Monday, November 27, 2017



I've been keeping occupied of late making chapbooks and helping a friend move so I didn't get to  much of  the Upstream Benefits: Rural Artist-Run Culture in the Kootenays symposium that took place in Nelson over the last four days, but I wasn't about to miss the panel Saturday afternoon with Tom Wayman, Nancy Holmes and Fred Wah talking about the ways in which they represent the rural in their work, nor the reading that night. 

"Art is Essential", or so it says on the poster, and I know I'm preaching to the converted here, but it really is, isn't it? Art in its many convoluted and wondrous forms keeps us going. Take those days when it's raining, you slept in because you forgot to set the alarm so you haven't time for breakfast and you get in the car, a song comes on the radio and next thing you know you're singing along and the day just got a little bit brighter. Or you're reading a book and something jumps off the page at you, grabs your shoulders and gives you a good shake. Or you're walking down Baker Street and there in the window of a pop-up art gallery are paintings by Sveva Caetani who you've never heard of and you go in and find yourself in tears. Or your kid plays guitar in the Library Lounge at the Hume Hotel, great old songs you mostly know, then surprises patrons with cool renditions of themes from television shows. In Castlegar you can walk around downtown and see sculptures that change every year, and the favourite, as voted on by the public, gets to stay. Dancing. Theatre. Jewellers and blacksmiths. The chefs who concoct the most wonderful edibles—it's all art, capital A Art, and I'm grateful for the small part I play in it.

Miriam Needoba, Oxygen's about-to-depart (she's going back to school to pursue graduate studies) and really-going-to-be-missed Executive Director, introduced the panel. 
Tom Wayman introduced the speakers with a pithy talk about rural vs urban art making.
Nancy Holmes, punctutating a point. She teaches at UBC's Kelowna campus and is very involved with is 2017's winner of the Pollinator Advocate Award for Canada thanks to her involvement with Border Free Bees. A favourite quotation from her talk: "Bees dance to tell us where the honey is." (Robert Duncan)
Fred Wah needs no introduction to Nelsonites, having grown up here. He was Canada's 5th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2011–2013) and has written many books of poetry. Favourite quotation from him during his talk is one he credited to his wife, Pauline Butling, who said, "Art exists to give the artist news of themselves."
Fred and Nancy sharing a laugh
Another interesting remark came during the Q&A from poet and audience member, Barbara Curry Mulcahy who likened artists to providing "sound" by being the thin skin of a drum the world plays on. Altogether an interesting conversation on a November afternoon.

In the evening we were treated to a wonderful reading with Nancy and Fred who were joined by Jordan Mounteer. 

Tom introduced the poets
I was delighted that Nancy read a few poems from The Flicker Tree: Okanagan Poems as well as from new work. I loved that book enough to blog about it in 2013!
Given that he hails from the Slocan Valley, for no good reason at all I'd not had the pleasure of hearing Jordan Mounteer read until now.  His book, liminal, got to go into an immediate second print run after his publisher, Sono Nis, suffered a fire in 2016 that razed the warehouse where books were kept. It's a wonderful collection of poems about tree-planting, travel, relationships and more. 
Fred Wah took us for a trip down the Columbia River via beholden, a collaborative poem he wrote  with Rita Wong.
Last October I had the honour of doing a reading with Fred, also at Oxygen, and just as he got started the lights went out. He didn't miss a beat, finishing with the help of the flashlight on his phone! Happily, the lights stayed on this time. 

The symposium is over but if you're in Nelson you'll want to take in Upstream Benefits: Artist-Run Culture in the Kootenays at Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History. This is an exhibition of work by ten local artists that endeavours to show how their work is influenced by where they live (ie. rural). The artists involved are Courtney Anderson, Susan Andrews Grace, Amy Bohigian, Brent Bukowski, Boukje Elzinga, Ian Johnston, Maggie Shirley, Natasha Smith, Deborah Thompson and Rachel Yoder. I've only had a chance to go see it briefly (as in, I got there twenty minutes before closing time) but I want to go back and spend more time with it. And you have time, too, as it's on until February 11, 2018!


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