Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who returned to Earth yesterday after five months in the International Space Station, is a great communicator and entertainer who has almost singlehandedly, it is said, stirred up people’s interest in space exploration again. He tweeted and sang from space and made videos about living at the station that have garnered some 22 million views.
But here’s what strikes me as I look at Hadfield’s amazing photographs and their accompanying twitter-length commentary: the man is a poet.
Hadfield wrote: “These mouthwatering folds of icing are actually Saudi sand”
Hadfield wrote: “Pillowy farms of Eastern Europe, tidily etched in snow”
It could be argued that Hadfield’s photographs are the stunning feature of his twitter communication, presenting as they do new ways of seeing places on Earth. Yet the accompanying words are hugely important and interesting too, sometimes as a matter of information about a location or phenomenon, sometimes as humor (re. photo of the Galapagos — “just far enough apart to give Darwin something to think about”), and often as poetry, by which I mean the use of images or language that brings unlike things together and/or creates or intensifies understanding.
There are so many examples I could cite. “A springtime haze laps on the evening shore of the Alps.” “This lake looks like it’s burrowing its way across the landscape.” “Clouds swoop in on Crimea, a white bird on the Black Sea.” “The first light of the rising sun turns our solar arrays to woven gold.” “The dry folded skin of the Sahara desert, looking like the crust of a pie.” “Brussels gleams like a lace jewel.” “A blackness like endless velvet.” “Clouds over western Europe, rippled like water over a stone.” Wouldn’t you agree that even the words on their own offer insights into Earth from space?
Hadfield wrote: “A lot of the Australian Outback looks like somebody spilled something on it.”
For me, viewing the photographs and reading the commentary is one Praise Be! after the other. (See a collection of “best”photographs here, the twitter feed here). Chris Hadfields’s legacy may be an awakened interest in space exploration but the gift he gives me is Earth (“I’m still in love with what the Earth shows me each day”). Or maybe I should say, his translation of space’s perspective on Earth as put into words.
Hadfield wrote: “The yin and yang of ice and land at Lake of the Woods.”
Worscht en Rhubuaba. I can’t actually say it, not correctly at least, not having grown up with Low German (though I learned to understand it as a adult living in Paraguay for a couple of years), but I spent Saturday and part of Sunday last week at an arts festival by that name. Meaning sausage and rhubarb. It was a Manitoba Mennonite Creative Arts Festival so the reference was perfectly appropriate, if somewhat nostalgic, given that nowadays Mennonite writing (“if there is such a thing” — a question one of the Round Tables asked) is so large, so diverse, so out of the village. But never mind that, it was a great event, put together by the energetic and talented Di Brandt and others from Brandon University (Dale Lakevold, Audrey Thiessen). Continue reading
Okay, let’s just say the writing – now that I’m back to it, post the diary transcription project – is a bit of a slog at the moment.
The cover of the latest issue of Write, the magazine of The Writers’ Union of Canada, features a map by Patrick Dias, country unnamed but obviously Land of the Writer. If you’re looking for me, I’m wandering around in Frustrating Canyons, probably on my way to Crumpled Detour.
Crumpled Detour reminds me of a character in Alice Munro’s short story, “Cortes Island,” who says:
I bought a school notebook and tried to write—did write, pages that started off authoritatively and then went dry, so that I had to tear them out and twist them up in hard punishment and put them in the garbage can… Then I bought another notebook and started the whole process once more. The same cycle—excitement and despair, excitement and despair… Continue reading
Filed under Books, Writing
1. I bumped into numerous web “shares” of Miriam Toews’ keynote speech at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in Toronto on “Is there such a thing as a national literature?” but want to lodge it here as well because I think she’s making such an important point, familiar as it may seem: “A writer can only serve her nation [or other 'nationalisms'] by serving her story.” Toews began by talking about “national literature” from the perspective of people’s curiosity about her as “Mennonite writer,” but in both Canadian and Mennonite — and probably in any category concerning identity to which we belong — there are expectations and wishes by other members of those groups or identities about how they wish to be portrayed. This is as true for her from secular Mennonites as conservative ones, Toews said. Group authorities and narratives promise “certainties and definitions and boundaries,” but “[t]he imagination is inherently subversive and cannot be mandated.” Continue reading
“I love the oddity of historical incidence, the ethical muddiness,” Emma Donoghue (of Room fame) has said, and it’s oddity and muddiness she digs into in her latest book, Astray, a collection of 14 stories set in places as various as London, the Yukon, and Louisiana, in years ranging from 1639 to 1967.
There’s a keeper’s persistent chatter to his elephant Jumbo in “Man and Boy,” and the voice of Nigger Brown as the slave conspires to murder his master and run off with his wife in “Last Supper at Brown’s.” There’s a series of letters to the New York Children’s Aid Society by the birth mother and adoptive father of Lily May with their competing claims upon the child (“an epistolary duet,” Donoghue calls it) in “The Gift.” In “Daddy’s Girl,” a young woman has just discovered, upon his death, that her father was actually female. Continue reading
Filed under Books, Writing
It’s a good thing I promised to say something about the launch of my book, because I’ve slipped back into regular mode, meaning it feels somewhat distant already, so why go on about it? And we’re having wintery weather at the moment – yes, that’s snow caught in the grass – when just days ago, pre- and launch days, that is, it was gorgeous autumn. As if in the meantime a season has come and gone.
It’s good for me, though, to remember and also explain things to myself, and in addition, Shirley Hershey Showalter, in a FB post, said, “I hope you’ll describe what it’s like to launch,” so here I am, on about it. (She’s very close to completing a memoir manuscript for which she already has a contract, so her launch lies soon ahead of her.)
For me, then, and Shirley, and anyone else interested, this is about the launch of my collection of short fiction, What You Get at Home, last Tuesday. Continue reading
Above the town, on the hill brow, the stone angel used to stand…. Summer and winter she viewed the town with sightless eyes. She was doubly blind, not only stone but unendowed with even a pretense of sight. Whoever carved her had left the eyeballs blank…. Her wings in winter were pitted by the snow and in summer by the blown grit. She was not the only angel in the Manawaka cemetery, but she was the first, the largest… (Page 1 of The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence)
It was a gorgeous autumn day yesterday and since we were in Neepawa, one of Manitoba’s prettiest towns, where I’d be doing a reading later in the Margaret Laurence house, and since we’d finished our chicken and coleslaw and chips at the Chicken Corral and I’d changed out of my driving clothes into my reading ones in the restaurant bathroom and we still had an hour to spare, H. and I decided to find the cemetery. Riverside Cemetery is where Laurence, the famous Canadian writer, is buried, and where, we’d been told, the stone angel stands, who gave title to her book, The Stone Angel, with its memorable protagonist Hagar Shipley. The friendly waitress at the Chicken Corral, who gave us directions to the cemetery, said we couldn’t miss it. Continue reading
BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS…
Listening, reading, launching: The Winnipeg International Writers Festival (Thin Air) is in full swing here in our city, so I’m trying to take in most of the mainstage events as well as some of the “book chats” and “big ideas” sessions. Yesterday’s “big idea” was Allan Levine’s take on the “odd, though probably not crazy” William Lyon Mackenzie King. Tonight’s mainstage will feature David Bergen (The Age of Hope) and Richard Ford, whose Canada I’m halfway through reading and enjoying very much. Continue reading
Great news that writer Mavis Gallant’s private journals will be edited and published, though not so great that we may have to wait until 2014 to to read them! A teaser set of excerpts from 1952 appears in the July 9 issue of The New Yorker, where Gallant also published more than 100 stories over her lifetime. I’ve not yet seen the issue (the copy someone bought at my request from a bookstore across town yesterday turned out to be the July 2 issue!), but teaser bits from that teaser set have appeared here and there on Facebook statuses and in blog posts (such as this lovely one by Janice Gray over at Richard Gilbert’s blog Narrative), all enough to make it clear how full of personality, wonderful writing, and compelling detail the published journals will be. A 1959 treasure quoted by editor Steven Barclay is an example. Continue reading
I’ve attended three conferences around writing in less than two months, each one quite different and each one valuable, but now I’m definitely conferenced out! The most recent one, the annual meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) in Vancouver last week, was full of practical matters: writing and publishing as enterprise, if you like. It’s a union, after all, so not surprising that advocacy and worker rights, protection, compensation, and assistance would be high on the agenda, and not surprising either that there would be sessions loaded with help on navigating the new world of publishing (which I posted about at my author blog), or that there would be a great deal of emotion in the room at times, or that one might leave energized or overwhelmed or tired, but more likely all three simultaneously. And especially tired, perhaps, if one was a rookie at the annual meeting, as I was, and finding my way into a new community. Continue reading