Saturday, March 27, 2010

Poetry, in triple time

Even though it isn’t quite Poetry Month, it’s been a week filled with plenty of poems. So, quick, a bit of a recap before it’s time to shut down the power in observance of Earth Hour.

Wednesday saw me presenting poems and ideas to a welcoming group of women who are participating in a Third Age Learning Program. They were responsive and warm, full of questions that helped guide the direction of my reading. They even bought into a writing prompt I gave, creating three cooperatively-written poems.

On Thursday the spotlight moved onto Carmine Starnino, a fine poet whose most recent book, This Way Out, was a finalist for the 2009 Governor General’s Award for Poetry. Besides reading in the reading series sponsored by our local Arts Council, he also did a presentation for Aislinn Hunter’s creative writing class at Kwantlen.

I’m still getting feedback today on the way Carmine’s poems affected people – as witnessed by this, part of an email from a local writer, Vaughan: "Just wanted to say that both Joan and I, it seems, resonated all day with last night's reading. Thank you ... and if you have a chance, please let Carmine know that the reading went deep for at least two people in the audience."

Then today I was able to come full circle, this time attending a workshop presentation by singer/songwriter/composer Veda Hille. We were looking at lyrics, considering different ways to approach creating them.

One of the exercises she led us through had us using found phrases as a start-up to our writing. When asked whether rhyme needs to be a component in song lyrics, Veda replied by playing one of my favourite songs ever, “Frank Mills”, from the musical, Hair. I took that as a resounding No.

The video below is a snippet of Veda performing a powerfully discordant (dis-chord-ant?) piece based on the journals of painter, Emily Carr. In it, Hille was trying to capture Carr’s anger and frustration borne out in the line, “for fifteen years I did not paint!” And yes, it seemed appropriate this performance should have happened in an art gallery.

Monday, March 22, 2010

To your health!

Today is World Water Day. Designated by the U.N., this is a day to consider and celebrate the miracle of something most of us take for granted, fresh drinking water.

I'm lucky enough to live in a region that boasts maybe the best tap water anywhere. It's for this reason that Vancouver encourages visitors to use tap water. Some hotels are distributing reusable water bottles so it's easy for patrons to simply refill. If you scroll down on the previous link, you'll find a number of facts about bottled water -- for example, that it takes three litres of water to produce one litre of bottled water. Like really, where's the sense in that? If you want to know more about the debate between bottled and tap water, click here.

People who live in the Surrey area have a chance to see Irina Salina's documentary on water, Flow. It'll be shown at Kwantlen's Grassroots Caf on Saturday, March 27th at 1:30 in the afternoon. This film is just part of an ongoing series of documentary films shown in White Rock's Social Justice Film Series.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To mark or not to mark

The other night a friend posed an interesting question: Do you write in the books you’re reading? She didn’t present it as an accusation – more as a philosophical query. She seemed to really be asking not only, Do you write in books, but should you?

A colleague I never see any more always wrote in books, including ones he’d borrowed from the library. He’d sometimes come running up to me, open book in hand. I came to know this meant he’d found comments someone else had left in the margin of a book, as if to justify his own messy habit. I believe he’d usually jot something next to the remark, adding his comment to the ones he discovered left by some stranger. Kind of like being an early blogger, long before blogs existed.

As a person who often writes about books, I need to make some sorts of marks for myself when I’m reviewing. I usually rely on Post-It Notes, but have been known to dog-ear corners and even write on the sacred page, though I try to avoid this. I'll admit it, sometimes the urge to write on the page wins. This happens most often when I'm not enjoying a book, as in the poetry collection above with the note of frustration: me, me, me.

Yet even when I’m not reviewing, I often make note of pages I appreciate, and later transfer the passages to a notebook. Mostly, I restrict this to an inspiring line or phrase. But Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass series saw me scribing vast tracts.

I wonder, do other people do this sort of thing? And if you do write in books, do you boldly use pen (as I apparently used to) or pencil?

Sunday, March 14, 2010


That's the word for yesterday. Not only because of the weather (cool and fresh), but because the forest floor, still holding its autumn mulch but with all that new life, felt positively springy. Boing!

The plan had been to take a stroll and find some mushrooms for our supper. And even though we found quite a few, the morels (the goal of our quest) weren't yet showing their heads. The only volunteers were ones we wouldn't want to eat.

Instead, diehard foragers that we are, we settled for picking (c a r e f u l l y) some tender-fresh nettles. Steamed, they lose their prickliness and are full of nutritious goodness. Best of all, they're positively yummy.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bleak days for the arts -- and everybody else?

As more details emerge about all that was cached in last week's B.C. budget, it's apparent that there are bleak days ahead.

The arts have been cut even further than last year. Funding to environmental groups has disappeared completely. And even though the government claimed these cuts were necessary so funding to children's programs wouldn't suffer, there've also been cuts to monies for daycares and playgrounds.

Did the government think with all the warm fuzziness floating around from the Olympics that no one would notice these cuts?

It will be interesting to see just how many artists are involved in tomorrow's opening ceremonies for the Paralympics. Just as the government now seems to understand that funding athletes pays off in accomplishments, they don't seem able yet to apply that lesson to fostering the development of artists.

About the only good bit of arts news in the past 24 hours has been the announcement of finalists for the B.C. Book Prizes.

The image above is one I took on the Sunday morning I was leaving Denman Island. Despite its black-and-white appearance, it's actually a colour shot. Later that morning the fog burned off and the day blossomed into one that was lovely. Just as the arts now seem clouded into a black-and-white funk, I can only hope that enough of us will speak out and remind this government of just how important it is for them to restore funding. If we don't succeed, we might be stuck with a future that's confined to shades of grey.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Oscars, home-style

As delighted as I am that Kathryn Bigelow managed to topple the gender barrier for directors at yesterday's Academy Awards (and yes, today is International Women's Day, which seems nicely appropriate), I remain unconvinced that Hurt Locker was the year's best film. I have a couple of gripes with it, one of which is major.

I found Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock (not even in the running) much more interesting filmically -- more treasures embedded in it -- truer to what the medium is supposed to do: reveal through a combination of visual images and dialogue.

And yes, I watched the Academy Awards show in its entirety. A little group of us get together every year to watch the Oscars. The only time I've missed for a while was in 2002 when G and I were living in Australia.

We do ballots (I always lose five bucks), wear chunky jewellery, the works, but the food is one of the best parts. This year's feast was bookended by Up in the Air snack dishes (and much better than the usual salty bits we get when we're 'up in the air' and tiny perfect hearts (in honour of Crazy Heart, of course). Best course of the evening? A Single Man-icotti. Yum!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Olympic Pride of a Different Sort

I’m part of a group that likes to observe Freedom to Read Week. Each year, we gather at some public venue and read from works that have been banned

This year saw several of us take our cue from the Olympics. One of the writers whose work was read was Brad Cran, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate. Cran decided not to take part in the games’ official cultural events because he didn’t agree with the conditions VANOC imposed on artists. Some of their restrictions meant that artists couldn’t be critical of the Olympics, nor of any of the corporate sponsors. That certainly sounds like censorship to me.

Cran did write two poems to coincide with the Vancouver Games, one a tribute to the women ski-jumpers (the ones who weren’t allowed to compete, even when they based their challenge on Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms – apparently the IOC is a power higher than our country’s strongest guarantor of rights). The poem read at our event was his “2010 Handbook for Entering Canada”.

I took a more roundabout route in making my selections. I decided that because these Olympics were the first with a Pride House, the first games to recognize gay participants, it was important to read from books that had been challenged in the past for their gay content. Jane Rule’s The Young in One Another’s Arms was one of many books detained at the Canadian border for its lesbian content. Like so many of those ‘detained’ titles, it was destined for Little Sisters Bookstore. And that ‘detainment’ was just one of many instances that led that bravest of bookstores to challenge Canada Customs and its practices.

My other selection was Elspeth Cameron’s memoir, No Previous Experience.

Both books are wonderfully written and in no way prurient or lurid. It’s difficult to understand what the fuss might have been about.

But then, I remind myself that when Mark Tewksbury won a gold medal in Barcelona in 1992, he still had to be ‘in the closet’ about his sexuality. I’m grateful that this time out, U.S. skater Johnny Weir can not only be open, but can speak out against the commentators who made homophobic remarks about him.

And I’m glad as well that Tewksbury is still continuing to speak out. Lately he’s commented on the Conservative government’s decision to censor the newly-written guidelines for immigrants to Canada. Steve and the gang don’t want information about same-sex rights included in the guide. Considering that some countries still punish (and even execute) gays, you’d think the government might realize our freedoms are something to be proud about. Something maybe even to celebrate.