Posted by Pamela Richardson
Washita by Patrick Lane
Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC. 2014
If you are looking for new poems from a BC writer that are both masterful yet accessible for adolescent readers and writers then Patrick Lane’s more recent collection, Washita, is a wonderful selection. His imagery, often drawn from the natural world of BC and Western Canada is relatable and evocative, and his language is powerful, often direct and not overly obscure (“I woke up on Six Mile Creek, a willow grouse falling from the sky”) helping us to get to the emotional truth of a moment. He generously provides a glossary at the end to give context for more obscure references, which adds an interesting historical and linguistic layer and commentary. In this glossary we learn that a washita is a sharpening stone fashioned out of white quartz rock from the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.
The collection itself was fashioned extremely slowly, as Lane explains in the afterwards to the book. Due to a frozen right shoulder he could not raise his right hand to the keyboard. Lane, a right-handed, one-fingered typist, painstakingly crafted each poem using his non-dominant left index finger. Moreover, his left hand (and right side of his brain) did not know, as his right-hand did, where the letters on the keyboard were and so he had to search out each letter, each time, for each word: T—h—e…. Even simple little words took a while. This gave him lots of time to consider what he wanted to say and how. This writing process brings a stillness and meditative quality to the work and a sense of the poems being utterly balanced.
I had the chance to hear Patrick Lane read from this collection at the book’s launch in the Fall of 2014 in Victoria. Lane is a superb reader of his own work. While I don’t have a clip from Washita, I recommend clips such as this one to hear him read his work.
Posted by Celia Brogan
We’re all so busy. We are passionate educators and want the best learning experiences for our students and there are always so many things we want to plan for them, and learn for ourselves. Finding new local texts to offer our students is something that can take a bit of time if we don’t have reliable sources to which to turn.
Well here is a source for you: The Chocolate Lily Book Awards is a reader’s choice award for young BC readers reading BC authors and illustrators. Read your way through the shortlist (or give the titles to your students) for a great snapshot of some of the best current BC books for young and middle years readers.
Even better, register your class (or ask your teacher-librarian to register your school) and vote for your favourites! What a great way to participate in our province’s reading culture.
posted by Celia Brogan
Students at times have trouble identifying with historical events, especially when those events occurred to a cultural group other than the one(s) with which they are familiar. One way to assist students to identify and begin to understand the emotional and social costs of past injustices is historical fiction.
There is a specific type of historical fiction that I have always found particularly engaging: that which tells of a protagonist who finds herself pulled back through time and experiences a series of historical events firsthand. There are a handful of great examples of this motif in YA literature: Fog Magic by Julia Sauer, Handful of Time by Kit Pearson, and The Grave by James Heneghan, to name just a few.
Today’s BC lit post adds Hannah and the Spindle Whorl and Hannah and the Salish Sea by Carol Ann Shaw to that list.
In the first book Hannah lives in present-day Cowichan Bay. On her walk through a patch of forest one day she discovers an old Salish spindle whorl and it transports her back in time where she meets Yisella, a Salish girl her own age. They become friends and it is through this friendship that Hannah witnesses a small portion of the cultural pillaging that occurred when white Europeans started spreading out along South Coastal BC.
It looks as though a third book about Hannah is coming out this fall. This is a great trilogy to incorporate into a unit learning about the history of the peoples and cultures of South Coastal BC.
Posted by Celia Brogan
We are halfway through Poetry Month! In a change from last year, this April we are focusing on specifically BC literatures in support of the ABPBC’s Read Local BC campaign but luckily, when we look around poetry features prominently in the local cannon.
Today I would like to continue a thread started yesterday and share another iten created by the intersection of Local + Maps + Story.
A Verse Map of Vancouver ed. George McWhirter (photographs by Derek Von Essen) is a beautiful volume of poetry and photographs whose aim is to celebrate and “represent the city’s places and principal features in poetry.” (from the introduction) It’s not meant to be exhaustive, but a snapshot of the city (so to speak: the actual photographs often are more portrait-like than snapshot.)
I love the idea of a verse map. Should you be inspired by this idea, the breadth of topography might vary: from covering a region or your entire town, to remaining on within the bounds of the school property.
Another book that could fall within the Local + Maps + Story thread, and is simultaneously smaller and larger in scope, is Gulf Islands Alphabet by Bronwyn Preece (Illustrated by Alex Walton). This picture book is a poetic description of the Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea, featuring an alphabetic sequence of alliterative passages accompanied by rich watercolour illustrations. It differs from A Verse Map of Vancouver in that it covers a wider area, but does so with a single text. It’s another option to inspire a way for students to engage with their geography through poetry.
(One drawback of this text for me is the minimal mention of First Nations’ current and historical use of the area as well as not enough information about marine life. These two aspects can serve as entry points for a critical reading.)
If you have a local resource of this sort for your town or area in BC, please share it in the comments!
Posted by Celia Brogan
This evening I went to my second #ReadLocalBC event, called “An Evolving City: Writing Vancouver’s Past, Present & Future,” featuring George Bowering and Wayde Compton.
During the question period after the readings the authors were asked if writing about Vancouver was an obvious choice of setting for them in their writing, or, why did they choose to set their work in Vancouver. Their answers discussed how the choice to set writing, specifically fiction, here provides the power to address some very real and serious topics in a way that can be more powerful than setting their work elsewhere. They pointed out that readers can often feel saturated with concerns and an author’s voice can get lost in the chorus of ‘realistic writing.’ Setting fiction in our local environment allows an writer to propose a ‘what if’ scenario in a way that opens a space for readers to reflect on our current society. Readers can wonder what realities might come to pass given an event as plausible as a toxic fuel spill in Burrard Inlet.
Imagine the stories our students might write given this environmental event in Vancouver as a starting point. What might they imagine as futures for your community? Bowering and Compton suggest that by writing our stories, current and possible, we open the door for ourselves and our readers to see positive futures and to act to realize them.
*Check out the list of free #ReadLocalBC events at http://books.bc.ca/read-local-bc/. There may be one or two in your community.