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Spotlight On: PENINSULA SINKING by DAVID HUEBERT

Welcome back to our Biblioasis Spotlight Series! For the month of June, we’re featuring David Huebert‘s vibrant and unflinchingly intimate debut collection of stories, Peninsula Sinking (Oct 24, 2017). Don’t miss a brief note from the author below!

PENINSULA SINKING

Winner of the 2018 Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction • Runner-Up for the 2017 Danuta Gleed Literary Award • Shortlisted for the 2018 Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction

In Peninsula Sinking, David Huebert brings readers an assortment of Maritimers caught between the places they love and the siren call of elsewhere. From submarine officers to prison guards, oil refinery workers to academics, each character in these stories struggles to find some balance of spiritual and emotional grace in the world increasingly on the precipice of ruin. Peninsula Sinking offers up eight urgent and electric meditations on the mysteries of death and life, of grief and love, and never shies away from the joy and horror of our submerging world.

David Huebert’s writing has won the CBC Short Story Prize, The Walrus Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the 2020 Journey Prize. David’s fiction debut, Peninsula Sinking, won a Dartmouth Book Award, was shortlisted for the Alistair MacLeod Short Fiction Prize, and was runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. David’s work has been published in magazines such as The WalrusMaisonneuveenRoute, and Canadian Notes & Queries, and anthologized in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories. David teaches literature and creative writing at The University of New Brunswick.

“A sense of wonderment penetrates the everyday lives of characters from the Maritimes in this well-crafted, compelling collection that displays a mastery of classical short-story structure and technique. Huebert’s vibrant language juxtaposes tough characters with tender preoccupations, creating narratives that are unsettling and mesmerizing, making ordinary moments in relationships thrilling and dangerous.”
—Danuta Gleed Literary Award Jury Statement

 

Photo Credit: Nicola Davison

A NOTE FROM DAVID HUEBERT

Coming Home

When Peninsula Sinking was released, I brought my 3-month-old baby, Rose, on the famous Biblioasis 401 tour, where she attended readings, suckling her mother’s pinkie until it wrinkled and paled and she fell, finally, into stunned sleep. This June Rose turns five, and soon so will Peninsula Sinking, a book that was very much, for me, about my increasingly complex relationship to my home. 

In Peninsula Sinking, I stumbled into ecological writing because it was simply what worked for me. When I wrote about the ocean or an animal—a lonely whale, a stallion sex plane, a beloved dog’s gonadectomy (the euphemism, so appropriately absurd, is “fixed”)—I found that my writing gained a different and new momentum, a lyrical glitter that allowed my prose to rise, raise its hackles, turn around and face me, a strange and sudden creature I scarcely recognized. Eco, the root of ecology and economy comes from the Ancient Greek Oikos, or household. For me, and I think for most, home is very much an environmental concept—home is trees, skies, seas, the particular slump of the mid-morning sun. But I think that home, like the wilderness, is less a place than a psychological state. 

I wrote Peninsula while living in London, Ontario. The stories are mostly set in Nova Scotia, and in some sense I wrote them out of longing for the place where I now sit and write. I live on Chebucto Road, which bears the original name of this place, the Mi’kmaq word Kjipuktuk. Growing up, I never learned that word—a highly tactical obfuscation (I learned plenty about Cartier and Champlain and the Acadian expulsion). From my daughter’s room, I can see the yard of Oxford School, which I attended from primary to grade nine. I regularly walk my daughters past the house I grew up in, just around the corner on Duncan Street. (How strange it is that I can’t go sit in the backyard where I used to pick rhubarb for my mother and let green inch worms swirl through my fingertips). I have come back home, and one might think that I’ve arrived at a resting place. A part of me is deeply soothed by the familiarity of this place I have always loved. In particular, I love the grey, panting days, when it’s not raining but when the air is so salty and dank that an outdoor walk will soak your clothes. I have arrived “back home,” and yet, just as often, I feel ill at ease here. I feel myself a ghost walking through a past life, through the cracked concrete of the school where I wrote my first story (“Big Beard Ben”), where I broke B’s tooth on the wrestling hill and learned about explorers in a transplanted language. 

One layer of my unease, certainly, is an increasing awareness of land theft and genocide and the long, tactical, violent attempt to erase Mi’kmaq culture from this place. But there’s something else too. Something vague and creepy. A malaise. Perhaps it is just a necessary agitation in the feeling of home itself, a longing that refuses to arrive, directed always towards departure or return. I can’t decide, so I suppose I’ll just keep wondering, which is to say wandering, home. 

 

Pick up your copy of Peninsula Sinking here!

Check out David’s latest short story collection, Chemical Valley here!

 

Spotlight On: THE YEAR OF NO SUMMER by RACHEL LEBOWITZ

With a new month comes another addition to the Biblioasis Spotlight series! For May, we’re weaving through time and place, and history and memory in Rachel Lebowitz’s haunting collection of essays, The Year of No Summer.

THE YEAR OF NO SUMMER

“Darkly fascinating…Lebowitz highlights the parables, fables and myths we humans created in order to weave meaning into our lives and to which we return for comfort.” —Atlantic Books Today

On April 10th, 1815, Indonesia’s Mount Tambora erupted. The resulting build-up of ash in the stratosphere altered weather patterns and led, in 1816, to a year without summer. Instead, there were June snowstorms, food shortages, epidemics, inventions, and the proliferation of new cults and religious revivals.

Hauntingly meaningful in today’s climate crisis, Lebowitz’s lyric essay charts the events and effects of that apocalyptic year. Weaving together history, mythology, and memoir, The Year of No Summer ruminates on weather, war, and our search for God and meaning in times of disaster.

Rachel Lebowitz is the author of Hannus (Pedlar Press, 2006), which was shortlisted for the 2007 Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize (BC Book Prize) and the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction. She is also the author of Cottonopolis (Pedlar Press, 2013) and the co-author, with Zachariah Wells, of the children’s picture book Anything But Hank! (Biblioasis, 2008, illustrated by Eric Orchard). She lives in Halifax, where she coordinates adult tutoring programs at her neighbourhood library.

Get your copy of The Year of No Summer here!

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

What does it mean to be human?

Photo Credit: Nancy McCarthy

“What are you writing these days?” In Fall 2019, I took a leave of absence from one of my day jobs, so I could have time to figure out where I needed to go. I was taking a “writing leave,” I told people, but that of course was a mistake, because the expectation from all of us was that I would write, and then not doing so felt like a failure. We need to give permission for writing to encompass walking and thinking and reading and sitting with a mug of tea, watching the crows. As Rebecca Solnit puts it, “Remember, writing is not typing.”

I walked, I thought, I noticed birds and the sound of the wind. I thought about how noticing is an honouring. And I read. I read and read and put sticky notes in books and then typed them up into my ever-growing notes file, and then, five months later, just when I thought maybe I’m ready to write, the pandemic hit, and I homeschooled my kid and read escapist fiction instead because my brain stopped being able to process anything. Then my leave ended and I went back to working almost full-time in a pandemic, which meant moving from online to in-person to online to in-person, and that’s how it’s been for two years. I have written bits and pieces in that time, but nothing that coheres.

Lately, however, I’ve been obsessively thinking about this book-to-be which is always a good sign. So what am I working on these days? Like many artists, I am trying to make sense of the world. With this climate emergency, I asked myself, “How did we get here?” I asked a question that started with The Year of No Summer: “What does it mean to be human?” I wasn’t done with this question and I wasn’t done with fairytales, either. So, from these has come a grappling. I am using the ancient Greek idea of the elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and linking each with specific fairytales (some of our oldest stories). I am writing—or thinking out—essays that use as a jumping off point a fairytale to then delve deeper into humans and our relationship with the natural world, moving from the Neolithic Revolution to 19th Century mariners. Lately, I have read about the California and Klondike gold rushes, the history of spinning, and the Middle Ages. I am a frail thing, watching the crows in the trees, and the tide coming in.

Spotlight On: LET THE EMPIRE DOWN by ALEXANDRA OLIVER

Spring is here and so is another title for our Biblioasis Spotlight series! To celebrate Poetry Month, we’ve decided to feature a quietly eerie collection of poetry from Alexandra Oliver, taking a trip across the ocean and slipping into homes, movies, and memories in Let the Empire Down (April 12, 2016).

And don’t miss a special note from Alexandra below, on her new collection Hail, the Invisible Watchman, which releases April 5!

 

LET THE EMPIRE DOWN

In her second book, Alexandra Oliver takes us on a journey of escape from the suburbs of Canada to Glasgow, Scotland. Training her eye on the locals—on the streets, by rivers, in museums, on playgrounds, in their own homes, in the ill-starred town of Lockerbie—Oliver travels back into her past while reflecting on issues of exile, memory and identity.

Excerpt from Let the Empire Down:

THE MEGABUS GOES BY SHERBERT LAKE

There’s the water tank that bears its name.
There’s its purple edge: the shore, the ship
that crossed the lake, beneath a heap of lime.
I went away. I gave the place the slip.

There’s the mall where I would watch and wander;
there’s the bench where I would go and cry;
there’s the Polish deli that went under;
I left it all. It won’t remember me.

There’s the strip of mansions on the lee;
there’s the strap that ravaged my behind.
There’s the corner which they saved for me;
I made it out, and nobody will mind.

There’s the pier where people disappeared;
there’s the field of seven hundred crows.
The wind blows now. Convenient, ill-starred,
there it goes, forever. There it goes.

Alexandra Oliver was born in Vancouver, BC. She is the author of Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway (Biblioasis 2013), winner of the 2014 Pat Lowther Memorial Award, Let the Empire Down (Biblioasis 2016), and the chapbook On the Oven Sits a Maiden (Frog Hollow Press 2018). She is the co-editor (with Annie Finch) of Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters (Penguin Random House/Everyman’s Library 2015). A PhD candidate in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University, she lives in Burlington, Ontario with her husband and son.

Pick up your copy of Let the Empire Down here!

A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR

On Her Latest Collection

Hail, the Invisible Watchman is my third book; I suppose, loosely speaking, you could say it forms a triptych with Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway and Let the Empire Down, in that it deals with the grimmer underside of the suburbs, those elements which puncture the myth of cultivated, middle-class perfection. The fictional town of Sherbet Lake keeps coming up in all three collections, so perhaps you could call the whole lump The Sherbet Lake Trilogy. Just a fanciful thought.

What informed me in writing this particular book (and I suppose what makes it different from its predecessors) was that I found myself thinking specifically about what it is to be haunted—in this case, by loneliness and fear and isolation and what that does to one’s state of mind. The pandemic upped the ante. When it hit, people were driven indoors. There was this initial pot-banging “We’re going to beat this!” performance of enthusiastic resistance that took hold at the beginning, but then it wore off. People become afraid of going out or else went into complete denial. The political divide became a gaping chasm, and public discourse turned vicious, illogical. When I speak of the “Invisible Watchman”, I initially thought of that which watches us—consumerism, social media, the alt-right, the spectre of totalitarianism—but now I think it really means that hidden side of the self that threatens to cannibalize you at every turn if you’re shut away and living with uncertainty. I think being judgmental is one of those toxic threads—that particular theme weaves through the whole book but particularly through the last two sections.

Having mentioned all of this heavy stuff, I wanted the poems in the book to have a cinematic/tableau-like quality to them and an element of humour. I sort of imagine my reader holding up a View Master (remember those?) to the light and clicking through the reel thinking Okay, well that’s weird, I wonder if it’s going to get any … no, I guess not.

Order Hail, the Invisible Watchman here!

Take a look at Alexandra’s other work here!

Spotlight On: WHEREVER WE MEAN TO BE by ROBYN SARAH

Ring in the new year with another fantastic title from Biblioasis’ Spotlight series! For January, we’re featuring a collection of poetry from Robyn Sarah, the arresting and beautifully sensory Wherever We Mean to Be: Selected Poems 1975–2015 (November 14, 2017).

This month we’re also including a special reading of several poems from this collection by Robyn herself! Listen in below.

 

WHEREVER WE MEAN TO BE

A four-decade retrospective from the winner of the 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry.

Spanning forty years and ten previously published collections, Wherever We Mean to Be is the first substantial selection of Robyn Sarah’s poems since 1992. Chosen by the author, the 97 poems in this new volume highlight the versatility of a poet who moves easily between free verse, traditional forms, and prose poems. Familiar favourites are here, along with lesser-known poems that collectively round out a retrospective of the themes and concerns that have characterized this poet’s work from the start.

Warm, direct, and intimate, accessible even at their most enigmatic, seemingly effortless in their musicality, the poems are a meditation on the passage of time, transience, and mortality. Natural and seasonal cycles are a backdrop to human hopes and longings, to the mystery and grace to be found in ordinary moments, and the pleasures, sorrows, and puzzlements of being human in the world.

Robyn Sarah is the author of eleven collections of poems, two collections of short stories, a book of essays on poetry, and a memoir, Music, Late and Soon. Her tenth poetry collection, My Shoes Are Killing Me, won the Governor General’s Award in 2015. From 2011 until 2020 she served as poetry editor for Cormorant Books. She has lived for most of her life in Montréal.

 

A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR

Special Reading of Seven Poems

Wherever We Mean to Be is the first selection of my poems since The Touchstone in 1992. A forty-year retrospective of my work as a poet, it is again my own selection, a new winnowing of my first five collections and of four published since. I chose the title because, in revisiting where I’ve been, it struck me that this phrase—the last line of a poem called “Station”—seems to embody something that runs through all of my poetry.

In “Station”, a couple—”two travellers, refugees/ of our own pasts”—contemplate a space ship on the lawn of the science museum. They have not come to visit the museum; they are just passing, here for the day on business. They don’t know why they feel compelled to stop; something inarticulate attends this moment as, hand in hand, they gaze blankly at the “mute ship poised for flight/ it will not take.” The poem ends:

… The thought
that beats, propeller-like
above our heads
is that we’re here—
wherever we were before,
wherever we mean to be.

We’re here.

“Here” is where we are now—a moment in time, a position on the globe. But the present moment is nearly always infused with some awareness of past and future: memory and imagination are part of it. I think this is how humans live: with one foot in the past and one directed towards a future or an elsewhere made of promise and intention. Unlike animals, we live in a present that embodies consciousness of where we’ve been, and hopes/fears/schemes/dreams of where we one day may be.

We are where we are, and it isn’t necessarily where we mean to be. It’s this ambivalence, integral to the human moment, that fascinates me as a poet: the tug between immediate particulars and a mind that can project backward or forward in time. Those same particulars can make time stand still if we’re paying close attention to where we are now. Yet stresses that thwart or divert intention can give a moment its aliveness.

A walk along a beach at dusk leads to a scramble up a cliff face to escape the incoming tide. The search for “something perfect” comes up against the demands of domesticity. A man on a scaffold and a woman below give up trying to have a conversation that way. A woman at the top of a staircase contemplates stairs that “end in mid-air, halfway down” after the man at the bottom has cut off a section he wants to reconfigure. In the mirror on a bureau that once belonged to the father she lost in childhood, a woman sees how her own face has come to resemble his mother’s as she remembers it from when she was a child…

“We are where we are”—for now. In the accompanying sampler of poems I’ve recorded as audio, these are a few living moments caught on the fly.

 

Get your copy of Wherever We Mean to Be here!

Order her latest work Music, Late and Soon here!

Have a look at Robyn Sarah’s other fantastic titles here!