Monday, April 28, 2008

Tee hee

Was I wrong to have snorted out loud when seeing this shirt, over at the reliably interesting Baby Got Books?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tim Lilburn, Living In The World As If It Were Home

At first I thought I wasn't smart enough to understand Tim Lilburn's essays in Living In The World As If It Were Home. I'm exactly arrogant enough - um, didn't I say "confident enough"? - to find this both a difficult thing to admit and an easy thing to fear, so I kept pondering as I worked through the book.

But really, it may be that I'm just not smart enough. Certainly I'm not well trained enough in Christian mysticism, particularly that of the via negativa, to get the full effect of what Lilburn's doing and saying, but I'm not sure that's adequate to explain my difficulties here.

Because at times it all seems blindingly obvious. Names aren't adequate for things, and yet the human impulse is toward naming things. The only way to truth is to name something, then to deny the name as inadequate, to rename, to re-deny, and so on. Only through the alternating declarations of identity and difference can we find some way to apprehend the unutterable selfness of those others whose names (and un-names) we can't help trying to utter.

I get this, I do.

But then I wonder whether the rest of Living In The World As If It Were Home repeats and amplifies this core, or perhaps whether it's alternately asserting and denying it, or whether there are other things being said and considered.

It is entirely inadequate to say that there are lines and passages of surpassing beauty in this book, but there are. It is similarly inadequate to call it philosophic beyond all necessity, and yet upon reading it I feel the necessity of this project. I write as an atheist, confirmed and settled, who sees in Lilburn's essays here a Christianity entirely new to me, one that engages with the world's otherness without denying the intimacy of humanity's relation to it, and does so in a philosophic rather than an emotional or a material way.

In sum, I have little concept of what to do with this remarkable little book. Flummoxed, I am: impressed at the apparent complexity, but wondering how much of the complexity is really necessary, and yet delighted by the frequent flashes of beauty.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ed. C&J Plant, Turtle Talk

This book was something of a revelation for me. Edited by Christopher Plant and Judith Plant, published out of Lillooet BC as part of the The New Catalyst Bioregional Series, it's a solid collection of insightful interviews by challenging people - Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future. The New Catalyst, after many years of valuable contributions, merged with another organization to become New Society Publishers ("books to walk the talk"); NSP has gone on to publish, among other things, Lyle Estill's forthcoming Small Is Possible, and M'Gonigle & Starke's Planet U.

But this collection, which contains interviews with Gary Snyder, Susan Griffin, Dave Foreman, Starhawk, Murray Bookchin, and several others, just has to represent one of TNC's high-water marks before the merger. It hasn't aged all that well, in that several speakers make claims that just haven't come true, but the intensity of its activist and theoretical impulses is still wildly evocative.

"Wings of the Eagle," by Gitksan Wet'suwet'en writer and leader Marie Wilson, was the most evocative, and feels the most urgent still. She remarks at one point, describing how she sees her own place in the succession of people and history and place, "We are the compost of the future," and I really like that idea. More challengingly, and chillingly, she makes this comment:
[T]he Indian attitude toward the natural world is different from the environmentalists'. I have had the awful feeling that when we are done dealing with the courts and our land claims, we will then have to battle the environmentalists and they will not understand why.
Which is close to where we are, in a lot of ways, with mining being considered outside of Tofino, and timber sales being considered along the coast by various First Nations groups. It's First Nations land, and it's the individual group's decision what to do with it (and hopefully they'll set up their own environmental assessment processes etc.), but oh dear, oh dear. The perils of self-determination, I guess: independence means you actually get to act independently.

Anyway, it's been great bumping into the pre-history of New Society Publishers, and I'm going to go a-digging for New Catalyst publications now.

Donna Kane, two titles

I finished Donna Kane's two books while I was away, but unfortunately for both of us, they were pushed well into the background: by Gillian Wigmore's poetics in Soft Geoography; by Theresa Kishkan's prose in Phantom Limb and Red Laredo Boots (which I'm not able to finish until I get the book back!); and by my grandmother's gradual death.

"Unfortunately," I say, because with different competition, these books would have made a stronger impression on me. Instead, I'm left thinking of good lines and solid accomplishment. Clearly Donna Kane is a talented poet, and I appreciate her contributions to Canadian literature (and the environmental arts and humanities more broadly in her Muskwa-Kechika Artists' and Naturalists' Camps), but neither Erratic nor Somewhere, A Fire had the impact on me I thought they might.

Mind you, from Erratic I really appreciated "Once I Ate a Moose Turd," which is thoroughly self-aware, and "When You Came to Me Asking to Be Held 1," which has lovely intimacy. From Somewhere, A Fire I particularly liked "Who Doesn't" and "Two Knees Touching," both of which are about the sudden awareness of the twins of separation and anxiety, rendered with some precise line breaks and a tight closure.

I liked them fine. I've just liked more things better, especially recently.

Monday, April 21, 2008

April 20 - Bolen's

Added another title from the Transmontanus series, Judith Williams' Clam Gardens: Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada's West Coast ($19). It looks like an especially good one, blending the history with the tale of how Williams managed finally to get the government ministries to accept her findings.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bus Griffiths, Now You're Logging

What fun, what fun! How did I never bump into this Bus Griffiths' graphic novel Now You're Logging before this?!? Actually, no, I do know why - because comic books are for kids, dammit, for kids, and I mostly learned about logging in relation to adult lives.

To be honest, comics were never a big part of my life, except for the time spent with my long-ago best friend Matt Jessop, who somehow always had piles upon piles of them. Superhero comics mostly, some Westerns, and I think only a very few of the Archie variety.

At my grandparents there were a few classic novels in comic form, and I loved those (especially Uncle Tom's Cabin, the race relations of which baffled me utterly when I was nine), but if I'd read Now You're Logging back then, my life just might have been different. When I read it now I shake my head at just how formulaic the plot is, and how cartoonish the characters are (which can be a bad thing even when you're reading a comic, I'm convinced), but if I'd been of an age to readily absorb the information about logging the old ways in British Columbia, and to identify with the heroic Al Richards, well, who knows? Maybe I'd have been a logger rather than someone who fights my own nostalgia in every word I write about logging, though with as full knowledge as one can have about the logging industry's connection (both in British Columbia and elsewhere) to local and global environmental shifts.

Over a hundred bucks through ABEBooks, but free for two weeks through interlibrary loan. I wonder if the lovely and talented Harbour Publishing can be pressured into reprinting the 1990 re-edition of this classic volume....

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bruce Braun, The Intemperate Rainforest

I've been meaning to read this book since I first saw its title, and I'm pleased to report that Bruce Braun's The Intemperate Rainforest: Nature, Culture, and Power on Canada's West Coast is a seriously thoughtful book. Mind you, some of its key insights don't seem all that shattering to me. He expresses himself clearly, and he pulls ideas together in useful ways, but I'm having a hard time figuring how unique the book's approach really is.

My main quibble - just to get it out of the way - is that he comes across as new to some of the theoretical sources he deals with. Why Spivak, I wonder, for example? There are all kinds of deconstructionist folk, and I don't see why Spivak is the most useful to Braun's argument; she's well known, and her work addresses the related topic of postcolonialism, but otherwise I don't see a reason why her in particular. The clearest example is that he keeps talking about "Romantic ecology" and never mentions Jonathan Bate or his 1991 book entitled Romantic Ecology; as well, his main environmental history references are several years old, and by 2002 good stuff had been done since the admittedly exceptional collection edited by William Cronon entitled Uncommon Ground, which of course includes Cronon's own influential "The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature."

Otherwise, yeah, this book is well worth reading, and I'll be including sections in coursepacks for my BC literature courses.

A thoughtful person alert to the nuances of the variously posited environmental debate in BC would already be well aware of the perspectival poverty of describing it in binaristic terms, and one of Braun's key points is that we need to quit being binaristic about this sort of thing, because there aren't just loggers and environmentalists, and their opinions aren't entirely opposed. (To which I can only say, I'm not especially binaristic. Are you? I don't know that many people who're as crudely binaristic as Braun's imagined communities....) But his route to this concept is a very good walk indeed, and I'll be walking parts of the path a few more times before I try to guide anyone along it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

April 11 - Salmon Arm

Two stops today while on foot, as the hospice worker visited with my grandmother. Oddly, one had the fiction divided into "men's novels" and "women's novels" sections - crime writing by Patricia Cornwall etc. were in the men's side - while the other had fiction divided by gender of the writer ("male authors" and "female authors"). I didn't find a transgendered section in either store, but Salmon Arm may not be That Kind Of Town.

From the Book Nook, a commercial second-hand store where I left all kinds of highly desirable things:
  • Sharon Butala, The Perfection of the Morning: An Apprenticeship in Nature ($8.50)
  • Aurian Haller, A Dream of Sulphur ($4 for this volume from a poet I don't know but who Rob Mclennan seems to like; Haller was born in the Shuswap, and this copy was autographed by him, two facts the store owner was disconcerted not to have learned before pricing the volume)
  • Theresa Kishkan, Red Laredo Boots ($8 - Transmontanus Books, a series edited by Terry Glavin)
  • ed. Christopher Plant & Judith Plant, Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future ($5 - from The New Catalyst Bioregional Series, published out of Lillooet and including writers like Gary Snyder and Murray Bookchin)
From Churches Thrift Store, a charitable organization run by a collective of church societies, I picked up T. Alex Bulman's Kamloops Cattlemen (1972, from coast icon Gray's Publishing) for a dollar.

So which store do you think divided the fiction by gender of the writer, and which by gender of the reader?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Theresa Kishkan, Phantom Limb

In my walk along Shuswap Lake this afternoon, I watched a pair of bald eagles cruise overhead where the breeze across the lake rises up the hill at Raven. The wind in the dry grasses flattened by the winter's snows sounded for all the world like snow hissing across ice, and I noticed that the new bulrushes have started popping out of the water between the path and the train tracks. When I got back I learned that young bulrush is rumoured to taste rather like asparagus, and that if I was more manly, I'd make bulrush pancakes by mixing a bulrush gruel with porcupine fat and chopped porcupine.

All of which was a nice distraction from events at my parents' home, where my grandmother is facing her imminent death with relative calm, mixed with bouts of confusion from sudden surfacings of memories.

It's the kind of week when I'm just so pleased to have been reading Theresa Kishkan's essay collection Phantom Limb. As I said the other day, this book has gripped me tightly. I've forced myself to slow down in reading before, most notably in reading Tim Bowling's The Witness Ghost and Alistair MacLeod's Island, but it's a rare occurrence, and it's always a sign that I'm in the presence of something very special.

Not, mind you, that I'm the least bit star-struck now that Theresa started commenting yesterday on my post of the previous day about Gillian Wigmore's book Soft Geography....

If I trusted blurbs more, I would've known what to expect from this book, because the back cover offers the glowing testimony of Terry Glavin and Tim Bowling, two writers whose names are scattered throughout the pixels of this blog. Harold Rhenisch, too, when I asked the ALECC listserv for feedback about whether the book might be teachable (before I'd yet seen it), responded in similarly glowing terms, so really I was primed to like it.

And oh, do I ever like it.

There's a powerful rootedness to the language of this book that has a lot to do with its fecundity of detail. I always trust her vision, but I also see how limited is my own ability to grasp and retain the necessary information about the world around me. Sure, I know where and when to pick huckleberries, and what tasty things one might do with salal berries, but this is mere functionality. The grace of Kishkan's prose makes her life seem itself secularly numinous, if that makes sense. There's very little mysticism in this book, but my own response (for an atheist like me) savours troublingly of the mystical.

I say "troublingly" because I'm working my way through Bruce Braun's challenging and brilliantly named book The Intemperate Rainforest, which problematizes in all sorts of productive ways the conventional modes with which we look at the world here in British Columbia. Admittedly I've been at least mildly embarrassed for years by the juvenilia that is my MA thesis on Emily Carr, and many of Braun's insights don't ring as new to me as his rhetoric suggests that they should, but still: I'm doubting my evaluative and perceptual frames. Kishkan's book has overwhelmed me, though, and I don't care if Bruce Braun knows it.

Three essays from this book can be read online in their earlier forms at Terrain magazine, and if you don't believe what I've been saying here, then go and read "month of wild berries picking". Once you see I'm right, go and buy a copy of this terrific book. No, buy two copies, because there's someone in your life you'll want to give this book to. He or she may not deserve it, but that's not the point. The book deserves readers, and it's up to us to find them.

Monday, April 07, 2008

April 7 - Value Village

These days I'm trying to buy more books NEW than used, in order to support writers and publishers a little more. That's especially true for more local writers and for smaller publishers, but I've got this unfortunate taste for volume and consumption.... Which led me today to Value Village, where I found a few unexpected treats as I tried to convince myself that my purchases represented living out the recycling ethos I so often yammer on about at such length:
  • John S. Matthiasson, Living on the Land: Change among the Inuit of Baffin Island ($3.99 from Broadview Press, and it looks terrifically interesting)
  • Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations ($3.99)
  • Stuart Sim, Derrida and the End of History ($1.99, much more readable than it might seem by title alone)
  • Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature ($2.99, an old chestnut)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Gillian Wigmore, Soft Geography

I wonder whether I'm going soft, or maybe I'm heading for a crack-up. Theresa Kishkan's Phantom Limb continues to bewitch me, but as I was languorously dawdling through its prose, along came Gillian Wigmore and Soft Geography. I charged rapidly through it, unlike the deliberateness with which I'm taking in Phantom Limb, but only because I couldn't bear to stop reading it.

These are two books I decided NOT to teach in the fall, for different reasons: Kishkan because I don't know quite what to do except wave it at the class and say, "See? Like this, like this is how you should write!"; Wigmore simply because I didn't manage to lay hands on it in time, and because there were other options. I suspect I'll regret both omissions, but on the positive side, I should be able to make it up in another year.

What to say about Gillian Wigmore?

Believe the hype, I guess, would be an excellent place to start. Every book comes with blurbs aplenty, and it's not unusual for a younger poet to be called an important/brave/talented "new voice." Wigmore's no different in that respect (Robert Hilles providing the relevant blurb here), but there's something quite different about her verse. Tonight, what stands out is that she goes after small moments with clear eyes; of course there's the occasional Big Move, but the poems keep ending small, precisely small, and I'm jealous about her skill.

The characters speaking here aren't all the same, so it's not a question of her having found a voice that works (confessionally, for example) and ridden it until the legs fell off. No, she's worked her craft relentlessly, and the result has been tremendous flexibility in the narrative or lyric voice. These voices share an eye for small things (a knitter's arthritic hands, a camper's presumption that a tent muffles all sounds) and a sense of enmeshedness in the worlds around us (social, ecological, familial, etc), but they come out sounding different.

"Marsh," "Tent: No Shelter," and "Bed Poem" alone are worth the price of admission, and there are a dozen more pieces here that deserve citation. I share with you a few lines, without telling you which poem they're from:
if here is the centre
of my own geography
and I am the remembrance
of yours--how is it
we are so far from ourselves?
we are so close
we are almost attached

And also, this post needs a link to Kate Sutherland's poetry challenge, to which this is NOT a response, because I was going to do it anyway!


A few pick-ups in recent days, though I've not the energy to write multiple posts:
  • Ron Chudley, Stolen ($12.95 at Bolen's, for the next book club selection)
  • John Terpstra, Falling Into Place ($10 at Old Towne Videos, Mag & Books, a creepy spot with an Adult Room, but which gave up from its troubled shelves one of Gaspereau Press's gorgeous editions, with this on its cover: "This book is what happens when one person becomes completely enamoured of the landscape in the city where he lives")
  • Gillian Wigmore, Soft Geography ($15.95 at the UVic Bookstore, a volume about which more will soon be said)
  • ed. Colin J.B. Wood, British Columbia, The Pacific Province: Geographical Essays ($8 at subTEXT)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Bus Griffiths

I don't suppose anyone out there has a copy of Bus Griffiths' Now You're Logging? Either the original 1979 graphic novel, or the 1990 re-issue with the Jack Hodgins introduction? Abebooks can only find me the first edition, and the one copy listed in Victoria is over $100. I may wind up buying it anyway, darn it, but still. I sure hope Harbour Publishing puts out another run, because I know I'd teach it every two or three years in my environmental literature courses.

Logging, comics, forestry, environmentalism, labour, BC history - how can it go wrong?