Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The end of the prairie

Sunday's treat was a trip to Mr Spudd's Snack Shack, which was busy even before and even after we taxed the kitchen's assembly skills with our multiple orders for veggie burgers, smokies, monster burgers and the like. A surprising number of locals were stopping in for ice cream treats, although the temperature hovered just around 10 degrees celsius. Well, prairie folk: hardy or what?

But all too soon it was bye-bye blackbird

and little bird-house on the prairie

and prairie dog

and tick-proof walks

which a number of us decided to have, against all sanity, on the last morning whose weather was too sweet to leave outside. Off we went through the long and short grasses...

And subsequently, consequently and unwillingly, a number of us carried eight-legged souvenirs back with us on planes and buses and body parts. So I confess I'm quite pleased to be out of ticksville once more, although it is true they are also present here on Vancouver Island. Just not as numerous or active as in this particular season in the lovely Qu'Appelle Valley.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Some talk about reading, and an evening walk in the valley

Some interesting discussion yesterday about the different ways of reading: for academic purpose vs for writing. Erin and John talked about their ways of preparing during the writing of a poetry project, reading widely and employing techniques of serendipity, or delving and re-delving into more challenging works in order to find directions of thought from them.

Between our excellent meals we have been trying to walk off a pirogy here, a cookie there. One popular destination is Prairie Cherries, where the proprietors sell organic cherry products from their orchard. The variety they grow is a cross between the sturdy prairie classic, the Mongolian Cherry, which is short and hardy but a bit on the tart side; and the pie cherry for sweetness, a variety developed by the University of Saskatchewan.

On our after-dinner tick-catching stroll, we saw another prairie fruit in bloom everywhere: Saskatoon blossoms everywhere.

We met a Red Wing Blackbird.

And a wee Warbler.

A beaver dam...

...and a beaver.

A white horse....

...a black horse.

A deer on a hillside.

And lots of what Gary described as prairie wool. It's like walking on a down quilt. Would've lain down to look at the stars but for the ticks.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

News in the news, and devilish fun with translation

In the self-serving-don't-mess-with-my-lifestyle department, a recent Pew poll says that over half of Americans surveyed don't feel humans are responsible for global warming.

In the interesting angle department, Raj Patel draws some interesting conclusions from a recent Lancet article and the ensuing media headlining.

And in the bee-keeping department, here's a cool manual on bee-keeping produced by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.

Such fun with words we're having. We started off doing translation exercises, similar to this "Homophonic Translation" routine, which we did using a latin text. Last night it occurred to me that I might be able to find a way into revision work by using an online translation tool, so I've been blasting a few pieces apart by translating them into Japanese, Greek, Portuguese, Korean, Russian, French, Italian and Spanish -- and back again, sometimes more than once. It's been a fun way to take apart a dull line or sentence and see what might enliven it. Or perhaps start me off in a new poem or image.

Here are the opening lines of an old poem of mine I chose at random:

The path of disaster is so often
just beyond the window we've turned
away from for that critical

and the translated version (via Japanese and Greek)(with a few tweaks to make the syntax work, more or less):

Such a certain street of destruction
a precise and often window
that exceeds our regard
with empty importance
turns because this

So, a different world and a different meaning, and a lot of nonsense, but maybe something in there presents an opening for new directions and energy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

GM food labelling in Canada - no, no, and no

According to the note I received from my MP today, Bill C-517, which proposed mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods in Canada, did not pass second reading on May 7th 2008. I suppose this gives us a fair sense of which interests are running our country, and the public interest is not being considered. Now would be the time to write to your MPs and tell them to try again. I don't think they heard us the first time. Or the second.

Labels: ,

Monday, May 19, 2008

Still crawling

This feels like about my fourth springtime this year; where I am today, the Qu'Appelle Valley is starting to green.

Last night being chef's night off, we went to Regina, to the Mediterranean Bistro where the 4-cheese tortellini looked somewhat better than it tasted (seriously overwhelmed by smoked salmon and dill, and using pretty ordinary tortellini; the asparagus was the best thing in it..)

I couldn't see much to choose from if you have issues about industrial food: a lot of chicken on the menu with nothing to defends its origins. Maybe next time I'll try the bouillabaisse, which had a pretty nice fennel broth to commend it... setting aside for one evening my many questions about the origins of the prawns.

This morning I picked up a couple of books of poetry from the Sage Hill library, and found a (now deceased) female American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

hanging onto a corner of Worn Thresholds, by Julie Berry.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Some words from literary editors

One of my co-colloquiists brought along the latest issue of Poets & Writers, in which is a topical article for all of us here, called Putting Your Poetry into Order. And an even more irresistible (to me) feature: Through the Eyes of the Editors, in which three literary magazine editors speak to us.

Stephanie Fiorelli discusses a fairly new magazine she co-founded, Avery, going for three years; unusually for a literary journal, it's independent, non-profit and publishing nothing but short stories. She and her fellow editors also maintain a blog to open up some of what goes on to produce such a publication.

Essayist and poet David Hamilton, who's been editing the Iowa Review for thirty years, talks about general changes and the impact of university-isation of literary journals over the years: escalating numbers of submissions (10,000 poems received each year of which 120-150 can be published); 'go-team' competitive sensibilities between academic-run journals.

Most interesting to me was the piece by poet Stephen Corey, who edits the Georgia Review (and who co-edited an anthology I highly recommend, Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry) who said a number of thoughtful things. He estimates having received something like 200,000 poems, 50,000 short stories and 15-20,000 essays during his 25 year involvement with the magazine. He goes on to say
"that these statistics are misleading and unnecessarily intimidating, because the bulk of what we receive is not very good at all. The competitive pool is very small, and across the past 25 years I have not seen any appreciable increase in its relative size, despite burgeoning creative writing programs, spell-check and rudimentary grammar-check software, summertime writers conferences, private writing mentors, and online writing workshops."
He says the number of non-fiction submissions has massively increased,
"except that most of the pieces we receive are not essays anymore, but autobiographical narratives and reminiscences that read more like sentimental journal entries than thoughtful and rigorous considerations of experiences"
And that although the number of poems submitted hasn't changed much, the number of short stories has dropped, but perhaps this is because
"I think the publishing industry has worked over-time of late to eradicate the short story form, and I think some of the writing programs may have been helping too. Story cycles, linked stories, novels-in-stories - all these au courant designations are attempted end-arounds in the pro-novel, anti-short story game of book marketing."
His advice to writers is in tune with the overall tone of our time: to slow down.
"Any person who writes one great poem or story or essay per year for twenty years will take his or her place on the short list of the finest writers of all time. Slow down. Read voluminously, year after year, both for pleasure and to be reminded of all that you must not do, and all that you must exceed, in order to make your own special, indelible mark... Never to be forgotten once read - isn't that what we must seek?"

Friday, May 16, 2008


Tuesday it was bees: we had a most thrilling hive inspection as our last field trip.

We got to see some varroa mites, how to check for the tell-tale odour of foulbrood,

what a hive about to swarm looks like, how you graft a queen cell, how you mark a queen,

how you split a hive, and how you recapture a swarm that hasn't left yet. It was not the best time of day (evening) or the best weather (a bit damp) but the bees bore it as best they could, and brave Larry showed us how an experienced bee-man can handle even cranky bees without nets or gloves...

..on account of he had very kindly lent me his jacket and veil. And has spent his entire life around bees. I feel hardly qualified to have my own hives just yet, but will spend a little more time hanging out with bee-folk and see how I feel next year.

Then, on to Saskatchewan where I'm participating in the Sage Hill spring poetry colloquium at St Michael's Retreat Centre in the Qu'Appelle Valley,

where the ticks are active if not biting (phew). They've been crawling over us night and day, even those of us who haven't gone outside let alone into long grass. This evening I found one hiding on my person. Here she is practicing her backstroke in a drop of water, before sinking into the last hot bath of her life.

Our colloquium leader Erin has researched the subject thoroughly, and apparently it's unwise to try to crush them (even if you can) in case they're carrying a disease which you can then spread on yourself by accident. So I think scalding is quick and merciful.

Anyway, there are eight of us here from all across Canada, all with manuscripts in progress. We've been having a good time doing poetry exercises and plunging into some hard editorial graft. Between meals, walks (in the short grass, thanks) and strolls into town. Where there is surprising variety in fire hydrant, I happened to notice.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gordon's seasonality campaign & Delia's chicken comments

Gordon Ramsay caused a bit of a flutter by proposing that out-of-season fruit and veg be outlawed in Britain. A little light counter-attack from readers of his restaurant menus, but aside from the dessert menus he seems to be sticking pretty well to his principles. I was glad to see him coming down on ex-saint Delia Smith who has been flogging a re-edition of an old book of hers from the seventies which promotes use of ready-made food, which by now we should know is less healthy and more expensive than learning to cook from scratch.

She also made some rather ill-advised comments about supermarket chicken which made feathers fly. Supporters say it's her working class roots, and that she was just showing sympathy for people who simply can't afford organic food. But although she concedes she doesn't like "the way battery chickens are reared," it strikes me that in describing battery chickens as "nutritious food" she doesn't seem to grasp the public health risks - increased and dangerous overexposure to antibiotics that come to us through chicken meat, the salmonella and e. coli risks - and the issues around over-consumption of meats by Western consumers.

Most of the cookbooks we've all grown up with are meat-based, and so it's unsurprising to find someone who's made a living writing them (though her Vegetarian Collection cookbook is excellent) promoting that same unimaginative thinking about feeding the poor.

So my rhetorical question of the day: is it better to invite low-budget shoppers to buy cheap (because inhumanely reared with unhealthy production standards) meat or to point them towards other ways of cooking which use more economical sources of protein?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Crabs 'n tomatoes 'n poets 'n sand

I was shocked the other day to see this guy running underwater, up the Gorge, heading (ultimately) for the ocean I guess. Looks like he mighta lost one claw to the soup pot, but the rest of him was all there.

A separate door for tomatoes on BC Ferries. They think of everything.

Wendy in fine fettle, introducing a new anthology - Crossing Lines - and a reading by Allan Briesmaster and his daughter Clara Blackwood at the Black Stilt on Friday.

An afternoon to let your ears flap in the breeze: a windy day on Island View Beach.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Wendell Berry's rules for healthy functioning of sustainable local communities

I happened upon a web page that listed farmer-poet-essayist-novelist Wendell Berry's 17 rules for the healthy functioning of sustainable local communities (and here's a place you can read some of his poems):

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?

2. Always include local nature - the land, the water, the air, the native creatures - within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbours.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products - first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of 'labour saving' if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community's own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalised. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programmes, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighbourly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighbourhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fast Food David, recent poetry readings, and some offal news about chicken feed

This one has been doing the email rounds; a cautionary vision for us all:

Wednesday saw Karen Solie at Open Space Gallery, where she stunned us with the strength of new work. An interview with Tim Lilburn afterwards revealed that she has been reading, among others, Denis Johnson and John Ashbery.

On Friday we heard new work from Joelene Heathcote at Planet Earth Poetry.

And.. just when you might have thought sanity about animal feed was at last prevailing, this creepy story that shows so clearly we have not not not learned our lessons yet: the EU would like to feed pigs to chickens. This is upsetting moslems, animal rights groups and, I should think, most sane consumers whose memory of the causes of BSE has not yet faded.

If that upsets you, maybe you should settle your nerves with a calming snack of home-made yogurt, with a spoonful of the best honey you can find.