Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Grain: the journal of eclectic writing (Vol. 39, No. 1): “Imposter”

Green Beans

She’s wearing my shoes and sleeping in my bed
with my husband, so it goes without saying

she shouldn’t also be in my vegetable garden,
harvesting the green beans I planted in June.

Even if summer’s failing now, and the leaves aching into red.
Her hands are stained with a half-bushel already harvested.

She’ll argue with him, like I do, about stems.
Heads or tails is no longer a matter of winning.

So she’ll take the ends to the compost and carry
sunflowers back to my garden vase.

Cut the stems on angles:
they’ll lean soft against my eyes. (Alisa Gordaneer)
Perhaps the title of the new issue, “Imposter,” the first by incoming editor Rilla Friesen, of Saskatoon journal Grain: the journal of eclectic writing (Vol. 39, No. 1) is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, especially given the way that the previous editor was removed (but most likely its not). Still, it’s hard not to be annoyed generally by grain these days, but I’m pleased that the magnificent run by previous editor, Sylvia Legris, has been given its due by the incoming Friesen in her “Editor’s Note” that opens the issue, writing: “I have turned to Sylvia Legris’ recent issues often to review the works within. During her tenure, she has left her mark on Grain, not only in the visually-appealing layout and environmentally-friendly production of the magazine, but in the way she upheld the long tradition of selecting superior works.” A bit further on, she writes: “To say I have some big shoes to fill is an understatement.” Friesen goes on to reference a number of magazine awards the journal has achieved recently, including Ottawa poet Chuqiao (Teresa) Yang, who “took first prize in two categories of the 2011 Western Magazine Awards” for her “Beijing Notes” [seethe note I wrote on the issue her piece appears here]. For Friesen, this issue is a good sign for her tenure, an attractive issue with some intriguing work, wisely following in Legris’ footsteps. Taking over an established journal is difficult at the best of times, attempting to engage and expand while working to keep to a particular foundation already established by the previous editors. Some have flourished with new editors, much the way Anita Lahey revitalized Arc poetry magazine, while others have simply disappeared (does anybody remember Essays on Canadian Writing?). Much like the issues during Legris’s run, this new issue features a range of styles in both poetry and fiction, and feel very much constructed together into a cohesive unit, despite (or even because of) the myriad directions.
This one is: Plane Ditched in Columbia River after Multiple Bird Strikes. Three serious injuries. One fatality. Forty-three passengers treated for hypothermia. On my desk Monday morning: the stats, the snaps, the autopsy, the tapes. (The .FLAC files.) (We still say tapes.) Linguists identify speech—loss of thrust, loss of trust, one five zero knots, one five zero, not. I take the acoustics. Engine noise, aircraft chimes, whether the captain has reclined his seat.


Flaps one, please.
Flaps one.
What a view of the Columbia today.
After takeoff checklist.
After takeoff checklist complete.
[Sound of chime.]
Whoa. (Eliza Robertson, “My Sister Sang”)
I’m pleased to see the poem “Frances Disassembles the Pop-Up Book,” a piece Ottawa poet Monty Reid dedicated to the late John Lavery and first read at the Dusty Owl Reading Series fifteenth anniversary event this past summer. The past couple of years, Reid’s poetry has evolved into a series of short sequences, a number of which have formed into a larger sequence titled “In the Garden,” and another grouping of poems on neighbourhood construction, as well as the extensive renovation he oversaw at the Museum of Nature. This eight-part sequence, while referencing gardens and construction projects, focuses more directly on small matters, and exactly what the poem suggests, a meditation on his new daughter destroying a pop-up book.
The contrary garden
survives on spit and drool.

Pretty maids
have their corners folded over.

There is one monosyllabic row
of them

and still, they make the action
One of the magnificent elements of the new issue is the highlighted artwork by Cate Francis, a mix of playful, dark and wildly illuminating artwork; imagine the film Labyrinth merged with Grimm’s Fairy Tales directed by Terry Gilliam, perhaps. The issue features over a dozen of Francis’ original works, as well as a lengthy statement. I think I am very enamoured with the works of Cate Francis.
I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller. Unfortunately, I have always found it difficult to clearly relay my messages to an audience via language. The irony of this, which needles me, is that some of the key issues I address in my work are communication and language. Instead of sucking it up and learning to write, I’ve chosen to spend all my time communication pictorially. My work is informed by a variety of influences ranging from personal memory, cultural theory, and graphic novels. […] In my latest series, my focus has shifted from people to animals. I find nature both amusing and sad—amusing because the tendency to apply anthropomorphic characteristics to animal behaviour is an inherently silly human habit, one that I happily take part in regularly. I find nature sad because our relationship with it is becoming increasingly tenuous and alien as we rely more and more heavily on our natural resources for economic stability. No matter what my subject, every person, animal, or object I illustrate becomes a character paused within a narrative. I prefer to keep these characters anonymous in the hope that the viewer will identify with them in much the same way they would an archetype.

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