--Primo Levi, The Periodic Table ("Gold")
“If I am not mistaken we were all writing poetry, except for Ettore, who said it was undignified for an engineer. Writing sad, crepuscular poems, and not all that beautiful, while the world was in flames, did not seem to us either strange or shameful: we proclaimed ourselves the enemies of Fascism, but actually Fascism had had its effect on us, as on almost all Italians, alienating us and making us superficial, passive and cynical.”
--Primo Levi, The Periodic Table ("Gold")
Truly a privilege to have been invited to participate in The Drum is Calling Festival. I will be giving a free workshop on writing about food and family on Thursday July 27, 2017 at 1:30pm, followed by a reading with these exceptional poets: Annie Ross, Adéle Barclay, Jonina Kirton and Joanne Arnott. Larwell Park 4:20-5. All are welcome. https://canada150plus.ca/drum/ #Canada150Plus
J’ikki, un des chiens mis en vedette dans mon livre, est le K9 qui est intervenu pour prévenir cette attaque terroriste. Bravo, équipe J’ikki!
J’ikki, one of the dogs featured in my book, was the K9 who intervened to prevent this terrorist attack. Bravo, team J’ikki!
I’m excited to share this poster for my forthcoming book, The Dog Lover Unit: Lessons in Courage from the World’s K9 Cops, with blurbs from two writers I admire tremendously, Temple Grandin and Stanley Coren. Many people generously offered advice and support, but I’d like to thank a few who made all the difference: Isabelle Fieschi, Hilary McMahon, Peter Joseph, Kara Stanley, Carol Shaben, James Prier and M.L. Lyke.
This is a remarkable conference, held in a remarkable place. I’m struck by the efforts people made to get here, from all over Alaska and across the USA. Here are a few photos of this wild place:
Heading to Homer, Alaska tomorrow for Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, where I will be teaching: http://sites.kpc.alaska.edu/writersconf/
Next off to Anchorage for this reading, hosted by UAA Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing and 49 Writers, with Joan Naviyuk Kane and Ismet Prcic:
Oddly, I was just about to join the Writers’ Union of Canada, in anticipation of the publication of my first non-fiction book, when Hal Niedzviecki’s editorial, “Winning the Appropriation Prize” was published.
I’m a strong supporter of free speech, especially at this historical point, where we live next to Trump-held territories in a time of false news and deliberate spreading of misinformation. I celebrate the right to offend, to provoke, and to challenge, as so many of the comics, journalists and writers working around the world today are doing, often at considerable risk to themselves.
But speech that is free is just the lowest common denominator of a free society. We all have the right to babble freely of our hatreds and fears, to post them and to spread them. It happens minute by minute. Beyond that freedom, each of us must ask herself questions about the work we bring into the world. Is it true? Is it ethical? Where does the balance of power lie? What is the intention, the goal, behind the work, and will the work itself move us toward that goal, however incrementally? Is it appropriate for its intended audience?
This is not self-censorship; this is editing. It is what writers do, and fail at, and resolve to do better.
I celebrate acts of radical imagination, engaged witnessing, and cross-cultural exploration. As so many writers do, I look beyond my own limited encounters with the world. I am writing a historical novel set in France, England and America of the 1600’s, not an era in which I have any first-hand experience.
Hal Niedzviecki’s piece should not have been published by the Union. It was not a call to celebrate imagination, or the extraordinary empathy that can come from deep study of that or those we don’t know, be it human or animal or tree. This was about appropriating the stories of a particular group when we as a society have barely begun to acknowledge and measure the harms, let alone make amends. It was published not on a personal blog but within the same newsletter that also called for reconciliation and celebration of the work of indigenous writers. The cognitive dissonance was jarring.
That term, “appropriation,” is meant to provoke the very people, indigenous writers of Canada, that so many of us settlers wish to approach, at this moment in history--
Canada’s 150th—with open hands, listening hearts, and a true spirit of reconciliation. Mr. Niedzviecki was free to speak in a public forum that represents all writers; I feel misrepresented.
Although I don’t know the circumstances of his resignation, I don’t wish for anyone to be fired; I wish, always, for dialogue. None of us are disposable; we must find ways to speak to each other across the chasm. That said, the public response (much like Trump’s election) has been, if anything, more disheartening than the original article.
I would like to reflect on the extraordinary interview Hal Wake gave with Joy Kogawa last week at Green College. Joy spoke of her new book, Gently to Nagasaki, a quest for forgiveness she undertook in the name of her beloved father, a sexual abuser of children. Such a difficult quest! But Joy spoke with clarity about that road to forgiveness, that road that requires love to surround truth, to be twice as big as the truth. Without that, truth leads to vengeance, and there is something in us all that lusts for vengeance. Beware. Sometimes it is useful to take a vow of silence, of listening, before beginning the work.
Dear writers, dear writers, what is our union, our obligation to take care of, listen to and cherish one another? What will become of us all in the age of anger, in the age of lies, in the songs of despair sent up across the planet? For this I know: we are being called upon at this point in time to do our best work, to see as clearly and compassionately as we can, to speak freely and with the greatest care.
Thank you to Kits Beach Magazine for the interview, and for supporting the work I’m doing as Poet Laureate—along with the remarkable Poetry Ambassadors— around food, poetry and community. Kits Beach has taken an interesting approach of not being on-line, so I have no link to share, but thank you to Li-feng Fang for the photo.
I’ve been reading through the many (many!) submissions to Sustenance, and they are so diverse, so wise and lush, so true to the spirit of our city, such necessary nourishment in these fractured times. The Poetry Ambassadors have gathered incredible selections from their various communities, pieces that astonish. And now as I move through the open submissions, I keep reading and finding pieces that make me say to myself, Yes! Yes, we must include this one, and this. This, too; I’ve never read anything like this before.
I’m grateful for every one of these submissions. I know it will be exquisitely difficult to make the final selections. I’ve already requested a length extension from Anvil!
Thank you to all who submitted, and please keep doing the work of connecting, of reaching out, of taking gentle, sustaining care of yourselves and those in the circles around you.
Five days into our week visiting the Big Island in Hawaii, I was chagrined to learn just by chance while leafing through a local magazine that the sunscreens my family and I were using are toxic to corals. Corals, I learned, are incredibly sensitive living organisms, and the vast majority of sunscreens contain these toxins. Among the worst is Oxybenzone, one small drop of which can kill corals in an ocean space the size of six Olympic-size swimming pools.
At this point, I had already switched to wearing a thin t-shirt and shorts while snorkeling, as the sunscreens were not protecting me from getting nasty sunburns in any case. But had I known they were toxic to the very marine ecosystems we were delighting in visiting, I never would have worn them. I just made a donation to the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), a charity working all over the world to protect coral reefs. The Coral Reef Alliance has earned a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, the top rating possible, for sound fiscal management, accountability and transparency.
Corals are essential even for those who don’t have the transformative experience of swimming in the undersea gardens where they flourish. Hard corals provide a barrier to human coastal communities, protecting land from rising sea levels. Soft corals produce chemical compounds which have been isolated as effective treatments for human diseases, cancer in particular.
Being underwater, swimming among blue and yellow tangs, seeing moray eels peeking out of caves, being accidently bonked into by a surfing sea turtle as we body surfed—these were gifts we will cherish. The sea and its living creatures, too, are to be cherished and protected. For this World Poetry Day, I have written to the sunscreen companies to ask them to remove oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor from their products. I would be grateful to any who treasure these underwater worlds and would take a few moments to do the same, and to spread the word about sunscreen toxicity.
Neutrogena (the sunscreen I used) has no email contact, but their customer service number is 1-800-582-4048, and they were responsive when I called and stumbled my way through the coral-killing chemicals. I will post on their follow-up.
Banana Boat (the sunscreen the kids used) was hard to find. They have a form where emails can be sent, but neither an email or phone number to actually speak with someone directly. However, I learned that they are owned by Playtex Products (not the tampon company) a division of Edgewell Personal Care—they manufacture all the Banana Boat products. U.S. Consumers - Toll Free: 1-888-310-4290
Canadian Consumers - Toll Free: 1-800-387-1300
Again, I will update about the results as I am contacted, and again, I would be grateful for others to join me in spreading the word to those who swim and might use sunscreens that there are safer choices, like using a hat and clothing, or these s sunscreens: http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/
I leave you with a few lines from one of my poems
What We Heard About the Sea
…remember how it felt to live here,
but we are tourists now. Cold gold
light in water, we touch the brittle fingers
of black coral, feathered tongues of barnacles,
even the great wings of manta rays
that swoop over us….
For those who want more poems about the sea, please read Sue Goyette’s marvelous collection, Ocean:
Happy World Poetry Day to all.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Fieschi-Rose