05 May 2009

becoming birch

Justin Foster talks about his chapbook that won this year's Barry McKinnon award

PRINCE GEORGE - A long poem that connects the life of a tree to the life of a city woman was voted the top chapbook produced in northern B.C. this year.

Justin Foster’s from the melt was chosen by judges as winner of the fourth annual Barry McKinnon Chapbook Award at April’s chapbook fair in Prince George. The long poem, split into two parts, features the central character of ‘birch,’ a clearcut tree in a northern boreal forest and also a woman.

“It’s an investigation of the dichotomy between cityscape and landscape, personified through the experiences of birch,” Foster said. “A tree becomes a woman, becomes a writer, and writes about her exposure to city life and poetics. The second section is written by birch.”

Foster (at left) said the book started to take shape during a trip across Canada, and was mostly written during a brief stay in Vancouver. Vancouver did not work its way into the poem, but it gave him the time and distance to reflect on living in northern B.C. and working in the bush.

“The city which birch -- as a woman -- becomes a part of is very much in the likeness of Prince George. Her writing is concerned with the northern poetic.”

The construction of the chapbook also reflects both city and nature. The cover stock is forest green, and the cream coloured pages are textured and have a rustic feel. The cover page has a window cut into it, and the image in the window is a birch stand. Each book has an original sketch on its inside cover, handdrawn by Heather Glasgow.

“The cover suggests both city and nature,” said Foster, who graduated from UNBC with a focus on creative writing.

“I was leaning towards an earthy look for the book, which I thought was relevant to the content. The connection between trees and the products they become, such as paper, is a reoccurring theme through out the poem.”

Foster, who lives in northern B.C. and works seasonally in the forest industry, said he was honoured with the recognition, which came with a $250 award. Even moreso, he added, because making a chapbook can be a daunting task. While it is an artform primarily to showcase writing, equally important is the form, which is brought out by the paper, binding and format. It’s complete creative control for the writer, but it can also make the process difficult.

“When I look back on my previous c-books, they all seem like crap, really. This is a sentiment held by many artists, I think. It’s my fourth c-book and it is the only one I feel truly excited about . . . I still have a lot to learn about the craft, though. In some ways I feel like my efforts have come to fruition, but in other ways I feel like I have a long way to go.”

The first runner-up of the award was Matt Partyka, and the second runner-up was Aisha Leone. The judging panel was composed of writers, as well as former winners of the award. For information on obtaining copies of the books, contact pg pod.


Excerpt: from the melt

a northern cutblock
nestled into folds of old growth tree-line
taught and rearing, this place
separated from the hustle-bustle
of northern city-life
by mountains and water ways,
by policy and intent, intenders

here the tailings of last winter shift and linger
finding solace in the shade of seasons

the ground is soft, forgiving from the melt

having never been subject
to a full, blustering squall
these trees are ill-equipped
to face the coming storms

newly exposed timber
pushes back against the wind,
pulling at the gnarled roots below

there is a shift in soil, a heaving
of the boreal landscape

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