On Jul. 6, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) members from across the country launched the 2012 CWILA Count of 3,092 book reviews in 25 Canadian newspapers, magazines and journals. The Count shows that dialogue with editors since the 2011 Count has increased gender equity in book review culture, although men still review each other’s books most often.

“When you look at the 2012 CWILA Count, you see that there’s still work to do,” says CWILA’s Interim Executive Director Chelsea Novak. “But CWILA, a community of feminist readers, writers and thinkers working to shift the Canadian literary conversation, is starting to see a shift. National magazine The Walrus increased reviews of female-authored books from 23 to 56 per cent, and the National Post increased from 33 to 42 per cent in the same category,” says Novak.

CWILA has also started tracking how many books reviewed in 2012 were written by Canadian authors. “Last year we proved that women were at a disadvantage. This year we wanted to see how Canadian women, in particular, fared. Basically, we measured the C in CWILA,” says CWILA Board Member Laura Moss.

The 2012 CWILA Count shows that most counted publications support Canadian writers exceptionally well. Ten of the 25 publications reviewed books by Canadians at least 90 per cent of the time, and 17 publications were over 75 per cent.

In 2012, the Globe and Mail dedicated a full 65 per cent of its review space to work by non-Canadian writers. Non-Canadian women garnered more space in that publication than Canadian men or women, and the Globe and Mail published 2.6 reviews of books by non-Canadian men for every review of a book by a Canadian woman.

In all publications counted, however, as with 2011, men reviewed books by men most often. Only 30 per cent of reviews by men were of books by women, while 70 per cent were of books by men. In comparison, 57 per cent of reviews by women were of books by women, while 43 per cent were of books by men.

Full 2012 CWILA Count details and analysis are available at www.cwila.com.

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This interview first appeared in The Mainlander.

The struggles against pipelines and tankers, against colonial dispossession, span from Vancouver to Haida Gwaii. The Haida were among the first to take a stand, and have done so in proud, creative and inspiring ways. Here Christine Leclerc speaks with Ken Leslie, an animator who lives in Haida Gwaii. Ken talks about “Haida Raid 2,” an animated film he and fellow community members released through the Haidawood Project. The series addresses the stresses which the colonial economy puts on the community and the earth, while highlighting revitalization of the Haida language as a key to the way forward.

CL: Will you tell us about the Haida Raid series?

KL: It’s part of the Haidawood Media Project. Haidawood, like Hollywood. And the first movie we made, I made with brothers Edenshaw. They’re carvers.

The first movie was made in 2007 and basically the project’s about making animated movies in the Haida language. That’s been the main thrust, to help with language revitalization for the Haida language.

The very first movie that was a proof of concept movie called “Haida Raid.”

The thing with Gwaai Edenshaw is he’s been carving these little avocado pits since he was a kid. So we have a bunch of avocado pits, and I was like, what would it look like if we made an animated movie with these avocado pits. That was “Haida Raid 1.”

Since then, we’ve made some traditional stories in the Haida language. There’s a story called “Yaanii K’uuka” about a witch who lived in a hole in the ground and basically, kids who are naughty, she comes and takes them away. It’s the sort of thing parents threaten their kids with. You know, “eat your food or Yaanii K’uuka will get you.”

There’s a movie about that and there’s another one called the “Golden Spruce,” which is about a golden spruce.

So the project was initially focused on language, and then more recently with the Joint Review Panels happening and everything , there was a desire to use the animation technique and also send a political message, and that’s how we ended up making Haida Raid 2.

CL: I’m really interested to hear you talk about language revitalization and the role that has to play in motivating some of the work you’re doing. Do you draw and connections between, for example, tanker traffic and cultural diversity? I can give you a bit of background… I’ve been reading some articles about how a lot of the places that have the most biodiversity also have the most languages. And people are making connections between ecological devastation and the extinction of species to extinction of languages and cultures. So, I wonder if you have any thoughts on that, or if it sparks any ideas.

KL: The principle of concern here—I mean, of course in Haida Gwaii there’s a lot of opposition to the pipeline. The main concern is around tanker traffic in Haida Gwaii because people here do still live off the land and off the water, especially fish. Food fish is so important and Hecate Straight, we know, is a very treacherous and dangerous body of water. So putting tanker traffic there is just a bad idea.

It would only be a matter of time before there’s a spill and damage the commons that people depend on here to survive.

Actually, I think there’s this larger issue of Indigenous people being dispossesed from their land through pollution and other means and then they’re forced to enter into this global economy that makes a lot of people basically into slaves, wage slaves.

In a way, if I look at my own lineage, that’s happened to my people a long time ago and so we just kind of have to make our way in the global economy, which is proving to be actually, quite brutal and who knows if it’s really going to sustain us. Whereas, we do know that the land and the ocean, if they’re not polluted, can sustain us.

So, that’s one thought. And with respect to language, from my perspective, I see, I’m working with a number of cultural and language activists in the Haida community. For them, the language is very important to the sense of self and to connect with their heritage and their ancestors. Also to keep Haida culture alive and vibrant.

My work has been to support this effort. Haidawood, what’s cool and interesting about it, is we work with the language and culture to help keep it alive and modern. Cultures that are alive keep adapting and changing and evolving and transforming and that’s what keeps them alive and real, as opposed to something, like in a museum. It gives the people a sense of who they are and it helps keep the traditions alive.

The machine of Western Civilization and its global culture, especially global Capitalist culture, where someone takes something out of the earth and no one pays for what’s taken, is blind. There’s a blind side to our economic systems that ignores the environment and constantly focuses on growth. Ultimately, it’s not sustainable and the pipeline is the most, it’s the nearest, most relevant example of that and people are rising up to say: Stop! Enough.

We need to stop the madness and focus on what’s real and what is going to ensure long-term prosperity, and that has got to be clean air and clean water.

CL: Do you have any thoughts on how culture impacts your work, be it Haida culture, Hip Hop culture, or mainstream Canadian culture? How do they interact?

KL: It seems to me that in that video, a bunch of things kind of come together. Certainly in mainstream Canadian culture there has been a tradition of animation. You know, we’ve got the NFB. (The NFB hasn’t supported this particular project yet, although they do know about it.)

The video starts with a traditional song in Haida. It starts out with an idyllic scene and there’s truth that resonates with the past here. I guess what I also thought was fun about the video was presenting this—You know, there’s this idea that maybe for First Nations people, their culture’s in a museum, or that their culture’s long ago. So I present that, but the movie shifts several times in unpredictable ways. You think you know what it is, then it shifts into something else.

What it shifts into is that Hip Hop song, which is sung by Jason Alsop. He’s actually the CEO of the Haida Heritage Foundation in Skidegate. Quite an important community leader, and a cannabis activist, and a rapper. So, he’s really quite an interesting guy. It was a lot of fun to work with him.

The first time I heard that rap pipeline song, it didn’t have the swear words beeped out. We used a raven to beep out the swear words.

I think it’s important for mainstream Canada to hear the kind of anger and frustration around the impacts of this whole industrial machine on the environment and pollution in this country. There’s this need for a kind of healing or reconciliation between mainstream Western culture and Indigenous cultures. And it’s something it’s not just in Canada. It’s sort of everywhere in the world.

Part of what Haidawood is about is creating a channel of communication that allows information from First Nations culture to enter back into the mainstream. In a way, I think First Nations have had to learn everything about Western culture, but there hasn’t been enough of a flow of information the other way. And if we could have that flow of information, it could actually help mainstream culture become more aware of the land, aware of the seasons, and start to become more in harmony with nature, which is what we need as a civilization to become sustainable.

There’s an important message, important things we can learn from First Nations culture. That’s kind of the goal of Haidawood.

CL: Do you any thoughts on what makes for strong collaboration?

KL: I really enjoy collaboration, and in a way, when the Haidawood Project started, part of it was I was so impressed with all the language teachers and artists I met, like Jaalen Edenshaw and Gwaii. So I started the project with them because I wanted to spend time with them and see what would come of that. It’s similar to why I brought Jason in.

What I love about collaboration, when you’re making art or music, is there’s this creative process where you don’t know what’s going to come through. There’s novelty and surprising things that can come and when you start to bring in other collaborators who bring other talents or skills or perspectives it can be a lot of fun. It’s almost like this fellowship of people—a little team or family. Right now I’m working on two more movies. These are traditional stories in the Haida language. One is a giant octopus and the other is about Tow Hill, which is a local landmark. We’ll animate them this month and we’ve got all sorts of puppets made or being made. We’re starting to gather enough of a team to make it happen. That’s when it really starts to get fun and exciting!

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I’m really excited because as of this afternoon, Oilywood is a three dimensional object! Thanks Meredith and Peter of Nomados Editions for publishing it and thanks Stephen and David for your words.

Jen Currin, Colin Smith and I will read at People’s Co-Op Books on June 12, but if your curiosity gets the best of you before then copies are available online.

“Christine Leclerc is one of the most impressive ‘committed’ poets I know—able to at once convey news that stays news and locate where the heart blooms amidst tottering capitalist machinery. In Oilywood, Leclerc wades into the surf, practicing ‘another mode of grasping,’ listening and recording while her feet go numb, the tankers lumber by, and her phone underwater takes picture after picture. Plans for ever more pipelines, mergers and corporate deals, financed by capital going all-in at the casino’s fossil fuel table, are made all the more pressing and tangible by Leclerc’s insistence on the local, her body in these fragile waters, and the interruptions of her non-compliant voice.”

– Stephen Collis, author of To the Barricades

“In Oilywood, corporate oil interests Kinder Morgan, El Paso, Eagle Ford and Peabody Energy become dramatis personae, villains in an all-too-real play on the world stage. These characters flaunt an ethic of ‘can implies ought’ with a dispassionate, journalistic reportage, but between their actions a lone voice bears witness to, reflects upon, and implores us to heed the wreckage caused in this epic theatre. This voice sings with vigilant clarity and resolute grace despite such overarching resistance to its song. Leclerc deserves bravos and encores.”

– David Seymour, author of For Display Purposes Only

Audio tour of Burrard Inlet used during jam sessions available on SoundCloud.

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Commentary first appeared in issue 63 of subTerrain.

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be saying to you guys. What do you want to know? I just found out what this was a few minutes ago. Pretty sad, isn’t it? Not good. It’s not good where I come from too. Actually, I’m from Fort Chip. I was working in the oil industry for about eight years. And I just got diagnosed with cancer this year. So I’m battling for my life right now. I got diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Full commentary…

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The Enpipe Line: 70,000+ kilometers of collaborative resistance poetry makes Rabble’s 2012 best of list! Proceeds are being donated to Ecojustice’s newest lawsuit over the federal government’s continued failure to implement the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and protect four endangered animals living along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and shipping route.

It’s not too late to get a copy from Creekstone Press!

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First published on Rabble.ca on October 9, 2012.

Construction on a multimillion dollar barricade outside Canada’s Parliament was slated to begin today. Did someone have tar sands protest in mind in ordering the barricade built? If so, their efforts might be better spent in Texas. The Tar Sands Blockade has started a tree-sit in the woods of East Texas to keep Calgary-based TransCanada from building the Keystone XL pipeline.

Tar Sands Blockade. Celebrity Daryl Hannah and East Texas farm owner Eleanor Fairchild block an excavator to stop TransCanada from tearing up Fairchild’s land for Keystone XL pipeline construction.

The story broke north of the 49th parallel last Thursday, when East Texas farm owner Eleanor Fairchild was arrested for “trespassing” on her own farm with celebrity Daryl Hannah. Fairchild and Hannah blocked an excavator operated by a TransCanada employee who would not turn it off. But activists have been blocking construction on Keystone XL since August.

Fairchild and Hannah’s civil disobedience is one of six direct actions that has blocked construction on the Keystone XL since President Obama expedited the pipeline’s permitting process earlier this year. Landowners and climate justice organizers have put up an aerial blockade and locked themselves in the path of construction equipment.

While Enbridge took a page from the Keystone Kops playbook with its response to the 2010 tar sands oil spill in Michigan, TransCanada seems fond of the bull in a china shop approach to pipeline construction.

“For the past seven days there’s been 24-hour police surveillance and the blockade’s learned that TransCanada has hired off-duty police officers to be their private security force. They’re paying out of town cops to babysit the blockade and these police officers are wearing their uniforms,” says Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson Ron Seifert. “What’s interesting here is you have the government itself working for TransCanada,” says Seifert.

Keystone XL protesters have also been met with TransCanada-condoned brutality, according to Seifert. It was September 26, the third day of the aerial blockade. As construction grew near, two protesters, Shannon Bebe and Benjamin Franklin, locked to each other through the frame of a construction vehicle. Seifert recounts the event:

“Those blockaders were met with the police who really didn’t do too much, just tried to talk them out of their protest for a couple of hours. However, things changed dramatically when TransCanada supervisors arrived on the scene. They had a private huddle with the police officers and immediately thereafter the police became extraordinarily aggressive and brutal.

They put the blockaders in chokeholds. They handcuffed them. They put them in stress positions by twisting their free arms behind their backs and handcuffed them in that antagonizing position. They contorted the locks around their wrists and abraded their skin. [Then] they sprayed their open wounds with pepper spray.

Finally, after none of this made [Bebe and Franklin] leave, they resorted to tasing. They tased multiple times until [the protesters] finally relinquished and unlocked from the equipment. All of this — what I would call torture — was being watched by TransCanada supervisors who were there the whole time.

And as soon as the protesters were taken away, TransCanada’s supervisors approached the police to congratulate them on ‘a job well done.’”

When asked about the treatment received by Bebe and Franklin, TransCanada spokesperson David Dodson indicated that the Wood County Sheriff’s Department could provide an account. The Wood County Sheriff’s Department has provided no response on TransCanada’s reported hiring of off-duty police officers or the conditions of Bebe and Franklin’s arrest.

AJ Klein, a community organizer in Vancouver who, with others, launched the “Hey TransCanada, TORTURE isn’t an option” action on Facebook, notes that a number of initiatives have emerged.

“There’s an Avaaz petition people can sign,” says Klein. A number of ENGOs have also signed a Rainforest Action Network initiated letter in solidarity with the Tar Sands Blockade.

While the Tar Sands Blockade resists TransCanada’s ramming, there will be a direct action training camp October 12-14 so more can join and support the blockade. The training camp will be held in Texas. Ottawa, it turns out, is just one of many places to stop the tar sands these days.

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I attended this poetry workshop at Word on the Street:

Oilywood and Burrard Inlet’s Future with Christine Leclerc

Christine Leclerc is a Vancouver based author and activist. Her essays on tar sands pipeline resistance have appeared in This Magazine and Wordworks. Energy related poems appear in issue 72 of West Coast and her supertanker related work includes “Oilywood”. Leclerc is excited to share a power packed workshop on climate change, poetic form, and tar sands supertankers in the Burrard Inlet.

We were free to write in our own style while answering these questions:

You’re at Burrard Inlet…
What do you see?
Where do you see it?
Why did you come here?
What is the weather like (wind, cloud cover, precipitation – fog, drizzle, rain) ?
Are there other people around? If yes, what are they up to?
When you think about Burrard Inlet, do you think about oil tanker traffic?
What’s your favorite beach and why?
What do you do at the beach?
How long do you stay? Is it hard to leave?

Each of us then took a phrase from our writing and put it on a hand drawn map of Burrard Inlet.

Christine then gave each of us a sand sample from one of eight areas around Burrard Inlet: Belcarra, Maplewood Mudflats, Kits Beach, Ambleside, Spanish Banks, Third Beach, Deep Cove, New Brighton

All our senses were engaged as we also listened to sounds she recorded in and around the inlet. The multi-modal aspect of the workshop enhanced the experience and made it more powerful.

I facilitate workshops and do a lot teaching but it was nice to be on the other side as I just absorbed everything and let my creativity flow.

I was touched by what I read on the map, and have always been concerned about the environment. This workshop made me think about what is going on right here in my own home and after doing a bit of research my denial was shattered.

I have always avoided thinking about the environment as it makes my heart sink. But the workshop brought awareness to my consciousness. As I read my poem to a friend on the phone I started to cry.

Expression of feelings leads to action and I guess writing this poem is my way to trigger change in others.

My sister (who is currently pregnant) also came into my mind while writing this poem.

I just hope it gets people thinking about how lucky they are when they grab their next glass of water. We can not take this precious resource for granted.

My home

Burrard Street inlet.
Driving through.

The Burrard Street bridge brings sky to earth,
promising stars
when we can’t even keep our feet on the ground.

We slip
as oil trickles through liquid spaces
that gleam.
We make possible the impossible.

Beneath me
water touches land.
Be careful where you step.
Spilled oil.
One liter
makes its way
a million
litres of groundwater.

Dig deep
beneath the soil
and see for yourself.

You’ll be able to smell it on your hands.

Wash it off, but we can’t get away
from the smell
of death.

You and me.
Me and you.

My fluid
moves inside of you
traveling through roots
that nourish
and sustain.

Everyone will drink
this essence of life
taking a sip
of the universal

of the
amniotic fluid
that shelters
and protects

from one mother’s womb
to another

the touch of fluid

Infertility, loss
inside and out.

Too much for the mind to handle?
Soon the body overflows
as a memory burns its imprint
like a thought

suspended in air.
Half forgotten.

Take the time to think
and pause.

The Burrard Inlet:

Maplewood Mudflats
Spanish Banks
Second beach
Deep Cove
New Brighton

I am sure you can trace your footsteps
back in time
to a spot
hits home.

Your home
becomes my home
mingled voices
and kids laughter
overpowered by waves
that touch our feet
and wash everything away
to the horizon.

The visible becomes invisible.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Drizzle turns to rain.

We are promised stars
but even rain can not drown memories.

Memories will continue
to burn
but who can bring back the green that has turned black?

All that is left is smoke
and oil
not fit for a strand
of hair.

About Sherry’s next WRITING AND HEALING Workshop

Dr. Sherry Duggal B.Sc., N.D. will go into the physiological link between writing and healing. This workshop will provide the research and science behind why writing can be so effective in our journey towards an optimal balance in mind, body and spirit. The creative process is therapeutic in many ways and can be included as part of anyone’s lifestyle.

Sunday, November 4, 2-6pm.

Revitalize Health Center
3331 No 3. Road
Richmond, B.C.

(604) 273-4372 or (778) 772-6964

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Tanker Free BC is excited to participate in this event, featuring writer and activist Christine Leclerc, as she presents a fresh look at the oil issues Vancouver Metro is facing, along with discussion of the issues we all face, with climate change and the tar sands becoming increasingly more pressing concerns.

As climate change marches on, Burrard Inlet has become the first place on the B.C. coast to seep tar sands oil into supertankers. Supertanker traffic and oil spill risk will undergo a drastic increase if Kinder Morgan expands its aging Trans Mountain pipeline.

Leclerc spent the summer of 2012 visiting and recording Burrard Inlet’s beaches. The recordings and other beach finds will be shared in a two-hour interactive presentation and workshop on the inlet, tar sands supertankers and climate change.


October 24, 2012 at 7pm – 9pm

Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre
181 Roundhouse Mews
Vancouver, BC V6Z 2W3

Google map and directions

Christine Leclerc

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Published in The #TarSands & #CdnPoli Daily.

Photo by Brutally Beautiful Photography. From left to right: Sweetpea Magee, Lu Lee, Sweet Sashay and Poli Morph.

I recently caught up with VanDolls Burlesque Performer and Producer Sweet Sashay. The VanDolls organized Pipe This!, an anti-Enbridge pipeline themed show and fundraiser at the Rio Theatre this summer. Sweet Sashay is candid in discussing Pipe This!, her troupe’s first venture into this kind of engagement.

CL: To start, will you introduce your stage persona?

SS: I perform as Sweet Sashay. I’ve been involved in the burlesque community here in Vancouver for about two years now. I was originally drawn in by the music, but like the opportunity to push the envelope that burlesque provides, especially when it comes to sexual mores. In terms of style, what I do leans toward the classic: sultry striptease with a little bit of humour and a lot of attitude. I’ve been a member of the VanDolls from the beginning and am always thankful for the support and opportunities we give each other.

I love that we all have different styles. When we put on a collaborative show, the audience gets a little bit of everything and we as performers get to stretch ourselves creatively by trying out new routines that we wouldn’t necessarily attempt on our own.

CL: How did the VanDolls get involved in the tar sands pipeline resistance? Have you supported other causes?

SS: I’ve had an interest in blending activism and burlesque for a while. but first started thinking about an anti-pipeline show last year. Burlesque is well-suited to activism for a couple of reasons. First of all (and this is, of course, a generalization), most burlesque performers and the vast majority of burlesque audiences have liberal/left-leaning tendencies–I include myself in this group–so many of the causes that I care about also have support within the community. Vancouver’s burlesque community is vibrant AND vocal.

Burlesque also tends to involve a lot of satire. Many numbers lampoon the subject the performer has decided to tackle. I think this can be an incredibly successful technique when applied to activism: one of the best ways to dis-empower an opponent is to make them look ridiculous. The lightheartedness is also useful. I think a lot of people, when they think of activism, think of protests and angry, strident people holding signs. While I think that’s a legitimate and important part of activism, it leaves a lot of people cold. They don’t want to get involved.

With burlesque you can tap into other sources of support. People pay for burlesque shows because it’s a fun and different night out. When the proceeds from that show are directed toward a cause they also happen to feel strongly about, it’s win-win.

The Enbridge pipeline seemed like a perfect first run. Personally, it’s something I feel very strongly about. The idea of building a metal tube filled with oil through some of the most pristine and unique wilderness in the world horrifies me. I think it’s incredibly short-sighted. Sure, it will create some jobs in the short term. But oil is a doomed resource. It will run out.

Instead of spending money on a pipeline like this, we should be looking at ways to wean our society off of oil. (I’m a dreamer, I know.) But there’s a lot of opposition to the pipeline, both within the province and in East Vancouver specifically. I felt that if we got the ball rolling with this show idea, we wouldn’t be standing alone for long. And I was right.

This wasn’t our first fundraiser though. One of our first shows as a group was to raise money for one of the breast cancer research fundraisers. Sherry Hymen was participating and we helped raise her entrance fee and then some.

CL: What’s your top reason for opposing Enbridge’s proposal?

SS: As of right now, it’s their track record with oil spills. The report on the spill into the Kalamazoo River is damning. There is NO WAY we should allow a company this negligent to operate in this province, or this country really. There are many other reasons I oppose the pipeline, but that’s the top one. An oil spill is inevitable and with a company that’s as flippant about responsible management and crisis response as Enbridge, an oil spill will be an unmitigated disaster.

CL: What was the Pipe This! fundraiser like? Were there any surprises in terms of audience, or any interesting conversation snippets overheard?

SS: The show was fantastic. Lots of energy in the crowd and there were a lot of first-timers, which was nice. It’s always great to see new people out to experience burlesque.

It was also really nice that both of the organizations we donated to, The Dogwood Initiative and West Coast Environmental Law, had people come out to the show. We had them set up in the lobby so that they could interact with audience members. The Dogwood Initiative had people sign their No Tankers petition and each group had a representative speak about why opposing the pipeline is important and what they are doing to stop it.

As for memorable quotes, I didn’t catch anything from the audience that night–too busy running around! But we did get AMAZING feedback about the show afterwards. Here’s a quote attendee Davin Karjala posted on the VanDolls Facebook wall:

A VanDolls show is always a bit of challenge for me: seeing brave young (mostly) women pushing the envelope in an art form that for years was hidden in closets or worse used to objectify women. A VanDolls show is as much a celebration of the human form and the ingenuity of the human mind as it is a raucous tit-fest. [...] A fundraiser about a serious environmental issue with burlesque and comedy raises the bar of the art form and the performers, crew, and producers should be congratulated. The contrast between the sometimes dry question of [tankers] with the magical fairies of the finale reminded me that complex environmental challenges can be explained in art.

CL: Did it feel different to perform in opposition to Enbridge’s tar sands pipeline? And was the entire show pipeline-themed?

SS: I didn’t actually perform in this show. Producing was more than enough to keep me busy. But putting the show together was an extremely powerful experience. It sounds sappy but it feels like one of the most important and fulfilling things I’ve ever done.

The entire show was pipeline themed. Our hosts were Stephen Harper and Daniel Plainview from There will be Blood. All performers were asked to theme their numbers. We had a corporate executive doing a classic chair dance to “Toxic Love” from Fern Gully, a sea anemone desperately trying to survive an oil spill, we had environmental protesters falling in love with the resources they were trying to protect. Our finale, choreographed by the extremely talented and energetic Veronica Vex, had fairies of the forest taking on Enbridge’s CEO. It was fantastic.

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First published in The Rusty Toque.

Muga River, Boadella, Spain
6″ x 4″ x 1″ each
Spanish Broom. Wild fennel. 2008 

It’s unlikely that you’ll have your hands on one of Basia Irland’s Ice Books any time soon. The books are literally made of ice and my recommendations—Books XVII and XVIII—melted into the Muga River years ago. Nonetheless, I recommend BOOK XVII with its Spanish Broom seed text and BOOK XVIII with its wild fennel for the meditations on ecological restoration and duty to downstream neighbours that they give rise to.

Irland’s ice books are temporal, sensual, living objects created and released in the spirit of bearing witness to human degradation of riparian zones and the climate crisis, which has serious implications for the fresh water of the world.

While Irland has traveled to many of the earth’s aqueous arteries, the artist collaborates with community members to collect ice book water. People cooperate to collect water from multiple parts of a river. The collection engages the desire to restore riparian zones to health and speaks to the shared condition of living downstream.

Irland also collaborates with stream ecologists, biologists and botanists on the Ice Books. Together they select the best seeds for the riparian zone in question. Seeds take root along river banks, help sequester carbon, hold banks in place, and shelter wildlife.

This fall, the people of Yellow Springs, Ohio will have access to a book carved from Ohio river water and inscribed with native river-side seed. Meanwhile, the rest of us have gallery showings and the crisp ice book images that festoon the author, poet, sculptor, installation artist, and activist’s website.

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“I’ve always seen Vancouver as part of the Lower Mainland. But lately, with Kinder Morgan’s plan to expand the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline and tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet, I’ve come to see my home as a kind of ‘Oilywood.’”

As part of the Oilywood project, I’ll visit twelve sites around Burrard Inlet to record water, document beach culture and speak with the public about our local environment.

If you can’t make it to an Oilywood session, please consider the following questions and leave a reply.

  1. What’s your favorite thing to do at the beach?
  2. Do you have any stories, images, sound, sculpture, walks etc. to share?
  3. How do you feel about oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet?
  4. What draws you to the water?
  5. How much time do you spend at the beach? Which beach(es)?

The sessions

The Oilywood map lists all dates and locations. All sessions are from 1-3 p.m. unless noted otherwise.
Please RSVP at xineleclerc@gmail.com. If there’s a schedule change, you’ll be notified.

Everyone is welcome.

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This interview first appeared in the Vancouver Observer. If the video does not appear please visit Youtube to enjoy it there.

Many watched slack-jawed as CBC’s Power and Politics Host Evan Solomon interviewed Ethical Oil’s Kathryn Marshall alongside Sierra Club Executive Director John Bennett earlier this year. The interview sparked a blaze of response on social media and “Ethical Oil: the Puppet Rap,” a creative response by Caitlin Dodd, David Henderson-Hean, Kai Nagata, Spencer Powell and Emile Scott.

Kai Nagata joined me from the road for the lively interview that follows.

CL: I was so excited to see someone use Solomon’s Marshall-Bennett interview in a creative work that explores Ethical Oil’s January 2012 attacks on environmental organizations. How did the idea for the puppet rap emerge?

KN: There were a lot of people sharing that interview around on Twitter and Facebook. I watched it a few times with a mixture of horror and fascination. Not long afterwards I was drinking beer with Caitlin and Dave and we got into a discussion of the Petro State—by which I mean the coordinated corrosion of democracy and public discourse that seems to be the hallmark of countries with too much private oil wealth.

I pulled up the video and watched their eyes kind of bug out as they watched it. Dave said something like, “Wow, I knew things were bad, but not that bad.” Caitlin was pretty much gasping for air. I said, “Do you guys want to do something with this?” It may have been the beer talking, but they said yes, 100 per cent.

We mulled it over and after a while some rhymes just started popping into my head. We all kept in touch by email. I got my sister’s boyfriend to start fiddling with some beats and we gradually put the song and video together over the course of the next couple months, in our spare time.

Photo of Kai Nagata with a puppet of Ethical Oil’s Ezra Levant by David Henderson-Hean.

CL: I’ve spoken with Sun Media reporters who scoff at the suggestion that they would so much as glance at Ezra Levant’s show or columns. As someone who has worked as a reporter, what do you think of Levant’s practice?

KN: Well, as John Doyle has pointed out, Ezra Levant’s trajectory over the past year has been pretty sad. He used to be a real force to be reckoned with. He singlehandedly forced this twisted fair-trade idea of “Ethical Oil” into the public conversation. Mainstream outlets treated him as a credible voice. Hell, I interviewed him for CTV, at a talk he gave in Quebec City. I remember we got along quite well. I thought his ideas about energy policy were flawed and dogmatic, but I found him to be quite lucid.

I don’t know who he thought I was—I was a young, Western Canadian reporter with a crew cut and a cultivated, casual disdain for lefties. I had joined the infantry reserve before getting work as a broadcast journalist. The hardcore right-wingers I met really took a shine to me. Perhaps Ezra thought I was some kind of Alykhan Velshi type who had snuck into the “lamestream media.” Certainly the ferocity with which he has gone after me on his show and in his blog would suggest a kind of betrayal, a mixture of fear and anger that is pretty disturbing to realize is aimed right at you.

But yeah, he’s a clown now. I don’t know what his pull is these days in the PMO or that core Calgary power circle that runs Ottawa, but on TV he looks desperate, lonely, and somewhat unhinged. I think, as Doyle suggests, it’s the phenomenon of having to come up with material—and enough manic energy to deliver it—five days a week.

When he first got the show, I told him on Twitter that “the novelty will wear off,” and I think it has. Having worked in that world, I have a lot of compassion for him as a person. As a journalist—well, he’s not a journalist. Comparing him to journalists would legitimize his weird brand of entertainment. He’s an ex-lobbyist with mediocre ratings on a channel that was dropped from the parliamentary press gallery’s cable package because it was irrelevant. If I worked for Sun doing actual journalism—which some people still try to do, bless them—I would ignore Ezra too.

CL: What role do you see for storytellers and reporters who are convinced by evidence of disease, cultural devastation, habitat fragmentation, carbon sink destruction and climate change that the tar sands are a dead end road?

KN: We’re at a really interesting juncture right now in North America. People are coming to terms with the fact that this is no longer an intellectual debate between equals. The old brand of “he says, she says” journalism is particularly ineffective in covering the Petro State, which indeed leads to the parody of traditional journalism that Sun News has become.

What you have is a war between money and evidence. The money (which is for all intents and purposes unlimited) is being spent to spread disinformation, poison the public conversation, and destabilize democracy. The evidence, the hard data, points to the tar sands being a total dead end—fiscally, spiritually, environmentally. You have credible, experienced scientists saying increasingly strongly that these reserves actually threaten human civilization—James Hansen, the NASA climatologists, calls the tar sands “game over for the climate”. A decade ago that would be dismissed as crazy talk, but more and more scientists—at least the ones whose research isn’t funded by the Koch brothers—are overcoming their natural fear of controversy and saying “I take the side of humanity, of survival, versus the apocalyptic greed of these oil companies.”

And journalists and storytellers are starting to let it sink in, and realize that it’s not an academic debate, that one voice does not balance the other, and that they’re watching a battle between right and wrong, that people are starting to choose sides. I don’t think that’s a sacrifice of journalistic ethics, I think it’s the ultimate fulfilment of a code that pledges to serve the public interest against all odds. So the role I see of those storytellers is to collectively shift the discussion, to push back against Petro State propaganda, and to inform their friends and neighbours enough so that we stand up and demand that our legislators do whatever they still can to curb the slide towards destruction.

In the civilizations that have survived so far on this planet, the power of stories can’t be underestimated. It’s literally what has allowed nation-states to flourish. So if we’re going to survive the next generation or two on this planet, those storytellers are going to be very important.

I’ll issue a caveat—right now, to be frank, our methods aren’t working. We haven’t found the tools yet that will push us to a tipping point in public opinion. So we must continue to innovate. We are obliged to keep finding new ways to reach people, to educate and inform, to change minds. To do that, we all have to pull in the same direction. It’s never too late to get off the fence and lend a hand.

CL: If you were to create an energy revolution themed muppet show which characters would be “must-haves” in the ensemble?

KN: Haha, everyone is going to have their own favourites. I think if I were writing for a Canadian audience, I’d have a little Alison Redford / Christy Clark sort of Punch & Judy segment. You’d need the Ottawa clique too—Stephen Harper and his core band of enforcers—Joe Oliver, Peter Kent, Jason Kenney, John Baird. Elizabeth May would have to be in there—I imagine her as a bespectacled mermaid who has a real hard time in the world she’s been thrown into. David Suzuki, Bill McKibben, the Dalai Lama.

On the lobbyist side you’d need a sort of “At Home with the Marshalls” segment, featuring Kathryn and Hamish. Ken Boessenkool, definitely. He’s going to be a major figure in the next couple of years. Alykhan Velshi. Ezra, obviously. Maybe the boys running Ethical Oil these days (luckily they look strikingly like muppets already). You’d need a whole band of indistinguishable Chinese cadres in black suits, and a pack of slick, identical K-street operatives lurking around. Sort of a spy-versus-spy subplot between the dudes from Beijing and the dudes from Washington.

And just personally, I would love to have Pierre Poutine in there serving as the glue between all the different sub-factions, doing the dirty work. I imagine him as a dirty, poutine-gobbling lumberjack who lives in a garbage can, with a bunch of disposable cell phones and all the tools to break into cars and hack phones and spy on everyone. He’s the one they blame for everything, but whenever the police or Elections Canada gets close to catching him, he hides in his dented garbage can and they run by.

“Ethical Oil: the Puppet Rap” Credits
Caitlin Dodd: co-writer / Kathryn Marshall muppet performer
David Henderson-Hean: camera op & post-production
Kai Nagata: co-writer / director / Eazy-E muppet performer
Spencer Powell: graphics
Emile Scott: music

Follow Kai Nagata on Twitter at @kainagata.

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If the video does not appear below please visit Vimeo to enjoy it there.

On March 23, 2012 poets protested Enbridge. We launched The Enpipe Line—a book of poems to resist the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline—in front of Enbridge’s Vancouver office.

In this video Poet Kevin Spenst reads “Coming Down the Pipe.” Spenst is a Vancouver poet who has never owned a car.
Continue reading

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This interview also appears in the Dutch magazine Ooteoote and Resources for New Poets.

Angela Rawlings

Poet, editor and interdisciplinary artist Angela Rawlings is the author of Wide slumber for lepidopterists. Her work has been published/performed in Canada, Belgium, Iceland, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.

Over lunch with friends from the Vancouver women writers group, Rhizomatics, I learned that Rawlings had an extensive collection of water recordings. I was lucky to catch her with a few moments to spare as she completed the cheekily-titled Sound Poetry and Visual Poetry project at the Queensland Poetry Residence in Australia. 


Rawlings has been in Australia harvesting sound samples for weeks. Currently going through her samples, the poet sends two poems recorded in on Magnetic Island’s  Arcadia Bay shoreline. These are the sounds of the Coral Sea:

“Visual Poem: Arcadia Beach”

“Visual Poem: Wallaby Beach”

Rawlings also has a large library of water recordings from Iceland, where she resides. These recordings are of waterfalls, geothermal activity and the Atlantic Ocean.

“Ljósaljóð: Hver”

“Ljósaljóð: Hver” (which translates as Light Poem: Who / Hot Spring) was recorded in the past couple of years. It “features a boiling spring occluded from sight by a mound of rocks,” says Rawlings. “Ljósaljóð: Hver” was recorded on a hike to an area full of hot springs and bubbling mud cauldrons. Read on for Rawlings on her use of sound and recording.

CL: Sound recordings are a larger part of your work than I realized. How do you use recordings in your work? And is their use limited to research or the creation process?

AR: My recording experiments began a few years ago while travelling in Iceland. I began with the unclear notion that these would factor into future creative work, though the experience found me mostly learning how to listen, how to record, how to sense my way toward what was of interest to record, and how to theorize or contextualize the practice I’d taken up.

The Australia recordings are primarily intended as a focal component of my forthcoming Sound Poetry and Visual Poetry project. I’m mid-step in figuring out their role within the project, but at the moment I have compiled over thirty field audio recordings from Queensland (with the intention of adding Iceland recordings to the project once I have a chance to evaluate their quality and appropriateness). These field recordings will be offered as raw, clean files; the only editing they’ve undergone is to select start/end points within a longer recording in order to remove my vocal markers and button clicking. Additionally, I’m mixing excerpts from raw files together to create soundscapes in dialogue (or perhaps fictional soundscapes). I will also work with excerpted recordings in a 20-minute performance set to debut at the Queensland Poetry Festival at August’s end; the performance will incorporate voice, heavily edited recordings, and visual projection.

The recordings are definitely part of a research process (related to the creative, but not exclusively so) that gives me practical experience in the field of acoustic ecology. I was particularly interested in recording around Queensland, as last winter I wrote a paper comparing Environmental Protection Noise Policies in Queensland and British Columbia. Both places are the most biodiverse regions in their respective countries, and both economies are reliant on sound-intensive rural industry (mining, forestry, fishing, etc.). Queensland’s Environmental Protection Noise Policy is quite solid, whereas British Columbia’s is non-existent (though there are numerous yet unconnected noise policies governed by different B.C. Ministries).

I’m currently pursuing a Masters in Environmental Ethics and Natural Resource Management at the University of Iceland, and my thesis may focus on Icelandic acoustic ecology. I’m eager to create a copyleft online Museum of Icelandic sound with a database of recordings that can be used for educational, creative, or other purposes.

CL: What kinds of discoveries does sound facilitate? Or, where does sound take you?

AR: I’ve had the great benefit to participate in what I’d call workshops in walking. Toronto composer Darren Copeland lead a great soundwalk at an acoustic ecology retreat near Haliburton, Ontario four or five years ago, and Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh lead mindful walks at Village des Pruniers in southern France three years ago. Both experiences encouraged a corporeally and environmentally aware practice of slow, attentive walking. Since then, I’ve enjoyed going on soundwalks in rural places (with little to no human sounds present). When I’ve hooked up my recording equipment, my ability to focus attention primarily on sound has created personal experiences where I feel unattached to time and where I tend to catch myself in slack-jawed, wide-eyed wonder (literally!!).

One of the first big things I noticed in paying attention to soundscapes is just how prevalent, constant, loud, and dominant human-created sounds can be. If we apply Bernie Krause’s neologisms of geophony, biophony, and anthrophony, the anthrophony frequently overpowers the other two -phonies and subsequently interrupts and impacts biophonic communication. It’s incredible (distressing, humbling, agitating, activating) to witness.

To answer your question of where sound takes me, it’s much closer to an immediate and innate understanding of our human impacts on the ecosystems in which we exist, interconnect, and inter-depend. Sound is accessible now, and constantly reminds: my em/urgency. Now.

CL: When or how did recordings become part of your work?

AR: I had my first recording and editing experiences (focused solely on voice) while developing Wide slumber for lepidopterists performances after the book was published in 2006. When I realized that “sound poetry” was a term being used to identify some of the work I do, I felt itchy for a few reasons—one being that I hadn’t yet studied sound in a way that extended beyond the intuitive gesture perhaps at play in my earlier works (like Wide slumber). From that urge to learn more, my research in sound focused on acoustic ecology and vocal improvisation. Working with Maja Jantar in Belgium on Órói (2010) gave me a chance to learn from her experience as a composer, and to co-develop a multidisciplinary work that included recorded and live vocals. I’ve been experimenting with this combination (mostly privately) since then.

The new Sound Poetry and Visual Poetry project will be the first larger solo experiment of mine that combines these multiple approaches. It’s a gigantic learning process, and is hourly throwing me into moral quandaries about working with audio material harvested from rural soundscapes. How to combine text, voice, and/or field recordings in a way that is conceptually and ethically coherent, responsive, responsible (and not solely for the exercise of trying it)?

CL: What gear do you use? And do you edit your clips afterwards?

AR: I work primarily with a Zoom H4N Handheld Audio Recorder plugged into Shure noise-cancellation headphones (the latter squeezes my head a little too tightly, so I get fatigued wearing them too long). For raw audio recordings, I prefer to only edit starts and ends, so that the recording has as little post-recording manipulation from me as possible.

CL: Do you have any tips on recording water or other sounds?

AR: A good windscreen is key for recording outside (especially if you’re recording in Iceland—SO MUCH WIND!). I’ve also found my recording experience (and the recordings themselves) have improved as I’ve figured out how to move soundlessly through an environment, which then gives me access to exploring a soundscape from different heights and in different proximities to sound producers. This has been particularly helpful when recording water, as it’s given me a chance to explore the source from different sonic angles, thereby discovering the multitude of voices produced by water sites. Patience is helpful, too (particularly with kookaburra!).

You can follow Angela Rawlings on Twitter @efhilmnorstuvwy.

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