Stepping into my local Bookmark to pick up a copy of Michael Christie’s Greenwood, I got to chatting with the staff about reading piles. We all have them: on kitchen and coffee tables, on pianos, dressers, and desks. Each pile is unique. Essays in the kitchen; fiction in the bedroom. Poetry beside the old La-Z-Boy recliner in my studio. Stacks to be returned to the library or left at the community book box.
I start my day reading, waking an hour early to sit with a cup of tea and a book before going to work. Since moving to PEI, I’ve been reading a lot of work from Atlantic Canada. Tammy Armstrong’s Year of the Metal Rabbit is a new favourite. Living in the small community of Shag Harbour, NS, she writes poems about salt sheds, blueberry barrens, Nor’easters, vacation rentals, seabeds, and grackles. Her language crackles with close observations of the natural world. In “Mole,” she writes
“they scull their fleshy asterisks/ against rhizomes’ stitch and chandelier/ and squint their guttering through/ sleevey tunnels strung with ice and after-crocus.”
Two poems and I’m full.
Another East Coast writer whose work I admire is Douglas Walbourne-Gough. His first book, Crow Gulch, explores the social divisions surrounding a working-class community outside Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Through a braided narrative that weaves present and past, archival documents and family history, he explores his connection to place and how one makes a living from the land. In “Trouting,” he writes,
“Forget trophies, you’re after pan-sized fish/ whose necks are broken with deft pressure/ from your thumb.”
It’s the kind of book that accumulates page by page into an understanding that is difficult to articulate, but one that you instinctively trust.
Hailing from a different rock, the red rock desert of Utah, Terry Tempest Williams’ latest collection of essays looks at the erosion of the environment, of democracy, and of belief. Written over the last seven years, Erosion covers the varied terrain of the Anthropocene:
“How do we survive our grief in the midst of so many losses? How do we hold ourselves to account over our inescapable complicity in a fossil fuel economy? What are the necessary actions we can take in order to realize justice for all? And how do we find the strength to not look away from all that is breaking our hearts?”
This collection has been a worthy companion throughout the dark days of winter, where storm day after storm day has me shuttered inside, curled up with another book.
Bren Simmers’ first book of non-fiction, Pivot Point (Gaspereau Press, 2019), is a lyrical account of a nine-day wilderness canoe journey and a frank reflection on the roles friendship, mindfulness, and creativity play in the evolution of our lives. She is also the author of two books of poetry, Night Gears (Wolsak & Wynn, 2010) and Hastings-Sunrise (Nightwood Editions, 2015), which was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award. A lifelong West Coaster, she now lives on PEI.