Comprised of two lines of poetic text flowing along a 114-foot-long map of the Columbia River, this powerful image-poem by acclaimed poets Fred Wah and Rita Wong presents language yearning to understand the consequences of our hydroelectric manipulation of one of North America’s largest river systems.
beholden: a poem as long as the river stems from the interdisciplinary artistic research project “River Relations: A Beholder’s Share of the Columbia River,” undertaken as a response to the damming and development of the Columbia River in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, as well as to the upcoming renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. Authors Fred Wah and Rita Wong spent time exploring various stretches of the river, all the way to its mouth near Astoria, Oregon. They then spent several months creating long poems along the Columbia, each searching for a language that evoked the complexities of our colonial appropriation of it. beholden was then assembled as a page-turning book that reproduces the two long poems as they respond to the meanderings of the river flowing two thousand kilometres through Canada, the United States, and the territories and reserves of Indigenous Peoples. Visual artist Nick Conbere then transferred this winding footprint into a monumental, 114-foot horizontal banner.
beholden: a poem as long as the river “reads” the geographic, historical, political, and social dimensions of the Columbia River, literally and figuratively, proposing two contrasting kinds of attention. As both a stand-alone poem and an accompanying piece to the visual installation exhibited at various galleries, beholden represents a vital contribution to a larger dialogue around the river through visual art, writing, and public engagement.
About the authors
Born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan in 1939, celebrated Canadian poet Fred Wah was raised in the interior of British Columbia. He is the author of over 20 published works of poetry and prose-poetry, including the award-winning creative non-fiction Diamond Grill, the tenth anniversary edition of which was released in the fall of 2006. Other notable titles by Wah include his book of poetry Waiting For Saskatchewan (Turnstone Press), winner of a Governor General’s Award in 1985, and Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity, winner of the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Writing in Canadian literature. In 2008, he published a collection of poetic image/text projects titled Sentenced to Light (Talonbooks), and in 2010, he won the Dorothy Livesay BC Book Prize for poetry for is a door (Talonbooks).Fred Wah was one of the founding editors of the poetry journal TISH. After graduate work in literature and linguistics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and the State University of New York in Buffalo, where he worked with Robert Creeley and Charles Olson, he returned to Canada. He has been involved in teaching internationally in poetry and poetics since the early 1960s. In 2011, Wah became Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate, the fifth poet to do so. In 2013, he was made an Officer in the Order of Canada. Fred Wah currently works and lives in Vancouver.
Rita Wong teaches in Critical + Cultural Studies at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Vancouver, BC, Canada, where she has developed a humanities course focused on water, with the support of a fellowship from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. She is currently researching the poetics of water, supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada: http://downstream.ecuad.ca/ .
Her poems have appeared in anthologies such as Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women's Poetry and Poetics, Regreen: New Canadian Ecological Poetry, Visions of British Columbia (published for an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery), and Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literature. She has a passion for daylighting buried urban streams and for watershed literacy. Wong can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/rrrwong.
- Short-listed, Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize
"A stunning book that reminds us the Columbia has a 'dignity that cannot be taken away, not by the buzz of wires, not by the hum of highway, not by induced amnesia, because water remembers.'"
—Geoffrey Nilson, Coast Mountain Culture
“We should [applaud] this productive, politically grounded, and aesthetically inventive work.”
—Stephen Hong Sohn, Asianamlitfans
“Fred Wah and Rita Wong’s beholden: a poem as long as the river (Talonbooks) will appeal to the art-obsessed or the environmentally engaged.”
"The book is a homage to the Columbia, a reverent celebration of its life-giving water, its flora and fauna, and the Indigenous people who protected and protect the river."
—The Ormsby Review
"The fun that these two fine writers had in engaging with the Columbia is evident in the wordplay of the poetry"
—Frances Boyle, Canthius
Other titles by Fred Wah
Laurier Poetry Pack #5
Music at the Heart of Thinking
Laurier Poetry Pack #4
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
The Collected Earlier Poems, 1962–1991
Toward. Some. Air.
Remarks on Poetics
Permissions: TISH Poetics 1963 Thereafter -
The False Laws of Narrative
The Poetry of Fred Wah
False Laws of Narrative, The
The Poetry of Fred Wah