Saturday, May 30, 2009

What a great day!

Out-of-town friends are such a great excuse to get out and do something. We started at Darts Hill, a garden that's only open a couple of days each year. The friends' timing for being in town was perfect, as today was the day.

After that we took a long lazy stroll on the beach.When we came back here the friends had to grab their bags and head for the car so I could deliver them to the aiport. By now they're probably back to Denver, maybe even at home with Rudy the Dog.

When I got back from the airport run, I scooted on over to Camp Alexandra -- site of a local arts festival. Lucky me, I got there in time to catch a set by Heidi McCurdy and her band -- always great stuff. Talent galore -- and floating on a summery breeze, her voice sounds even better than it does on CD.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Retreat's end

To mark our final night as Sage Hillers, we enjoyed a farewell banquet and then celebrated with a reading by all the participants.

Our leaders, Paula Jane and Anne, determined we’d read in alpha order according to our first names. So for openers we had another Anne, not Simpson this time, but our own impish Anne from Regina.

She opened with a poem based in circumstances of her father’s death -- how he had a heart attack while driving and drove off a road on the Niagara escarpment near Hamilton. Subjects for her work included further disasters and family tales, not all of which were delivered in a terribly serious way.

Anne converted one of her poems into a sea shanty, complete with authentic-sounding tune. She called Kelly up for choral support and they sang – about Canada's Sir John A, “… ‘tight’ as usual.”

The next reader was Glenn, the lone male in our group. “The train is off the tracks,” he began, informing us that all the work he intended to read had been written during the retreat, including a poem that had come to him at three in the morning.

His ‘Seven Promises to Seven Sage Women’ was probably the funniest piece of the evening (“I promise not to bring my wood ticks when we meet”) and also the most personal. Its final ‘promise’ included this, “You are whatever bird you wish to be./ I promise to remember your song.”

All of us appreciated the fact of his maleness in our midst – and, as it was often referred to, his ‘obsessive charm.’

Since H follows G, I was up next. When Anne S introduced me, she mentioned my pal Bluey (see previous posting). I read two pieces that resulted from writing prompts/workshops Anne had given us. I also read excerpts from my forthcoming chapbook, a series of poems about Amelia Earhart.

Following me was Karen, and when Anne introduced her, I learned yet another fact about this multifaceted woman. Besides being an engineer, teacher, writer, mother, etc., etc., she plays cello.

Karen called up Susan to help her present a glosa she’d written, with Susan’s voice providing a kind of echo in the repeated lines she read. Aptly, this led into some of Karen’s ‘mirror series’ – poems based in the legend of The Lady of Shalott.

These poems included lines that intrigued me: “How a moving figure may be closer than reflected” and “da Vinci writing left to right…” I loved the way her Lancelot came into view, with “parts of him appearing” as the Lady looked out the window through her mirror.

Kelly, one of the more experimental writers here, utilized the voices of Sandy and Glenn in her performance. Glenn’s low register balanced Kelly’s light tones; Sandy’s a trained actor, so she knows how to use her voice. Introducing the work, Kelly gave us just enough information about Paul Monette, the writer who serves as subject matter for ‘The Burning House.’ The use of three readers only added to the poem’s dramatic power.

Kelly’s work is filled with wonderfully surreal images: “the garden, flying pieces, close to my cheek”, “boys like willow sticks lined the alleys” and “the wind like water lapping the sidewalks.”

The poet who travelled the farthest to be part of this retreat is Marilynn. The poems she read were based in childhood – in her case, a time of books and learning.

She uses her experience as a librarian to give interesting focus to the poems. She's organized them around the Dewey Decimal System. For example, “598: Birds, North America, identification” talks of family secrets as items hidden “…as a bird hides its nest.”

The poem “096: books notable for illustrations” is based in a much-loved volume about the Brontes, a book containing woodcuts that fascinated her.

Most interesting of all was a long piece about water, “551…hydrolic cycle”. It was filled with such beautiful lines as “Every spring, clouds learn how to rain again.”

Sandy brought the energy of Toronto to our group. Besides having the most beautiful skin art I have ever seen, she kept the rest of us laughing with her zany ways. As might be expected, she was brave enough to read things she’d never read before.

As Kelly’s poems had, Sandy’s took us to France. Our tour began at the River Seine, and in particular, to its corpses. With her theatre background, it wasn't surprsing that she staged the peformance, borrowing two of her colleagues to read sections of the poem. First to speak is the maskmaker, whose specialty is death masks of the drowned. One of his masks portrays the face of an unknown woman whose beauty is so overwhelming, many Parisians buy the mask, just so they may admire it.

While she let the poem settle in our minds, the quiet in the room prompted our leader to leap up for the next introduction. When Sandy said, "Wait!" - that she had more to read - I swear, even her shoulders were blushing.

Her next piece, ‘Carnivora’ contained such stunning lines as “the biled luminescence of flies” and “…space atrophies into silence, all teeth and instinct.” Sandy's last piece is one she wrote (and presented) en francais. Even without being able to translate all the words, its tones and rhythms were enough for me to call it magnifique.

Susan, who was celebrating a birthday, was another person brave enough to read brand-new poems, all of them written here as part of the Spring Colloquium. One of them was a response to one of Anne’s challenges to all of us – to write about the red hunting knife that showed up at the side of the road. Her poem, ‘Found: Knife’ read like a classified ad and began, “married woman wants…”

In her poem celebrating the wonders found in a ‘Square Foot of Earth’ she compares the marching ants to the action of the zigzag needle on her mother’s sewing machine. The fact that she’s a mother also plays into her work. She cites the words of a child, looking into a spoon: “Look, Mum, the metal eye.”

Among her most experimental work are her ‘Fire Poems’ – list poems filled with startling images: “a hot-wired Volkswagen / spontaneous combustion…”

Susan closed with filled-in fragments from the songs of Sappho. Clearly these had been influenced by our time here on the prairie, as I’m sure all of us visualized our willowy Susan herself in this: “my grandfather, walking on stilts of grasses.”

I am confident that for all of us, though it may be retreat’s end, it is a time of many new beginnings.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Silly happens.

The picture above is of my pal, Bluey.

Mister B.T. Blue to be formal, but Bluey to anyone friendly.

He’s been my companion on recent walks and explorations, and he’s found lots of opportunities for having his picture taken.

The other day, when he was out for a hike, he came across this large knife. One of his friends helped him carry it for a while. Sadly, she left it behind at the one establishment in town with staff who don’t seem to have manners (we learned this the hard way -- when we went back to try to reclaim Bluey’s treasure). Bluey sure found a lesson in that. Bad manners, Ouch!

Because we’re all working on poetry here, Bluey’s done his best to join into the spirit of things. Here he is, imitating his favourite poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti -- by posing in his very own Coney Island of the Mind.

As Bluey’s told me –- more than once –- anytime is a good time for being silly. But especially after lots of productive work, silliness feels extra good.

These last ten days have been a mix of making new friends and putting the head down to the keyboard. With the sun shining and the birds singing (and the mosquitoes whining), it feels like a good time to get silly.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Could this be Poets’ Heaven?

We’ve been in Saskatchewan a week so far, participating in one of the programs sponsored by Sage Hill. Eight of us, intent on strengthening our work. Although we have a grown-up name, Spring Colloquium, we’re really just a group of people learning more about our poems -- and while we're at it, learning to be friends.

Each with our own room, we’re free to spend our time as we will: writing, reading, napping, scribbling, writing some more.

Meals appear like clockwork. All we have to do is walk down the hall to the dining room. Staff here do the shopping, cooking, thinking what to serve. We don’t even have to rinse our dishes.

If you ask what someone thinks about some particular poem/poet/form, they don’t look at you like they’re going to fall asleep or like you’re from some other planet.

Last night we were treated to a reading by poets east and west. Our mentor for the full two weeks, Anne Simpson lives on the Atlantic. Guest here for a few short days, John Barton is usually based in Victoria. Since fall, he’s served as the Saskatoon Public Library’s Writer in Residence.

Tonight we’re going upscale: John gives a keynote address. Some of us think we might dress up, at least put on a necklace with our constant jeans and sweats.

Looking out the window, I see big prairie sky: blue with white clouds rolling past like trains. The only sound unsteady gusts of wind, that endless wind.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Queen's birthday, Victoria Day

Besides being the official day celebrating the current queen's birthday (even though Elizabeth was actually born on April 21), this is also the day many of us put our indoor plants out in the garden. It's usually a great weekend for having a big barbecue and best of all, a Monday that lets you sleep in.

For fun, or if you're into arcane information, here's a quiz about Victoria. The oddest bit about the quiz is that it appears to have first been posted on an April Fool's Day. Maybe they're all trick questions.

There's also a new film bearing the name Victoria Day. It sounds interesting in quirky kind of way.

And though I don’t think I ever thought about it before, I once had a friend in school with the name, Victoria Day. She usually went by Vicky, but I’m sure she was a Victoria. Wherever she may be (or whatever surname she may now bear), I'd like to wish her a happy birthday too, even if it isn't the right date for her either.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

This is the way we go for a walk

Sturdy shoes. Socks pulled over top the cuff of the jeans. The reason? Not dangerous vipers or malaria-bearing mosquitoes, I'm just doing my best to discourage the wood ticks.

Last year presented a much more populous invasion, but even one wood tick is more than I am interested in meeting. It is reassuring though to know the variety here is only an annoyance and not a health hazard.

But because there are so many other wonderful treats out there (beyond the simple joy of moving one's legs), I'll keep doing whatever it takes to get outdoors.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Labyrinthine quest

Colours here are still the muted tones I associate with winter. To be fair, they’re perhaps the signs of immature spring.

This photo, taken from the top of a knoll (though who knows, people from around here likely have a better word for such a feature) reveals some of the wild undulations in this far-from-flat landscape of the Qu’Appelle Valley.

Toward the right of the photo, there’s a rock labyrinth – a good place to meditate and to leave the broken parts of oneself behind.
The heart of the labyrinth (pictured below) is the spot where many others have left rocks or other tokens. The rained-on, yet still whole cigarette makes me speculate, did someone walk the labyrinth with the goal of leaving behind their unhealthiest habit? If so, I hope they succeeded.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Time in the sky

Saskatchewan is famous for its big skies. So it seems appropriate that the Regina airport would have an oversized skylight in its welcoming area.

But this skylight is more than just a big window in the ceiling. It’s a functioning sundial.

Happily, because the powers-that-be in Saskatchewan don’t believe in Daylight Saving Time, they never have to move the numbers backward or forward.

I’m visiting for two weeks, and hoping to be able to rely on the sun for my sense of time while I’m here, even if I don't have a sundial where I'm staying.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Same old, same old

The election is over, enough of the counting has been done for all of the networks to be calling their winners. As usual, neither of my votes brought in a winner.

For now, because my battery is dying, I turn you over to Sean Holman.

Will be back online as I can. Off on a writing retreat to the wilds of Saskatchewan.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Flowers aren't only for Mother's Day

Probably one of the first Mother's Day gifts I gave was a handful of something I'd wrenched out of my mother's garden.

Fresh flowers are life-affirming, so it makes sense that we give flowers to our mothers, the source of life for each of us. Even google has incorporated flowers into its header/logo today.

The photo, taken on a blustery April day in Vancouver, is of Eric -- and it's the first day of business for him at his flower stand on the corner of Georgia and Seymour (at least I think that's where he was -- eagle-eyed readers, please help me correct this if wrong).

As his sign indicates, there are lots of reasons to buy flowers. My favourite for receiving them? When they're for no reason at all.

P.S. Eric is an actor. So, when you buy flowers from him, you're supporting the arts. If you don't have an Eric near you, try to find some other way to lend support to the arts in your town. Do it for your mother.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Canucks Fever

No worries, that isn't a variation on swine flu. It's the fever that spreads through Vancouver and B.C. during May of most years. It's playoff season, so let the silliness rule!

Nearly everyone, whether they follow sports or not, gets into the spirit. Even the buses proclaim their allegiance.

One of the traditions in being faithful to one's team requires men to go without shaving, letting their beards grow for the duration of their team's play.

A local group decided to take the idea of playoff goatees a step further. They pledged that every time the Canucks win a game, they'd purchase a goat for a village in Africa. Their challenge ("Goat Canucks Goat!") has attracted a lot of support. As of this writing, 455 goats have been donated, but no doubt that number will keep rising.

I was in Vancouver again yesterday, and it's hard to ignore the happy atmosphere and smiling faces everywhere. Really, it seems everyone is united in sharing this common goal. Just look at the uniform even the bus driver is wearing!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Decisions, decisions

One week from today, British Columbians will have the opportunity to vote. Although this is a provincial election, I suspect its after-effects will extend much farther afield.

I've been inundated by messages -- emails, newspaper ads, spots on television and radio. And yes, I've decided how I'll be voting, at least on one of the ballots.

One of the most important aspects of this election is being ignored -- the issue of the Single Transferable Vote (BC-STV). Of the many times I've voted, only once has 'my' candidate been elected. That leaves me feeling disenfranchised. No wonder so many people don't bother going to the polls.

This time, it's important for each of us to get out -- not only to cast a ballot for a representative for the riding (even if the choice seems futile, it's a right and a civic duty to vote).

More importantly, it's time to say YES to BC-STV. Anything would be better than the current past-the-post where a government elected by fewer than 40% of the population can have such a lopsided majority and can do what they please. Besides, it was a council of citizens (not politicians) who came to consensus on this being the fairest system, so who am I to argue that some other proportional method might be better?

What it really comes down to is that I'm sick of having government that's By the Rich For the Rich.

But if this sort of decision-making feels too heavy for you, here's another decision to weigh: Did Coldplay rip off Cat Stevens with their song? Listen and decide.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The not-so-great debate

There’s an election campaign going on out here in B.C. though really, for all the swine-flu coverage blanketing (smokescreening?) the news, you might not know it. This evening, the three leaders met each other, supposedly to air their views and respond to questions posed by citizens from around the province.

It didn't seem that Carole James or Gordon Campbell really answered many of the questions. Campbell, especially, did his usual sidestepping dance of avoidance.

The only leader who brought anything new to the table was Jane Sterk, leader of the province's Green Party. She suggested that policing and emprisonment had not provided solutions to crime, and was the only one of the three to take this fresh approach.

She also presented the idea that the time has come for legalization of drugs, reminding viewers that the last time gangs had such power was near the end of Prohibition.

Sterk was also the only person who spoke at all about the companion item on our ballot, the question of STV, an issue I plan to consider another time -- soon.