I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
We all receive numerous gifts throughout the year but the ones that have true meaning are the ones that are carefully crafted so they become treasured items. Recently I received a copy of The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris from the dedicated publishing firm of The Porcupine’s Quill. And it will become a loved item for my personal library shelf.
Work (Excerpt) – Page 157
My seven-year-old fishing
for the first time, in the murk, perfect
pike somewhere else, not here. The
mobile rings, his mum asking
everything OK? Better take some
chicken out for supper. Poems somewhere,
and rainbows. Rainbows!
I received this volume in the mail on a Friday and spent a lot of my leisure time over the following weekend with it. I love Harris’ expressive prose and lyricism in this collection. It was a warm and enveloping feeling to read a phrase that he has crafted and then come to the realization that I had been in a similar situation or had a similar feeling that he had been describing in his works. I found myself repeating phrases out loud because they were such vivid expressions that I could relate to.
The Patient – Page 15
I am here and afraid; my body
scooped out and laid in thin
rubber. the tubes like thermometers
in my body’s weather; they fill me
with bread pale as clean cotton.
I reduce it, reduce everything
to liquids in what’s left of my stomach,
in what’s left of my mind.
In the softest, quietest ways I am broken
into parts; one a day, once a day, they
come and play with me, with red sacs
and white sacs and murmurings and measurements.
They clean me like a fingernail
where the quick starts to sting
and they will not stop.
The Porcupine’s Quill in Erin, Ontario, Canada always publishes such detailed works with dedication and clarity that it is a pleasure for any book fan to pick up one of their works and slip away from the world in an intellectual fashion. Their stock is always of highest grade and any illustrations they use are detailed and well-thought out.
The Watchmender, Paros – Page 83
and they don’t know what.
These are the watches
their grandfathers brought –
the springs so thin now
they’d snap at his touch:
and they expect them fixed.
Under the small shop lamp,
his two differing eyes work hard
against each other: the clear one
fastened to his optic lens –
the wayward other, wandering with disuse,
dimly taking in the villagers
whose shadow pass his window,
or stand before him, waiting.
He bends like a priest
by the deathbed candle,
to attend to the useless glow
of jewels sunk deep
in almost-dead works,
like rosaries of stars
that won’t wear out.
The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris was a truly remarkable and touching gift I received from The Porcupine’s Quill. Harris’ words and well-crafted and expressive and the book is printed on wonderful stock. It is an item I will cherish and keep.
It easy enough to ignore a lot of the phrases and images that swirl around us in this day in age. Our media-rich lives are bombarded with words and phrases that we ignore most items that come our why. So it takes a person with a well-honed talent to make most people notice their product. And the small volume called Some Theories by Kathryn Mockler and David Poolman is such an excellent example of a product for willing readers to notice and ponder upon.
Theories (Page 2)
People with children do not want to listen to you theories about the end of the world. Ghosts do not want to hear from the living. People without swimming pools do not want to know that people with swimming pools had a good swim.
Mockler has been a writer who has always made me question my reality in a round-about way and this book certainly does that. (Check out her Instagram feed where she posts interesting and poetic comments under the hashtag #thisisntaconversation (Link here)) Mockler’s phrases sound absurd at first until a reader considers the statement. We realize that the world is absurd and Mockler has made an observation showing that in a bold and frank way.
LET’S PLAY OIL SLICK (Page 10)
BOY: Let’s play oil slick.
GIRL: I get to be the bird, and you can be the rescuer.
BOY: I want to be the bird. Now wash my hair.
GIRL: You wash my hair. You were the bird last time.
BOY: I’m not playing unless I get to play the character I want.
GIRL: Why don’t you be the bird, and I’ll be the sea otter?
BOY: Who will rescue us?
Poolman’s illustrations are just as illuminating as Mockler’s phrase. They appear simple and somewhat puzzling yet as one ponders the image, they are complex messages about items we hold dear in our lives.
Some Theories by Kathryn Mockler and David Poolman is certainly a unique read. If a reader takes the time to look at it beyond a simple volume and thinks about the images and words, they will note the unique perspectives this book brings forward.
Constantly I hear that we need to make time to ponder our reality and at least consider the state of the world we are in. But to find the time to sit and reflect is at a premium. Then something occurs in our lives that forces ourselves into a state of shock to dwell on ‘the meaning of life.’ Catherine Graham has been a writer I have enjoyed for years. And I knew for months on had that she had a work coming out with the imagery-rich title The Celery Forest. So I gleefully purchased my copy of her book when I saw it and raced over to meet her to get her to sign it for me. But when I walked away from that signing session and read the phrase on the back of book “this is the topsy-turvy world she found herself in after learning she had breast cancer,” I knew this was a volume that I needed to find time to carefully read with deep consideration. So I waited impatiently to enter Graham’s Celery Forest until I had the time to reflect on the sights and sounds I would witness there. And the journey in there was truly an enlightening one.
Interrogation in the Celery Forest (Page 1)
We shoulder it onto the slab.
It squirms. Water. Electric-white
Raindrops fast into absence.
No bridge as believable as all this.
Pliers were used. And absence.
A heart – skewered through skeins
of red nets and milk from some aimless
animal on the drowning cloth.
Now, intruder, bird`s-eye, pip,
you must answer.
Cancer seems to vaulting us into states of shock all the time. It afflicts friends and loved ones and we really never seem to be prepared to deal with it. And while there may be a technical definition to the disease, truly understanding what people go through when it hits them only really can be understood through the works of literature. Graham has given insight to her experience with cancer by creating this ‘forest’ and allowing us to witness the sights and sounds there. There is a hodgepodge of images and emotions which require careful reading (I admit to mouthing certain phrases to truly understanding their meanings) but by documenting her thoughts here, Graham has given us something to at least ‘get a grip’ when cancer throws us into a reflective state.
Owl in the Celery Forest (Page 24)
Owl, you never asked to be wise
or a companion to the witch.
Fly in for the scurry – vole, field mouse,
creatures with eyes scuttling through grass,
Then pluck the tumour out of my breast
with you sharp, curved talons –
let the only thing that spreads be your wings.
There is a collection of opposites in Graham’s forest. There is angst but there is joy. There is some darkness but there is some light. There is urgency but there are moments to enjoy nature. There is some ugliness but there is also much beauty. We adults may have matured beyond the understanding that our stories don’t close with a ‘happy-ever-after’ ending but Graham does show some enchantment of life with it’s continued existence.
Fireflies (Page 49)
Little green fires that do not burn,
yet blink and float
outside the cottage window
into Christmas trees.
When you returned
as a firefly, I heard
what happened –
your winking battery
broken because you merely
grew in size.
Jealous of Dad`s sighting,
not knowing you would appear
decades later as pure
waves the moment I broke
free from anaesthesia’s grip.
After reading Catherine Graham’s The Celery Forest, I realized my act of getting her to sign my copy of her book was not a flippant act, but one of my craving for a enlightened understanding of the human condition. Graham’s bold and detailed exploration of ‘the forest’ certainly enlightened me. And this book will hold a special place in my library.
Kilby Smith-McGregor has had a busy time since her book Kids In Triage came out last May. But being busy for her may not be a bad thing for somebody as insightful and talented as her. In the Q&A listed below, she talks about the book, other projects and her upcoming schedule. No doubt we will be hearing a lot more about her soon.
1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Kids In Triage? Was there something specific that occurred that made you want to write the book?
Late last winter I was visiting my uncle’s family farm near Fordwich, Ontario; he knew I had a book coming out and asked me what it was called. I said Kids In Triage and he took a moment’s pause and replied, “I guess that’s…a whole generation…more than one.” He’s a brilliant guy, a geologist, but not a ‘lit-culture’ guy. I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends. The most amazing part of publishing a book so far has been hearing from readers, real people, who bring their own context and perspective to the work.
The word triage is a medical and military term for classifying and prioritizing injuries in a mass casualty situation. In this collection of poems, I wanted to explore how we identify and deal with emergencies, both public and private. The contemporary world is a mess; the 24-hour news feed is on fire; so, where do we put our energy, where will our care and intervention make a difference? The book is also very much meditation on the body, on gender, violence, and the dynamics of families. These are abiding personal and philosophical obsessions for me, so it doesn’t completely surprise me that the material I eventually shaped into my first book circles around these questions.
2) Your website lists you as both a writer and a graphic artist. Is there one occupation you prefer over the other or are they both compatible in enjoyment for you?
Writing can be a near-transcendent vocation, but it is an absolutely terrible profession. I can think of maybe two or three writers in this country who make a living from literary writing alone. Many teach or work as editors and copywriters, and that can siphon off a lot of your literary juice, depending on your temperament. What I love about being a commercial graphic artist is that it’s creative, but in a completely different way. Even when I act as my own art director, my graphic design projects are in service of someone else’s vision or message, and I like collaborating with clients on that, using my skills and experience to help them represent themselves aesthetically.
3) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
The major touchstone writers of my literary coming-of-age—for different reasons—are likely JM Coetzee, David Foster Wallace, Marilynne Robinson, and Canadian novelist Michael Helm. Until recently, even my work in poetry has been primarily influenced by prose writers. These are amazing writers, but also not culturally or linguistically representative of the full scope of brilliant stuff that’s available out there. I’ve been diving into the work of contemporary Canadian writers who are relatively new to me this summer: Cherie Dimaline’s story collection, A Gentle Habit (Kegedonce, 2015), and Vivek Shraya’s novel She of the Mountains (Arsenal Pulp, 2014); in addition to Madhur Anand’s Index for Predicting Catastrophes (M&S, 2015), and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar, 2015), on the poetry front. Then there are recent works by American poets Ocean Vuong, and Jericho Brown, as well as the stunning lyric memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place (Graywolf, 2011), by Binyawanga Wainaina. Wainaina’s book follows his coming-of-age in Kenya, and I had the chance to read it while travelling in Kenya in August—a real treat. I have a lot to learn and discover as a reader and I’m always eager for recommendations.
4) Is there much of a book/reading tour being planned for Kids In Triage? If yes, are there any specific events that you are looking forward?
I’m thrilled to be reading with poet Roxanna Bennet at knife | fork | book, a new Toronto series, on November 3rd [event link: https://knifeforkbook.com/2016/09/11/poets-meet-november-3rd/]. k|f|b is hosted by ever-dynamic reader and curator Jeff Kirby, who has launched a poetry-and-small-press-only bookshop at Rick’s Cafe in Kensington market. You can check out his amazing blog, pictures of the shop, and info about in-store readings on his blog [link: https://knifeforkbook.com/]. I’ll also be in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Lit Live Reading Series [link: http://litlive.blogspot.ca] on December 4th, with friend and fellow Wolsak & Wynn poet, James Lindsay, as well as some other interesting writers across genres.
In the new year I’ll be visiting the Queen’s University undergraduate creative writing program, run by poet Carolyn Smart, and then Carolyn and I will travel from Kingston to Montreal to read together at the Resonance Reading Series [series link: http://www.resonancereadingseries.com] on February 7th. I’m thrilled to be touring with Carolyn; she’s a remarkable poet for her unflinching treatment of violence—as exemplified the brilliant, dark monologues of Hooked, and her new collection Careen, which undercuts the Hollywood treatment of Bonnie & Clyde. The trip is also significant to me because she’s the founder of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, which I received in 2010, and has continued to be a kind supporter of my work from afar. I’m looking forward to the chance to spend some time together talking about poetry, prose, and Bronwen.
New events are updated regularly on my website: kilbysm.com
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I’m a spectacularly slow prose writer, but in the wake of publishing the poetry collection, I’ve doggedly returned to work on my short story manuscript, All Swimmers. I’m hoping to finish a full draft in the spring. The story collection shares many points of intersection with the poetry, so I hope it will be of interest to readers of Kids in Triage when it eventually comes out.
6) You seem to be an active participant on Twitter. How do you feel about the use of social media in relation to promoting your work? Will you be expanding your presence onto Facebook and other social media platforms?
I joined Twitter in the fall of 2015 and I thought I would hate it. But the access to interesting links and current conversations in the community won me over. I’m not sure it’s a very reliable way to promote your own work if you’re not engaged with it at a professional level (i.e. curating regular ‘branded’ content and using platforms like Hootsuite to manage your activity)—but I do think it’s nice to have a record of things you’re interested in, if people want to know more about you. It’s also a quick, friendly way to give a shout out of support and amplify the voices of others. I have no plans to join Facebook, though the pressure from my family is unrelenting.
7) Your bios have you listed as spending a lot of time in the Guelph-Toronto area? Is that where you currently reside? And is there a lot in the way of cultural activities in that area that keep you engaged?
I lived in Guelph for some of my childhood, and I also taught fiction at the University there as part of the Open Learning Program, but Toronto is my home these days. Toronto offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of cultural and literary events. Not-going-out can prove more difficult than going out, but I find it’s important to take time to curl up with my dog and just read or watch TV some evenings. Some of my favourite ongoing lit events happen here, though. I’m a huge fan of the HIJHouse Reading Series [link: http://bookthug.ca/hij-house-reading-series/ ] graciously hosted by BookThug publishers Jay and Hazel Millar in their family home. Hazel bakes homemade pie for each installment, which is a pretty amazing feat—so come for the readings and stay for the pie! I also love the PivotReading Series [link: https://pivotreadings.ca], which has been run by Sachiko Murakami, and most recently Jake McArthur Mooney, and will be transitioning to a new host in the coming months; it has a great legacy and has showcased writers of all different stripes from across Canada and beyond.
I purchased a copy of this book at the 2016 Toronto Word On The Street Festival
We all engage in some sort of wordplay in our everyday lives. But when words are put into an order to cause us to ponder for a moment, that is a real treat for our minds. And if those words are accompanied by gifted illustrations, then our minds are truly enlightened. And if that complete book is published in a dedicated and well-crafted manner, then it is a truly gifted read. That is exactly what JonArno Lawson and Alec Dempster have done with The Hobo’s Crowbar, published by The Porcupine’s Quill.
There’s Something Almost Real – Page 32
There’s something almost real
In everything that’s fake
Like some banana peel
That startles you awake
It gets beneath your heel
You slip out of your trance
And fall and crack your head
On stones meant for your feet
And if you crawl away enlightened
Then your journey is complete.
It is no secret that I have been waiting for this book. Lawson is an award-winning writer whose skill in taking even a few words and putting them in an order which creates a thought or an emotion in a reader’s mind. And that is exactly what he has done with this book. The phrases are simple yet the thoughts he creates are complex. Definitely a treasure to read.
Up And Down
At first sight
I truly loved you
I wasn’t so sure
I was good enough for you.
(I was good enough for you.
I wasn’t so sure
I truly loved you
A first sight.)
Either Way, Again
On the ark-
On the ark-
The woodcuts that Alec Dempster has created for this book are detailed yet with simple lines. They greatly enhance the words of the book yet still allow the reader a great way of leeway to allow their own mind to imagine a scene.
There is a strength in the images that Dempster has here. Perhaps because they are woodcuts they seem to command a certain level of attention from a reader. They are intense and thought-provoking and accompany the words of the book well.
The Hobo’s Crowbar, written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated with woodcuts by Alec Dempster is a mind-engaging book. It is simple in its details but complex in its actions and deeds. A great read.
Penn Kemp has been not only been a poet but a cultural icon around my home town of London, Ontario, Canada. Yes, her written words have inspired but her actions in a complex number of fronts have also been a source of enlightenment and engagement for numerous people. It was an honour a few weeks ago when she sent me an advance copy of her new work Barbaric Cultural Practice (Link to my review) but discussing it only seem to capture a bit of this thought-provoking individual. She agreed to answer a few questions for me here, adding a bit more insight into her and her work.
1) What inspired you to first write poetry? You have been involved in other forms of writing (including play writing). Does poetry hold any special traits for you that other writings don’t have?
My grandmothers were grand sources of inspiration. My Strathroy grandmother knew many poems by heart (that delicious phrase!) which she would recite to me in a kind of incantatory lilt. The sound transported me. My little Irish grandmother told me wild tales of legends that sparked my imagination into new realms of possibility, realms beyond my house and yard.
When my brother was born, my mother no longer had all the time in the world to read to me. So I memorized the nursery rhymes I loved. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted more. I tried to make sense of the black squiggles on the page until they slowly, finally, swam into meaning. What a discovery! It was pure magic to go from reading other people’s poems and stories to writing them myself. I would set up my dolls in a line on the couch and perform to this unfailingly attentive audience. Power to the reader! Power to the writer!”
What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds. I began piecing out the words to myself. I remember the thrill of pure magic when a word would leap into focus, into meaning. The black letters would assume a third dimension; they would dance. I could almost hear them speak to me directly. I was hooked. I wrote my first poem when I was six, excited and amazed at having created through apparent magic something out of nothing with marks on a page. I glimpsed a world in which words had a life of their own, just as toys did. I knew that if I could wake at the right time at night I would catch my toys at play. So too, I felt words could be surprised and fixed onto the page. If I listened closely enough, words would well up in my head and emerge as a poem.
Writing that first poem was the first time that I recall consciously feeling that I was doing an adult thing— creating something entirely on my own, assuming independence— growing up! I felt like the Little Red Hen in the nursery story: “‘I can do it myself,’ said The Little Red Hen, and she did.”
2) You recently sent me an advance copy of “Barbaric Cultural Practice.” (Thank you!) How long did it take you to write it? Is there any special hopes you have for the book?
Many of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice have been culled from performance pieces that have been honed over many years and produced on CD/DVD, but not in book form till now. I’m grateful for family and friends’ encouragement en route and ongoing during the evolution of these poems. The list is long and extends back decades.
Poetry needs to be heard as well as read, so I have concentrated in recent years on audio renditions and videopoems in collaboration with Bill Gilliam, John Magyar, Dennis Siren and (always!) Gavin Stairs. How exciting to be able to offer links to video and audio performances of some of these poems through QR codes!
Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice were provoked into being by political events; hence, the title. As an aging activist, I confront by words such issues as climate change and overwhelmingly new technologies. The poems juxtapose the stress of urban life as compared to nature’s round. The poems deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. Barbaric Cultural Practice pays tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. Poetry is my response to the unprecedented complexities of our time.
3) (These next questions is one I know draws fear from other writers when I ask it here but I know some of my followers are eager to know an answer from you.) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I read Canadian poetry and fiction, especially that which our library stocks. Daily, I scan “New Items” from London Library’s website! (Link to that page) Am reading a new edition of Mavis Gallant’s A fairly good time: with green water, green sky as well as Ann Carson’s Red Doc>. Then on to Margaret Christakos’s Her Paraphernalias: on Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies.
4) I know you have a reading event planned at Oxford Books on Oct. 11 but do you have any other reading events planned? Are public readings something you enjoy?
I do enjoy public readings. It’s a privilege to share the innermost source of poetry when performing. And I love to hear poets read their work: the timbre of voice precisely matches their written word. Once I’ve heard a poet read, that voice echoes in my mind when I next read the work.
Here are some upcoming events where I’ll be reading:
September 3, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. With musician Bill Gilliam @ 2pm. Vino Rosso Bar & Restaurant. 995 Bay St., Toronto ON M5S 3C4, 416 926-1800.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
My forthcoming play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, originated in a short piece for London’s PlayWrights Cabaret at McManus Theatre in 2013. Then it was produced as an hour-long processional play at Eldon House Museum, with one actor and two musicians (co-artistic directors of Light of East Ensemble). More information about the original production, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris is up on https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com/. There too are some reviews from the show. I am developing the play into a full length piece with ten or more characters for production at London’s Palace Theatre in March, 2017. The original musicians are participating in the play again.
Teresa Harris was born in 1839 at Eldon House and died in 1928 in England. She tells her amazing life story from her home here. Born the youngest of a prosperous pioneer family intent on bettering itself, Teresa married a Scottish military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts she had dreamed of all her life, sickly though she had always been. Teresa’s story emerges through her own voice and that of her protective mother and her two husbands. Research reveals that Teresa and her second husband St. George Littledale were the greatest English explorers of their period, travelling further into Asia than any Westerner had.
Hers is an historical life as mediated through my imagination. My visits to beautiful Eldon House brought the era alive. It was easy to write from Teresa’s perspective since I identified with her and admired her adventurous spirit. It was fun to imagine her desire to escape the strictures of family convention for more exotic locales. Having been raised in London in the Fifties, I felt the town hadn’t changed all that much from the colonial outpost it had been in Victorian times. It was still very Anglo and class-conscious, patterned upon London, England like a pale shadow of the Mother Country. At twenty-one, I too couldn’t wait to escape, to travel the world! And I did. I was also happy to return to settle comfortably back in the house I grew up in after forty years away from London.
6) You seem to be active on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those platforms in relation to your writing? Does your WordPress blog site also work well for your writing?
The platforms are a necessity for a working writer to spread the word… and sometimes they are an escape from writing: fun, as well! The virtual communities are engaging: who could have imagined being able to keep in touch with so many people at once. And folks can promote various causes on my (Facebook) group, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Cultures.
7) You have travelled around the world and still call the London, Ontario, Canada area your home. How do you like living here?
See #5. Yes, London is home. I was born in Strathroy and raised in London. I belong here.
Are there cultural institutions here that you consider unique that inspire your writing? If yes, what are they?
As the City of London’s first Poet Laureate and as writer-in-residence for Creative Aging London, I was very involved in different aspects of the community. Several occasions prompted poems. Other poems were commissioned by groups such as ReForest London.
Western U. gave me a great grounding in literature as a student there. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed teaching classes in Continuing Ed., and as Writer-in-Residence, and hosting a radio show, Gathering Voices, at CHRW. (Link to CHRW’s webpage for “Gathering Voices”)
This fall, I will be working on aspects of the play, including publicity and marketing, with students from Western in the course, Canadian Literature, Creativity, and the Local, with a Community Engaged Learning component. Working with me in this applied learning opportunity, the students will cultivate links with Eldon House and The Palace as part of the project. (Link to the course outline from Western University’s online calendar)
I first became involved in publishing when a local publishing house, Applegarth Follies, asked me to be their poetry editor in 1977. (Josiah Applegarth was London’s first settler). While I edited Twelfth Key, the famous Brick Magazine was published alongside. Another offshoot of Applegarth was Brick Books, still publishing glorious poetry nation-wide some forty years later and still based in London!
I had been in a bit of a funk with my blog last week. The summer months have been busy on other fronts for me, and my personal reading and reflection time has been somewhat limited. I had been trying to look forward to the autumn new releases in hopes of something invigorating for my mind would come forward. Then a message from Penn Kemp came via Facebook, asking if I would look and review her new book coming out in the fall. I agreed and I found myself enveloped in her Barbaric Cultural Practice.
Penn Kemp is an icon in the cultural landscape. Her biography page on her blog states she has over 25 books of poetry and drama published, plus six plays and numerous works recorded on different electronic means. But this new work is brilliant in its form.
No doubt, many of us Canadians were shocked last year when the government used the term Barbaric Cultural Practices on several fronts to justify their actions. We were outraged by the term, elected the government out of office and, no doubt, didn’t give the term much thought since. But Kemp has done something enlightening for readers by using the term for this collection of poetry. She has crafted her personal thoughts and views in this work and given all of us something to consider about our own actions. As she told me in the email she sent me with the advance copy: . . . the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice pay tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. They confront the stresses of urban life as juxtaposed to nature’s round, and deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. They are a response to the need for action against climate change and a humorous protest against overwhelming technology.
The beauty of me reading poetry at this stage of my life is the admiration of thought and consideration of the human condition that writers of the form have. After spending numerous years attempting a career in the media field, turning to reading and considering literature has been an enlightening experience for me. Literature should cause a reader to consider their world and their actions in the world around them. Penn Kemp has done that for me with her collection Barbaric Cultural Practice. No doubt I will be reading it again and quoting it here when it is published.
For those of us in today’s era who still admire book, we truly love the detail, the time and the craft of the printed page. And that admiration counts for both writers and illustrators. Alec Dempster has created a series of woodcuts to illustrate JonArno Lawson’s newest collection of poetry – called The Hobo’s Crowbar – and agreed to answer a few questions for me. The Hobo’s Crowbar will be released by The Porcupine’s Quill in October, 2016.
1) How long did it take you to do the woodcuts for The Hobo’s Crowbar? JonArno Lawson stated in a Q&A for me he was amazed by your work for the book. Was it an easy task to create images for his poems?
I spent several months creating the images. Because I was working on another illustration project at the same time, working on music for Palo Dado my new band (Link to their Facebook page here), as well as my work for Lula Music and Arts Centre (Link here) it is hard to say exactly how long it took . I spend about two of three days on each image. Some time is also spent preparing the woodblocks. In this case a friend of mine who is a luthier had some spare offcuts of veneer from another project and he helped me glue them to particle board. It wasn’t the ideal material but I managed to make it work for me and the result is a series of images that are unlike any other I have made. The fact that I was free to choose which poems to illustrate from a large selection made it easier. I found the poems that evoked an image in me and that I could connect to personally in some way. I wouldn’t say that is was easy but I had a lot of freedom to create which made a big difference.
2) According to your website, this will be your sixth book that you have been involved with. (Including another book with JonArno Lawson.) Is publishing and illustrating something you enjoy doing?
Each book project I have worked on has been thoroughly enjoyable and very different. The book form is well suited to the black and white images I create whether it be linoleum prints, woodblock prints or paper cuts. As opposed to showing the work in a gallery for a month or so, the images in the book continue to circulate for much longer.
3) Will you be exhibiting the works from The Hobo’s Crowbar in any way? Will copies from the cuts be available for purchasing?
The prints are being shown till the end of August in Mandrágora Galería y Taller in Metepec, Mexico. (Link to their Facebook page) They are for sale and I am looking for somewhere to show the work in Toronto. Other venues are most welcome.
4) Are there artists that you admire for their technique? If yes, who are they and why?
The artists that I admire are good technicians but for me technique is a given. I am more interested in what an artist has to communicate. A few of the fellow printmakers I admire are Sergio Sánchez Santamaria, Daniel González, Mazatl, Joel Rendón and Demian Flores. Except for Mazatl, I know them all and that makes a difference to my appreciation of the work because I understand something about where they are from and where they create. There are many more artists I admire.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I am working on a new series of illustrations for a book by Hubert Malina for Pluralia Ediciones in Mexico. (Link to their website (in Spanish)) Hubert writes in Mè’ phàà a language spoken in the mountains of the state of Guerrero and in Nicaragua. The book is part of a series of Mexican indigenous poets writing in different languages. It is an honour to be part of the series.
6) You seem to have an active online presence on the social-media platforms life Facebook and Twitter? How do you you like using these applications in relation to your work?
Facebook is useful for promoting events although it hasn’t been very useful in terms of selling my work. I haven’t understood the usefulness of Twitter so you could say I have given up on it. Instagram seems to be used a lot by visual artists and I am giving it a try. (Link to Alec Dempster’s Instagram page)
7) You have been travelling quite a bit for your work but where is your studio located right now? Is it in a city or region that inspires you for your work?
My provisional studio is located in Toronto. I wouldn’t say that Toronto inspires my artwork but living here has given me a form of stability that allows me to focus on my artwork when I have time to allot to sitting down to create. When I lived in Mexico I was able to dedicate longer periods to work on art projects exclusively. Here I am constantly juggling time and occupations. Toronto is an inspiring place musically and my musical projects have fed on the diversity of excellent musicians that live here.
History tends to be a biased cut-and-dry listing of facts. So it takes new interpretations to vault new perspectives upon us and open our minds to events that may direct still involve us today. Poet Laurie D. Graham has done that with Settler Education. Her reflections on the Frog Lake “massacre” and the Northwest Resistance has given some pause to reflect what our history texts stated. Graham recently answered a few questions on her latest work.
First, off, can you give a bit of an outline of Settler Education.
Settler Education travels west to the site of what’s called the Frog Lake “massacre” and, more generally, the Northwest Resistance. It stays in those places, in what’s now east-central Alberta and central Saskatchewan, immersing itself in what happened there 130 years ago and what remains of those events now. It then moves into the cities—to Edmonton, to Regina, to Toronto—keeping itself trained on the Resistance in these present-day places. Settler Education tries to say something about the violence and injustice that brought about the Resistance and the deaths at Frog Lake, and to see better the ways it continues today.
Did you do much research for the book, was it a product of ‘pure imagination, or a combination of the two?’ How long did it take you to write it?
I did a large amount of research for Settler Education. As the title implies, it involves a process of coming into knowledge of the places I come from and the places the book travels to, so I read an awful lot, I dug into archives, I went to look at sites, I got to know places, I listened to stories.
My first ideas about the book came before I finished writing my first book, Rove, the first poems were written around 2009, things started clicking into place around 2012, and (McClelland and Stewart) accepted it at the start of 2015.
You already have a list of dates where you will be reading Settler Education. Are there any events/venues that you are excited to be reading your work? Will you be adding new dates as well?
I’ve got two readings scheduled in London and one in Edmonton, and I just recently did a couple of readings in Toronto, one of which was M&S’s poetry launch, a very well-attended event. It was a great night. And I’m looking forward to all my readings: Edmonton because it’s my home and I get to read with Myrna Kostash, and my London launch at the Oxford Book Shop because I’ve wrangled Tom Cull and Jean McKay to read with me, and I admire their work quite a lot.
In a Q&A you answered for me about a year ago, I asked you if your jobs as an educator and an editor helped you with your writing. You wrote:
Being on all sides of the task of bringing a piece of writing to fruition has taught me a lot, but it’s hard to tell if teaching and editing influence my writing in any overt way. I know it has improved my eye. I’m more rigorous, more ruthless, more self-aware.
On the other hand, editing and teaching can keep me from writing, which ends up doing the opposite of helping… I teach out of necessity and I help put together Brick out of love, but I have to make sure these things keep to their “compartments” or else there’ll be no writing, and it’s writing that gave me these two gigs in the first place.
Now, one year later and another book published, do you still feel that way?
Yeah, definitely. I’m still trying to make enough time for all three of these gigs and to keep them all to their corners, and I’m still learning a lot from the teaching and the editing. Lately the pattern of my years goes that I work like mad through the fall and a bit less through the winter so I can have the summers more to myself and to writing. It’s been a good pattern, overall. Not perfect, of course, but utterly workable.
One of the most talked-about questions I always ask on my blog is asking a published writer’s views on social media. Are you still keen on using Facebook and Twitter?
I use them a fair bit, and they are really good for following issues you’re interested in and keeping abreast of or letting people know about readings or events or good things to look at or read. But I remain more of a listener than a contributor on those platforms (as in life, mostly), and there’s a point when I have to turn these things off and get to work already.
Have there been any new writers or any new books that you have read in the past year that have earned your praise?
I just read Tim Lilburn’s new book, The Names, and it is wonderful. He has a new voice in these poems, or at least it feels new to me. Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell have both been nominated to the Griffin Prize this year, and I think both books are highly deserving of this recognition. I recently read a book called Stolen Life, written by Yvonne Johnson, a descendant of the Plains Cree chief mistahimaskwa / Big Bear (along with Rudy Wiebe). This book was new to me, and it’s wonderful and wrenching. I’m reading Jenna Butler’s A Profession of Hope right now, and, as someone who enjoys putzing around in the garden, I am having a great time with that one.
Are you working on or planning any new works right now? If yes, are there details you can share?
I’ve got some new poems in the hopper, but I don’t know much about them yet. They’re multiple in their intentions and even in their voices. I don’t know how things will turn out, but right now they are about clearcutting, about suburban sprawl, about animals, about sitting beside water, about sitting beside a fire. Pretty vague, I know, but that’s how it begins for me: turn off the editor in my head and just proceed towards that unnameable thing.
It was a rush that was typical of our modern life the day I went to pick up this book. I walked through a maze of hallways at a college campus filled with bodies trying find their own ways around me. I walked into a office, talked to a receptionist who picked up a phone and announced me. And with a rush of quick smiles and handshakes I was back out with this slim volume in my hand trying to make my way through another confused mass of bodies. I found a cafeteria and grab a lukewarm cup of coffee and sat down. There is still a confused chunk of humanity around me as I open to the first page.
And within reading the first well-crafted words, I was absorbed into Laurie D. Graham’s Settler Education.
Number One Canadian (Excerpt) Page 1
Stutter-stepping. The last fumes out
of Ontario. Beds and sliding doors and dining cars tunnelling
through the forest, its genealogy
of clear-cut, its firework trees new and hot.
We show them our ghost stations. We show them
tea at the window as birch die tangled
in power lines, birch hauling lines
down to the level of marsh, and marsh rising
to meet electricity.
This is the line.
A propane tank every fifty clicks,
wall-eyed shoots and utility corridors,
gift-buying hours in the recreation car and hints
of lake and woodsmoke if you’re looking for them.
No Oh My Nation, No God Save Our Queen,
no colonial imperative except in our being here, in what it means
to shower on a moving train, track rolling under the drainhole,
the luxurious pillows, my last minute discount.
This is what they starved a people for.
Through tree scenes, tableaux in the dome car,
the soldiers, the settlers, the track laid, the way made.
Making goods of them. Servants, subjects, comrades, always
more, and the trees smoulder, the trace smoke in the camera’s vision
that comes of passing too fleetly. We pause at vistas and wildlife,
coniferous worming at the periphery.
A train car neat with men and their rifles.
Outside, thread of campsmoke obscured by clouds, by trees.
Notes Page 107
“NUMBER ONE CANADIAN” is the name of the train that runs from Toronto to Vancouver. When the train returns east, they call it the Number Two.
Graham has woven a complex tapestry here where many historians and other academics have failed for us. The book tells the story of the Plains Cree uprising at Frog Lake and the settlement of the Prairies. Graham’s poetry here weaves through time, places, impressions, journal entries, letters and so forth to brilliantly give the mind’s eye of any reader a clear impression of the places and the events.
Among the Buffalo Page 17
we were told that in a day or two we would reach the buffalo country
might expect to see considerable herds
day after day no signs
we became skeptical
Saint, hell. Riel’s a criminal.
He brought law out here, one good thing to
come out of
I found several of the party quietly reading
to one of them I asked have you seen the buffalo
he started as if he received a shock from a battery
You’re gonna get the redneck view from this
end of the table
each bend of the river brought us in view of new herds
on both sides not in dense masses
as when migrating but scattered bands from ten to one hundred
sometimes close to the bank
they went at a lumbering gallop as the steamer approached
Next you’ll say I got no right to be here,
been farming this same plot for a full century.
the appearance of the steward with a rifle on his arm
and all was excitement
Graham has gone beyond using just words here. She using layout and typeface to set different moods here that vault the reader from one emotion to another. This is a complex read yet one that is worth savoring.
Frog Lake (Excerpt) Page 21
Ditchweed, fuchsia. The first thing grows after fire.
Chased here by weather, rain then clearing sky,
Wandering Spirit, Iron Body, Miserable Man,
Round the Sky, Little Bear, Bad Arrow.
A grave, once unmarked, months from here.
Brome grass in all the places the earth’s been turned.
Settler Education by Laurie D. Graham may be a collection of poetry but it goes where history books have failed us. Graham gives detailed descriptions of emotions, thoughts and actions which causes readers to actually feel and care about the scenes. A great piece of literature.