Sunday, January 30, 2011

Four and a microphone

Busy times... I took in four interesting and very different readings and talks in just over a week. From Byzantium to North Van; from the farms of Milwaukee to forms of aging.

Chronologically, we start with Myrna Kostash,

who read and spoke at the Open Space Gallery on January 20, launching her new book, Prodigal Daughter, an exploration of Byzantium and the Eastern Christian (Orthodox) Church. It was a cold, wet, miserable night but a warm and engaging discussion (Where does the East begin? How does Demeter relate to St Demetrius?)

Next up was David Zieroth

who read - at Planet Earth Poetry - some of his fine work from The Fly in Autumn, as well as some new writing.

And last Thursday I joined 700 others at the Croatian Cultural Centre in Vancouver

to hear urban agriculturalist Will Allen

talk about his work with Growing Power. He showed some 700 images of Growing Power's many projects - mostly in the US but a few outside the country. His basic ideas are: that everyone deserves good, nutritious food; that it's possible to provide this by intensive growing in cities; that the foundation of nutritious food is good soil, and it's possible to provide this by composting. Which he does on an enormous scale, turning over truckloads of unsold warehouse fruits and vegetables with backhoes, and cultivating billions of worms to finish the job once the compost has been mostly broken down. He declares himself to be in direct competition with the landfill: showed us a picture of a garbage truck door that boasted the company had created 17,000 acres of wildlife habitat, and quipped "all I've seen is seagulls and really big rats."

He shows that you shouldn't let a little thing like lack of land to grow on stop you: he plants into 2 feet of compost, on top of concrete and tarmac, in abandoned industrial sites and on top of lawns and flower gardens. At its Milwaukee site, Growing Power produces a year round supply of herbs and greens in greenhouses; and is gaining some fame for its work in aquaponics, raising tilapia and yellow (freshwater) perch. Allen's greatest interest is in teaching children about food and agriculture, and in providing disadvantaged people with the knowledge of how to produce food, as well as process and market it.

Too much time is wasted, he says, talking about urban agriculture: you need to get out there and do it. Create a project that will act to educate and motivate others in your community, that they can volunteer at, work on and buy from.

He's big on creating networks that are inclusive and that reap tangible benefits like the space to grow food, and the tons of waste he diverts into his composting projects. When people sniggered at the picture of Wal-Mart execs touring his farm, he said "We need everybody at the good food revolution table. We can't do it alone. The days are over when we exclude people and organizations." And added, "Our families and friends work at these places."

And then yesterday I joined several hundred others to hear physician/author Gabor Mate

talk about aging. We were bemused to see what a draw this topic is... Mate was blunt, opinionated and controversial, offering a blend of personal wisdom about the interconnectedness of the body, emotions and spirituality. When considering aging, he says, we are considering death, and that is why our youth-obsessed culture is so reluctant to permit it. In planning our lives, knowing they are finite, we should aim to leave the world as we entered it, with no baggage. By which he means we must discard the constraints and emotional demands of the world to be other than who we are.

His ideas on physical health as we age are quite simple: read Andrew Weil, get exercise, eat good food, and eat less. He moved on to some ideas about health and illness, saying that what he concludes from his experience in palliative care is: who gets ill is not a matter of fate. Nor are genetics the key to health and longevity: it is something of a no-brainer to say that there are too many variables in a person's life, and genes are turned on and off by the environment.

To answer questions of illness, he says, we need to look at people's lives. He read from a few obituaries and observed that so often in obits we celebrate the qualities that kill people: compulsive concerns with the needs of others to the neglect of their own. "When you don't know how to say no," he said, "your body will say it for you."

Because the emotional centres in our brains send out hormones and chemicals that affect our physiology, it is not possible to draw a distinction between physical and emotional health when treating an illness; and if you suppress emotions, you also suppress the immune system. "Emotions are not luxuries: we have them in order to survive." There are two primary emotions: fear and love; everything else is secondary. Love is about the human need for primary support.

There was a short unplanned interval while one of the audience members suddenly fell ill, but luckily there was a doctor in the house, and after ensuring that the man would be ok and the ambulance was on its way, Mate returned to the podium with a few words on dementia. It is not enough, he said, to keep your mind active with intellectual explorations; you must also maintain and develop emotional authenticity, because the biggest emotional stress you can put yourself under is trying to be other than you are.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The audible worlds of poetry and dirt, and Growing Out of Hunger

Online marketing... just when you thought your inbox couldn't take any more - more and more is coming from all directions. And when it's from the right sources it's not unwelcome. But it's still too much. Every new piece of mail nudges another few minutes away from something else I might choose and prefer to do. Increasingly I find the best way to manage my time is to take my laptop and hide in a library where there's no WiFi.

Even the Poetry Book Society is doing it. And if the emails about the TS Eliot shortlist are not enough, you can go looking for more. Their Online Poetry Readings promises to bring you some excellent poetry.

As I've probably said before , I love love love radio. It's great company for the multitasker. Here are a couple of shows by our own David Suzuki - episodes from his Bottom Line series - about soil. Among others, they feature the hyphenated self-described grass farmer from Virginia, Joel Salatin, who is always entertaining to listen to. Podcasts for Bottom Line Part 3 are Soil: Life in the Dirt followed by Soil: How to Feed the World.

Meanwhile, I'm gearing up to see and hear a live person next week in Vancouver. Urban agriculture giant Will Allen is going to be speaking on the topic Growing Out of Hunger.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Poetry & Food: PEP & another winter market

We started off the year in a little anxiety. The home for Planet Earth Poetry has been sold - the Black Stilt is in transition to becoming another Moka House - but so far the poets hold sway, and the coffee still flows of a Friday.

Wendy Morton wanted to call our attention to the Solstice Poets feature - the only full page poetry feature in a Canadian newspaper - and offer thanks for its support by departing Times-Colonist editor in chief Lucinda Chodan, who is doing things a little backwards and leaving Victoria for Edmonton.

She was presented with an autographed apron...

After which there followed the open mic

and Patrick Lane introduced the main event, which was a reading by various contributors to the annual Leaf Press anthology of a group who have been meeting with him for retreats for many years.

The January winter market took place at Market Square, luckily missing much of the rain that started falling again in the afternoon.

Terra Nossa proving popular with the meat crowd again

and Sea Bluff Farm attracting a queue for the vegetables.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Green marketing, and get it off your chest: complaints central

It's hard being green, and don't we all know it? Everything's so complicated. Local or organic? Paper or biodegradable plastic? On and on.. For some perceptive insights into the advertising angles, catch while you can the Green Marketing podcast on one of CBC's very best radio shows: The Art of Persuasion. From Rachel Carson, to BP's rebranding errors - well in advance of the Deepwater Horizon fiasco, to green pizza, to Marks & Spencer's Plan A, it's a good, pithy story well told. And the website now offers visual content, like this fabulous ad:

Well. Once you've mastered your green strategy you still have to cope with the rest of life's irritations. It seems sometimes that things go well beyond annoying. For those still looking for a new year's resolution, might I suggest direct consumer action? It has the double benefit of being a stress reliever for the complainant, and a public education service for the industry in question.

The Consumers Association of Canada provides a most helpful list of agencies to complain to, arranged by industry, as well as tips on complaining effectively.

Those of you not happy to be test dummies for Canadian airport security geeks wanting to play with their new body scanners can vent your spleen at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

The Advertising Complaints Authority is the place to go to complain about advertising by email, mail or fax.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Canadian Copyright

Thanks to Mona for passing along this article from the Georgia Straight by the excellent Bill Freeman, one of Canada's best spokespeople on the topic of copyright, and chair of the Creators’ Copyright Coalition, an organization of 17 of the largest creator groups in the country, representing over 100,000 Canadian creators.

As Freeman says, once things were simple; then along came the internet and that changed everything. And the proposed amendment (Bill C-32) to the Canadian copyright act, which has received second reading and is now before a legislative committee, threatens the livelihood of anyone who hopes to make a living from a creative profession.

It seems that the internet, which started life as a tool for free dissemination of just about everything, is starting to become another floor in the towering edifice of our have/have not society. Wealth is so polarized for so many of us now -- and it's worsening by the day.

Have a listen to CBC Spark's recent program on innovation, and particularly to Barbara van Shewick who explains how and why changes to the internet's architecture will put an end to innovation of the kind that spawned eBay and Facebook. She outlines the kinds of harm that can be done when internet service providers are allowed to limit access to information, and explains why developers of the future will have to have money and power behind them. Gone the days of making a killer app from the comfort and safety of your basement... Oh wait, I never did get the hang of that either...

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Last of the Solstice Poets

Happy new year!

I was among the Solstice poets featured in the paper this season, and my poem appeared today. It's a great series to be part of and the Times-Colonist is to be commended for its boldness in publishing (gasp) poetry.

But... in the online version, my stanza and line breaks were gone (which is part of the problem about ebooks and poetry, by the way), so for the purists, and my fellow "line-making creatures" - as Billy Collins calls us - out there, I give you the poem as it was supposed to look.

Solstice RhonaMcAdam