I talk with Louise Bernice Halfe about her contribution of four poems to the Malahat’s Indigenous Perspectives issue: “Finding Bone,” “God of nightmares,” “it was a pure,” and “Skeletons and Cannibals.”
Click here to read the full interview.
Robert Bringhurst is often described as a modern-day renaissance man. Few writers could navigate fields as diverse as poetry, translation, typography, cultural history, and philosophy as interwoven vocations. Through an adherence to polyphony as a mode of deep ecological thinking, Bringhurst works to make accessible the wisdom of poets and thinkers past, from Sophocles to Haida mythtellers Ghandl and Skaay.
As Bringhurst puts it, “when two voices intertwine, the space they occupy gets larger, and the mind gets larger with it”; no wonder poet Denis Lee calls him “a man of massive simple-mindedness.” Bringhurst has a way of chiselling complex thinking down to that part of being that ineluctably binds all living matter together. Bringhurst’s ontological approach is more aligned with ancient Greece than the modern academy, which is why editors Brent Wood and Mark Dickinson make clear that he doesn’t neatly fit within the “twenty-first century university’s rubric of knowledge production and transmission.” As such, Bringhurst is most comfortable in the role of an independent public thinker, bound by neither institution nor strict cultural protocol, which has irked some of his critics.
Click here to read my full review at Canadian Literature.
Courses are open to the community through the University’s Love of Learning program
VIU’s English Department is pleased to present three new courses next semester that examine literature from a variety of non-traditional perspectives and mediums. From reconciliation, to post-colonial Caribbean lifestyles and cultures, to the quest for unforgettable journeys, these new courses incorporate a diverse range of perspectives and writing styles, and question people’s assumptions about literature and art.
In a rare and unique opportunity for students and community members, English 332: Topics in Indigenous Literatures will include class visits and public readings from some of the authors studied in class, including Eden Robinson, whose novel Monkey Beach won the BC Book Prize’s Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. While many of the stories deal with the lasting effects of Canada’s colonial past, they are also about healing, reconciliation and hope. Dr. Paul Watkins will explore these stories through several mediums, including fiction, poetry, art, comics, film and music, and students will participate in a creative intervention project.
“The hope is to open up spaces that challenge the colonization that affects us all, whether we are aware of it or not,” says Watkins.
As students read, watch and listen, they will also Tweet with the hashtag #ENGL332. The readings are sponsored by VIU’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, the First Nations Studies Program, the Office of Aboriginal Education and Engagement, and the Canada Council for the Arts.
If you’re itching for a little taste of the Caribbean then maybe English 333: Topics in Post-colonial Literature is your course. From Rihanna and Bob Marley, to the dub poetry of Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze and the magical realism of Junot Diaz, English 333 delves into anti-colonial, post-colonial, feminist and queer perspectives expressed through various mediums, including literature, art, music, film and literary theory.
“The Caribbean is on the move, and it moves me,” says Dr. Melissa Stephens. “I see it as a shape-shifting constellation of people and places, politics and art, feeling and intellect. This course will help you grasp the enduring impact of colonial violence, but also, and most importantly, the work of resistance and liberation.”
Finally, adventure seekers will want to check out English 222: Travels in World Literature, during which Dr. Jeannie Martin examines a range of provoking historical travel writing along with popular contemporary works that highlight journeys in search of the romantic, the pastoral and the picturesque.
“Books about travel and tourism are wildly popular these days, but often unwittingly extend the enterprise of imperialism,” says Martin. “This course raises questions about the ethics of presenting the truth of another place and another culture. In this age of globalization, we passport-carrying privileged, viewing the world through the limited lens of our own cultures and experiences, are not the only travellers. Raising questions about who travels, why we travel, and why we write about our travels encourages us to form more complex relationships with other peoples, places and cultures.”
These courses are open to the general public via VIU’s Love of Learning program, which allows community members to take an academic course without the stress of exams or assignments at a discounted rate of only $99 per 3-credit course plus ancillary fees. Pre-requisites will be waived for Love of Learning students.
To learn more, visit the VIU English Department news page.
Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University
P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org | T: @VIUNews
To provide Malahat readers with a context in which to read and more deeply appreciate George Elliott Clarke’s “Othello: By Donation Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade,” a bravura long poem appearing in the magazine’s Summer 2016 issue, I explore with the poet his ambitions and the intent he enacts in the writing of such a profoundly engaging and provocative work. Last year I also recorded George reading a few poems when he visited Vancouver Island University last year, and The Malahat Review has published one of these recordings, “The Testament of Ulysses X.” You may read the full text of this poem or listen to George’s performance of it, recorded while he was the 2015 Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo.
George Elliott Clarke is currently Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate. Towards the end of the interview I asked him, why does the world need poetry? To which he responded:
Hal David and Burt Bacharach: “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love”? That song comes to mind in thinking about why the world should need poetry. But I will also reiterate my sentiments in the Shad/Q interview: poetry exists in the rhythm of pulse and breath; it is “mind-forged” (Blake) language given vocal (originally) expression in tune with the pace of breath and the beat of the heart. The cadences are related to the sounds conjured by the arrangements of tongue, teeth, lips, and lungs. Poetry is organic technology, a physical art—as much as is dance, save that its calisthenics are performed by abstract characters or organically by the movement of the mouth. In any event, it is the cheapest art and thus the most portable, for it can be memorized and taught to others. It is the first civilizing art, for it is the basis of scripture, whether inscribed or chanted. It conjoins imagination and emotion; so, for so long as human beings dream, recall, and/or have feelings, they/we will always invent poems.
Read the full interview, here.
At the end of the summer the conversation around the Syrian refugee crisis changed when shocking images of a drowned Syrian boy went viral. Since then numerous videos have appeared that humanize the millions of displaced and dispossessed refugees. The conversation drastically shifted to one around security after the Paris attacks, and has changed again in Canada after Justin Trudeau gave a welcoming response to Syrian refugees.
I’ve published a short paper about the crisis where I suggest that improvisation might be one way we can frame a meaningful response to the crisis. The current Syrian refugee crisis—the civil war and the displaced peoples that resulted from it, but also the crisis with respect to how Western countries have responded to it—affirms a renewed need to learn to deal with social dissonance. In this piece, I discuss the ways in which social and musical improvisation (particularly when immersed in the ethics of “cocreation”) can teach us about the merits of creative risk-taking in relation to the current Syrian refugee crisis, a form of social dissonance. Learning to improvise imbues citizens with the important notion that creative risk-taking makes for more exciting and, while unpredictable to a degree, egalitarian societies. Ultimately, I insist that we can fight the insular mechanics of an improvisation of fear with an improvisation of hope that challenges the anxiety that refugees destroy borders and culture, as if these things are pure, static, given, unchanging, and authentic.
See the full article, here.
Featured image from here.
Winfried Siemerling’s The Black Atlantic Reconsidered and Austin Clarke’s In Your Crib prioritize transatlantic Black perspectives from within national paradigms to explore Black Canadian identity, belonging, and the presence of the past. The two works are quite different: Clarke’s text is an introspective long poem that channels the radical spirits and rhythms of the civil rights movement, and Siemerling’s text is a considerable historical undertaking that reconsiders Canada’s place in the Black Atlantic. However, both texts deepen our understanding of Black writing and radical thinking within a Canadian space that belongs to a larger historic transatlantic nexus.
Click here to read my full review at Canadian Literature.
Toronto Poet Laureate, playwright, and literary critic George Elliott Clarke, VIU’s 2015 Gustafson Distinguished Poet, will deliver a free public lecture, On Entering the Echo Chamber of Epic: My “Canticles” Vs Pound’s Cantos, Thursday Oct. 22nd at 7pm in building 355 on the Nanaimo campus. Clarke introduces his epic poem, “Canticles,” in response to Ezra Pound’s contentious Cantos, a 20th-century post/modern epic both vilified for its integration of fascist propaganda and heralded for its haunting lyricism. Pound, a classicist, nodded to T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and Stephen Vincent Benet’s “John Brown’s Body,” both of which skirted racist material yet refused to be contained, or restrained, by formalism.
Clarke will recite excerpts from his work-in-progress “Canticles,” which echoes slave and imperialist debates from Cleopatra to Celan. Clarke will also invoke contemporary poets Derek Walcott and NourbeSe Philip who invite harmonious, multiple, and multicultural voices in their revisions of Pound’s controversial masterpiece. Clarke champions writers of African descent and coined the term, “Africadian” to identify the Black culture of Atlantic Canada, a term he says is both “literal and liberal—I canonize songs and sonnets, histories and homilies.”
Clarke traces his own inspiration to “poet-politicos: jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, troubadour-bard Bob Dylan, libertine lyricist Irving Layton, guerrilla leader and poet Mao Zedong, reactionary modernist Ezra Pound, Black Power orator Malcolm X, and the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau.” Clarke finds their “blunt talk, suave styles, acerbic independence, raunchy macho, feisty lyricism, singing heroic and a scarf-and-beret chivalry quite, well, liberating.”
Clarke’s colleague and VIU English professor Paul Watkins says, “For George, poetry is not only a printed form, but also an oral art. His boisterous readings present the listener with a gumbo-concoction of jazz rhythms, blues-infused gospel vernacular, and plenty of play upon the standards of the larger literary tradition. This is poetry presented with the ‘lightning of prophecy’.”
Clarke has published: a 13 works of poetry including Whylah Falls (2002 Canada Reads contender), Execution Poems, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and his latest Traverse; 4 plays, screenplays, or libretti One Heart Broken Into Song, Beatrice Chancy, Québécité, Trudeau; the novel George and Rue; and 4 anthologies of African-Canadian writing including Directions Home: Approaches to African-Canadian Literature. He has been the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto for the last 12 years and holds 8 honorary doctorates from Royal Military College and Dalhousie, New Brunswick, Alberta, Waterloo, Windsor, Acadia, Saint Mary’s universities. He received the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, and Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada.
After Clarke’s lecture, a catered reception, cash bar, and book signing will follow in Bldg 300’s Royal Arbutus Room. Several of Clarke’s books will be sold at the VIU Bookstore. Courtesy parking is available in Lot N, in front of building 355. Clarke will also perform with musician James Darling at the Corner Lounge Wednesday October 21st 7:30-8:30. These events are sponsored by VIU’s Faculty of Arts & Humanities, Writers on Campus, and the Canada Council for the Arts.
The Gustafson Distinguished Poetry Lecture was established in 1998 from the estate of the late, pre-eminent Canadian poet Ralph Gustafson and his wife, Betty. The Chair has been held by celebrated poets Don Domanski, Dionne Brand, Tom Wayman, Daphne Marlatt, Robert Bringhurst, Don MacKay, Jan Zwicky, Dennis Lee, Michael Crummey, and Katherena Vermette among others, most of whom have had their lectures published as chapbooks. An interview will also appear in Portal2016, VIU’s full-colour literary magazine, on stands in April.
For more info contact Chair of the Gustafson Committee Toni Smith at Toni.Smith@viu.ca or to buy a chapbook contact the series’ publisher Joy Gugeler at email@example.com. For more information about the lecturers visit http://www.mediastudies.viu.ca/gustafson/
Edited by Paul Watkins and Rebecca Caines
To cypher is to rap, break, beatbox tightly together in a circle where each person just might get a moment in the spotlight. To cypher is to borrow and to lend, to playfully freewheel through whilst taking an exacting care for each word and carefully considering all the sounds, meanings, and interpretations. It is to fight back, to borrow, to steal, to represent, and to collaborate, whilst suddenly—surprisingly—at times aggressively claiming your own voice, your own right to speak. A cypher is a gathering of rappers, beatboxers, and/or breakers in a circle, extemporaneously making music together. In recent years, the cypher has also grown to include the crowd and spectators who are integral to maintaining the energy of a given cypher. In a cypher, one emcee will rap about a certain topic, which is quickly taken up or flipped by another emcee who plays off the prior words and themes. Each artist takes his or her respective turn, much like in a jazz solo. Cyphers flow freely between diverse performers who improvise their words, sounds, or movements to create a complex matrix of sharing. The circle can go on continuously, as long as emcees, beatboxers, dancers, and the crowd keep the fluidity of the cypher going. The cypher is welcoming and thus models a pedagogy that is inclusive and improvisational in nature.
This issue of Critical Studies in Improvisation/ Études critiques en improvisation aims to act as a cypher, engaging with the embodied practice of locally specific yet globally implicated hip-hop, as we consider the cypher as a metaphor for the complexities of critically thinking about improvisation more broadly. Appropriately, our theme of “Cyphers” attracted a wide range of analyses with many points of intersection. Our final selection ranges from discussions with historically significant scholars and practitioners in hip-hop and Black expressive culture to newer texts at the intersections between hip-hop and other art forms, as well as those tracing the improvisatory affects of hip-hop across cultural and technological boundaries.
Each paper in this issue addresses specific responses to the improvisatory impulse in hip-hop. We start the issue with a number of interviews. We are honoured that George Lipsitz agreed to interview Tricia Rose for this issue, bringing two significant scholars in Black Studies into conversation. This interview emphasizes Rose’s vital contributions to the field of hip-hop scholarship and addresses the broader importance of improvisatory Black expressive cultural practices as “sites and sources of knowledges, as repositories of collective memory, as sights of moral instruction, as ways of calling communities into being through interaction and through performance.” Rebecca Caines’ interview with leading Canadian hip-hop researcher Charity Marsh focuses on Marsh’s creation and leadership of the Interactive Media and Performance Labs in Saskatchewan as an innovative, exploratory space for disenfranchised communities to meet and learn about themselves through hip-hop practices. In conversation with Vancouver-based poet/scholar/DJ Wayde Compton, Paul Watkins addresses Compton’s work on history, identity, and race, exploring the idea of improvising Blackness from within both local (BC) and transnational contexts. This audio interview is then remixed a number of times to allow the conversation to interact with Compton’s readings of his own poetry and with a number of different music samples. Watkins then continues this exploration of critically engaged approaches to artistic practice with his review of Flying Lotus’s (aka FlyLo, born Steven Ellison) 2014 release, “You’re Dead!”
Jesse Stewart examines the form of “jazz-rap” that emerged in the 1980s and ’90s. He charts the use of improvisational jazz forms in this type of hip-hop music and perceives this act as a kind of cultural memory practice that “mobilizes the musical past in the service of a socially progressive cultural politics of difference.” Niel Scobie addresses dissonance and “noise” in improvisation and in hip-hop music, with special attention to the music of Public Enemy. For Scobie, “anti-musical” aesthetics allow the group to create lineage with the “discordant cries” of African-American past practices whilst developing a potent improvisatory musical urgency and a call to arms.
Both Marcel Swiboda and Mark Campbell address technological mediation in hip-hop practices. Swiboda addresses “the break,” developing a new critical history of electronic tools for beatmaking to supplement existing scholarship, which has tended to focus more on the use of turntables for isolating and manipulating the breakbeat. Swiboda suggests that technological and material histories of improvisatory beatmaking practices can be “technologically driven, idiomatically specific vernacular modes of critical knowledge practice” and can also bear an “intimate link to improvisatory practices.” Campbell, on the other hand, focuses on current digital DJ practices. His ethnographic project is to discover how newer digital interfaces affect younger DJs in live performance and in radio settings. He argues that digital DJ interfaces might represent “ways to continue to humanize technology as a subversive afrosonic activity, while evolving the practice of DJing.”
Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation is generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (through both its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives and Aid to Scholarly Journals programs) and by the University of Guelph Library.