In my opening pages, the identityof the characters is contested asa forgery of imagery bound upwith the claims and dispositionsof country. It seems in orderto sustain power in all this,the city upholds an illusion ofauthority over the north, so thatthe influential with the most isa problem to which I return.But cultures are cumbersome,each with acquired tastes, andwhat is this blur about belonging?By the time I came along in theliterature, the land was exhaustedand the local I knew was fading. (Ken Belford, “Potential”)
I’m intrigued by the length and the breadth of the definition this new issue of The Capilano Review brings to the theme of “ecologies,” running the stretch of what might be called “eco-poetry” and “pastoral” and further, into less-described territories. This new issue features new writing by Liz Howard, Eleni Sikelianos, Christian Bök, Ken Belford, Jacqueline Turner, Larissa Lai, A. Rawlings, Lary Timewell, Adam Dickinson and plenty of others. What might fall under the umbrella of “ecologies”?
As a whole cloth, this is a spectacular issue that tackles a wide array of political, social, physical, poetic, social and economic ethos and effects of a variety of ecologies, including globalization, the effects of natural disaster and climate change. By itself, the sequence by Calgary poet Christian Bök, for example, is absolutely breathtaking.
One of the anchors to the issue as a whole is the piece “’Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’: On Poetry and the Environmental Crisis,” featuring Joanne Arnott, Michael Blackstock, Peter Culley, Roger Farr, Christine Leclerc and Rita Wong. As Farr writes, “This discussion took place on September 18, 2011, on a private “Ecologies” blog set up for the occasion.”
RF: I’m curious about how poetics informs the activist work some of you are doing: Christine’s work against the Enbridge project, for example. Do people active as poets bring anything unique to the movement for environmental protection and defense?
CL: I like the way the question is framed, as I usually think about my activist work informing my poetics. Actually, I participated in poetic community before activism. But obviously, the crews aren’t mutually exclusive, and in a way, the more involved I became in activist work, the more I got to know poets involved in serving their non-poetic communities, and who are engaged in struggles for justice. That said, poetics does inform the activism that surrounds The Enpipe Line poetry project, as The Enpipe Line is fairly non-hierarchical. The contributions that make up the long line of this poem are selected by the poets who come forward with work and resistance to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines, and not a panel of editors. And the poem’s editors work on a volunteer basis. It may seem strange to describe the power focus on it because I think it is an essential feature of the work and an important part of what the poem ultimately has to convey.
Can poets intervene in the corporate and political manoeuvring that allows unwanted projects to move forward? I’m very curious about this question, but don’t yet have a clear answer.
Vancouver poets Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott’s “DECOMP: Selected Readings from the Bunchgrass Zone,” for example, worked a collaborative project of photographs and text on the subject of decay that I would very much like to see more of, writing:
In the summer of 2009 we traveled to five distinct BC ecosystems and communities: the coastal rainforest (on Vancouver Island’s west coast), the Gulf Islands (in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island), the Nicola Valley desert, the Columbia Mountains, and the sub-boreal North. In each ecosystem an identical copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was placed in a remote outdoor location, and left there for one year. A GPS reading was taken. In the summer of 2010 we returned to each site and located the specimens. As we hoped, each ecosystem had something different to say about Darwin’s text.
Toronto writer Liz Howard has two poems from her work-in-progress “OF HEREAFTER SONG,” with a note that reads:
Longfellow’s epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha,” was an attempt to assimilate indigenous, specifically Ojibway, oral tradition into Western textual, metric verse. My own government-imposed identity as a non-status aboriginal person and the trauma and silence surrounding this identity (as in the internment of my great-grandfather in a residential school and estrangement from my native family members) became an emergent theme in my writing. As a mixed-race person, not even quite a “half-breed;” as a subject under a continual process of erasure; as the ideal end-product of assimilative programs such as the residential school system; and as a scientist, employing empiricism as the so-called paramount of Western inquiry into the natural or into how we come to utilitarian truth—how could I even write about this? There was something similar, suspicious, neighbourly between Longfellow’s situation and my own. He was a white settler trying to filter indigenous narrative through the framework of the Western epic and I was trying to reconcile a being at odds with itself. I began to read and un-write his work. The result is a long or sequential work in which I intervene upon the text using several procedures—an overarching process of random sampling (which is the norm in scientific research), as well as homolinguistic translation, intertextual recombination, misappropriation, and cyborgian disruption.
A particular highlight has to be new work by Lary Timewell (also known as Lary Bremner, inventor of Tsunami Editions and more recent obvious epiphanies), who, but a few short weeks ago, returned to Vancouver after a hiatus of some twenty-plus years. As his bio writes, “He spent roughly the past 20 years in Fukushima-ken, Japan, where he survived the physical but not economic fallout of the March 11th Higashi Nihon Daishinsai; he currently lives in North Vancouver.” Given his experiences with the tsunami hitting his home city in Japan (the city with the disaster-affected nuclear reactors), it allows him a unique and terrifying perspective on the subject of “ecologies.” Here is a fragment of his poem “escape,” from a suite titled “offshore”:
At Yahiko Shrine the raindrops are opaque, an invisible display. No one is so anthropomorphic as to think Nature is apologizing for the moment past. That is to say, any one of us born. There is this world & there is the cessation of suffering, even under shifting fault-line that obliterates time. A veil of birds passing is once again an abstraction forming on the forehead.
The ghosts were torn from the buildings; the apparatus of moonlight unlocked. There are no words for counting the days. Behind door #3, the hell-wraith of mental & material streams, but here in Niigata my nearest neighbor is the weather. The mountain appears as a particle deluge, the rain constructed amorously of retinal seraphs.
My wife & son are safe in Tokyo. CNN is on anabolic steroids; the static the frayed experience raise cilia-hairs on the forearms of hope. Habitué flock to convenience stores reciting nuclear eclogues formed in the precise matrices of chrysanthemums painted on the side of a wall.
Language tastes better with the tang of wasabi, the cool of daikon. That kid with a diamond-encrusted tricycle is sunlight itself. The ululating somnambulistic of media dissipates like an involuntary communion along the auditory canal. Wooly moon through fog forms fissures on sheets, on ceiling.