Monday, July 25, 2016

The Poetry of Place

This past weekend I presented my annual summer lecture/workshop on the Poetry of Place for SFU's Southbank Writers' Program.

Among my first examples is a poem by Walt Whitman (1819-1892), who recorded the United States from its backroads, and a prose work by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), who did something similar, but from the backstreets of Paris. I conclude the lecture with poems and prose works by Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), Daphne Marlatt (1942-) and Annie Dillard (1945).

The Whitman poem is "A Farm Picture" from Leaves of Grass (1855). The Baudelaire prose work is "Anywhere Out of the World" from Paris Spleen (1869).

Here is Whitman's poem:


Through the ample open door of the peaceful country barn,
A sunlit pasture field with cattle and horses feeding,
And haze and vista, and the far horizon fading away.

And for fun here is one by Ezra Pound (1885-1972), published fifty-eight years later:


The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Truth to Materials

The UBC Okanagan campus is a sculpture garden of wrapped utility boxes. Most of these boxes are designed to blend in with their "natural" surroundings. One box I noticed was designed to blend in with the brick wall behind it.

I am not sure how I feel about this need to wrap things, hide things so that they do not stand out. I loved those red Canada Post boxes from the previous century, how they contrasted with the greenery, including the British Racing Green that the City of Vancouver used to paint the benches and fences that helped to distinguish what we once called "public space" -- when there was such a thing.

Among the community projects I am considering for myself this fall is an investigation into UBCO's role in choosing the content of these wraps. If it is not possible to allow these boxes to exist monochromatically (red, grey, beige or green, as in past instances), then why not as surfaces that include the work of those whom UBCO's Faculty of Creative and Creative Studies employs to teach us about colour, line and form, artists like Tannis Nielsen and Katherine Pickering (see below)?

I would much prefer to look at the work of an artist than at a cheesy trompe-l'oeil magic act that has a utility box blending into -- or disappearing into -- the natural landscape.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


What we have to learn from the land can begin with making oneself available to it, as a reader.

From a distance, the land east of the sidewalk (above) is mounded to separate where one lives from what one travels over. Of this land, much of it -- the topsoil, the sods over which it is placed, and the shrubs -- was imported.

Those familiar with the Okanagan Valley will know that the two holes pictured here were made by burrowing marmots. Those inclined towards creative and critical practices might imagine them as fang marks from institutions that, like most large houses of learning these days, have come to take their orders less from the land than from corporate models associated with private business.

Below are two pictures I took during Tania Willard's Congruent Bodies Bush Gallery presentation, the final presentation of what turned out to be both an emotional and fruitful third roundtable that asked the question: "What body memories and body futures are posited (and possessed) by your practice?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Last week I posted the second paragraph from the text on "Indian Policy" and Reconstruction (for the full text, click here). Below is the fifth paragraph:

Grant’s peace by choice or force policy occurred in tandem with the demise of the treaty making system. Based on humanitarian concerns regarding the power imbalance between the federal government and tribal leadership negotiating treaty terms, the abandonment of the treaty tradition “was part of a movement to end Indian tribal organization and make Indians wards of the government and ultimately individualized citizens.”8 This change in policy, however, was not the result of reformers’ efforts but the resolution of political conflict between the Senate, the governmental body with which treaty making powers reside, and the House of Representatives, which had to appropriate funds for treaties it had no power to influence. Promising to uphold treaty agreements already in place, the Indian Appropriation Act of 1871 formally ended the long-standing treaty tradition. Despite these formal changes, the practice of acquiring Native approval to formal agreements continued past 1871, although now both houses of Congress were involved in shaping the terms of such arrangements. Operating together, the end of treaty making and the prominent role Christian reformers played in Indian affairs represented considerable changes to federal Indian policy and practice, speeding along the erosion of Native American sovereignty.

In Canada, the federal government proceeded similarly through that statute known as the Indian Act

Today, the Canadian federal government encourages First Nations to exercise symbolic power -- not political economic power. But that, too, can be taken away.

An example of symbolic power is the Canadian twenty dollar bank noteIn 2004, the Liberal government introduced on the "reverse side" of this note an image of a sculpture by Haida Gwaii artist Bill Reid. In 2012, under the Conservative government, the image of Reid's sculpture was replaced with an image of a First World War memorial commemorating the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


I was early for last Thursday's readings and performances at the Kelowna Public Library, so I did what I usually do -- or need to do more of -- and that is walk about, take note of the town and its design, its people and what they get up to.

The route I take from campus to downtown turns right onto Highway 97 for a kilometre past Edwards to Sexsmith, where I turn right (west) and climb successively higher, veering right of the left tine where the slope forks to climb higher still, veering right again until Sexsmith levels off and goes by another name, then another, before knowing when to turn right and arrive at Glenmore, which begins earlier on the highway, well before campus, and runs to Clement, which is north of the curving highway, but close.

So I turn left at Glenmore, then a right where I know to turn right until I come to a street where I know to turn left, then a right at Clement until Ellis. I park across from the manor house that is Prospera Place, a complex of apartments (or is it a hotel?) named after a financial institution, and from there walk south.

The Kelowna Public Library is on Ellis, but because I am early I walk a couple blocks further to Bernard, where I turn right and take in the increased obviousness of a town that feeds off the usual gaggle of reproductive families, hockey players, foreign students and that update on what was once a truckload of horny teenage farm boys and is now an SUV filled with horny fifty-something cougars. "Show us your balls!" one of them screeches at a pair of too-young skater dudes, both of whom turn their boards wheel-wise to look for something that is not there.

Thirsty, I decide to have a pint at the only joint whose entertainment, at least from its posters, is closest to the more dangerous experiments of my youth, and that is Fernanado's, a high-ceilinged wooden eatery that feels as if it has been around forever, while at the same time never existed.

Behind the bar are two young women, one of whom could be a cougar-in-the-making, the other her alt Juliette Lewis-like  sister. They make a good team -- saucy and sweet -- and have earned their following. But rather than engage, I fall into the amber of my beer. Not quite like Julie Christie did with that ceramic vessel at the end of McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), but close.