Wednesday, December 31, 2008

beauty is summoning...

dried flower heads, past sunset, the river valley, dec. 28, 2008.

winter asters, the river valley after sunset, december 28, 2008

My little camera (which has taken all of the pictures posted in this blog since December 31st, 2005) retires today. In three years, the shutter has clicked 12890 times, & its little parts & joints are wearying... the zoom function broke this past summer, now the screen shuts off at inopportune moments, the flash no longer flashes, and the dial at the top which allows you to switch functions doesn't always cooperate. It has travelled with me to France and Denmark, taken countless hiking trips in Kananaskis, and spent months with me in Yukon and Alaska during fieldwork, taking photos at -45 celsius, or at 3000m on a mountain in Kluane in the summertime. I've dropped it a few times, yes, gotten it wet & muddy & scratched, because it's in my bag everyday, so I can take photos of a bird or a leaf or a cloud or a pattern in the pavement on the way to the university or on a walk to wherever I am going...

I've gotten a new camera now, the newer, more sophisticated sister of this one. Hopefully she will have the same magical colour saturation tendencies & receptivity for light that made me love this one so well. & 'tis time for my dear FujiFinepix E500 to wear a golden-laureled lens-cap... Happy New Year! You have served me well.

* * *

I've been watching Tarkovsky again lately -- Ivan's Childhood & Stalker & Mirror -- & hungrily eating with my eyes the scenes of light & errant wind playing in the grasses, & bird-wings & watery dreams & the light on weathered faces. As well, I've been reading 'Sculpting in Time', his reflections on his films and film-making process. This is one of my favourite bits (p.200):

"In the end everything can be reduced to one simple element which is all a person can count upon in his existence: the capacity to love. That element can grow within the soul to become the supreme factor which determines the meaning of a person's life. My function is to make whoever sees my films aware of his need to love and to give his love, and be aware that beauty is summoning him".
-- Andrei Tarkovsky.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

happy solstice!

wild rose skeleton, n. sask. river valley, end of november 2008

(somewhere out in the field
we are walking, & our strong
legs tremble.) paper-birchs kneel,

fall: & the wind drifts through,
brushtailed grasses quiet hands
on my spine. come,

bury yourself in me: the edge
of the earth yawns gently,
bleached wheat wreaths paling,

stalks spent. (somewhere
out in the field lying fallow
the wind’s an old man, winding

his fingers in an old woman’s
wiry sun-silvered hair, unplaiting
the last of the woven strands

with shaking tender hands.) now
to sleep in the remnants of the sky’s
charred marrow, a gentle furnace;

rest in me. (somewhere out
in the field we hold it in our
bones, a soft glow in the root-tangle)

curlicues of fireweed embers
frozen to the horizon, to the
rib-ripples of clouds; just strip

to your soft skeleton, starry
filaments of cow-parsnip, twine
around me, now:

we’ll conduct light.

* * *

this poem has no name yet... also, i'm not sure i'm finished with it. but it wishes you a happy solstice nevertheless.

Monday, December 01, 2008

heart spatter.

sun reflecting on the ice-floes, n. sask river, edmonton, nov. 28/08

sunset. n. sask river valley, edmonton, nov. 28/08

light in the dry golden grasses, n. sask river valley, edmonton, nov. 28/08

the spruces gone to kindling in the sun, n. sask river, edmonton
nov. 28/08

Often I am overwhelmed with the immensity of being in love with everything; I feel like I am being ripped up like paper, into heart-shreds, because there is so much & I want to encompass it all. & then the realization comes each time that I am already part of it, I am made of this: stand on the edge of the river, watch the slushy platelets of ice rush through the artery, crowding serenely, sliding up along the half-frozen edges, bloodcells pushing gentle & relentless against the soft walls of the aorta. Feel an indivisibility in the pulsing, the breathing, between you & the water & the air & the sand frozen at the river-edge, melting between the sky & the light, the light strikes & the heart spatters, exploding into a thousand droplets into the water, & freezing, flows on. (This is everything; this is being alive.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

it was beginning winter

new ice, edge of the n. sask, nov. 28/08

dry seed-drops, banks of the n. sask, nov. 28/08

birch-curl-tendril, banks of the n. sask, nov. 28/08

5. “It was beginning winter”

It was beginning winter,
An in-between time,
The landscape still partly brown:
The bones of the weeds kept swinging in the wind,
Above the blue snow.

It was beginning winter,
The light moved slowly over the frozen field,
Over the dry seed-crowns,
The beautiful surviving bones
Swinging in the wind.

Light travelled over the wide field;
The weeds stopped swinging.
The mind moved, not alone,
Through the clear air, in the silence.

Was it light?
Was it light within?
Was it light within light?
Stillness becoming alive,
Yet still?

A lively understandable spirit
Once entertained you.
It will come again.
Be still.

-- Theodore Roethke, ‘The Lost Son’

Sunday, November 23, 2008

mud & dream

late afternoon, looking over the n. saskatchewan. nov. 14/08

illuminated stick-trees, n. saskatchewan river valley, nov. 14/08

brushtailed grasses, sunset by the n. saskatchewan, nov. 14/08

"I am a weak, ephemeral creature made of mud and dream. But I feel all the powers of the universe whirling within me".
-- Nikos Kazantzakis, 'The Preparation: Second Duty'.
* * *
It is November, but I don't mind so much. There are days that are black and white photographs, even the faintest hints of sepia drained out of the frost-feathered grass, the shade of a dull magpie, but I don't really feel the usual agoraphobia of the white sky. There is a richness, a comfort: the river exhales icicles on the sand, inhales the frozen rushes, the black water of a pool. My ear to your chest, water echoes inside, calmly blooming with hot platelets of ice. The long supine sun catches in the trees for a few short afternoon hours, spreading like a bruise on the horizon, settling into a warm furnace somewhere in my ribcage, so still. I am warm here with you, brushtailed grasses soft fingers on my spine, & in this strange liminal time there is peacefulness, & there is such potentiality that touches every nerve from the inside out with light.
* * *
I'll defend my thesis this week. Such sleepless anxiety, such excitement. So strange to be mostly done; just the formalities now. & then, on...

Friday, November 14, 2008

open letter...

a wasp-nest, the river valley, today.

The following is a letter I wrote to the author of this article. I wrote it two weeks ago, when the offensive piece first appeared and sent it off immediately -- to feelings of slight catharsis. But now I find that I'm still really quite angry about the whole thing. Frankly, I'm still in disbelief that it was even published. The Globe & Mail had nothing to say for themselves; they missed the point about what exactly it was they had done by publishing that piece of irresponsible, racist opining. It upsets me how blind many people, especially those in the media, are towards the structural violence still present in Canadian society. And perhaps what scares me the most is how many people refuse to learn, to open their minds, even when given the opportunity.
So this is what I wrote to the author. I highly doubt she actually read it, considering the volume of mail I am certain she received that week. (However, I'll leave it here. If she ever Googles herself, maybe this will pop up & she'll get another chance to see it.)
* * *
Dear Ms. Wente,
I am writing in response to your recent column, 'What Dick Pound said was really dumb – and also true'. I am sure you've received a lot of mail recently regarding this piece, but I just wanted to add a few of my comments on your piece, as well as clarify a few points for you. In this letter, I hope to illuminate some the issues I have with your argument and suggest some facts that you might consider. I was appalled by the statements you make in your piece. The comments you make display a distinct lack of research on, and understanding of the subject of Aboriginal cultures in Canada.
You criticize other authors and experts such as Ralston Saul for not citing any sources, yet you only consulted Frances Widdowson, who also does not provide any background or proof for her statements. You include slanderous and also unsupported statements such as "homicide was probably rather high". How can you back this up? This is completely un-academic and unacceptable journalism. Firstly, using a term such as 'neolithic' (Stone Age) as a cultural descriptor is inappropriate because 'neolithic' refers to a temporal period used in some describing histories of the world, not a way of life. To suggest that any culture in the world today is 'neolithic' is absurd, since we no longer live in that time period. It also makes the fallacious assumption that culture does not change, that the cultures of Aboriginal peoples are somehow 'frozen in time' and the very nature of a culture – any culture – is that it is dynamic, flexible and adaptive. However, the fact that cultures change does not mean that they all change uniformly. To quote statements of Widdowson's such as "We all passed through the stage of neolithic culture" is problematic, because it relies on this notion of linear progress as well assuming that the 'stone age' can persist out of time.
You should understand the necessity of small-scale kinship groups, especially in Northern Canadian Aboriginal societies. Groups were generally kept small in order to not overuse a particular hunting territory, and needed to be dispersed simply to keep resources from depleting too quickly and disrupting the ecological balance of a harsh landscape, and making starvation a risk. As for contributions to modern Western medicine, don't forget Aspirin; this widely used painkiller is derived from salicylic acid, which is found naturally in willow bark, a traditional pain remedy used by Aboriginal people all over the continent. If you are searching for "broader laws or institutions" you need look no further than the Iroquois Confederacy, which united six different tribes and formed multiple democratic councils. Regardless of whether it influenced the Declaration of Independence or not, you cannot deny its organizational sophistication and the role it played for the tribes involved. Smaller groups of people, such as the Blackfoot (Siksika, Piikani and Kainai peoples) of Western Canada also had a number of complementary societies whose members planned military strategies or looked after economics or division of labour. Today, the internal justice systems of many First Nations are inspired by their previous traditions, in the creation 'sentencing circles' to deal with offenders in their communities.
You also make the unqualified assumption that 'written' language is necessary for laws, or "evidence-based" science. You don't get much more "evidence-based" than the directly observational ecological knowledge that has been preserved orally for hundreds of years. Your flippant dismissal of traditional knowledge and your ready acceptance of Ms. Widdowson's weak example that deems traditional knowledge to be just "a heap of vague beliefs and opinions that can't be verified or tested" is nothing but ignorant. It certainly can be tested, and there is a reason why governments, ecologists and other researchers wish to learn of this knowledge – because it is absolutely vital, most especially due to our current issues related climate change and increased immediate environmental damage due to industry (e.g. the Tar Sands). A life that is lived intimately in a particular environment for thousands of years (and yes, this knowledge has been and is still often passed down orally) yields a wealth of knowledge that originates from direct, constant experience and observation, and is extremely valuable for understanding what is currently happening within ecosystems across the globe. Knowledge regarding wildlife populations has successfully been implemented in a number of co-management programs for a number of years, such as in beaver population management agreements under The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975 or the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board in the 1970s. Currently, many Aboriginal groups in the North are contributing to studies regarding animal movement and receding sea-ice patterns occurring as a result of climate change. Combining these insights with Western science seems to be the most productive method of understanding what is currently happening regarding the shifts in climate and weather patterns. As Dr. Franklin Griffiths of the University of Toronto noted at a recent Royal Society of Canada meeting at the University of Alberta, "Southerners need Aboriginal thinking […] We need this wisdom, and I think they need some of our wisdom, to generate new intellectual capital for us to be able to move ahead with a better understanding of what our situation is and who we are".
It is somewhat understandable that one may have trouble with the 'vagueness' of some statements concerning traditional knowledge. To understand this knowledge and appreciate its full value, statements must be analysed in the context of that culture's own epistemology. This 'knowledge' must be taken in context, and often an understanding of other cultural symbols is crucial so we can assess a statement according to its own internal logic. This is no different from a non-scientist trying to read an academic paper full of jargon. Yet, we do not dismiss a scientist for writing something we as non-scientists or non-experts, do not immediately understand.
It really should not be necessary to point out that First Nations, Métis and Inuit people across the country do participate in "vastly complex late-industrial capitalist culture" – consider just a few of the housing developments, casinos and other successful businesses (both large and small) that are owned and operated by Aboriginal peoples – these range from service stations in small towns to diamond polishing comparies (Deton' Cho Diamonds) to vast management corporations (e.g. Kitsaki Management Limited Partnership of the Lac La Ronge Band, Kativik Regional Corporation in Nunavik, Québec) Other businesses, such as Däna Näye Ventures, an Aboriginal Capital Corporation based out of Whitehorse, has been aiding Aboriginal small business owners in the Yukon and Northern British Columbia for the past 20 years. To suggest that Canadian Aboriginal peoples do not participate economically in Canada and the world is a clearly misinformed viewpoint that reflects profound colonial ignorance. Furthermore, many of these businesses, while participating in a wider capitalist market, are organized and run according to Aboriginal philosophies and ethics. The work of countless Aboriginal people combines their own cultural beliefs with the norms and standards found in wider Canadian businesses; this displays the dynamism and adaptability that is characteristic of all cultures.
You go on to discuss how First Nations have been romanticized and idealized, but then make statements regarding how these beliefs "doom hundreds of thousands of native Canadians and their descendants to lives that remain isolated from the modern world, without the skills and aptitudes they need to make their way in an increasingly complex society". This comment itself is deeply paternalistic and reveals your own idealization of First Nations peoples as helpless and naïve; it falsely assumes they are unable to make their own choices and decisions about their lives, because their culture is not 'complex' or 'advanced' enough. The way you are speaking about Aboriginal peoples ignores their will and fundamentally denies them agency. Not once do you quote or refer to an Aboriginal person regarding how they feel about their lives and cultures. It is not a matter of what Aboriginal Canadians should or should not do. All individuals in this country must have a choice on how they want to live, and have a right to their own specialized, sophisticated lifestyles and life-ways – which are contemporary, advanced, and flexible – just as they do have a right to participate in the business market or politics or any other sphere of Canadian life. As Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh stated in his 'Lament for Confederation': "Like the thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man's success-his education, his skills- and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society".
Lastly, you speak of others who refuse to see reality, when it has become clear to me that you remain wilfully blind to the continued reality of colonialism. Every criterion you use to illustrate the "savagery" of Aboriginal societies is compared directly with Western industrial society – an argument that rests on the belief that one culture is superior. This is nothing but a profoundly ethnocentric, ignorant standpoint; the insult is compounded by the fact this culture you deems 'superior' is the one that decimated Aboriginal populations and continues to oppress them. Frankly, this is racist. You cannot make excuses for this.
I could certainly provide you with a reading list if you would like to learn more about the examples I am presenting here. I hope that this has at least made you question or reconsider some of the beliefs and ideas you hold and have put forth in your piece.
Jenanne F.
Edmonton, AB

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

fever dreams.

cow-parsnip, last weekend, riverlot.

skeleton of fireweed, riverlot, last weekend.

upsidedown trees/sky dendrites, riverlot, last weekend, photographed by jason.

these are some much beloved songs of late, my unconventional lullabies (mp3s are both living here for your listening pleasure):

cursed sleep -- bonnie prince billy (the letting go)

lullaby for grown ups -- ane brun (changing of the seasons)

'tis all for now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

o sappho

not one girl I think

who looks on the light of the sun

will ever

have wisdom

like this (#56)

Eros the melter of limbs (now again) stirs me --

sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in (#130)

stand to face me beloved

& open out the grace of your eyes (#138)

their heart grew cold

they let their wings down (#42)

spangled is

the earth with her crowns (#168C)

All of the poem-fragments beneath the pictures come from Anne Carson's translations of Sappho's poetry, from a book called 'If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho'.

(All the pictures I took in the river valley about two weeks ago)

Last week I heard a talk on Sappho's poetry by a professor from History and Classics at my University. I learned a number of interesting things, including that:

-- Sappho may or may not have been a real person who actually existed; the unreality of other Greek poets, like Homer, is suggested because many of these poets composed at a time when the language was transitioning from an oral language to a more widely written one. Thus, the epic poetry of Homer was likely created by multiple composers, whether at a specific time or over successive generations. Sappho might have been a style, too, of lyric poetry that originated in the oral tradition that became mediated through writing.

-- However, we do seem to know a bit about her purported birthplace, & her supposed family. She (with her fancy headdress) appears on a lot of coins from Lesbos. The invention of playing the lyre with a pick is also attributed to her.

-- If she did exist, she did not die jumping off a cliff, inspired by her unrequited love for a man called Phaon. This scenario apparently appears in plays all the time, even centuries after her time... but in comedies, though, not tragedies. Sappho in love with a man was quite the preposterous scenario, yes. (Unfortunately, this story often gets reproduced by silly people with a heteronormative agenda).

-- New fragments of many Greek lyric poets are constantly being discovered. Apparently poems often show up on mummy-wrappings from Egypt. I guess it was like reusing scraps of newsprint...
-- As much as I like the idea of her poems being a heteroglossia, a collection of many voices singing at different times, I also like the idea that she was real, that she wandered the mountainsides picking sweet clover & plucking her lyre & expressing all this desire.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


sunset-time, gilded river. this past saturday.

First of all, this statistic is shocking to me -- that only 1% of Canadians have read a book of poetry in the past year. That's about 334020 people... which maybe isn't a small number. But compared to the number of people who have likely read textbooks or non-fictiony things, it is rather small. Compared to the number of people who have definitely read at least one novel this year, it is really quite tiny. Compared to the number of people who have undoubtedly read the newspaper or the TV guide or the magazines you get at the grocery store line-up, it is postively miniscule.

And like my dear friend notes in her comments, which I have linked to above, I just cannot fathom such a poem-less life, because poetry is something I think about all the time, constantly. It is just part of being, finding poems, making poems, reading poems, hearing poems. That is what I do.

It makes me want to put poems everywhere. Tuck them randomly under car windshields. Leave them on bus seats, slip them under doors. Strategic wallpaper for the world... Not in an 'I'm taking over the world & everyone should do read poems because I know what's best for everyone' sort of way (well, maybe an iota or two of that) but because I really would just like to share things. Because some people haven't read Valzhyna Mort or Michael Longley or Adrienne Rich or Theodore Roethke. Or Anne Carson or e.e. cummings or William Wordsworth or Gregory Corso or Pablo Neruda or Oksana Zabuzhko. & to me, this is a bit sad, you know? Because there is so much richness. & this is summed up so aptly, in a poem by William Carlos Williams that Adrienne Rich quotes as the epigraph to her book, 'What is Found There':

It is difficult / to get the news from poems / but men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.

I could write an autobiography in poems, how poems have nourished me. One of the first poems I ever loved was Robert Frost's ubiquitous poem about the snowy woods. I was eight & I already loved to write haikus & couplets. With this poem, I admired the calm even-ness of the rhyme, the lilting sleigh bells. I loved thinking of how my footsteps creaked in the snow, when I went on walks in the early winter evenings with my mother. I loved stopping, letting her walk on ahead, while I stayed mesmerized in the quiet, the swirl of snow under the streetlights. I memorized it & when I have panic attacks I still say it to myself in attempts to slow my heart. but i have promises to keep & miles to go before i sleep

Then when I was 11 I met e.e. cummings with in just spring --

& he made me want to write things, poems, all the time. At one point, I tried stories too. But I came back to poems.

He wrote, in 'Forward to an Exhibit: II':

Why do you paint? / For exactly the same reason I breathe. / That’s not an answer. / There isn’t any answer. / How long hasn’t there been any answer? / As long as I can remember. / And how long have you written? / As long as I can remember. / I mean poetry. / So do I.

& later I met Wordsworth, with 'Tintern Abbey' & that force that rolls through all things, which touched me deeply. I had the requisite affair with Sylvia Plath as a 16 year old, but then I met Anne Carson who was even more enriching, so... Just this evening I was flipping through Plainwater again, & got stuck once more on her poem-prose-essay The Anthropology of Water. My copy of the book is creased & folded & caressed, pen & pencil scribbles underlining the sentences that stuck to me, shocked themselves into me. I carry so many memories in this piece; one line, highlighted in fading silvery-blue pen takes me back to the floor of a bookstore where I sat reading this at 17, trying not to cry a little in public but failing miserably because when she wrote

Language is what eases the pain of living with other people, language is what makes those wounds come open again

how could I not?

I have a lot of poems in my head now. There are poems I've met that made me physically weak in the knees, like that time when a friend & I first heard recordings of Adrienne Rich reading her poetry (when she said 'I am a woman sworn to lucidity', I had a wave of shivers). There are poems that I sometimes have the urge to get tattooed on my body in sinuous Cyrillic cursive; the urge to get tattooed passes, but not the wish to feel inscribed.

I love it when I know other people who know certain poems & lines from them become fantastical intertextual codes. e.g. the road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor! (noyes) or pasting Tannu-Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence (corso). I love it when people read me poems, especially ones they've written. I could listen infinitely. & I like it when they compel me to read mine, even if I'm hesitant at first.

One day a few months ago, a dear friend left a poem they had written in my mailbox. It was pretty much the loveliest thing ever, for a multitude of reasons, but just that gesture, of leaving a poem for me to find in my mailbox... I cannot quite describe it. The only thing that surpassed the goodness of poem-discovery, was writing one of my own and then sneaking down an alleyway to surreptitiously slip it into their mailbox... & then thinking about them finding it, reading it, & feeling something of what I had just felt upon discovering theirs, feeling all of what can be found there, in a poem.

Friday, October 10, 2008

fruit & thought, blosson & pit. (or, everything is related to everything else, really.)

rosehips by the n.sask river, september 2008

more river valley rosehips, september 2008

Over the last while, I've been realizing that something that I am consistently fascinated with in my writing is this idea of the space between -- the inherent separation between everyone & everything, e.g. the space between people, between people & land, between people & their personal conceptions of some divine (& unifying) force, etc. & I am fascinated by the way we try to bridge those spaces, those gaps between. I think my deep interest in language & translation is definitely rooted in my fascination with these spaces.

What I'm writing focuses partially on language (spoken, signed, written, visualized) as a major connector, & the poem itself as the vehicle of connection. Here, I'm very much inspired by Simone Weil's thoughts on the naturalness of poetry, & its role in direct, profound connection between people, a vehicle for conveying internal experience & feeling. As well, I am ever fascinated by the paradox of metaxu, what Weil describes as 'every separation being a link' -- if we were not so separate, there would be no reason for connection, for communication. We cannot bridge without that space, & so as painful as the gaps between our little beings are, it is the lacuna that makes language -- & all the transcendent things it can do -- necessary & possible.

& what I love most about this space between is that it is the very fact that there are spaces between absolutely everything. (Lately, my favourite distraction from my work is reading about the Large Hadron Collider & the philosophy of the particle physics behind it.) We are made of collections, aggregations of spaces, all these spaces between spaces at the atomic, & then subatomic level, held together mysteriously & delicately. & this, to me, is wondrous. Though there are spaces between us, & spaces within us, we are still united, as we are intrinsically connected to everything else in the universe by whatever it is (the Higgs field, say some physicists) keeps everything from flying apart.

So I'm writing a cycle of poems based upon Ukrainian holidays, the elemental feasts of the seasons. These holidays are elaborate syncretic constructions, their pagan integrity still intact under layers of Christian influence; fertility rites involving fire & water & ritual purification persist on a midsummer holiday now consecrated to John the Baptist; the Feast of the Transfiguration still involves the offering of the summer's first fruits back to the earth that provided them. Despite the Orthodox theological overlay, at their roots all of thse ritual celebrations basically serve the purpose of reuniting those who observe them with three elements -- the earth, one's ancestors, & some sort of universal presence (be it a deity, or the Higgs boson, etc) -- as well as with each other. They are simply attempts to bridge the spaces between all things, a recognition that everything is related to everything else. Through these poems, I've been trying to convey the endlessness of return & transformation, the perpetual cycles of separation & reunification, and how we try to connect with everything else (as well as ourselves) through these processes.

This is the third part of 'first fruits', the poem for the feast of Transfiguration, which is very much akin to thanksgiving, so it's also rather timely. See here for the first part & here for the second.


(чорні черешнi при бiлiй хатi)
there are dark cherries hanging
above the river autumnal, echoing
round the doppler-throated swoop
of a swallow, downy feathers in the sun
splitting into vast white houses of light.

wind washes over the sky,
clouds like heavenly ribstones rippled,
a muddy bank sucks heartfuls;
we eat of the earth, ourselves, our
little birdmouths seeking sightless,
following the skirring of wings.

(ходи, дiвчино, черешнi рвати)
i have an armful of sun-darkened
cherries & i’m going to feed you
these first fruits: the poems that
gnaw sweetly away at our bones
leave us nourished & wanting

as the whole body
aches with such separation:
we are made of spaces between
spaces, the singing of shifting silt,
tiny sandgrains within
the indivisibility of wind –

(черешнi рвати, черешнi їсти)
but watch the nettle & thistle
crumble & slump back down
the fallen bank to the waiting river,
watch our hands slip cherries from
the branches onto hungry tongues

& someday, you know, there will be
no difference, nothing between
hand & mouth & fruit & thought
& blossom & pit; oh but now,
(так солодко, так швидко!) so sweet so swift –
rejoice in it.

* the Ukrainian bits are from a rather sensuous folk song about a girl picking nice dark cherries growing in abundance around a little white cottage, picking them & devouring them, as the narrator of the song implores her to share.

Also, returning to the Large Hadron Collider, this very educational little song makes me rather happy.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


mossworlds, the river valley, mid-september.

very new tree-shoot growing from a decaying birch, the river valley, last week.
"When you think intensely and beautifully, something happens. That something is called poetry. If you think that way and speak at the same time, poetry gets in your mouth. If people hear you, it gets in their ears. If you think that way and write at the same time, then poetry gets written.
But poetry exists in any case. The question is only: are you going to take part, and if so, how?"

Robert Bringhurst, in The Tree of Meaning, p. 143.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

bringhurst on brain-birthplaces

aspen trees in the river valley, last week

black currants, the river valley, also last week

illuminated leaf veinage, the river valley last week

illuminated wild rose thorns, the river valley, last week

I was introduced to the writings of Robert Bringhurst in a very serendipitous way. I was in the library at the university looking for a book I needed to cite in my thesis, a rather technical volume on multilingualism, when suddenly, this other book sort of fell off the shelf into my hands: Everywhere Being is Dancing: Twenty Pieces of Thinking.

Robert Bringhurst is a typographer & a translator & a philosopher & an artist & a linguist, but mostly a poet, & he writes about poetry in a way that encompasses everything, & he writes about everything, because everything is connected to everything else, really. I am currently enthralled by these little pieces of thinking, as well as this book's 'spouse', as he calls it, The Tree of Meaning: Thirteen Talks. There is so much goodness, here, goodness that nourishes my heart & mind so very well. I can't really adequately talk about it all at once, or really summarize exactly what it is that is just so exactly YESyesyesyesyes. Also, I am still exploring it, of course. But I want to offer little bits of it to you here, selected morsels that are particularly profound & inspiring for me.

(even though I'm finding you can pretty much open up any page of either of these books & discover some breath-catching sentence in one of these essays that he has been crafting for years)

The Tree of Meaning (p. 9) begins as follows:

there are a lot of rocks in western montana, and several creeks called rock creek. one of them, draining the north slope of the anacondas and the eastern flank of the sapphire mountains, became my father's favourite trout-fishing stream around 1949. that watershed is where my brain was born. it wasn't the first world i'd ever explored, and it's a place i never stayed for more than a week or two at a time, but that is the first landscape i began to learn to read.

I am in love with this passage for multiple reasons. Firstly, I am fascinated by the idea of the brain's birthplace, a location where the mind becomes aware & lucid, realizing its connection to a landscape, to the place, to the richness that surrounds it (that is within it, & without it). Where we understand our place within a place, where we realize we are part of that place -- place, of course, Mister Aristotle said, is the first of all beings. & so, I think that these landscapes where our brains are born can be seen as the places that we think from, a place where poetry (which Bringhurst reminds us simply comes from the Greek verb poein, to make or do) originates. I want to ask people, lately, where their brains were born. Which landscapes? Or, as a dear friend suggested to me, within which bookscapes, because many of us first found a meaning, a synchrony, or an awakening while exploring the paths & woods of words themselves...

For me, I think it first occured in the mountains, in Kananaskis, where my family has camped every summer (since the one right after I was born) -- there is something alpine in my thinking, in the breathing swaying valleys of lodgepole pine forests, in the ache & arch of the opaline ridges gone amber-red at sunset. But the other reason I love Bringhurst's passage so much is that my brain was also shaped by the boreal forest creek landscape, just north of here where the prairies roll into the rocky mossy hills.

I too grew up following my father on stream-fishing expeditions, where I didn't pay so much attention to the fishing, but a lot of attention to the rocks & the blue blur of hills in the distance, to the mushrooms in the muskeg & the swirls of water spilling over the beaverdams. To the rosehips & the labrador tea, to the secret berries, to the smell of sunlight on coppery leaves. & this landscape is especially dear to me because I know it's where my father's brain was born when he was young. It makes father, a self-professed non-poet, express to me so eloquently these thoughts that he usually keeps quiet: little things, like how smelling the scent of sunwarmed juniper & listening to the rush of water makes him feel indivisible from the trees , how he wishes he could grow arms wide enough to fall into the forest & hold it all close to him. & now, in his illness, I watch him return to these creeks -- the Windfall, the Oldman, Chickadee, Carson -- to fish, to wander, to photograph, whenever he can gather the energy, because they are healing to him. Comfort to his heart, but also a respite for his mind, from pain, from the body's slow failing. I think there he can feel a sense of indivisibility, he can read that landscape he is part of / that is part of him, & that dilutes the pain, & simply lets him be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


sea-stars, near juneau, ak, early june 2008

my boot, shiny pebbles in the bay, water-glint, near juneau, ak, also early june '08.

me on the beach, near juneau, ak, june '08

a poem, & gratuitous alaska pictures. so many i haven't posted. eeep.
(for b.)

once your heart’s been opened,
you’ll never close it again –

not once the crows have
carried you over the bay, a
smashed abalone shell
on the slick black beach-slate:

all your soft slippery creature
is splayed out all over the rocks,
sunlight illuminates the hidden insides,
the shattered shell’s nacre –

rib slivers glint & waves wash
out the bleeding crevasse
so small & shelterless
dissected & now caressed

by every last drop of water
in the world –

Monday, September 15, 2008

stones. feathers. bones. skins.

luminous caragana in the river valley, last wednesday evening

I am reading a very beguiling book of poems right now, by Sky Dancer / Louise Halfe. She's a Cree poet from Saddle Lake, originally, who writes in English, but writes it like it's nêhiyawêwin, Cree. Her syntax is smooth & distinctive & she weaves in the magical cadences of Cree phrases, and calls this mixed language her 'grassroots tongue'.

The new one I am reading is called 'The Crooked Good' & it is rich & dire & beautiful, & you should really go here & read the excerpt. She is a storyteller, & in this cycle of poems (which reads like a novella, almost), she is ê-kwêskit, Turn-Around Woman, haunted by cihcipistikwân, Rolling Head, who is a mother & a lover & a terrible conscience, a guide, & she is retelling her life, her mother's life, her grandmother's life, everyone's life. She plays with time, erases era so that it's all past, all future -- all her relations are alive. & she writes of this country here, & her words are like rose-hips & the little white shoots of grass, you can taste the geography of eastern Alberta so well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

to all the places that i have known.

berry-picking, september 2007, near the summit of tthe may, near kwanlin (whitehorse)

slopes of tthe may, looking over the täga shäw (yukon river) to täghur män (marsh lake), september 2007
I'm done my Masters thesis. (When I say 'done', though, I just mean the writing part, not all the defending & whatnot... & besides, it still needs a rather thorough edit, as I'm sure I left some sentences rambling on to nowhere or falling off cliffs or something) But anyway, I am basically finished. 49, 538 words to sum up 4 months of fieldwork and a whole year of thinking... & this leaves me with very little to say right now.

On top of the mental tiredness, & brainfuzz left from three days of pretty much writing straight through, I am left with such a strange sadness & such nostalgia. It was just a year ago Friday when I headed up to Whitehorse for the first time to start my research, & it was autumn & that weekend I picked itl'ät & jenächür zhür, lowbush cranberries & crowberries, on Tthe May, Grey Mountain & saw the land unrolling coppery before me. (see above) & I had just started. Just started my first anthropological fieldwork & I was terribly anxious & terribly hopeful. I barely knew what I was doing, but eventually things happened & everything unrolled & swept me away & then I wrote 150-something pages about it.

& it's not that I'm finished now. What I learned, the experiences I opened myself up to having -- these things will continue to inspire & inform my future research. I'm just finished this year, this massive project that devoured my head for awhile.

The friends I met there, who helped me so much, who were so kind & gave so much of themselves, I miss them tremendously... & I just hope that what I wrote something with integrity, something that does some justice to the people I worked with. I hope when they read it, they find something illuminating they didn't consider before about the dynamics of their language situation. I just hope they see the hopefulness, the vibrancy that I saw.

I am so grateful to the people I worked with that it makes my heart hurt with that inchoate little choking, like I swallowed a rose hip whole & now they write me, they say, the berries are coming out, when are you coming back?

& it's hard, because oh, I wish I could go now! Go roaming the lava-red lichen slopes, go to the school & listen to the kids sing in Southern Tutchone... It won't be for awhile yet. The berry bushes will be under a few metres of snow by then. I hope they put save some in the freezer for me...

* * *

Have a song. It's a good song for driving on the Alaska Highway between Haines Junction & Whitehorse. I know that road well.

Ed is a portal (mp3) -- Akron/Family (Love is Simple)

(I have no idea why Ed is a portal. But I do enjoy the lines:

To all of the places that I have known [repeat, etc]

Now that my body's grown the lonely heart poetry
Droning in hearts becomes songs that all objects
Sing to each other like friends telling stories

It's all the same story)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

it is summer, & life is good to me.

double rainbow, mid-july, university ave & 115th st.

my kitteh-friend down the block. i call him nosfercatu, due to his little snaggle-tooth fangs. ahem.

i didn't mean to cut myself in half here, but i often misjudge distance & height when taking photos of myself from ground-level. i still like this one though, especially the billowing in my skirt. in my alley, also middle-of-july.

End of heatwave, back to tea-drinking & moccasin-wearing on the hardwood, bedsheets cool again, at least temporarily. Summer's going swiftly now, unravelling into autumn -- I look forward to this, having missed the season here last year, as I was in the north... & there fall-time is blood-red tundra & coppery mountains for just two weeks before the wind changes & the rain comes & the leaves disappear. & that was beautiful & intense, but I am excited for a long, languid season, because it's going to be the last one for me in this city for a while. In a year's time, I'll be most likely moving somewhere (Aberdeen? Chicago?) to start my PhD. So, in recognition of the crazy acceleration of time that I've been feeling, I am going to go on long meandering walks crunching every single leaf very mindfully, & spend a lot of time on my steps every night, inhaling the smoky apple-cider air. Of course leaves will fall wherever I go, & Aberdeen will smell like the sea & Chicago will hopefully smell like something other than big-city-pollution. But they won't be my autumn smells or textures, they won't be home, & I am just feeling so attached to here, to my city, my landscape, my geography, & I want to savour it.

This has been one most favourite songs over the past few months for a number of reasons, and I've been meaning to post it for a long time. I was introduced to Pepi Ginsberg's music by a particular lovely person... & also, there are delicious lines in here that I want to eat: it is day, breaking underneath our feet. & her voice is just like that cherry wine (come on come on cm'on) she sings of in the opening line. & oh the strings' chromatic scales loping along together with the horn, one struggling to catch up, skipping over sidewalk cracks... it is morning & movement & holding onto things, to joy.

Pepi Ginsberg - In my bones (mp3)

Friday, August 15, 2008

river hieroglyphs

rivulets in the sand, north saskatchewan riverbank, may 1/08

birdprints along the north saskatchewan, edmonton, may 1/08

the second part of first fruits, rough draft.


whitemud cracks on the riverside
pushing my fingers into cerebral folds
to touch exposed thoughts:

terrestrial through the roots,
slash of weeds a bursting backbone,
siltgreen summer river running wide

& our fingerprints leave barely
an impression on the soft skin
of the shore, a grip

on the river’s hips:
there in the shallows scrawled
avian hieroglyphs, those

footprints create the world,
leave us a story:
the currents are full of strange birds

carrying mouthfuls of earth,
swallows diving swift, divide
the land from the water from sky,

from you from i –

beneath the trees they scatter
a thousand tiny moss-hairs,
scarlet-tipped & reaching

up up up!
but it’s a comfort,
this separation, this

being made of dust.
we’re a thousand trees gone to soil,
all sweet & liminal in flesh

this transfiguration
of the wind-stirred sap & light
all dripping down

to where we lie there
on the sleeping bank, i press
myself into you,

the valley of ribcage to ribcage,
the whole of the earth’s
beating heart pushing back --

Saturday, August 02, 2008

whale magic.

evening view from the front window of the lodge, shrine of st. thèrese, juneau, ak, june 5/08
(whale in the distance)

I keep meaning to tell stories from the beginning of summer, from my trip back up to Whitehorse. During that time, I also went on an excursion down to Juneau, where I accompanied the traditional dance group from the elementary school where I did some of my fieldwork. I felt so lucky to be asked along to accompany the dancers to Celebration 2008, where they'd perform in this gathering of coastal peoples, connecting as the inland relatives, historic trading neighbours of the interior. I was so grateful they would think of me, & also so excited to witness this gathering & see the dancers and language students perform. While the whole trip was very powerful, a fitting culmination to my fieldwork, there is one particular thing I can't stop thinking about, a story I want to keep telling, because I feel so honoured that I was there to witness it.

We stayed at a retreat lodge, a little ways up the coast from Juneau, on a beautiful stretch of land by the gentle bay, which we soon discovered was frequented by eagles & herons & cormorants, otters, seals, as well as humpback whales. The night we arrived, the dancers had practiced for their next day's performance out on the lawn between the lodge and houses. Long pre-solstice shadows twisting amongst the drumbeats, endless coppery gleaming of the water. & the whales seems to be attracted to the sounds, as they circled at the edge of the bay, loud exhales mixing with the singing, mist rising up thick in honey-ambered light.

The next night, it poured. Sitting in the living room of the lodge, we were finishing dinner, writing in journals. Some of the kids were singing, practicing songs for the next day. Then someone saw a shape out in the bay & we were pressed up to the rainy glass, watching for the steam amongst the raindrops. Two whales were there, breaching up in the spray. A few kids rushed out onto the porch, leaning over slippery railings, & then one boy came barrelling out down the steps, one of the dancing drums tucked under his arm, headed for the shoreline.

& that's when all the kids followed, & began to sing. They headed out for the point, under the dripping cedars, clambering gingerly over mussel-slick boulders to the very edge of the land above a cutbank. & they sang their dancing songs, their songs in Southern Tutchone. A welcome song, a potlatch song of power passed down from an old matriarch. They sang without anyone leading, anyone guiding. & everyone joined in these land-locked songs carried down to the coast for whales who had probably never heard anything like this before.

They were close; we could see their barnacle-riddled skin, their tiny abalone-shiny eyes in their wet slate faces. They were breaching; later one dancer's father, who was Inuvialuit & had hunted bowheads along the North Slope, identifed them as a mother whale teaching her baby how to dive deep, resurface, to play in the whitecaps tossed up by the storm.

& the kids kept singing, a song they'd just learned about having to leave a country behind, not knowing when you might return. & it soon became apparent that the whales were moving closer, closer to the rocks, their wild exhales mixing with the drumbeats & the crashing of waves on shore. Our breaths, sliding between our phrases, could they feel our hearts, connected? They're coming, someone might have yelled, keep singing! & the whales came closer, closer, ebbing out again, but still staying near as long as we sang.

Even now, months later, if I'm really quiet, I hear us yelling out hoarsely, I feel my raw throat & the tears pricking in my eyes. I see them all standing there, slipping on the rocks, soaking, their hair plastered down like black seaweed. Even now, I am overcome with memories of this rich act -- I am still in awe of the kids, their spontaneous instinct to sing for these animals, the way their hands flew up to carry the sound, just like the Elders do at potlatches. Still in awe of how the whales responded, coming closer, the connection between our voices & their groans & watery breathing, the connection made of songs.

I've told a lot of people this story, & not everyone gets it. Maybe I don't do it justice, Maybe they have trouble believing that whales would react this way, but really, it's not a matter of believing, it doesn't need to be analysed. It goes deeper than that. It just was. It happened.

These kids sang in Southern Tutchone for the whales, picked up their drums & their language, made the language live in a way it should. They chose it over English; they reconnected with a usage of their native language so rare now, though their Elders still speak of it -- the conversations between people and animals, between any beings. And the whales responded, somehow, there was a connection there, an affirmation in their curious motions, something that made my knees go weak & my whole body warm with rain & tears.
Right now, I think of all of my time in the Yukon over this last year, & all I can think of is that one song they sang: Oh my friend, I'm leaving your country, (I'm right at that place where the mountains dissolve into the horizon), I'm looking back and wondering, my friend, what can I do to go back there again?

Friday, August 01, 2008

first fruits.

over-ripe cherries on the floor, july 2008
first fruits


wish i could tell you
how the land fills me: the
space between the branches & the
& the crumbling cliffbanks, pale
birch arms & the blue gesture
of your gaze, double-fruited
branches to our mouths:
(стояла вішня над водою)

how this decreates you
into a honeyed green haze of
leaf & light: the silty hum of
thunderstorm a waxy blossom
caught in the crisp polyphony
of grasshoppers,
(вишня стояла, свічка палала),
a singing bowl of gold-red cherries
in my hands.

let me feed you the first
fruits of summer communion,
cherry juice dripping through a
jungle of freckles on my arms,
(свічка палала, іскра упала!) our
rosepetal tongues separate bright
flesh from the stone: spitted pits

between our kisses
fall fecund in the rivery silt:
(іскра упала, річенька стала)
& they set root there in the sand
where you & i, we’re waiting
for some sort of transfiguration,
to become the sweetest saplings
of next spring
* * *
* the ukrainian bits come from a folksong that talks about the creation of the world. in the beginning there a cherry tree stood over the water, it burned like a candle & a spark fell to earth, creating a little rivulet. later in the song, god bathes in the water, puts on his robes & wanders up the mountain to dream the earth into being.

Friday, July 18, 2008

poetry & politics

water beneath sarrail falls, kananaskis, june 25/08

red willow branch, cascade on king creek, kananaskis, june 24/08

another king creek tributary cascade, kananaskis, june 24/08

A lovely friend sent me a book earlier this week -- Girl meets boy, by Ali Smith & I just finished devouring it during all my work-breaks & travelling today. Oh my goodness. Such a perfect book to be swept into -- a fantastical remix/retelling of Ovid's story of Iphis & Ianthe which melds gender fluidity and the politics of water. It's one of a series of myths reinterpreted by contemporary authors... Anyway, I was on the ever-treacherous St. Albert bus coming down Groat Road when I read the penultimate page, which flowed so gorgeously that I got little tears in my eyes & I didn't even care that I was on the bus with the snarky Mister Mulletman driving:

"Rings that widen on the surface of a loch above a thrown-in stone... Nothing more than what happens when things come together, when hydrogen, say, meets oxygen, or a story from then meets a story from now, or a stone meets water meets girl meets boy meets bird meets hand meets wing meets bone meets lights meets dark meets eye meets word meets world meets grain of sand meets thirst meets hunger meets need meets death meets life meets end meets beginning all over again, the story of nature itself, ever-inventive, making one thing out of another, and one thing into another, and nothing lasts, and nothing's lost, and nothing ever perishes, and things can always change, because things will always changes, and things will always be different, because things can always be different.

And it was always the stories that needed the telling that gave us the rope we could cross any river with. They balanced us high above any crevasse. They made us be natural acrobats. They made us brave. They met us well. They changed us. It was in their nature to".

-- Ali Smith in 'Girl meets boy', p. 160.

Such a sweet, joyful, subversive book, about the impossibility of controlling something that can't be controlled, whether water or identity, something too fluid to be contained. Anyway, I wish I could be more articulate about it now, but alas, still too fresh.

I loved the puns too. Oh my goodness, she is clever.

Anyway, so nice to read a story again, & this was just the perfect story for me at this very moment. Thank you, Miss Arwen.

I need more stories, stat! Saramago's 'Blindness' is next on the list...

Saturday, July 05, 2008


by the bay, outside juneau, ak. june 5, 2008

So, I've a long list of things that I have been meaning to post in this space, very long, likely rivalling the length of my thesis bibliography, but at this point, the words are still tangled up elsewhere. I have stories from Alaska, from the mountains here, and poem-fragments piling up, fattening my notebook. But I am so consumed with my thesis (all its words words words) & many many thoughts of all things various & sundry, so not much is surfacing here, yet. But soon.

I was reading Valzhyna Mort's poetry again today, the textures of her words tend to crack away at me, clamshell smashed open on rocks by hungry, urgent crows, devoured.

(untitled) - from her book 'Factory of Tears'










two fingers



the mouth



-- valzhyna mort

*cyrillic + blogger = not friends today, so i transliterated.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

letter to a friend in greenland

moss-hairs on a log in the river valley, early may 2008
This next little poem bit I wrote a while ago. It's a response to/was inspired by this poem by Oksana Zabuzhko, 'Letter from the Summer House'. I remember my mom telling me that when she went to the Ukrainian museum in Chicago last year, there was a display about Chornobyl that made striking use of these words.
A friend and I had been talking then about an English course where you write poems to a poet (in response to their work), experiment with the reverberations of the words... and I wanted to experiment with this, just to see... Anyway, Zabuzhko's poem was nibbling at my brain, and I was thinking about a friend from Greenland & the melty North & the ducks that fell in the oil, puddle universes & spiderweb-connections, & running in the snowstorms of late April, etc. I just feel haunted, sometimes, by the intrinsic connections exposed by disastrous or extraordinary happenings, make me think of the Gaia hypothesis, how they bring the distant near.
Anyway, I don't know about a lot of it, haven't edited much, but it is something, for now.
letter to a friend in greenland

dear _____________,

there’s been another summer snowstorm, here.
may’s new leaves, grassy month stunned
by the sudden tornado-ing of snow.
spiders & their frozen silks dead on the doorstep.
in my garden, the twining clematis
shadows twist up the stucco, their
brittle hairs shaped by the ache of frost.

friends in inuvik said they’ve seen
polar bears wandering down the dempster
this year, there’s nothing for them at the edge
of the floes. tourists mistake them for
furry SUVs, chasing confused caribou
up past tsiigehtchic.
no one knows where they’ll go.

i don’t know. maybe it’s like erika said:
we live as fleas on the back of this
great green doe & she’s just scratching us,
trying to shake us, gain her balance
as she picks about the lichens, all we do
is suck her dry in the summer heat,
itch & etch herself into her soft skins

& lay ourselves a clutch of eggs, never sated.
where i am, people are discontented
nestlings, spending their breath
squawking about the price of oil.
a blizzard comes, five hundred ducks
go down over the tar sands. immense
dark waters a false harbour where the

trees ebb and fall, boreal tide gone out
silent into a sticky black lake. walking
along the cracked sidewalks of the city,
cars splashing past; everything is much
closer than it appears. the world turns
to meltwater puddling over the sidewalks
& alleys, but a drought dries up our cells,

twitching with ache half a world away.
crops fail, & i think sometimes i feel it in my cells,
earthquaking its way along the human
fault line. i’ve been thinking of you, worrying
about your own epicentre on that
melting, fishless coast. will you
write soon, have you had to leave to nuuk for work?

this morning i found a frozen
spider’s web, illuminated in the ice, stretching
beyond the telephone wires, the clinking metal
of my fence, its silvery nets – that great doe scrapes away
at the soggy permafrost, under a may snowstorm,
& the wind that twists in the twining clematis
is the same air that’s a cyclone somewhere –

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

mad baba skillz

little flowers in the 10 pm sunlight on the cliffs, whitehorse, yukon, june 11, 2008

(Hi blog, I remember you!) I has occured to me that of the 25 days so far this month, I have only been home for 5 and half of them... meanwhile I have amassed a pile of stories & many many things I shall hopefully find time to post soon. But for now, this is an incredibly endearing 2 minutes of animated video to the song Kolomyjka Nowa, by Orkiestr sw. Mikolaja. Go rejoice in the the triumph of the knitting of Carpathian grannies over colourless mass produced goods!
Also, happy belated solstice -- another song by Orkiestr sw.Mikolaja, Piesn Sobotkowa (mp3 on yousendit), for the feast of Ivana Kupala. Traditional purification & fertility rituals of midsummer centered around water & fire transferred to a day set aside for St. John the Baptist, very convenient, yes :)
Anyway, the round-singing & harmonies & repetition are hypnotic & delicious. Listen, listen!