Posts filed under ‘Poetry’

My Valentine To Canada

I’m a little weird about the Olympics. They seem to come around every so often (every four years, I hear) and there’s a great flare-up of national pride that goes along with them, along with the inverse questioning and self-analysis of whether this outpouring of overt Canadianness is, well, Canadian.

A seemingly infinite number of op-ed pieces bemoan the dearth of medals we’re earning or have earned, and the inevitable and oh-so-Canadian dialogue as a result of this failure to ‘bring home the gold’ occurs: are we funding our amateur athletes appropriately? Should we be giving them more? How do we distribute it equally? The undercurrent is: how do we instill a love of competition in our kids, a deep-seated and permeating desire to WIN, WIN, WIN, but in a way that doesn’t violate our inherent “niceness” or corrupt the love of those activities that are quintessentially Canadian: swooshing down a pristine powdery slope, twirling on a frozen pond, playing pick-up hockey on a busy suburban street where the goalie has to awkwardly move a tattered net (bought on sale at Canadian Tire, and handed down from brother to brother, neighbour to neighbour) every time someone yells “CAR”?

Other countries don’t seem to get enmeshed in discussions of the amateur sport bureaucracy or economics, or some shameful and stillborn sense of competitive fierceness. When the U.S. speed skating team’s sponsor dumped them, Steven Colbert–a comic!!–jumped in and single-handedly became benefactor, fundraiser and PR/media machine all in one. And then promptly began whipping the team and their supporters into a fervour by poking fun at Canada. How did Canadians respond? In most cases, we found it as funny as anyone else, of course. To really understand how this epitomizes the Canadian character, reverse the situation and think about how the U.S. speedskating team and their supporters would have responded if Jim Carrey did a Second City sketch ridiculing Wisconsi-whiners or Vermont syrup-suckers. Uh huh.

So, the Olympics, to me: every four years, a contingent of young, well-scrubbed and healthy-looking Canadians of whom I’ve never heard are touted as great Canadian hopefuls to bring honour to the nation, by performing well at activities that I pay no attention to, and bringing pride to a nation that is slightly embarrassed by any blatant display of national pride.

Sports, all sports–team, individual, amateur, professional, even the local community centre’s tiddlywinks championships–are “other” to me. Completely foreign. I learned to do the basics, more for survival than any desire for recreation or love of competition. I learned to swim in the freezing cold Vermilion River in northern Ontario, where ice was still floating in June, and where a line up of parents with brightly coloured beach towels spread like bullfighters’ capes waited for us to emerge blue-lipped and goosebumped into their waiting arms after the obligatory three-minute dunking.

I learned to skate on a flooded portion of our backyard under the glare of a rigged-up Christmas spotlight (since darkness would have fallen by 4.30 or 5 p.m.) I can still hear the whoosh-whoosh sound of my ski pants as I lurched wobbly-ankled from one end of the ice to the other, my hand-knit red woollen mittens holding on for dear life to the kitchen chair that I pushed in front of me to keep my balance.

Ahhhhh … the hand-knit red woollen mittens. Could there be any more emblematic object of the Canadian winter, indeed, of how Canada has grown up? Until my NYC-based friend Donna mentioned them, I didn’t even know the red Olympic mittens were a hot commodity. Donna pointed out what I probably wouldn’t have given a second thought to, even had I known about the mittens, which was their subtlety. There is no Canadian flag, no flagrant display of brand–not the designer’s, the manufacturer’s, the retailer’s or the country’s. A white maple leaf, made of felt, is appliquéd on the *inside* palm. The five-ringed Olympic symbol and the words “Vancouver 2010” are embroidered in white wool on the outside.

So very Canadian. Self-effacing and discreet. And yet, in what I think is a delightful ironic twist, the mittens have gone viral. They’ve become a must-have Olympic accessory-slash-souvenir, symbolizing the 2010 Winter Games and their host country. And, I noticed, when the Canadian team entered BC Place during Friday night’s opening ceremonies waving to the crowd of 60,000 uncharacteristically loud Canadians, the placement of that white maple leaf, shining brightly against the red wool backdrop (our flag in reverse), said: Hi! We’re here, we’re Canadian, and (please excuse us, but) we’re damn proud of it!

The placement of the maple leaf had to have been intentionally conceived just for that moment. Had to. And at other times, it’s a subtle reminder not to take us for granted, that you may overlook us–we may, indeed, be overlookable at times–but we’re actually always here on the world stage in ways that you might not even realize. We’re walking here beside you, hand in hand with you. The rest of the ceremonies drove that point home, again and again.

The opening ceremonies were a stunning spectacle of Canadian artistry. The choice to produce such an artistic display of Canadiana was in itself very Canadian. They will–for me–be what these Games are about, because it’s pretty unlikely that I will pay much attention to any of the events. Again, I wasn’t going to even watch them…I probably wouldn’t have but for my many U.S.-based friends who were all watching.

Apparently, there is a 100-page media brief prepared to help commentators and journalists understand the meaning behind what they were seeing. I would love to get my hands on that book, but even without it, the images washed over me and tapped in to something pretty deep, pretty close to my heart, and pretty surprising…for me.

I love my country. I’m proud of it and its accomplishments on the world stage in a way that goes far beyond a two-week effort to win medals. I don’t love it in an anthem-singing and blind allegiance-pledge-reciting kind of way. I love that it is filled with forests and surrounded by oceans, and populated from coast to coast by people who want to protect them.

I love that we have apologized to and are doing our best to redress the injustices we’ve perpetrated on our First Nations people and that, despite the swirl of controversy and protest that led up to and continues during these Winter Games, we strive to keep the dialogue going to find acceptable compromises.

Although I wish we weren’t there, I love that we said no to Iraq, but yes to Afghanistan–not out of fear or anger, or as the unthinking act of a puppet, but because we react to and seek to help people who are oppressed and suffering regardless of politics or culture. I love that we donated more money per capita than any other nation to emergency relief in Haiti and that our government matched our citizens’ contributions dollar for dollar–and no one, not even the right-wingiest of wingnuts even thought of turning that tragedy into a pulpit from which to espouse egregiously distorted, hateful and incendiary (not to mention just plain wrong) beliefs.

I love that, even though the 2010 Winter Olympics are taking place right next to the oft-cited poorest postal code in Canada–a postal code incidentally filled to overflowing with the outcome of our appalling treatment and racist policies towards our aboriginal founding peoples–that it is also a neighbourhood populated by safe-needle exchange facilities (although I hate that we have to have them).

I love my country because gay marriage is legal, everywhere, and so is a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body, and neither is subject to a legislative system that can overturn the legality of these decisions on a whim or because of the disproportionate but loud and well-organized bleating of so-called “faith-based” or “family values” lobby groups who are eroding the fundamental democratic principle of the separation of church and state while simultaneously turning a religion supposedly founded on love into a tool of hate.

I love my country because it produced Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen–artists whose poetry transcends their medium and genre, borders and time–and I love my country because kd lang, an Alberta-born lesbian vegetarian, can stand on a spartan stage in a white suit and bare feet surrounded by sparkling lights and maple leaves and 60,000 people who couldn’t care less about her sexual orientation and who, instead, are moved to tears by the power of her voice singing an anthem by a Montreal Jew-turned-Buddhist poet, a song of such complexity and paradox whose original lyrics are never sung, a song that no one really knows the meaning of, but one that speaks to us anyway and when voiced by kd, reaches its mitten-encased fingers way deep down into our heart and soul and guts and expresses what it is like to feel gratitude and belonging to something bigger, much bigger, than we are as individuals or even as a country, but what it feels like to be human: to struggle and seek and strive and make mistakes and learn from them and want something you can’t have and get something you don’t want and still want more.

I love my country, because we can celebrate THAT, all of that. That we have all of that to celebrate, and that we did so with such artistry and subtlety this past Friday. And because, god knows why or how or whose cockamamie idea it was and why they believed or even whether they believed it would work as beautifully as it did, the second-most-talked-about (next to kd) moment of the opening ceremonies was the spoken-word poem by Shane Koyczan, a 34-year old Metis man from Yellowknife, who wrote and performed We Are More, holding the crowd spellbound when not cheering for such lines as: “some say what defines us / is something as simple as please and thank you” and “we are an experiment going right for a change / with influences that range from a to zed / and yes we say zed instead of zee.”

I just about leaped off the sofa, screaming “a POEM!” “a POEM!“, so disbelieving was I of the audacity, the brilliance of whatever creative mind chose to include it.  And not just any poem, but a contemporary poem by an average Joe, a poem with real edge and an insidious, revolutionary, cultural-stereotype-blasting purpose.  A poem that echoed a beer commercial, but THAT. IS. CANADIAN. !!!

Even when I couldn’t get all the rapid-fire ideas about Canada and about Canadians as Shane was speaking them, I got the cadence and the energy and the exquisite use and love of language that is also so Canadian and I knew–as did so many of us, whose responses lit up the blogosphere in the hours that followed–that this moment was special and nation-defining in a way that simply choosing to showcase a poem and poet like this was.

This poem “We Are More” is the equivalent of a white felt maple leaf on the palm of a mitten.

If you haven’t already clicked, read it in its entirety HERE.

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February 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm 3 comments

Winter Wonderland

Woman. Dog.  Not me or Molly.

Woman. Dog. Not me or Molly.

Woke up to snow this morning (some yesterday too) and a blistering blue sky that only now has clouded over.  The snow was that powdery early winter stuff–fine as sugar, blown away by the strong winds but still clinging to fence posts and grass.

Molly and I followed a trail of compressed snowprints:  two boots and four paws in front of us, stuck to the paved path where we walk, the warmth and weight of master and pet having been enough to cement their steps to the asphalt while the remaining snow had blown away to reveal a kind of reverse snowtrail.

It inspired a (not very good) haiku:

white winter morning
bootdogpaw embossed footprints
companions in snow

I’ll work on it.  I am reading The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle.  It’s about a boy and a special band of dogs that he and his family breed and care for, so my own and others’ attachments to their dogs is in the forefront of my mind these days.

December 7, 2008 at 4:43 pm Leave a comment

The Worlds Within Us

Mila Zincova

Coral Reefs, Papua New Guinea Photo: Mila Zincova

There is a poem by Helen Humphreys that I’ve had posted on my fridge since 2001. Halfway through reading The World Without Us, I took it off my fridge and have had it sitting near my laptop. I’ve read it again several times, and it now has taken on another layer of meaning. That means it’s a good poem, I guess. And it also points to the fact that the issues touched upon in this poem and in Weisman’s book have simmered in my unconscious mind for … well, a long time–much longer than the time the poem has been on my fridge, that’s for sure.

The ideas are so big, it’s difficult to process them. So difficult to process, that I spent a sleepless night last night with images roiling in my brain: nuclear waste leaking into the planet’s bedrock for millions of years and the fact that “nurdles” may exist for the same amount of time. (Nurdles is such a cute word for such a deadly thing: the cylindrical plastic pellets that now infest our oceans, killing creatures at the very base of the food chain–and you know what that means). This is what will remain of us:  the products of our ingenuity are the very things that have destroyed our planet.

The Swimsuit Calendar Frog

Red-Eyed Tree Frog: The Swimsuit Calendar Frog

The inevitable conclusion from Weisman’s book is that humanity’s most distinctive and redeeming capacity–the power we have to think, to create, to imagine–is the one leading most irrevocably to our extinction. If that capacity also includes the ability to problem-solve and act in our own best interests as an entire species, it might also lead to our salvation. That, however, I feel less hopeful about, at least this morning.

As I said in a prior post, the only way I can wrap my mind around the enormity of the issues presented is through art and literature. Ironically, with the exception of bronze statuary, these products of our complex meta-cognition–our art, music and writing–are the most ephemeral, the ones most likely to fade away quickly, the ones with half-lives that often don’t survive one lifetime, never mind lasting into a world without us. Books and paintings will be among the first to decay, and even though newsprint is actually one of the last things to decompose in oxygen-depleted landfills, decompose it will and with it will go much of human knowledge and artistic production.

River in Costa Rican Rainforest

River in Costa Rican Rainforest

The poem on my fridge, clipped from the Globe and Mail back when they used to publish poetry fairly regularly, is yellowing now with age. It is impossible to find online: it is not included in any poetry anthologies or databases. Humphreys is better known for her short novel, The Lost Garden, which is infused with her poet’s sensibility. As much as I enjoy her writing, Humphreys is no Tennyson, no TS Eliot, no Shakespeare. Her work will not very likely be chosen to blast out into space, etched on a copper plate in some interstellar time capsule. But it has provided strange comfort to me over the years, and I will enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

Installation

By Helen Humphreys, Anthem (Brick Books, 1999)

What we make doesn’t recover from us.

Twisted scaffold, trellis of rust. This

is how we will be gone. The steel hull

grinning with rivets. Shiny notes of chrome

swinging from the stave of the wrecker’s wall.

Those we loved and nothing for that. The moon

a chalk circle over dark harbour.

Old rail tracks slippery under my feet.

Broken ladder on the tanker. My breath

ascending the rungs of air. I have

been here, lived in this place, loved you.

There’s a snarl of wire on white sand.

Plastic bottles nested in tall grasses

by the channel mouth. We are survived by these

shapes, by the shape of our lives without us.

August 25, 2008 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

The World Without Us

I’m reading a book called The World Without Us. It’s “speculative non-fiction” by a writer named Alan Weisman, who poses the scenario of the elimination, in the blink of an eye, of all human life from the planet. Poof. We are gone, and the buildings, animals, plantlife, air and water start to revert to their natural state, decaying or growing as the case may be, without human intervention.

He details what will happen in 100 years; in 1,000 years; in 10,000 years: as seasons change, as the oceans rise and lakes and rivers reassert their natural pathways, and as trees, vines, plants and animals retake their habitats until the next ice age–which we’ve pushed back through the climate change already wrought–scours the slate clean again. In a best-case scenario he presents, it will take a minimum of 1,000 years for the earth’s oceans to cleanse the air of the carbon we’ve dug from the earth and spewed into the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Age in about 1750. Eventually, there will be no trace left of us except, perhaps, for some stainless steel pots that will befuddle the next lifeforms to evolve or arrive on Earth; and the Statue of Liberty, cast in bronze, barnacled and buried under a mile of silt in the Atlantic Ocean.

Weisman is saying that it will take a tremendously long time but left to its own devices, the earth will replenish itself. This, evidently, is supposed to be good news–a message of hope that, despite our current predicament, if humans finally drive ourselves to extinction before doing too much more damage to the earth, air, water and other species, things will rectify themselves.

Well, ok … but the problem I’m having (and granted, I’m only on p. 51) is the implausibility of that scenario actually transpiring. Weisman overtly says that the premise is not to speculate on what ends humanity, only that it ends quickly and completely–all at once, everywhere.

But, but … it won’t happen that way, will it? Even a massive asteroid hit, a broadscale nuclear war, biological warfare or the outbreak of a world-wide plague will have human life petering out slowly, unevenly, inconsistently. There will be no quiet overtaking of our cities by kudzu, birch and aspen. Instead, as human beings slowly–slowly and agonizingly–die off, those small bands of survivors who’re left will not go gently into that good night. As resources dwindle, as infrastructure fails, as hope fades … human nature and, never mind that, our basic will to survive, will remain intact. And the will to survive is an individual, not collective, one. Individuals will fight for the basic resources to survive: food, water, shelter. Maybe, maybe, parents will share those resources with their own children. Maybe, maybe, small bands or communities will form, if they are more powerful together than alone. But civilization, government, order and what we in the coddled, so-called developed world construe as morality and humanity, will cease in any meaningful, effective way.

It won’t be pretty.

Perhaps I am a pessimist about human nature, informed by my study of social psychology, and more recently, my reading of The Road and Blindness, which foretell gruesome, cruel and barbaric acts perpetrated by humans on humans in the face of just such doomsday scenarios. There has never been a situation, in the lab or in the real world, throughout history, where–especially in the face of annihilation–those with power and resources have not wielded them to their own advantage, to the extent of overtaking and enslaving those without.

So. I struggle with the premise, and before humans are wiped from the face of the earth, I wonder how much more damage we will do, not just to each other but to our home planet.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter. Perhaps the lingering, cruel destruction of humanity–the “every man for himself” phase–is just a blip on the timeline, as brief as the 15 or 20 minutes of twilight marking the transition from day to night.

We are on an inevitable path, though, to this twilight. By 2100, if we do nothing to curb it, the earth’s atmosphere is projected to contain 900 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2), up from 380 ppm today, which is up from 280 ppm in the pre-industrial age. In other words, in less than 100 years, we will triple our CO2 emissions, which have taken 250 years to rise by slightly more than one-third. This is just one measure of the escalating destruction of our planet. Another is the exponential increase in the number of species we have eradicated in the last 100 years by deforestation–and the proportion of species that will be made extinct by climate change in the next 45-50 (between 15 to 37% by 2050, according to a January 2004 Nature article).

Mr. Weisman–as much as I appreciate your long-term view, I can’t buy it. We will not get to your 1,000 year recovery scenario. We have less than 50 years to dramatically and unequivocally turn back the clock on climate change, on the destruction of habitat, on greenhouse gas emissions and on species extinction. If not, there will not be much left to recover.

I leave you with a poem. In the end, I can’t process this kind of information with scientific facts, journal articles or non-fiction treatises. I need poetry and literature to fully grasp the beauty of what we are destroying, and to galvanize me into the action required to save it.

We Have A Beautiful Mother

Alice Walker, Earthling Poems, 1965-1990 Complete

We have a beautiful

mother

Her hills

are buffaloes

Her buffaloes

hills.


We have a beautiful

mother

Her oceans

are wombs

Her wombs

oceans.


We have a beautiful

mother

Her teeth

the white stones

at the edge

of the water

the summer

grasses

her plentiful

hair.


We have a beautiful

mother

Her green lap

immense

Her brown embrace

eternal

Her blue body

everything

we know.

August 18, 2008 at 11:12 pm 2 comments

Current Mood: Civic

Happy Holiday Monday!

The holiday that occurs on the first Monday in August throughout most of Canada is a complete and utter farce. A non-holiday. We are celebrating absolutely nothing–but, like the good Canadians we are, we must overlay some kind of veneer of respectability on top of it, to overcome the WASP guilt of actually–gasp!–taking the day off. So, in various places, it’s named after the province (British Columbia Day, Saskatchewan Day, New Brunswick Day) and in Ontario, it changes by municipality to honour some local, long-dead colonist of wig-and-breeches vintage.

Being in Toronto, my non-celebration revolves around: Lord John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. I dunno what the hell he really did for us, but I think he was in the British Navy, and possibly repelled some Yanks from the northern shores of Lake Ontario. Oh, wait … it says here that he introduced “institutions such as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, freehold land tenure and [abolished] slavery in Upper Canada long before it was abolished in the British Empire as a whole.” (source: Wikipedia — where else?)

Well, then … my hat’s off to ya’, Johnny! In your honour, I’ve:

  • updated the Mindgames page with a new jigsaw puzzle and a new brainteaser. Try the jigsaw puzzle, they’re much easier on a holiday Monday;
  • added a new widget from goodreads.com — this is a fabulous site for readers that I found just last night. You can click on the little pictures of book covers over there to the right in “On My Nightstand”, and you’ll be taken to plot summaries, readers’ reviews and rankings. You can engage in discussion groups about what appears to be a vast number of topics. And so far, it looks like there is something for every kind of reader, and in particular me. Meaning, the entire thing is NOT dominated by people whose only experience with literature is Harry Potter. What a relief. (I’ve never read it. I’m never going to read it, nor am I ever going to see any of the movies. Ever. I could, and perhaps sometime will, write an entire rant about Harry Potter and how it has contributed to the denigration of critical thinking among today’s youth. Later. It’s a holiday, for goodness sakes. I’m celebrating Johnny.)

My first eccentric musing of the day, in which I take you on a trip from Joshua Allen to Leonard Cohen, with stops at goodreads and Johnny Depp along the way, after the jump.

(more…)

August 4, 2008 at 12:08 pm Leave a comment

On The Mark

Tonya Plank, a blogger on the Huffington Post, does the best technical reviews of SYTYCD that I have seen/read. About Mark Kanemura, she has said:

…even though he doesn’t do any athletically astounding acrobatics or flashy moves during his solos, Mark is a true original. He is insanely creative. I think, even if he doesn’t go all the way to the end in this competition, he’ll make a name for himself, perhaps as a choreographer. It’s hard to tell from seconds-long solos what he is capable of, but if he has a sustaining vision … with all his pent-up weird energy that could be genius.

Top 8, and Desmond Richardson, Tonya Plank, HuffPo

This week, on Mark’s departure, she predicts he’ll have a huge future in dance, possibly as a dancer or choreographer with a company such as NYC’s Misnomer, which led me to this extraordinary video:

BTW, that’s a Leonard Cohen song they are dancing to: Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. Brilliance. Back later with more commentary on this dance and the lyric accompanying it, possibly. But right now, I must get out in the summer sunshine.

August 3, 2008 at 11:54 am 3 comments

Haiku: From The Spa

Berobed spa goers

Glide past the stone house, pledging

Devotions to health

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Flip flops on flagstone

Buffed and polished guests glowing

Fragile as stained glass

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hollyhocks stand guard

The wind chimes rest, unalarmed

The breeze is gentle

July 27, 2008 at 3:51 pm Leave a comment

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