29 April 2009

Launching Spring

PRINCE GEORGE - Three poets, three friends, three new books.

The local launch of Laisha Rosnau’s new collection of poetry, Lousy Explorers (Nightwood Editions), at the College of New Caledonia Tuesday evening had a more intimate feel than some readings. Rosnau, Elizabeth Bachinsky and Jennica Harper brought to the stage their writing and Vancouver-based friendship before an audience of about 40 people.

The tone, for the most part, was light as the spring night. Rosnau reflected on the local landscape with a fresh set of observations since moving to Prince George four years ago; Harper summoned the rebirth of the season with poems of youth and sexuality. Bachinsky, who grew up in Prince George, brought a darker element with poems from her new book, God of Missed Connections (Nightwood Editions).

Rosnau described her impression of northern B.C. as apparent and everywhere, and her poems roll over the landscape, combining her experiences with the places and politics that residents share.

“I hadn’t written any poetry in about two years, but something happened in the first few months I lived here -- I wrote so many poems,” said Rosnau, who's last book of poetry was 2004’s Notes on Leaving.

Bachinsky’s new book explores her search for cultural identity as a Ukrainian-Canadian. With a strong, dark stage presence, her poems melded images of post-nuclear Eastern Europe with contemporary Canada. She said inspiration for the collection came out of not knowing much about her heritage, and the subsequent research brought it to life with detail. She contrasted the journey with new experiences, such as seeing the AIDS quilt in Toronto for the first time.

Harper started the reading on a fresh note with poems from both her first collection, The Octopus and Other Poems, and her latest book, What It Feels Like For A Girl (Anvil Press). Released last fall, the latter follows the life of two teenage girls through images of pop culture and sexual curiosity. She started her reading with the poem “Warm Front,” which follows teenagers into the first days of spring. Fittingly, it was one of the first warm-ish evenings in Prince George this year.

The reading, presented by the Caledonia Writers Series, was hosted by Graham Pearce. Broadsides and books were available and signed by the authors. Rosnau and Bachinsky will read next in Vancouver on May 5 for the official launch of Nightwood Editions' spring releases.

Laisha Rosnau reads from Lousy Explorers

Elizabeth Bachinsky reads from God of Missed Connections

Jennica Harper reads from What It Feels Like For A Girl

26 April 2009

Endearing Explorers

From pine beetles to people, new book of poetry explores changing landscapes

PRINCE GEORGE - Laisha Rosnau arrived an explorer in a rust-coloured landscape, and she wasn’t alone.

It was 2005, the height of the pine beetle epidemic. Prince George was being stripped raw, turning from green to red. She moved into the city, as the beetles, and the odd bear, moved through her new backyard. It was a different landscape from the trendy cafes and art spaces of downtown Vancouver she was used to, and it started to shape her latest book of poetry, Lousy Explorers.

“I find the word ‘lousy’ a little endearing -- it’s different than ‘horrible,’ ‘terrible,’ or ‘completely inept’ to me,” Rosnau said about the title. “Overall, I’m endeared by all of us, exploring our own worlds in whatever we know how, sometimes doing a lousy job, but sometimes realizing that brings us to a new place of understanding.”

Rosnau will be reading from Lousy Explorers on April 28 at the College of New Caledonia before embarking on a trip to officially launch the Nightwood Editions book in Vancouver. It’s her first collection of poetry since the award-winning Notes on Leaving in 2004.

The title poem of the book was inspired by Williston Lake. Rosnau said for her the lake contrasted images of explorers -- of early explorers, such as Simon Fraser, but also the modern industrial explorers of oil and gas and minerals. Even, perhaps similar to the poet, the biologist is an explorer, she said, moving in the tracks of the machines and documenting the impact on the land.

“Because the pine beetles were dining on our backyard at the time, it was hard not to think about those lousy little buggers as explorers as well. No one thought they’d get as far as they did and then no one thought they could make it over the Rockies, and yet they carried on their insatiable journey,” she said.

Explorers also impact their surroundings. Beetles devastate the forest, industry tears the land. But rather than an end, she explains this as a cycle. Many of the poems in Lousy Explorers are influenced by this stripping down and starting new -- it is raw, but also fresh.

“In terms of the beetle epidemic, when we arrived in 2005, it all seemed so dire and ugly. The forest, city and landscape changed so much in such a short period of time -- it all seemed so cut up, stripped down, raw and bare. Now the landscape already seems to have a new kind of beauty to me and I think most of us have a new perspective on the cycles of the forest. Several of the poems in the collection deal with change in one way or another -- moving, transition, stripping things away, leaving things raw and vulnerable so that real change is possible.”

Rosnau added that she also felt that vulnerability moving to Prince George. And although not all the poems are autobiographical, she said most of the collection reflect the rapid-fire nature of change in her life at the time.

“I harboured some misconceptions and clich├ęs about Prince George before arriving -- that I’d be living in a hinterland where I’d get blank stares if I told anyone I was a writer or poet. I do get some, though that happened in Vancouver as well, but I was surprised by and welcomed into the literary and arts community in P.G. within weeks of arriving.”

Rosnau will be joined at the reading by two friends and poets, Elizabeth Bachinsky (a former Prince George resident) and Jennica Harper.

Rosnau is the also author of the best-selling novel The Sudden Weight of Snow (McClelland & Stewart). She lives in Prince George with her husband and son, and is expecting her second child.
The reading, presented by the Caledonia Writers Series, starts at 7:30 p.m. in room 1-306 at the CNC. Admission is free.

19 April 2009

Big time small books

PRINCE GEORGE ­­– Chapbooks are small bursts of literary energy designed to be easily traded, but they’ll receive big treatment at the annual Prince George Chapbook Fair on April 24.

Now in its fourth year, the fair brings together the self-publishing endeavors of northern B.C. writers, displaying the chapbooks for sale and trade. A panel of judges also chooses the top chapbook of the year for the Barry McKinnon Chapbook Award.

Organizer Graham Pearce said interest in chapbooks and the event has grown since the first year, when it took place at Art Space.

“The number of submissions has grown from the first year when there were 10 entries to this year to between 30 to 40 entries. The first year was also well attended with about 30 to 40 people, but last year we had about 100 and this year we’re expecting about 100 again,” Pearce said.

Submission guidelines include that the writer be from northern B.C., the chapbook be between eight and 48 pages and written and self-published by the author, and be produced in a minimum of 20 copies.

“The idea for the minimum number of copies is getting people away from special one-offs. The chapbook is supposed to be traded and sold and reproduced easily,” Pearce said.

The fair offers the public a glimpse into the fresh art and ideas of writers in the region that don't often show up in mainstream publications. The small run, homemade nature of chapbooks allows limitless creativity when it comes to paper, font and binding, and the overall appearance is often melded with the content.

While chapbooks are more a labour of love, as opposed to a path to literary glory, they are no stranger to awards. Canada’s bpNichol Chapbook Award recognizes the country’s best chapbook of the year, and was won by Prince George poet Barry McKinnon in 2004 for Bolivia/Peru and Arrythmia in 1994. Pearce said he believes the competitive aspect doesn’t take away from the original intent of chapbooks, and picking a winner proves to be a challenge -– in two of the past three years the Barry McKinnon Award was shared by co-winners.

“There’s still the idea it’s the chapbook fair and everyone that submits is still showcased, but it is a way to celebrate what is the best of the year. It matches up with what’s going on nationally and internationally –- people are interested in what rises to the top,” Peace said, adding this year’s entrants include established writers and some new names.

But the spirit of chapbooks is foremost at the fair; they are a connection between writer and community. Prince George poet Robert Budde, who started the event in 2006, writes in the April 2009 issue of Northword: “Above all, a chapbook is a relationship between me and you. Something more personal than what is found in a trade publication, where packaging, marketing and margins all conspire to distance writers from their works and, consequently, from their readers.”

Judging this year will be Prince George poet Gillian Wigmore, 2006 Barry McKinnon Chapbook Award winner Richard Krueger and 2008 co-winner Adam Pottle. A $250 prize is sponsored by the UNBC Arts Council, and Starbucks is donating gift baskets for second and third.

The event is free and open to the public and takes place Friday, April 24, at 7:30 p.m. at the College of New Caledonia, room 1-306.