Writing from the Boonies
April 02nd, 2008
You won’t see her activities covered on Bravo or mentioned in Quill & Quire, pills but for ten years Donna Kane has organized writing retreats, festivals and writer-in-residence programs throughout the Peace River region. Recently she worked with the City of Dawson Creek in naming a street after singer/songwriter Roy Forbes. Her new book of poetry is Erratic (Hagios Press $16.95)
At Peace with the world: Contemplating Prosecco & Gord Downie vs. blizzards & road kill
Some say the internet is a third culture. Whether you live in the “boonies” or in the city, where you eat breakfast dissolves the instant you log on.
A writer in Rolla, up here in the Peace River country, can be in the same space as a writer on Robson Street, both equally “there,” just like that.
Sometimes I do catch myself thinking about what it might be like to be a writer living in Toronto, perhaps drinking Prosecco with Griffin poetry prize winners in my friend Ruth Roach Pierson’ back yard, or reading at the Art Bar where Gord Downie might show up and invite me to a party. But the boonies is where I’ve always lived, so with nothing to compare my experience to, how would I really know?
Offline, a good cappuccino is at least one gravel road and several hours away, and Saturday’s Globe and Mail might not arrive until Monday. Definitions, I suppose, of the boonies. 70% of Canadians live in urban areas, so when I look out my window and see more land than houses, I know I’m in the minority.
When the imagery around me mostly passes for natural, it can’t help but give my writing a rural flair. Driving where I do, road kill is certain to pop up as a subject far more often than it would, say, in Ruth’s poems. If Ruth comes for a reading, it’s entirely possible that a fierce blizzard will prevent me from reaching the airport to pick her up, which might then inspire a poem about blizzards and road kill.
Last winter, Liz Bachinsky came to read and I didn’t make it to the airport. In less than an hour the temperature dropped 20 degrees causing the wind to pick up so ferociously that the 20 cm of suddenly falling snow drifted my road until it disappeared. That Liz’s plane landed in the midst of that storm seems less miraculous than just plain stupid.
So there’s the northern weather, the northern roads, the northern imagery. On the other side of the coin, I’ve held a reading series in the Peace for the past ten years and many of Canada’s best poets have come here to read. The after-reading events, at places like the Rolla Pub (where Ken Babstock was shot at with a bee-bee gun and Lorna Crozier learned to tie her logging boots), have, in my opinion, given our venues the kind of literary fame that would turn Toronto’s Drake green with envy.
My reading series has, in fact, reached such a level of chic that a recent reader, upon arriving in Dawson Creek, undaunted by the onslaught of pickup trucks with moose antlers in the back, asked the first person he saw where the nearest vegetarian restaurant might be. That may have taken things a bit far, but it does suggest that just because you live in the boonies, it doesn’t mean you can’t acquire at least the essence of literary hip.
Here artists working in various disciplines band together because there aren’t enough writers or visual artists to make up their own separate clans. Having such a diversity of artists chat and drink wine together has resulted in some ground-breaking events. A prime example is the launch of my new book inside a granary at the Sweetwater festival in Rolla. My reading from Erratic was conducted next to an art installation of a two-headed calf by Karl Mattson’s entitled Industrial Evolution.
Of course I’m grateful for email and bookninja.com, but as a writer I’m interested in who we are as human beings, and how we view the world where we are. I don’t think those concerns would be different if I was in a Toronto backyard or standing next to a two-headed calf.
Distanced from the continuous pressure of writing groups (not that I’d know) and in-crowds (Dawson Creek doesn’t have in-crowds), I like to think that a writer here might have a better chance of developing an original voice. If that logic doesn’t work for you, then there are the images we use, which are, by virtue of their uncommonality, special. And so, too, our view of the world.
Essay Date: 2007