Saturday, May 30, 2015

Guthrie Clothing: The Poetry of Phil Hall, a Selected Collage

Guthrie Clothing: The Poetry of Phil Hall, a Selected Collage, appearing in September as part of the Laurier Poetry Series from Wilfrid Laurier University Press, is now available for pre-order! Otherwise, see my recent piece on Phil Hall over at Jacket2 here, as well as my piece on our first meeting on the project out in Perth, Ontario. Exciting!

Friday, May 29, 2015

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr on Commune Editions



On the press, from communeditions.com

Commune Editions began with Bay Area friendships formed in struggle: the occupations in resistance to UC tuition hikes in 2009-11; the anti-police uprisings after the shooting of Oscar Grant that continued with the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner; and the local version of Occupy, referred to by some as the Oakland Commune. In these moments, the people committed to poetry and the people committed to militant political antagonism came to be more and more entangled, turned out to be the same people. This felt transformative to us, strange and beautiful. A provisionally new strain of poetry has begun to emerge from this entanglement with communist and anarchist organizing, theorizing, and struggle.

This work inspires us. Because there was no existing venue attuned to these changes, we decided to start one. We committed first our own work to this project, and brought our experience with other presses. We hope to publish poetry for reading and writing explicitly against the given world, always aware that it begins inside that world—and to put this work in dialogue with poetries from other countries and from other historical moments, times and places where the politicization of poetry and the participation of poets in uprisings large and small was and remains a convention.

We are curious about, but not overconfident regarding, the capacities of art. Poems are no replacement for concrete forms of political action. But poetry can be a companion to these activities, as the “Riot Dog” of Athens was a companion in streets. A dog, too, might start barking when the cops are about to kick down your door. Perhaps that’s it, for now, what we’re doing, what is to be done, with poetry. Some barking. Some letting you know that the cops are at the door. They’ve been there for a while.

We have plans to publish two or three books a year for as long as these specific orientations seem magnetic. We have our list for 2015-2016 and are not presently reading manuscripts. But we will be. Check back here for details.

Commune Editions is published in partnership with AK Press and distributed in the US and Canada by Consortium.

1 – When did Commune Editions first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
Commune Editions began as a press in 2013. It was Joshua’s idea, originally, and he approached me and Juliana about it. But in many ways the project began much earlier, with the politicization of the Bay Area poetry scene over the last five years or so, beginning with the antipolice and student movements of 2009 and 2010, and continuing with Occupy in 2011. Commune Editions is, in some sense, a formalization or recognition of a process that is much larger than us, and which involves the integration of somes Bay Area poets and their projects into a much larger political milieu with other urgencies and animating concerns.

Our goals remain fairly consistent, even if we’ve come to understand that realizing them is more difficult than we first presumed. We want to act as an outlet for poetry that is uncompromising in its opposition to capitalism and the state, patriarchy and racism, and to do so in a way that creates connections between poets and political radicals. We’ve learned, I suppose, that this makes a number of poets very uncomfortable. No matter how many times we explicitly state that we’re uninterested in telling poets what to do or how to write, nor possessed of any strong convictions that what we’re doing is of crucial importance for the struggles to which we’re committed, we seem to be responsible for all manner of guilty or resentful poet-feelings. We’re not sure why that is, but perhaps this is a role someone has to play.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
I had always assumed that it was dauntingly complex. But I came to know some people involved with subpress, and that made it seem more plausible. About that time I had gotten a job with a regular salary, and a friend (Michael Scharf) asked me if I wanted to start a press (this would be In Girum). He seemed relatively lacking in trepidation, which I admired. And so, armed with the desire to be (or at least appear) as dauntless as the subpress folks and Mike, and armed with a few extra dollars from my job, I entered the fray. I was fortunate that just around this time I went to a reading, I forget, someone famous, and the opening reader really knocked me out; that was Jasper, who at that point I didn’t really know. But his manuscript, Starsdown, would be the first In Girum publication.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
 “Small” publishing is just the way that literature other than the realist novel circulates. Its role is to distribute the literatures that do not have a lot of national or international reach but that a certain smallish group of people want to read. Responsibilities, I’m not sure about. But it does a fairly decent job of publishing a lot of books. The harder part is just finding them or knowing about them.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Well, I don’t know that we’re unique. I’m sure there are other presses that define themselves in a similar way. I suppose that the way we’re beginning the press, publishing our own books first and defining our vision for the press in that way, with our three books, is a bit different. We’re being honest, in that regard, about the kind of work we want to see, and our commitment to a certain poetry that’s rooted in our experiences, convictions, and friendships. We don’t claim to be committed to a pseudo-objective notion of “the best,” and there are many books we consider quite good which would nonetheless not be right for Commune Editions.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
I’m not sure I understand this question. Mailing? I don’t think we have any particularly innovative ideas for publicity; we’re a mix of social media mentions and conventional circulating of review copies. I think the question of whether there is some untapped audience that might pick up the books — this seems to me to verge on the metaphysical. Mostly poetry books seem to overflow the banks and move into new meadows because they orbit around a social matter with particular charisma in that moment. I think the most effective way for us to get books out into the world is to continue our engagement with the world that interests us, with readers who do not necessarily identify as poets but who are interested in, and engaged with, the political antagonisms that write us.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Light touch. Although if asked, some of us will give insane large feedback. But I also see that more as “discussion” and comes out of “admiration.” But I can’t imagine accepting a book and then being like you have to cut this or that.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We are an imprint of AK Press, an anarchist publisher which has distribution through Consortium. We are printing our books in runs of 1,000 or 2,000 this year. We also produce chapbooks in very small batches through a local printing collective, Loose Dogs, and distribute these for free.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
The three of us edit as a team, though each book project has a de facto lead editor who takes a book through the production process. We also have a design editor Tim who is awesome, and another friend who helps with the website. It’s hard to find the balance between wanting to share work, people’s shifting schedules, the efficiencies of having someone in charge. Often the work falls to whoever has least to do that week, in a sort of hydraulic model, which means that the press has the function of making sure that we are all busy all the time, that no one ever has a down week. This can be a bit maddening, to be honest, but it’s what needs to happen. It’s really worth underscoring how much friends help us in small but repeated and generous ways: letting us use a print shop for proofs, helping us cut and bind galleys (and teaching us how to do these things!), just, you know, folding chapbooks. Thanks to Chloe and Ian and Tim and Bruce and Jenn and lots of other people.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Of course. I have had entirely new thoughts enter my brain because editing is about reading people’s work. 

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
I don’t see any reason for us to be anxious about publishing our own work. There isn’t that much difference between what we’re doing and what we might do otherwise: publish our books with the presses that our friends run. The poetry community we operate is largely based on direct, personal relationships, for better or worse. If you define the self a bit more broadly, everyone is always already self-publishing, and if the work is good it will get read.

11– How do you see Commune Editions evolving?
If all goes well it will evolve until it is no longer a poetry press but an actual commune. That may sound flippant, so perhaps there is another way to put it. The press arose from a concrete situation, wherein the particular contours of a shifting social antagonism — for which the Oakland Commune was briefly a living emblem — led the poetic and communist/anarchist communities of the Bay Area, already overlapping, to become entangled. The press is an expression of that entanglement and that antagonism, and will evolve alongside it. We’re one of the many things that you can do from within such a situation. We hope this will happen on expanded grounds, and happen in relation to similar entanglements and antagonisms in other places.

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
How to make cheap galleys is my biggest frustration. Along with how to use Mailchimp.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Oh, I don’t know. Of course it is easy to name the small presses that have been inseparable from own developments as people. We mentioned subpress. I have a special place in my heart for Edge, and Black and Red, and North Point, and Broadside, and AK Press. One of the things that communists and anarchists in the US have had in common with poets is that they are mostly going to be proceeding within the assumptions of collective, local publishing. It’s like, who weren’t our models?

14– How does Commune Editions work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Commune Editions in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
This is probably already answered in #11. We’re resistant to the idea of a literary community as some autonomous thing; one’s first relationship is always to a lived situation rather than to other literary circles. Many many many of the people we love sometimes make poems or other kinds of writing, but that doesn’t mean they and we are poets any more than the fact that we often wash dishes makes us dishwashers. All of that said, we feel pretty attached to a lot of presses, either because we see them trying to attune themselves to the same situations that we ourselves struggle to grasp, or because they do things that are beyond us. We are especially grateful for presses that do work in translation; we have done some of that, with more coming, but we’re limited in what we know and what we can do — thus very grateful for that work happening.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
Readings are one of the ways that literature circulates. I’d go for important.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
We have a website and we sell books there. We use facebook and twitter, and we try to release digital versions of everything we publish. The internet is an interesting topic, but I’m not sure our internet use is all that interesting. It’s largely a mode of distribution for us.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Not currently. We probably will at some point. We are looking for the end of the world as we know it, and aren’t looking for improvements.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
We’d like to answer that question next year! Our first three are by us; we’ve probably talked about them enough, and there are blurbs here: http://www.akpress.org/catalogsearch/result/?cat=0&q=commune+editions

Next year we are publishing Cheena Marie Lo, David Lau, and Ida Borjel (in translation). We’ll have a lot to say about them when the time comes.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Madhur Anand

Madhur Anand’s poetry has appeared in literary magazines across North America and in The Shape of Content: Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science (AK Peters/CRC Press, 2008). She co-edited Regreen: New Canadian Ecological Poetry (Scrivener Press, 2009). A New Index For Predicting Catastrophes (McClelland and Stewart, 2015) is her first full-length poetry collection. Anand completed her PhD in theoretical ecology at Western University and is currently Full Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph. She lives in Guelph with her husband and three young children.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The only big change I’ve noticed is that lately I am much less obsessed with reading and writing poetry and a little more obsessed with reading and writing prose. 

The most recently written poems in the book arose out of a forced, but necessary, confrontation with my own scientific research. I seemed to have avoided doing that for a long time, but I’m glad I finally did it.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
As I have elaborated on elsewhere [http://ifoa.org/2015/five-questions-with/five-questions-with-madhur-anand], I got hooked on poetry when I discovered it was a way to inject a perpendicular mode of being and thinking into my life’s dominant, and sometimes predictable, course. Though I enjoyed fiction and non-fiction very much, they seemed either too acute or too obtuse at the time for this particular purpose.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
The writing is sometimes quick and sometimes slow. First drafts are almost never in their final shape. Some methods of writing, perhaps because of the extremely concentrated focus or constraint they demand (such as with ‘found’ poems, villanelles, and sestinas), can lead to almost final first drafts.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A thought, a concept, a memory, a theory, striking language -- all usually in reference to beauty, loss or fascination. My first book was a combination of poems written over many years, but there were common themes (biology, complexity, critical transitions). In the process of editing, and after choosing my title, many new poems were inspired. So, in the end, it was a bit of both.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I haven’t done very many public readings, so I don’t know yet. I certainly find it enjoyable and inspiring to attend readings by other poets.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I am concerned, perhaps preoccupied, with the relationship between science and poetry. We don’t have a sufficient theory to explain this relationship. I am also concerned with the role of constraint in poetry. A large number of the poems in the book are written in syllabics. Though obviously intentional and strictly self-enforced, I don’t fully understand how this kind of constraint works, and the need for it, fundamentally. My book also has a couple of villanelles and several found poems. These are other forms of constraint, and some of them have been written about in fascinating ways (see for example the essay entitled “Life Forms: Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina” and “DNA Structure” in the book Unified Fields edited by Janine Rogers). But I want my understanding of this to go beyond metaphor.

The questions I am trying to answer in my poems are the same questions that appear on the NASA poster hanging in my little boy’s bedroom: “Life: What is it? Where is it? How do we find it?” NASA is still asking these questions, and I think we all should be too, constantly.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

“Writer” is such a broad category; all writers won’t have the same role. Poets are still (as Shelley once articulated) the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’. This ‘legislation’ is not only restricted to human-human interactions but potentially many other undiscovered laws of the universe.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I’ve loved every editor I have worked with (and there were many). Dionne Brand, poetry board member at M&S had the job of doing the final edit of my book, and what she asked of me, what we did together was marvelous and well, essential.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Read this:” [insert any brilliant work of poetry or prose that I have not yet heard of here].

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have no daily writing routine. I have a full-time job as a professor of ecology and three young children. I write when I can. I have more of a yearly routine. Every year I try to do at least one intensive thing for my writing such as a retreat or a workshop.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Better writing (that is, I read). Or I go for a walk.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
North Indian spices. Smoke from making chapatis because we don’t have a range hood. Johnson & Johnson baby lotion. Vick’s Vapour Rub.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I think that most of the time books come from other books. Many other forms (disciplines) influence my work, but most of all, science.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
At the back of my book you’ll find the names of all the writers who have indirectly or directly mentored or helped my work in some significant way  It’s a very long list that includes Don McKayPaul Vermeersch and Phil Hall. These individuals, and their works have been influential. As for other writings, it’s harder to say. There are so many. But an early influential event was picking up a copy of Robyn Sarah’s book The Touchstone at Paragraphe Bookstore in Montreal when I was just starting to take my writing seriously over 15 years ago. I would visit bookshops in every city I travelled to (mostly to give scientific talks) and pick one or two poetry books from among the selection offered. That was my poetry education. I was also influenced early on by the work of Wislawa Szymborska. I have subscribed continuously to Poetry magazine since 2003. I love that magazine, and it has helped to expose me to a diversity of contemporary writing.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Publish a second book of creative writing.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Given that I have the two professions I adore most, am committed to, and am constantly reinventing, plus a rather full family life, I can’t even imagine any other occupation. When I was 17, I turned down an offer from McMaster University to do an undergraduate degree in their highly coveted “Arts and Science” program. I choose pure science at Western instead. But I always wondered about that path not taken. I am thrilled that I did not end up having to make the choice between art and science in my life.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The love of it.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
A Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond. The last great film was probably something from years ago such as The Five Obstructions by Lars von Trier. I can’t recall any more recent films worth mentioning right now (sorry, great films!).

19 - What are you currently working on?

I am working on numerous things in my scientific profession -- see

(http://www.uoguelph.ca/~manand/Madhur_Anand/Welcome.html).

I’m also helping to raise 3 kids and piecing together various sets of ideas and materials for what could be my next creative writing project (or not).

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ongoing notes: later May 2015




Like a lot of my stories, that one just followed one momentary thought—What am I doing here, putting odd sentences together and creating some little piece of nonsense, when people are dying on the other side of the world and our government’s going to damnation? It’s something that a lot of artists, I’m sure, feel at one time or another, that they’re wasting time or doing something frivolous. So instead of answering myself and ignoring it, I wrote it out as a little thought. I didn’t know how much value to give to that story, but I showed it to a very serious critic and she liked it, so I decided it passed.

There’s been a ton of activity around here lately, or perhaps there hasn’t; perhaps my time full-time with toddler has shifted my perspective. Who knows? I bake, I wander with wee babe to the park, and the occasional reading even happens. Currently I’m in the midst of a slew of new above/ground press publications for the upcoming semi-annual ottawa small press book fair weekend, on June 12 and 13: might we see you there?

Rose turned eighteen months last week. Her big sister Kate gifted her a “Flash” mask, which means, of course, there can only be blurry photos.

Prince George BC: Rob Budde was good enough to send me a copy of Kara-lee MacDonald’s Eating Matters (Hobo Books, 2015), a chapbook of poems exploring eating disorders and the social pressures/expectations of women. The collage aspect of the collection, very much composed as a single project, is rather interesting. Some pieces might be less effective than others, but the variety and scope of the structure makes the read more than worth it. To see how one might get a copy, check with karaleemacdona@gmail.com

The hardest part is knowing
that she should know better.
It isn’t as if she isn’t educated—
as if she isn’t well-read. She can tell you

what de Beauvoir says,
what Butler says,
what Bordo says.

At the end of the way,
—theory fails
to account for disjunction
between bodily urges and
rational thought.

When the late hour and quiet house
have broken her resolve,
she responds predictably.

A trip to the kitchen before
inducing in the bathroom.
Running water to mask
the sounds.

Philadelphia PA: From Brian Teare’s Albion Books comes Jean Valentine’s small chapbook friend (2015), a collection of lyrics that appear to reference her prior poem for Adrienne Rich, a piece that shares a similar title. An award-winning New York City poet, Valentine is the author of numerous books, and winner of a wide array of awards, from the Wallace Stevens Award and the Shelley Memorial Prize. The short poems in friend are carefully composed and packed tight, while still allowing a particular looseness to breathe between her lines.

MY WORDS TO YOU

My words to you are the stitches in a scarf
I don’t want to finish
maybe it will come to be a blanket
to hold you here

love not gone anywhere

Perhaps extending from that previous piece, these poems explore the attachments between people. She writes of loss and love, and even deeper bonds, such as the final stanza of the poem “AFTER: ISN'T THERE SOMETHING,” that reads:

            I want to go back to you,
who when you were dying said
“There are one or two people you don’t want to
let go of.” Here too, where I don’t let go of you.

Toronto ON: The recently-launched Toronto chapbook publisher, WORDS(ON)PAGES, released a small handful of chapbooks this past spring, including Daniel Scott Tysdal’s THE DISCOVERY OF LOVE (2015), “COMPOSED ON THE OCCASION OF THE PUBLICATION OF THE DISCOVERY OF LOVE, WHICH MARKED THE THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PASSING OF THE GAY MARRIAGE ACT ON JANUARY 18, 1979.”

The discovery? Yes, ma’am, I remember,
clear as day. I was searching the Good Book
for a verse that would really stick it to
the homosexuals. You see, that was how
I thought back in ’77. It was late, which
I don’t remember so much as know. I still
don’t sleep well when travelling, even
though that night I was in Dade Country, only
an eight hour drive from my own bed [laughs].
Dade’s where they were passing that law,
you see, to help the homosexuals. Or stop
hurting them. [Pauses] I don’t recall.
Either way, the lot of us Pastors and Deacons
were madder than mules chewing bees
[laughs], ready to bring down all the light
and fire of the Lord on those heathen
councilors in Miami. And then it
happened. [Pauses]. This I remember
as clear as day. I saw that word and I felt
God’s own great hands wrap me up like
a blanket round a baby and for the first
time I truly felt [pauses] Him, [pauses]
I mean us, us, the power He granted us
with this one word that changed the whole
ballgame: love. It was right there in John’s
First Epistle: “We love because He first loved
us.” I couldn’t believe we had missed it!
Lord forgive us, for centuries! [Laughs.]
And the scriptures were just stuffed with
it. Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor as
yourself.” Romans 13:8: “Let no debt
remain outstanding, except the continuing
debt to love one another.” (“1. THE FORMER PASTOR MAYHEW RAY”)

Subtitled “EXCERPTS FROM AN ENDLESS ORAL HISTORY,” Tysdal’s five-part poem exists as both celebration and historical warning, utilizing real events for the sake of a lyric-through-accretion. Tysdal’s published poetry to date, which include a small handful of trade collections and small chapbooks, are each constructed in unexpected ways, utilizing collage, the idea of the archive and folded materials to produce highly inventive and incredibly powerful works that, in themselves, question the possibilities of what poetry could be. What is a poem? Tysdal’s work continues to challenge the idea of simply what is possible.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rita Wong, undercurrent




both the ferned & the furry, the herbaceous & the human, can call the ocean our ancestor. our blood plasma sings the composition of seawater. roughly half a billion years ago, ocean reshaped some of its currents into fungi, flora & fauna that left their marine homes & learned to exchange bodily fluids on land. spreading like succulents & stinging nettles, our salty-wet bodies refilled their fluids through an eating that is also always drinking. hypersea is a story of how we rearrange our oceanic selves on land. we are liquid matrix, streaming & recombining through ingestic one another, as a child swallows a juicy plum, as a beaver chews on tree, as a hare inhales a patch of moist, dewy clover. what do we return to the ocean that let us loose on land? we are animals moving extracted & excreted minerals into the ocean without plan or precaution, making dead zones though we are capable of life. (“BORROWED WATERS: THE SEA AROUND US, THE SEA WITHIN US”)

Vancouver poet Rita Wong’s fourth poetry collection, undercurrent (Gibson’s BC: Nightwood Editions, 2015)—following monkeypuzzle (Vancouver BC: Press Gang, 1998), forge (Nightwood Editions, 2007) and sybil unrest (with Larissa Lai; Vancouver BC: Line Books, 2008; New Star, 2013)—is, as Wang Ping informs on the back cover, a “love song for rivers, land, and sentient beings on earth.” Constructed out of lyric fragments, prose poems, memoir notes and extensive research, undercurrent is an extensive pastiche of the story of numerous bodies of water, and our relationships to them. Writing in, around and through the lyric flow, the poems exist, in part, as an extensive call to action against an increasing level of human carnage inflicted upon the earth and its inhabitants: “midway at midway, sun glares plastic trashed, beached, busted / bottle caps, broken lighters, brittle shreds in feathered corpses // heralded by the hula hoop & the frisbee, this funky plastic age / spins out unplanned aftermath, ongoing agony” (“MONGO MONDO”). Unlike a number of other British Columbia poets writing on the dangerous effects of capitalism, Wong’s undercurrent, much like Cecily Nicholson’s From the Poplars (Talonbooks, 2014), allows her subject matter to be the focus, existing not as victim but as robust character, describing a series of affronts, assaults and toxic tales, as well as positive stories on the beauty and power of the undercurrent. As she writes:






after eighty destructive years
industrial blockage of salmon habitat
we celebrate this uncanny return in the city:
salmon to Still Creek in 2012
alert, adept swimmers
kindle, perpetuate, astound
with sleek scaly stamina
miraculous as the salmon that grace Musqueam Creek
with each year’s turn around the sun
an unbroken vow between relatives

Composed as collage, this is the story of water.

In spring 2014, canoeing in the gentle River of Golden Dreams near Whistler, BC, I fell in when we snagged on a branch and suddenly tipped over. The shock of cold water awoke me into vigilance. Wearing a lifejacket did not eliminate the fear I felt as the river enveloped me completely, reminded me of its power.

Ironically, I cannot swim, though I have taken lessons over the years, and continue to try learning in an on-again, off-again way, as skin and health permit. Having addressed barriers to swimming in the city one by one – finding an ozone-purified pool instead of a chlorinated one, getting prescription goggles, practicing kicks, etc. I have improved but still find myself woefully clumsy and tense in the water, as it conducts so much sound and stimulus, thicker than air. How can someone write a book with and for water, and not swim? Very humbly and respectfully, I would say. It’s not so much that I fear the water, as I fear my own inability to manoeuvre in it, based in part on my reluctance to relax, the resistance to submit to the water’s own dynamics for more than a few breaths. This is partly what I mean when I say that I am still learning water’s syntax. I mean that in a much larger way too, though. One water body flows together with other water bodies, a whole greater than its parts. “What you cannot do alone, you will do together.”

Thanks to the river’s prompting, I will return to the swim lessons when the time and conditions are right. In the meantime, even for those who don’t swim, water rules! Our cities and lifestyles are built upon it, whether we know it or not. Try going a day, or three, without water. Water gives us life. What do we give back to water?