Sometimes when we're writing and reading the world, we're talking about the world right outside our door, the world all around us. In this list of ecological/nature titles, Josh Massey takes on the nature/society dichotomy and recommends great books from Canada's Northwest.
Some books with the ecological/nature premise that might form an apt constellation include titles which are “locally sourced” from authors whose work I’ve engaged with over the last some years, and who weave words within the Northwestern part of Canada. The problem with the eco label being it can lead to focus on a generalized Humanity’s separation from a massive green entity called Nature, and society as something distinct from ecosystem, whereas the most interesting works are operating without this separation and know the omnipresent biomass in air and land which is everywhere we tread and which makes all books ecological in some sense.
Lan(d)guage, by Ken Belford
Company Town, by Michael Turner
And while a book like Lan(d)guage contains concepts that Are within the salmon-coloured mountain and Away from road, within that uncolonized space of being-in-nature—flotation, migration, evaporations of meaning—a book like Vancouver-based Michael Turner’s first situates itself within the human ecosystem of a northwestern salmon cannery. Here, what can be seen as the predatory aspect of coastal society is depicted, though without judgment as such, of the disassembly-line precision with which the fish are processed into canned dinner. This before the collapse of the cannery economy and the decline of the fishing industry, which like the lumber industry, masterfully depleted its own resources. It’s a documentary poem, told in the dialects of the multicultural cast of cannery workers, with photos and a prose introduction about Turner’s own previous working ties with the cannery. It’s not a romance, it’s the hard working reality of keeping fed. “No potlatch—just black markets bartering on credit.”
Dead Salmon Dialectics, by Derrick Stacey Denholm
The first poetry trade book by forest-friendly Derrick Stacey Denholm, it kind of fits well in a bridge or nurse log position between the first and second books in this cluster. One of DSD’s poetic conceits is mycorrhizal connectivity. That is, thinking of fungus that grows on a signal-sending tapestry of tree roots, and by doing so helps with the absorption of water while gaining nutrients, the idea of this connective bridge (the mycelia) between subterranean systems and systems or forms of society—the correlation between ecosystem and ideology, of the working system of a coastal ecosystem and the non-functioning parts of desiccated society, so his project is connecting all these disparate realms of knowledge into something that looks like a dysfunctional whole, the problem nodes laid bare under the magnifying glass.
Geographies of a Lover, by Sarah de Leeuw
This book of prose poetry blows open a whole new realm of landscape experience by allowing an unrestrained eroticism to burn through the pages, a celebratory merger of Eros and Eco. In this prose poem progression, the same geographical area explored by others is collided with libidinal forces much like a particle accelerator might create the frisson of head-on collisions between atoms. In this version of the sexualized outdoors, the marriage of uncensored sex and raw wilderness empowers both the land, the man, and the female body. There is also an engagement with the global arts world within the assemblage of land features, “the memory of klee in a city but my body an estuary-place, mouth opening on the pacific ocean where you have poured into me…”
The Monotony of Fatal Accidents, by Richard Krueger
This bookie indexes so many forms ‘n styles, and is divided into several sections, not all of which can be “placed” very well. It’s experimental poetry as perhaps experimental poetry ought to be—unruly, wild, unpredictable, with a visual component that cross references computer patterns with geography and biology, with an element of poetical terrorism described, and also a poetry where land merges with body. With the narrator stammering because his mouth is full of leaves at one point, and with glaciers that speak to the blood with their coursing coolness. He describes the Salmon Glacier north of Terrace, B.C., “glacier, immune to thought, pulls quietly at our circulation.”
Dreamland Theatre, by Robe Budde
Maybe the most resolute and outspoken—seeker after a way of being-in-nature, the gentle presence in rural north that allows that which seems contrary to the stereotypes the urban drills into its minds about what the rural is: soft-blossom empathy instead of laconic indifference, reconciliation over closed gate territoriality, acknowledgment of historical injustice instead of willful avoidance. A way forward for someone who wants to move from say, Toronto, and live in the woods, but not just there to make cash, who wants to get to know the First Nations, the land, not as conquering mind, but as a collaborator and friend. How do you adapt to the truck reality, the abandoned sawmill terrain, the rubbed out photos of the canneries, a culture maybe not one’s own? Where do you fit in the monochrome photo of the pioneer town, the group of aboriginals at the club. But who knows what is what. There is uncertainty, moments of clarity, the “powerful homemaking of language itself.” The otter, “She sits on a rock/munching the discourse called trade.
419, Will Ferguson
The plot of this Big, Giller-Winning Novel, an outlier in this list for being a work of pure prose, is premised on that email scam, the one orchestrated out of Nigeria in which the prince has money to deposit in your account. But what stuck with me most since reading this book is the worrisome descriptions of the damage wrought by poorly managed oil infrastructure both on the marine ecosystems in Nigeria and also in terms of socioeconomic disparities that arise from sudden growth that see the economically depressed forced to come up with a strange species of internet fraud to make ends meet.
Set in the near future in the mountainous and fielded cusp between BC and Alberta, The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree is the story of Jeffery Inkster, an ex-hipster-turned elk farmer. Inkster, whose goal is to live peacefully with his elk, harvesting their antlers, becomes embroiled in the political violence of oil-pipeline expansion.
Drawing from his experience working in the "Peace Country" of northern BC, Massey brings us the story of a community of artists and eccentrics who all become suspects in a series of pipeline bombings. But, amid the activism and counter-terrorism, there are other, more mysterious forces at play, forces that eat into the consciousness of all those involved.
Terrifying, hilarious, and suspenseful, this novel offers a satirical perspective of industrial society that will at once unsettle readers and present them with a cathartic release from the exasperation they might feel living in a civilization teetering towards environmental collapse.
Josh Massey’s fiction, poetry and journalism has been published around Canada and abroad. His most recent book is The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree and previously We Will All Be Trees. Originally from Ottawa, Massey currently lives in Terrace, BC. Connect with him on Twitter @Northwestism.
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