Text in the City: "The Idea of North"

(Glenn Gould’s first “contrapuntal radio documentary” and the first installment in his “Solitude Trilogy.” Originally broadcast on the CBC Radio programme Ideas, Dec. 28, 1967. An anthropologist, sociologist, a nurse, and a surveyor discuss the subjective ‘idea’ and the reality of the North. Montage and voice counterpoint are used to express the antagonism and scope of the country, the loneliness and isolation, the warmth of community living, personal reasons for living there, the fear that human nature will gradually take over from the elements as common enemy number one.)

by Garry Thomas Morse

Last Friday at the 2012 Vancouver Writers Festival at the crack of 10am, I had the honour of reading my work at the Poetry Bash event in the company of poets Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez, Lorna Crozier, Patrick Friesen, Rachel Rose, and Gillian Wigmore, who was reading from her new poetry collection Dirt of Ages (Nightwood Editions), in which Wigmore

expands both her curiosity and command as a poet from personal observations and relationships with wilderness to a universal, societal energy that flows through time, place and every one of us.“Notions of deeper rivers” do not reveal a romanticized “true north” but rather a meth dealer accidentally entreating a mother with child on the streets of a pulp-mill town, and “burned out buildings that are a calling card of the heart’s.”

Wigmore fully engaged the audience with much humour and depth, and I was reminded of a number of new B.C. books that engage a poetics of place, including the charming Kerosene (also from Nightwood Editions) by Whitehorse dweller Jamella Hagen, and as I noted the number of enthusiasts of everything North lining up for book signings by Wigmore, I realized this might be a sufficient segue to bring up a few Talon titles from authors who had or were still writing from that area, titles that had been on my mind lately.

One of which is Ken Belford’s Decompositions, with its attention to the earthy (in B.C. we like to say “dirty”) materiality of language. Decompositions was a finalist for the 2011 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize but I was even more struck by the intense reaction to his book by various poets in Vancouver. But don’t take my word for it. Nikki Reimer did this splendid review of the book.

And as I look out the window at the rain (poetically), here is a poem from Belford’s Decompositions:

     The effect of one condition on another
     is a vernacular, an assurance,
     a familiar ambience in the reeky air.
     Bird are portents, influences that play upon me,
     and I’m inclined to answer yes
     when solid shoals of whitefish are feeding fast
     and the crows are going home to roost.
     Cold rains chill the surface of the lake,
     and the gulls sit in rows, looking for a wind.

On a similar note, I’ve also been revisiting the work of Barry McKinnon, who is the 2012 Fall Writer in Residence for The Capilano Review and available for onsite manuscript consultations from November 5-16. I would not presume to speak to his process, although I have heard a great deal about a kind of Dantean exile that is informing his work. This is evident in his long poem Into the Blind World, excerpts of which are in the Spring 2011 Issue of TCR.

Recently, I received one of rob mclennan’s above/ground press chapbooks that also contains part of this long poem, and you might want to check that out as well.

It seems timely to mention Barry McKinnon’s diverse collection of poems from 1970-2000, The Centre that puts together a number of his acclaimed works, including the Governor General’s Award nominated The the, Arrhythmia, winner of the bp Nichol Chapbook Award, and Pulp Log, winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Award at the BC Book Prizes.

Here is an excerpt from McKinnon’s Pulp Log that really resonates with me:

     my work is time and displacement of energy. this is nothing bad, this is
     nothing good. I am writing this so Barry McKinnon will understand,—therefore the
     stinking, or too high grade. say it’s only a job,   it’s only your life—and it might
     be going out the window, into the October fog,—the euphemistic inversion of
     white mill cloud that I cussed last night until someone said, would you rather live
     in Bangladesh?

In response to these sagas of exile and poetry blood feuds I hear so much about,
I confessed to Gillian Wigmore that as a frail city slicker besotted by too much cinematic CGI, I took great relish in imagining these poets as mythical giants such as Hecatonchires flinging out words and tossing each other around Terrace, if not Dooney’s Cafe. Wisely, she did not comment on my Poetry TMZ rumour-mongering. Sounds like an exciting place to write poetry, notwithstanding!

And with that, the sun has come out.

I would be remiss in mentioning this area of B.C. without evoking Brian Fawcett, who does indeed have a lengthy piece on this subject for those interested, A Poetry War in Prince George on Dooney’s Cafe.

Brian Fawcett’s success as a writer of fiction and non-fiction, including his much celebrated memoir Human Happiness (Thomas Allen Publishers) and a Talon favourite Cambodia, is almost anathema to the lives of many poets (or may inspire such a feeling in most poets, let’s be honest now), but personally, as a poet, I have been most drawn to Fawcett’s earlier collections of poetry, ones that have influenced my own writing, including Permanent Relationships (Coach House Press) and Tristram’s Book, a special edition of TCR, and an enticing take on Romantic mythology with biting West Coast lyrics.

While I’m on the topic, I might as well tip my bowler to the fine work Capilano University Editions is doing because they are on the North Shore and so they are sort of in the North, right? Favourites of mine include Christine Leclerc’s Counterfeit, Danielle LaFrance’s Species Branding, and the exquisite chapbook of George Bowering’s According to Brueghel, which is also included in Bowering’s My Darling Nellie Grey.

Elizabeth Bachinsky touched upon this work in her excellent piece for the Vancouver Issue of Poetry Is Dead: The Magpie Mind of George Bowering.

Heed her. Heed her!

And Bowering would have my legs if I brought up Terrace without saying anything about George Stanley, author of the BC Book Prize-nominated Vancouver: A Poem (New Star Books). You you can read Stan Persky’s Tyee article about that beloved city book here. Of course, I am thinking of another personal favourite, George Stanley’s Gentle Northern Summer (also from New Star Books), “a compendium of poems that takes the reader on trips to California, Ireland, Moscow and Stonehenge, as well as Terrace and Prince George, B.C.”

And it’s rainy and grey again.