Emily McGiffin’s bright-eyed, earnest face contained no pretension. She spoke her poems with confident resonance, but also vulnerability, as if they were letters written to a close friend, not intended for everyone else in the room. She seems like the kind of person you’d meet in a small town or on a farm; when she speaks, you feel she’s not just wasting words to impress you, but is sharing a homespun and heartfelt wisdom.
Her poetry is full of solitude’s topography: one person leading the blind speaker through a fog, someone living in a car and playing solitaire. Wild mountain landscapes butt against domestic acts like woodcutting and carding wool. Her writing, both on the page and spoken aloud, conveys a tension between closeness and distance.
Victoria poet Carla Funk, who conducted the evening’s Q & A at the Open Space event, asked McGiffin which three dead poets she’d invite to dinner. McGiffin bowed out of the question, saying she knows little of classic poetry, and instead cited her favourite “dead poet” poems: “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, “Ode to Autumn” by John Keats, and “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas. These poems encapsulate both the joy in and loss of an Eden-like, harmonious world, a theme close to McGiffin’s own writing. One gets the sense that she’s attempting to write her way into the feeling of home, struggling to trust in a tenuous place: “And when, walking through the enormous and solitary land,/you grow hungry for company, you will find it underfoot…”
McGiffin began “fiddling with lines” of poetry in high school. She took writing courses at UVic as a side to her focus on geography and biology. Of studying writing she says, “It might have had an impact in that I never really did anything with my biology degree.”
Now pursuing a PhD in environmental studies at York University, McGiffin seems to still be searching for ways to explore the relationship between her scientific studies and her poetry. “I’d like to find a way that they can talk to each other a bit more.”
McGiffin initially struggled to see her creative writing as a worthwhile pursuit: “Poetry’s kind of a marginalized art form… It took a long time to feel it wasn’t something I was just doing on the side.”
To an audience member who asked, “How do you know what’s worth writing about?” McGiffin replied, “Once I decided anything was worth writing about, it became less of a question of what was worth writing about – everything is.”
McGiffin recently moved to Toronto from Smithers, B.C., where her writing was often influenced by the Skeena River, which has been threatened by coal mining. She spoke of her concerns about conservation, and how we view the world in terms of “resource management.” In response to such environmental destruction, does McGiffin’s writing take a stance of hope, or despair? She’s not sure. “The question is, is there hope for humans? I don’t know.”
First reading:Wednesday, October 9, 2013, at 12:30 p.m., University of Victoria, Fine Arts Building, Room 209 Second reading followed by interview with Carla Funk:Wednesday, October 9, at 7:30 p.m., Open Space
Admission by donation, books available for purchase, cash bar.
Toronto writer Emily McGiffin will read from her new book Between Dusk and Night as part of the literary series Open Word: Readings and Ideas. The event is hosted by the University of Victoria Department of Writing and Open Space. Her book of poems considers the human relationship with the earth during the current environmental crisis, and the intimate relationship between humans themselves. Local poet Carla Funk will interview McGiffin after the 7:30 p.m. reading at Open Space.
Video Art @ Garrick’s Head Pub, Victoria, BC Featuring works by Rick Raxlen, Janet Rogers, Scott Amos, Carolyn Doucette, Pamela Millar, Alejandro Valbuena, Constance Cook, Carrotkid Films, and Morgan Tams.
Reviewed by Julian Gunn
I recently attended an experiment. There were no electrodes involved, though electronics played a key role. Open Space Gallery, MediaNet, and the Garrick’s Head Pub hosted a showcase of local video artists.
The Garrick’s Head expansion crowns Bastion Square and has a friendly, over-scale feeling, with a mixture of ordinary seating and enormous banqueting tables attended by stools. Our party of three occupied a corner of one such edifice, facing the large screens arrayed along the south wall above the bar. Another filmmaker (not part of the show, but very friendly) and an artistic associate sat down across from us, and another pair of viewers joined us further down. There was a general sense of creative camaraderie. The evening was a little ad hoc, in that there were no printed programs, but Doug the MC very kindly lent me his script so that I could make notes on the titles and creators of the works.
The night began with Morgan Tams’ Killer’s Crossing, subtitled “A Pacific Northwestern”–a surreal cow-metal rock opera in miniature, with words and music by Brooke Gallupe (of the late lamented Immaculate Machine). Richard Raxlen‘s playful envisioning of Jane Siberry’s “Everything Reminds Me of My Dog” followed. Raxlen showed two pieces; the second was a visual accompaniment to “Mumbles,” the jazz tune known for its cheerfully incomprehensible vocals, a kind of virtuoso glossolalia. Raxlen’s jumpy, layered lines and half-seen figures worked similarly at the edge of interpretability.
The pub noise sometimes presented a challenge during the quieter or more verbal pieces. Victoria Poet Laureate Janet Rogers‘ contribution, Just Watch, used a simple juxtaposition to powerful effect. Tiny silhouetted figures crossed an unstable surface that seemed to rise and fall above a brightly coloured static scene. I won’t explain the trick of it here, since I found the disorientation so effective, but it’s worth seeking out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really hear what the speaker in the video was saying.
Scott Amos‘ highly textured experiments in Primordial Soup stirred O’Toole to comment wistfully that it was “Very NFB,” and it did have the exploratory feeling of the golden era of NFB film-making. (A YouTube description notes that Primordial Soup is “an experiment with acrylic paints, India inks and drain cleaner on an old 16mm film.”) In contrast, Paul Whittington‘s L19 Disposed is a bleakly funny dystopian animation that accomplishes a lot of (non-verbal) storytelling in two and a half minutes.
Originally shown on Bravo!, Alejandro Valbuena’s Caffeine uses a cafe and the delicious drug it dispenses to frame dance sequences. My favorite segments reminded me of the risk-taking momentum of Québécois dance troupe La La La Human Steps. Caffeine was followed by Carolyn Doucette’s Little Plank Walk, in which live-action foraging to chanted vocals gave way suddenly and delightfully to experimental saxophonage and edgy animation. Pamela Millar’s Blue Minute Bridge is a metallic noise poem, a visual and auditory dissection of the Johnson Street Bridge, previously screened as part of the BC Spirit Festivals. The evening ended with Constance Cook‘s Anarchist Footwear, a playful depiction of a community’s feet that filled me with reminiscences.
Even with minor sound issues, the night was a success. Many of the video pieces shown are available online through YouTube, Vimeo, and other sources. I recommend that you look them up.
Julian Gunn is a local writer with eclectic tastes.
UVic, Fine Arts Building Room 209 Monday, March 11 at 11 am
Open Space–with Tim Lilburn Monday, March 11 at 7:30 pm
Open Space’s Open Word: Readings and Ideas literary series continues with two public readings by Vancouver’s Rita Wong. The first reading is scheduled at the University of Victoria, Fine Arts Building Room 209, on Monday March 11, at 11:00 a.m. Later on Monday, Wong will be reading from her book forage as well as new work at Open Space at 7:30 p.m. followed by an interview by Tim Lilburn. Open Word is jointly organized by the University of Victoria Department of Writing and Open Space.
Rita Wong’s poetry excavates the minefields of childhood, family, history, and desire. Her latest collection of poems, forage (Harbour Publishing 2007), explores how ecological crises relate to the injustices of our international political landscape. Querying the relations between writing and other forms of action, Wong seeks a shift in consciousness through poems that bespeak a range of responses to our world: anger, protest, anxiety, bewilderment, hope and love. In her words, “the next shift may be the biggest one yet, the union of the living, from mosquito to manatee to mom.” forage is accompanied by marginalia, Chinese characters and photos that give depth to the political context in which most of Wong’s poems are situated.
Rita is the author of three other collections: sybil unrest (co-written with Larissa Lai, Line Books, 2008), forage (Nightwood, 2007), and monkeypuzzle (Press Gang, 1998). She received the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop Emerging Writer Award in 1997 and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2008. Her poems have appeared in anthologies such as The Harbrace Anthology of Poetry; Regreen: New Canadian Ecological Poetry; A Verse Map of Vancouver; Rocksalt: an Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry; Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics; and more. Building from her doctoral dissertation that examined labour in Asian North American literature, her work investigates the relationships between contemporary poetics, social justice, ecology, and decolonization. Rita serves as Associate Professor in Critical and Cultural Studies at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, where she is currently researching the poetics of water with the support of a SSHRC Research/Creation grant in a project entitled Downstream.
Tim Lilburn is the author of eight books of poetry, including Kill-site, To the River, and Moosewood Sandhills. He has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award in Literature twice: in 1989, for Tourist to Ecstasy, and in 2003, when he received the award for Kill-site. His most recent books of poetry are Orphic Politics (McCelland and Stewart, 2008) and Assiniboia (M&S, 2012). He is also the author of the essay collection Living in the Worldas if It Were Home (1999), a book on ecology and desire. Going Home, new essays from House of Anansi (2008), continues to explore the preoccupations of Living in the World, tracing the nearly forgotten Western contemplative tradition from Plato through Christian monasticism, and considering the relevance of this tradition to both contemporary poetry and politics. Tim teaches at the University of Victoria.