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.

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