work. His words are brilliant and literary thought-provoking. The mind’s eye clearly sees the images he creates.

Page 41 – ii: I dream of desert places (excerpt)

I dream of desert places where the wind

does not blow and the sun is white, the sky

unclouded blue and the sand does not shift

beneath my bare feet:

the space we enter when music dies.

Radu also is able to give a history lesson and deliver emotion through his words – a rare combination. The mind’s eye is enlightened through these words.

Page 57 The Gardener Attends a Piano Recital at Place des Art (Excerpt)

His hair romantically long, fingers light, interpretation full as the wind; beside, behind, in front of me, I hear French, appreciative comments of this Romanian artist who does not live where Roman legions once impressed their tongue. His first name my last and his last, Lupu, is the name of the wolf, after silent creatures who eat partridges in the snow, who breathe like spirits peering through pine boughs, and in their secret places pass on the stories of legendary wolves.

Romanian Suite by Kenneth Radu is a well-crafted collection of poetry. The imagery clearly comes through to the mind’s eye and it is a great read.

Link to Brick Books page for “Romanian Suite”

 

 

Pondering the Depths | Review of ” The sea with no one in it” by Niki Koulouris (2013) The Porcupine’s Quill

Most of the planet is covered in water and it is easy to ignore that fact. But poet Niki Koulouris has pondered the ocean and has brilliantly put her observations in a collection call The sea with no one in it.

Page 11

1.

 

I’m fond of ships

their progress,

the turning weather

for they are never without alternatives

and they may contain the whole population of the mountains

their disasters leave us without suspicion;

leave us stranger

 

I’ve seen the ocean once

and I know it has potential

the only way to look at it

is as if it is familiar

there must be more to this than tides,

forgetting language,

neighbourhoods,

the centre of the city;

I want to understand the voyage

these qualms beneath my feet.

It is almost a shame to add my few words to the wonderful observations that are in this small volume. The thoughts are clear and artistic. And if this book is taken to a quiet corner and pondered, the reader’s mind is clearly enlightened in many ways.

 

Page 37

24 . (for Jackson Pollock)

 

In a pact with an owl

you wade through

the cramped reflections of a lake

so many nights on short fuse wire

you drive like a gelding

 

through fog

through headlights

those two canoes

lifted like sleepers

This is a wonderful first read and a wonderful re-read. A must for any library.

37.

Where were stars before Rome

another Rome

and who are these tourists looking

at Michelangelo’s David

as if he were an undressed skin diver

in a glass elevator held up

for some reason on the second floor

 

therein holding his slingshot over his shoulder

his shins like the undersides of twin sharks

bare feet yet to defy the minefields of a modern city

or walk over star-deep linoleum

to meet the shallow-wristed tide

from where he might consider hurling

that stone into the water.

Niki Koulouris’ s reflections in The sea with no one in it are profound and bold. A carefully crafted piece of work that should be read again and again.

*****

Link to The Porcupine’s Quill’s page for The sea with no one in it