Prairie Fire https://www.prairiefire.ca Prairie Fire is an award-winning Canadian journal of innovative writing that is published quarterly by Prairie Fire Press. Thu, 19 Sep 2019 20:28:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Bliss Carman Ring! Poetry Bash! Jim Johnstone! Oh, My! https://www.prairiefire.ca/the-bliss-carman-ring-poetry-bash-jim-johnstone-oh-my/ Thu, 19 Sep 2019 20:28:11 +0000 http://www.prairiefire.ca/?p=4546 Join us at the Winnipeg International Writers Festival on September 24th for POETRY BASH! Come for the poetry, stay to see our 2018 Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award Winner Jim Johnstone receive the Bliss Carman ring! (Ain’t it a beauty?!) As well, Jim, along with Deanna Young, Cam Scott, Kaie Kellough and Monica Kidd […]

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Join us at the Winnipeg International Writers Festival on September 24th for POETRY BASH! Come for the poetry, stay to see our 2018 Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award Winner Jim Johnstone receive the Bliss Carman ring! (Ain’t it a beauty?!)

As well, Jim, along with Deanna Young, Cam Scott, Kaie Kellough and Monica Kidd will be reading some stellar poetry.

It’ll be a great night at the festival! We hope to see you there!

More Info

 

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Place Into Being by Robert Pasternak https://www.prairiefire.ca/place-into-being-by-robert-pasternak/ Thu, 12 Sep 2019 15:48:35 +0000 http://www.prairiefire.ca/?p=4539 When reading or experiencing an aesthetic object, whether that be a book or a painting or a film or whatever else, the viewer seldom thinks of the form. They don’t see the page as a structure that organizes their experience, or the mechanisms of a film’s editing producing a sense of time and space. These […]

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When reading or experiencing an aesthetic object, whether that be a book or a painting or a film or whatever else, the viewer seldom thinks of the form. They don’t see the page as a structure that organizes their experience, or the mechanisms of a film’s editing producing a sense of time and space. These things are almost necessarily invisible, as seeing them would disrupt the illusions of narrative, affect, or the internal reality of the experience. In a sense, seeing the formal and mechanical aspects exposed within the text removes the reader’s ability to treat the text as natural, something that can be experienced passively. Texts that do this are often unsettling, texts that do this well are exhilarating. Robert Pasternak’s collection of comics, Place into Being, is a beautiful and exhilarating book worth actively experiencing.

It is important to understand upfront that Place into Being is not a good entrance point to comics any more than Buñuel and Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou makes a good introduction to film. The abstractions and playful images that make up the comics in Pasternak’s collection—driven by visual metonymy, distortions, and transformations—require a grounding in what a comic is or what signifies to the reader that they are reading a comic in order to fully function. Things like the caption, the word bubble, and especially the panel grid are not just present in Place into Being but are the material of play. Reading a comic means understanding that the gutters between the panels signify a movement through time, a space that denotes a break between two discreet moments—and potentially spaces—where the reader must bear part of the compositional load. It also represents an organization of the page as a space. Pasternak plays with this notion, moving objects between panels or having them overlap, foregrounding the panel grid and rendering it visible.

The comic “Perpetual” serves as a good example of how Place into Being plays and experiments with form. The two page comic is laid out in a series of 6 3×4 grids. The image in each of the 72 panels appears relatively static. The central figure varies between the first and the last panel—largely as a result of a pivoting line that works to move the figure—but the figure and the frame remain largely similar. What makes “Perpetual,” and, indeed, most of the comics in the book, so compelling is that the limited and abstracted elements at play use the formal conventions of the comic form to produce meaningful narratives. The figure in “Perpetual” is transformed multiple times, they move beyond the quotidian towards the cosmic, and the cycle of transformation and journey arrive not so much at a firm ending as renewal of the cycle. The formal play at work in the collection produces meaningful and affective work that rewards both consideration and multiple readings. The book itself is not static, but feels as if it opens new parts of itself to the reader through subsequent interventions.

This is at the heart of what makes Place into Being such a pleasurable book to read. The abstract nature of the comics require the reader to supply meaning to the images and words on the page. This meaning necessarily changes as the reader becomes more and more familiar with the motifs and thematic concerns of the work. The texts often seem to move from constraint towards transcendence, towards escape and possibility.

Place into Being probably should not be anyone’s first foray into comics. Its use of the form as the raw material for its experiments likely precludes that. It is, however, absolutely a book for people that are familiar with the form and its possibilities. There is so much here for the reader willing to engage with Pasternak and his playfulness. It is also an incredibly beautiful book which only adds to its appeal. It is impossible to pick up this book and not know that you are experiencing a work of art.

Place Into Being
By Robert Pasternak
At Bay Press, 2019, 96pp., $24.95
ISBN 9781988168166


Dr. Ryan J. Cox has a BA and MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor. He has also earned a PhD in English Literature from the University of Minnesota. His writing has appeared in Canadian LiteratureEnglish Studies in CanadaArc Poetry MagazineCarousel, and The Windsor Review.

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Infrangible by Carol Barbour https://www.prairiefire.ca/infrangible-by-carol-barbour/ Thu, 29 Aug 2019 19:25:36 +0000 http://www.prairiefire.ca/?p=4532 Take first the meaning of the word “infrangible” —not capable of being broken or separated into parts. Then take the cover art for the book, the author’s painting of a woman holding her head in her hands. Now take the poems themselves, each one observing, surveying and celebrating the body close and the body at […]

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Take first the meaning of the word “infrangible” —not capable of being broken or separated into parts. Then take the cover art for the book, the author’s painting of a woman holding her head in her hands. Now take the poems themselves, each one observing, surveying and celebrating the body close and the body at a distance, the body imagined through the eyes of others and through the questioning of self, the body moving through the complexities of life. Body and mind. Separate. But not apart. This dynamic, the push pull of perception and reality, animates the poems in Carol Barbour’s 2018 book of poetry, Infrangible.

Written in two parts, “The Broken Vase” and “Gigantomachy”, Infrangible explores relationships and the power they hold over us—and that we hold, sometimes tenuously, within them. The first section, “The Broken Vase” consists of twenty-three poems, the titles of which read in sequence narrate a coming together and a breaking apart. In “At First”, Barbour reflects on beginnings, the slow circling “of fish in water, kissing against glass.” (3)—while yet foreshadowing the end of the relationship, “But what of the glass? It is broken.” (3) She then pulls at the threads of a relationship that has unraveled, and the troubled ways we read ourselves relative to others. The section closes with the poem “Fortune Telling Doll”, in which she writes: “Embracing the confusion of self in focus, out of context, seen through the lens of another.”

In the second part of the book, “Gigantomachy”—which references a pivotal battle in Greek mythology in which the old order of giants are overthrown by the gods of Olympus—Barbour writes large the women in her life. In “Mama” and “Grandma”, these formidable women are rendered in mythic language, take on mythic proportions. Of her mother, Barbour writes, “I was one of her admirers, and drifted away from the centre, waiting for a chance to be me in the presence of she.” (36) And of her grandma, “I recall your silhouette, attenuated, majestic, and threatening to overpower.” (39) In these and other poems in this section, Barbour interrogates the nature and enduring influence of the many power relationships we encounter in our lives, those within families, and those we find ourselves enmeshed in at work and in the varied and oftentimes unconnected social spheres in which we move. Ultimately, in the poem “Company of One”, Barbour upsets long-accepted power imbalances when she writes: “The ‘I’ is important, the inverse of how it was.” (69) In the final poem, “Allegory of the Journey”, Barbour’s words encourage us to revisit our own experiences with power and consider them anew. Just as she has done throughout this book, she inspires us to “Listen, hear it again. Differently.” (70) And by so doing, to recognize and claim our own “I”.

Barbour, a visual artist and art historian as well as a poet, writes with a painter’s eye. Interspersed throughout Infrangible are ekphrastic poems that reference Renaissance and other painters, the work of painting and the making art, and the necessity of art to life. In the poem “Art History”, she writes: “Art persists when currency fails.” (18) In the context of this book, and her recently released artist’s book “Alter Pieces”, art can also be read as a constant and sustaining force.

Infrangible
By Carol Barbour
Guernica Editions, Essential Poets Series 256, 2018
76pp., $20
ISBN: 978-1771832786


Jody Baltessen is an archivist and poet in Winnipeg.

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Keetsahnak / Our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters Eds. Kim Anderson, Maria Campbell & Christi Belcourt https://www.prairiefire.ca/keetsahnak-our-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-sisters-eds-kim-anderson-maria-campbell-christi-belcourt/ Mon, 19 Aug 2019 21:10:40 +0000 http://www.prairiefire.ca/?p=4518 Keetsahnak is an anthology of the truth about missing and murdered indigenous women. Through stories of resilience, pain, heart ache, readers will learn the history and initiatives that have come to light as Canada’s silent genocide of indigenous women. Every politician, diplomat, academic, women’s activist and humanitarian needs to read Keetsahnak to fully understand the […]

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Keetsahnak is an anthology of the truth about missing and murdered indigenous women. Through stories of resilience, pain, heart ache, readers will learn the history and initiatives that have come to light as Canada’s silent genocide of indigenous women. Every politician, diplomat, academic, women’s activist and humanitarian needs to read Keetsahnak to fully understand the effects of colonialism and to understand the real violence and destruction connected to missing and murdered Indigenous sisters.

The book is divided into four sections. Each section brings together the truth and testimony from over thirty contributing authors. “All our relations,” illustrates the beginning of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit peoples (MMIWG2S). Starting with stories of women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Power of Women Group, a neighbourhood that is known for being one of the poorest in Canada. With a large rate of homelessness, the area also consists of challenges in mental and physical health, substance use, among other issues. The stories reflect this reality.

Beverley Jacobs writes about honouring women, “to honour the lives of the women who are missing, and to honour the lives of women who have been senselessly murdered” (15). Jacobs words display thankfulness for lessons taught by the spirits of the women and her writing ends with her own story of violence and trauma; having a family member go missing and being found murdered. Post-traumatic stress caused Jacobs to leave her family and community, however, after a time of healing she was able to return home and is now able to use her experience in teaching and advocating.

“The Violence of History,” introduces with historical and sociological context. The numbers described are shocking. The plight to get political support was lengthy. Robyn Bourgeois illuminates the lobbying for change along with the negative response of the Harper government throughout his leadership. Bourgeois highlights that—while it might not be a priority on the political radar—missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, is “settler colonial genocide” and “is the direct product of dominant social systems of oppression, such as colonialism, racism, and patriarchy, that hierarchically order the social world and ensure the distribution of privilege and the fruits of citizenship accordingly” (66).

Lateral violence is a theme of “Challenges” depicted by sexual violence and silencing.  Alex Wilson writes about the lateral violence that trans and two-spirit-identified people face. Wilson sheds light on the history of sexuality regulated through governmental and church policy and is illustrated by experience. Without a doubt, for anyone who does not understand the challenges of trans and two-spirited people, Wilson will open your eyes to the risks of gender identity.

It’s important to note the contributors of Keetsahnak and the courage they have to share their stories: Kim Anderson, Stella August, Tracy Bear, Christi Belcourt, Robyn Bourgeois, Rita Bouvier, Maria Campbell, Maya Ode’amik Chacaby, Downtown Eastside Power of Women Group, Susan Gingell, Michelle Good, Laura Harjo, Sarah Hunt, Robert Alexander Innes, Beverly Jacobs, Tanya Kappo, Tara Kappo, Lyla Kinoshameg, Helen Knott, Sandra Lamouche, Jo-Anne Lawless, Debra Leo, Kelsey T. Leonard, Ann-Marie Livingston, Brenda Macdougall, Sylvia Maracle, Jenell Navarro, Darlene R. Okemaysim-Sicotte, Pahan Pte San Win, Ramona Reece, Kimberly Robertson, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Beatrice Starr, Madeleine Kétéskwew Dion Stout, Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy & Alex Wilson.

Emerging from the windy path and blockades of politics, Keetsahnak is worth reading to learn about the model of anti-violence that the authors create. A model of anti-violence is presented coming from an Indigenous perspective; this is not like any traditional settler created model and Keetsahnak’s model for anti-violence can benefit an entire country, not just Indigenous women. It’s through the lens and voices of these women who have experienced life in Canada that many readers would never fathom that allows for readers to truly see not only that there is a problem in Canada of missing and murdered indigenous women, but that there is a way forward.

Keetsahnak / Our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters
Edited by Kim Anderson, Maria Campbell & Christi Belcourt
Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Press, 2018, 367 pages
ISBN: 978-1-77212-367-8


E.D. Woodford is a Métis writer, Indigenous Studies Instructor and author of Wild Hearts, Gypsy Soul, a collection of autoethnographic poems based on poetic inquiry.

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The Year of No Summer: A Reckoning by Rachel Lebowitz https://www.prairiefire.ca/the-year-of-no-summer-a-reckoning-by-rachel-lebowitz/ Thu, 01 Aug 2019 14:41:35 +0000 http://www.prairiefire.ca/?p=4512 In The Year of No Summer, Rachel Lebowitz weaves history, mythology, folklore and personal experience into a vibrant lyric essay. Letters from the frontlines of World War I, grim tales about famine, Greek legends, reflections on tourism, museums, and motherhood are all narrative threads, drawn together by Lebowitz to craft a richly textured analysis of […]

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In The Year of No Summer, Rachel Lebowitz weaves history, mythology, folklore and personal experience into a vibrant lyric essay. Letters from the frontlines of World War I, grim tales about famine, Greek legends, reflections on tourism, museums, and motherhood are all narrative threads, drawn together by Lebowitz to craft a richly textured analysis of the events that followed in the wake of a rarely discussed meteorological event.

In 1815, Mount Tambora, an active volcano in Indonesia, erupted. At least 71,000 people died in what was the most devastating eruption in recorded history. The stratosphere was so filled with ash that it altered weather patterns throughout the coming year. North America saw snowstorms in June. Crop failures led to widespread famine in Europe, and a typhus epidemic ravaged Ireland. People, desperate for reassurance, turned to religion as demonstrated by packed churches and the flowering of new cults.

At first glance, The Year of No Summer may appear to document bizarre weather patterns but, upon closer inspection, people, and their reactions, are the real focus of the essay. In an interview with Peter Robb[1], Lebowitz was asked if she wrote The Year of No Summer as an allegory for climate change. She did not. In her words, she “. . . wrote it about the human response to calamity and to weather over the centuries.”

Lebowitz excels at rendering large, historical events, making them immediate and intimate. In “Tambora,” she imagines the body of Mary after the birth of Jesus.

Was she constipated for days? Did she bleed for three weeks after? Did her milk come in on the third day? Was it enough? Did her nipples hurt so much that when He sucked she screamed? (p. 42)

As in the example above, it is often through images of a mother and child that Lebowitz grounds her reflections. In “The Garden of the Fugitives,” she ruminates on her visit to Pompeii, where she saw the cast of a woman.

The mother’s head is up, she’s looking at her son, but he doesn’t see, he has his head down, he’s already dead. Maybe she is too. It’s so hard to know. It’s so hard to watch this, to stand and stare at them through glass. (pp. 55-56)

I could not recommend The Year of No Summer more highly. Through her words, Lebowitz brings us to far away places—Pompeii, Mount Tambora, London—and presses our noses up against the glass, helping us to see what might otherwise be forgotten.

It is a compelling read, both entertaining and illuminating. It is not, however, a quick or easy read. As a longform, lyric essay, it requires the reader to actively engage with the text: to make connections between segments, to reflect on the whole, and to accept that they will close the book with more questions. To accept that even the author has no answers. As Lebowitz writes at the end of my favourite chapter, “The Last Frost Fair”:

If there is wisdom, it’s nothing I know.  It’s all just birds and storms and hauntings. We look behind and scoff, as if those ahead aren’t doing the same. (p. 53)

Weeks after putting the book aside, I return to this sentence. Lebowitz may not have intended to write about climate change, but The Year of No Summer can be read as a cautionary tale. One that prompts me to better understand the current state of our environment and my relationship to it. To wonder what those a hundred years hence will think of the choices we make today.

The Year of No Summer: A Reckoning
Rachel Lebowitz
Windsor, Ontario: Biblioasis, 2018
160 pp., $19.95
ISBN: 978-1771962193

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Shelley Marie Motz writes about culture, place and identity from the unceded traditional territory of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. Her poems and essays have been published in print and online, most recently in Room Magazine, The Timberline Review, Plenitude Magazine and the Globe & Mail. Her reviews of Rules of the Kingdom and 29 Mennonite Poets were also published by Prairie Fire online.

[1] Robb, Peter. ArtsFile. April 26, 2018. Retrieved from https://artsfile.ca/ottawa-writers-festival-rachel-lebowitz-blends-myth-magic-and-history-in-her-latest-book/

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