Friday, April 22, 2016

Onley's Arctic: Diaries and Paintings of the High Arctic

April 22, 2016

Toni Onley's Onley's Arctic: Diaries and Paintings of the High Arctic

Whiteout: Can you believe that I found this book at a library book sale? Yet it is not defaced by stickers and barcodes, so it must have been a donation. Autographed by the painter/writer.

I've always loved Toni Onley's paintings, especially those of this province of British Columbia. A friend has a lithograph of his Montague Bay of which I am most jealous. But this book, Onley's Arctic: Diaries and Paintings of the High Arctic (Douglas & McIntyre, 1989) is even more special. This book links poetry and painting for me. The words Onley uses to describe his personal experience of the Arctic landscapes, and to describe his own artistic process, are some of the best poetry I have read recently. Reading his words helps me understand what I am seeing when I look at his paintings. Reading his words--manifestation, terror, chaos, profundity, divine plan, sublime--helps me understand how this northern landscape pulls us into that experience of the sublime. A sensation the paintings of Lauren Harris also express, although the artists Onley cites include A.Y. Jackson and Kandinsky--Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and the poet, Elizabeth Bishop. Paintings and poetry, Onley says, "help them translate this landscape. " [p.137] Translation. Interpretation. Divining meaning, in what we see, and our place within it.

One purple passage which strikes me is about Onley's painting technique: I paint directly in response to what is before me, neither outlining nor drawing in pencil beforehand--that for me would be to paint by numbers, the finished painting decided long before completion. I prefer to leave all my options open and not know what the finished work will look like: to be in a position of constantly making decisions from stroke to stroke and even in mid-stroke; to keep the whole work moving and speaking to me until that point when the watercolour says, "I am finished." Painting in watercolour is like the course of life itself, full of disappointments, small successes, and, once in a while, the surprise of a totally unexpected breakthrough. Then it is like Zen, or sex; it's the greatest feeling on earth. I live for those rare times when it all comes together, and for a brief moment I can do no wrong--the watercolour painting itself and I only the observer, along for the ride. [p. 16]

In his answer to the question "What on earth are you painting?", about the implication that there is nothing there of interest, Onley explains that he is painting "the stillness and the exact gradations of radiant light."  [p.127]  (Perhaps this speaks to me because this is exactly what I try to capture with my camera.)

Inspired by whiteout days when contrast is reduced, when visibility is 0, when fellow travellers challenge him: "There is nothing to paint; all is white," Onley sites Kandinsky: "White, therefore, acts upon our psyche as a great, absolute silence . . . pregnant with possibilities. White has the appeal of nothingness that is before birth, of the world in the ice age." "Nothing is my forte," Onley proclaims. [p.144]

Born on the Isle of Man, an Officer of the Order of Canada, Toni Onley, age 76, died February 29, 2004, when the plane he describes in this book, the plane which he flew from Vancouver to Cape Dorset in 1975, flipped into the Fraser River near Maple Ridge while he was practising takeoffs and landings.

Touch and go.

jmb 2016/04/22

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Worth Dying For

April 19, 2016

Lee Child's Worth Dying For

Worth Dying For, #15 in the Jack Reacher series, is set in Nebraska. Dastardly deeds involving a community held hostage, a child missing for 25 years, organized crime including smuggling. I lost track of how many different ways people die. But it's usually the bad guys, so I guess that's supposed to be OK. 

I love this writer's style. So fast. Literally, a page turner. Short chapters. Multi points of view. Many characters in orbit around Reacher. Excessive detail. Good use of repetition.  Heavy on the action, especially hand-to-hand combat, weapons, and explosions. 

Love the Bryan Adams allusion in the title. Everything I do, I do it for you. Which includes the Robin Hood allusion, from the Kevin Costner movie. Reacher like Robin fights for the underdogs against abusive authority. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016



Sometimes I fear that reading for pleasure and the few short blurbs I write for this blog are ways for me to avoid my serious writing. So I've been attempting to establish a work routine. I've been forcing myself to sit down almost daily and work through 2 books of writing prompts I have recently acquired. Bonnie Neubauer's The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to liberate your writing, found at Value Village. Laura Deutsch's Writing from the Senses: 59 Exercises to Ignite Creativity and Revitalize Your Writing, found at Baker's Books in Hope, BC.

One prompt involves attempting to incorporate condiments--ketchup, mayo, mustard, pepper, pickle, relish, soy. One never knows what will appear:

His taste in women was 'none of the above.' Or, rather, he had already moved through this American-diner smorg and on to miso & wasabi, salsa & couscous. Chilli, coriander, cumin, curry. Lemon grass & hoisin. Following the trends, which follow the patterns of war, exile, immigration, assimilation. Which send young men afar, away from home & the familiar. Which destroy the safe kitchens of women & children. Pushing them out. Moving them halfway around the globe. Bringing their tastes, their palates, their condiments with them. To share with the old men who were sent and returned to a place which could never seem like home again.

Image borrowed from

The Book That Changed My Life

The Book That Changed My Life

The Book(s) That Changed My Life:

This recurring theme on CBC Radio's Weekend Morning Show North by Northwest (@nxnwcbc) inspired me, especially after hearing one of my favourite Canadian literary lights, Bill Richardson's choices on Easter Sunday. Because Bill used to work in a library in Winnipeg, I associate him with home. Hearing his hilarious choices made me think. What books would I list as "formative"? "Seminal," if it weren't so gender-laden? (Is there an egg-centric equivalent?) Anyway, my choice for the book which changed my life would be The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence and my favourite book of all time remains The Diviners, also by Laurence. Both these novels are set, to begin with, around Manawaka, Laurence's Neepawa home town, which is a short 50 miles east of the farm where I grew up outside the town of Oak River. Margaret Laurence in the brief ten years between 1964 and 1974 made me see "my people" and myself in literature, as being worthy of inclusion. She is my 50-year-old equivalent to "Black lives matter," for Laurence's work asserts: women's lives matter. Rural lives matter. Manitoba lives matter. The West matters. Metis, First Nations lives matter. Canadian lives matter. Canadian literature from Margaret Laurence on teaches me that my life matters. Strange, but nothing else ever said that to me. And consider the alternative. 6 to 10K people in Canada choose suicide every year. Not to mention the thousands more who OD. Laurence, literature, these books, saved my life. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bird Cloud

April 15, 2016

Annie Proulx' Bird Cloud

The Clue to Proulx:

I haven't read enough Annie Proulx. That Old Ace In the Hole at book club. The Shipping News is still waiting. Fearfully, perhaps, having loved the movie. And hesitating, perhaps, because, how could an American write such a Canadian novel? Now I know that she lived there, and cares about the place and the people. Well, I should have already divined that, knowing as I did that she had insisted, with the sale of movie rights, that it had to be set and filmed in situ.

In situ, in place. I think that's the clue to Proulx. She loves "place," and places, and even though her stories all have plots and characters and themes, it is often setting which dominates. Like the setting of Bird Cloud, the monster house she built overlooking a rock bluff along a river in Wyoming.

Reading Bird Cloud reminds me again how much I love creative non-fiction (as we call it here in Canada, hyphen included). CN-F assumes that we readers are intelligent sensitive people interested in many things. That we do not need or expect to be manipulated by plot twists or emotional traumas, or outdated rules determining what may be included and what will not make the editorial cut. That nature and the simple passage of time, carefully observed by another fully sentient human being will interest us. That we will all find something or things with which to connect. Because we too love the details - how to (or how not to) envision, design, and supervise the construction of a dream house. The details of the flora and fauna, the geology, archaeology, history, the politics of the past as they infringe / impinge upon today.

After all, what is a love of "place" but a love of this Earth and all she nurtures? All my relations. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sepass Poems: Ancient Songs of Y-Ail-Mihth

April 12, 2016

Chief William K'HHalserten Sepass Sepass Poems: Ancient Songs of Y-Ail-Mihth Commemorative Edition, Longhouse Publishing, Mission, BC, 2009. Translated by Chief Sepass and Sophia White Street. Illustrated by Lynne Grillmair.

Chief William K'HHalserten Sepass lived around what is now the British Columbia city of Chilliwack from 1841 to 1943. In 1911, when he was in his 70s, he arranged with a local settler woman, Sophia White Street, to translate the hereditary texts of his people's oral tradition --- Ancient Songs of Y-Ail-Mihth -- into English. The chief had worried that the teachings would be lost. He saw translation and publication as a way to preserve and to share what former Lieutenant Governor Steven Point describes as "a profound legacy to future Xwelmexw generations as they continue to seek meaning and stability in an ever-changing modern world."

But these stories which begin "Long, long ago, / Before anything was, . . . " are important to others as well as to the original people. To all who have chosen to live here, within Coast Salish (Xwelmexw?) territory. Because if we do not introduce ourselves to these "creation myths," to the understanding of this place, its landscapes, and our place within it, we will never be "at home." Nor will we be able to fully acknowledge the "aboriginal" - meaning the "first, authentic connection" - between the human and this natural setting, between the human and the divine as it manifests here.

When we intrude and settle, when we bring foreign stories with us and attempt to graft them to this new place, we are remaining stuck in the COLONIAL MINDSET which assumes that knowledge, wisdom originates and is still situated elsewhere, and must be imported, and imposed / adopted by people who already have their own stories. Without realizing that to transport mythology, to import it, insults those people who are already here, who already know. People who have been displaced but neither dispersed nor destroyed. Who are still experiencing, perhaps suffering from Accidental Racism*, which I have written about elsewhere.

We read these stories, take them in, incorporate them into ourselves, not to appropriate them but to honour the people, their culture and language (Halq'emeylem), their concepts of good and evil, of greed, temptation, cooperation. Of living in harmony. Of a time before humans. Of Ka:ls, the divine one, the Transformer (although this word does not appear in this text). We learn the stories of an unlucky lake. Of creatures with varied colours and "personalities" who were all here before us. We read these stories to enlarge ourselves. We place them side by side with our personal ancestral canons which also sing of the dance of human and divine.

Beautifully illustrated by Lynne Grillmair, incorporating the original art from George Clutesi found in the 1963/1974 editions.

This one goes on my Sacred Texts bookshelf. Can you believe that I found these 2 copies of Sepass Poems at the library book sale? Stamped Discard?

* accidental racism - the unchallenged assumption that what "we" know, what we were taught, and the way we were taught is the best way, superior to all others

Dead Cold

April 11, 2016
Louise Penny's Dead Cold

In the Midst of Winter, I picked up this paperback copy of Dead Cold at a library book sale, not recognizing the cover or the title. But, slowly, I realized that I have read it before. Although, confession, I remembered the recurring characters (Chief Inspector Gamache, Beauvoir, Nichol, painters Clara & Peter Morrow, the Three Graces, the mad poet Ruth, Myrna and the B&B owners, the town of Three Pines) but I had blanked out the evil characters - the self-help writer, the ineffectual husband, the damaged child - and some of the most important plot points including the murder scene and the fire and the denouement. Strange. I have read several other Louise Penny titles starting with her first, Still Life. I love her settings in Quebec, Montreal & the Eastern Townships, her details of the artists' points of view, the moral and ethical challenges of police work and workplace conflict. So much to grab on to, including suspense, and what we all look for in crime/murder mysteries - the surprising resolution, with every dangling thread neatly knotted at the end. Well, almost every thread. 

Sepass Tales: The Songs of Y-Ail-Mihth

April 6, 2016

Chief K'HHalserten Sepass' Sepass Tales: The Songs of Y-Ail-Mihth 

Sepass Trust, Chilliwack, BC. 1974 Edition. Recorded by Eloise Street Harries. Illustrated by George Clutesi. 

The volume I found is titled Sepass Tales although it has the same cover design. There is a very strange Preface by Shup-She whose connection to this text is unclear. See above, Sepass Poems.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Brutal Heart

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Gail Bowen's The Brutal Heart

I found this Gail Bowen at my favourite bookstore, Baker's Books, in Hope, BC. I read every Bowen title I find. For the Regina setting, the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve recurring sleuth character, the insider info about television and legal career work. Sometimes I find the happy-family details a bit too cloying, but that's just me. This The Brutal Heart edition has an appealing cover image, black and white, shadows, stiletto heals suggesting prostitution to me, overlaid with yellow forsythia blossoms. Spring, and a clue. Clues.

I have noticed in the last week of so that "the word of the month" for me seems to be BRUTAL. It has appeared in the most unexpected places. Maybe I notice it because emotionally, in the erratic winter/spring/summer/winter days we get at this time of year, it fits the way I feel. Something about the heart too. Not very springy. Correspondences. 


Peter Robinson. WHEN THE MUSIC'S OVER . M&S, 2016.  Banks has been promoted. His first two cases involve sexual abuse--one histori...