Saturday, 11 December 2010

o christmas tree: "K'Ayatcht'N! I hold my hands up to you, plant spirits!"

John Bollwitt photo, Culturally modified tree, Stanley Park BC

I first learned the term "culturally modified tree" from my friend Michael Blackstock, Gitxsan poet, forester, mediator, visual artist, and thinker, while participating in Poetry Train 2 which brought Heather Harris, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Michael and myself, together with our videographer sidekick Stephen St. Laurent, from Prince George to Prince Rupert and back again, an experience of poetry diplomacy that was one of the best teachings of my BC-based life. Given that I have lived in BC three times longer than in my home province of Manitoba and my third place of sojourn in southern Ontario, combined, that is a fairly extensive statement: it was a big learning feast.

I came away thinking, among other things, about the role of plants and trees in the ceremonies and festivities I have participated in, at various times of my life. Plant sacrifices, of flowers and for food, at weddings and funerals, in Taiwan, Manitoba, Ontario and BC, and the annual Canadian Christmas tree, featured prominently in my thinking. In what ways is it acceptable to take or change another's life? Michael's book, Faces in the Forest: First Nations Art Created on Living Trees, provides a respectful introduction and early survey of the interactions of humans and trees in BC regions.

Contemporary culturally modified trees, P. Colangelo photos
Wyss & Pan, culturally modified trees, Stanley Park

Cease Wyss is a local multidisciplinary artist-activist, featured in Kamala Todd's documentary short, Indigenous Plant Diva. She and Davide Pan collaborated in a beautiful contemporary exploration of the traditional, non-fatal plant-human interactivity, as part of a larger project, Stanley Park Environmental Art-- Ephemeral Works (from which the above two photos are reproduced). The "Artist Statements" read as paeans to our grandmothers, the project, and the place, and it is from Cease' celebratory statement that the quote in my title is taken:

K'Ayatcht'N! I hold my hands up to you, plant spirits!

Check out Tania Willard's exploration of roots and branching structures, in the same series.

What is important to children, I have noticed in these twenty-five years of schlepping through life in intimate proximity to my beautiful offspring, is that we do celebrate. Once a person lets go of that natural ebullience, that happy desire to live and be and grow, to affirm who we are and where we are in any possible form of expression, stagnation sets in, and passion becomes a more complex struggle instead of a simple human being. As a child I often wondered, "what is all of the fighting about?" Watching Wikileaks unfold, or any of the going concerns that fascinate our media pundits-- and what better than freedom of speech, lies and diplomacy, with conflicting contemporary sexual mores thrown in?-- I wonder the same. Watching the sea of life, the tides and the flows...

There was one good man.
To him Xá:ls said:
“You shall be a tree,
A good tree;
You shall be Xpá:y, the cedar;
You shall be houses, beds, ropes;
You shall be baskets and blankets;
You shall be a strong boat
In the flood that I shall send
To show this Syewá:l
That there is One other than he
In Swáyél, the earth.”

So Xpá:y, the cedar,
Gave his stem and his branches,
Gave his roots and his peeled bark,
And soon a boat floated upon the waters
Wherein sat the children of Xpá:y
And waited for what would come.

My daughter, Flora, each time the subject of a Christmas tree comes up, insists that a rooted tree is the only acceptable kind of pine or fir to bring into the house for these few weeks of celebration. While she finds a plastic poppy that has shifted so much in meaning over the years, entirely acceptable in November, the traditional lopped-at-the-knees type tree for late December and early January will simply not work for her this year.

At the same time, she expresses disgust with Canada Post Corporation, as they don't even show Santa the letters that they collect in his name, and so he can't answer any of the questions that young people such as herself may wish to share with him.

Whatever your inherited and chosen means of celebration, and whatever you celebrate at this time of year, the important thing is still and always, to celebrate. Winter is a time for storytell, and that is what my family gathers to celebrate at this time of year.

John Bollwitt, CMT photo, Stanley Park BC, 2008
Artist statements & P. Colangelo photos, Vancouver Park Board
Sepass Poems (Longhouse, 2009)

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Shy Goddess, Shakespeare & Kali: Her Flowering Mind

In preparation for reading with Diane Wood, Beth Buchanan, Shauna Paull at the opening of Pandora's Toy Box this evening, I've been looking again at images of The Shy Goddess, all Lotus Head and Sexual Body: Her Flowering Mind...

Desdemona (Durga)

he came at me in a fierce rage
i felt a small crack open in my
forehead, Kali
burst forth and struck him
a fierce blow
and he was felled
Kali continued
moving about the scene
devouring men high and low
and then
i said, stop.
Not the shaper.

her eyes strayed toward Emilia
and again
i said, stop.
with the place now cleared
but for the four left standing
Kali returned to slip inside
my head
i went to the cupboard
for rags and salt
i opened the closet
for the mop and bucket
started running cold water

No idea what Iago or Emilia
will do with themselves, but
a woman needs to keep her
attention on what she herself
needs to do: every good bloodbath
must be followed by a scrub and rinse,
a home is not a battlefield after all

The Shy Goddess: Lotus & Mother

Characters in the poem: Iago, Desdemona, Emilia, Kali, Durga, 
The play, Othello, in full.

Organ Pipes National Park photo, & poem, by Joanne Arnott
Poem was originally published in The New Chief Tongue #8, Laurel Reed Books 

Quote & related "Love Commandos" link, gift of Badruddin Gowani via Globeistan
Sarojini Sahoo, an interesting conversation, Sense & Sensuality

Shy Goddess images from the web, with resonance
For more about The Shy Goddess see Aditi, Lajja Gauri

Thanks to AHA Media for images of Diane Wood's creations & the opening last night.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Autumn Festivities: VIWF & Heart of the City


66 Emerge

Sun, Oct 24, 4:00pm
Waterfront Theatre
This afternoon is the launch of emerge 2010, the annual anthology from Simon Fraser University's Writer’s Studio. It provides a tantalizing taste of new work from those who have participated in the Studio this year. Come and hear from new voices in our midst — 25 new writers who span 3 generations and who write in the genres of non-fiction, poetry, fiction and lyric prose.
Ivan Antoniw, Claire Beaudette, Cullene Bryant, Madeleine Butler, Esmeralda Cabral, Karim Elsharkawi, Xanthe Faulkner, James Gates, Kagan Goh, Chris Hellewell, Jennifer Irvine, Bruce Leighton, Toni Levi, Laurie Ann Melnychuk, Edward Parker, Jocelyn Pitsch, Caroline Purchase, Claire Rawson, Greg Robinson, Meaghan Rondeau, Renee Saklikar, Kerry Sandomirsky, Betty Spinks, Rossa Sung, Peggy Trendell-Jensen

As editor of the emerge 2010 anthology, I'll be taking part in the launch this afternoon, on Granville Island.


Heart of the City:
Opening Reception
Saturday October 30, 7pm-9pm
Lolo’s Café, 611 Alexander
Exhibition October 30 to December 24

Why is the Bad Girl always blamed for the evils of the world? An exhibit of new artwork by Diane Wood—mixed media painting, collages and dolls from the dark side—exposes the unspeakable danger that lurks in little Pandora’s childhood playthings. Diane is a DTES resident, poet, community activist and gardener. ‘Hope’ you can join us on Opening Night for a poetry reading with Diane, Shauna Paull, Joanne Arnott and Beth Buchanan. Thanks to Lolo and Chef a la Carte. Regular business hours at Lolo’s are Monday to Friday, 11am to 2pm. Everyone welcome. Free

Images of activist & poet Stephen Lytton grace the Heart of the City promotions this year.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Playing For Change | Celebration of Music

Playing For Change | I've Got Dreams To Remember
A new release from Playing For Change, one of my favourite Otis Redding offerings done justice, and a few pix from my trip to Australia and New Zealand, with warm thanks to the new friends and family that kept the weeks warm and full. Special thanks to Carole & Melissa!

Photos of shells & flowers by Joanne, photos of shore & beach by Alastair Campbell.

Coming up: Celebration of Music

Friday, October 22 7-9pm

Native Education College
285 East 5th Avenue
Vancouver, B.C.

CD Launch and Celebration
Tzo'kam will host a celebration of music with the launch of two CD's, one by Tzo;kam and the other by Russell Wallace. Both CDs are compilations with some new recordings.
Tzo'kam - "Today is a Good Day" looks back at the recordings of a family group which was started by Flora Wallace back in 1997. The group continues to carry on the tradition of singing songs in the St̕át̕imc language.
"Neo-Nativisms 1989-2009" - Russell Wallace looks at the music by Russell Wallace composed for theatre, dance and film over the last 20 years and includes some new recordings by different artists.

There will be some singing and performances by the artists that evening. There will also be catering by Kanata Cuisine.

This event is free and has been supported by the First Peoples Heritage, Language and Culture Council.

For more information please contact Russell Wallace at 604-444-0011 or by email at

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Conversation BC

Dear Carole James

I was interested to read in The Vancouver Sun that you have sent out a call for input on the new NDP platform, to carry you into the next election. It seems to me that the BC Liberal Party should not, if ethics weighed into the question at all, be elected and re-elected and re-re-elected. Clearly it is wealth and connectivity, and not ethics, that swings the vote here in BC.

That said, I am going to give you a little list of possibilities that would make my life as a BC mother, writer, voter, a whole lot better: I am going to do this from the center, you understand, without regard for what is deemed to be federal, provincial, municipal, or spiritual matters. I was born between the tidy stools of governance and polity, and I will die here, so, pardon my overview.

1) In Canada, in BC, we hereby acknowledge that the teeth are a part of the human body, every bit as valuable and as integral as the pancreas, the brain, the skin, and so on. All levels of public medicine must now include care and well-being of teeth; dentists will be included in the medical system in the same way that midwives, chiropractors, and other specialists are included, and the support of all humans within all territories, in regard to their teeth as well as their hearts, is assured by all levels of government and without prejudice.

2) In Canada, in BC, we hereby acknowledge that Indigenous people are a part of the human family, every bit as valuable and as integral as the settlers, the immigrants, the refugees, and so on. All levels of human rights must now include and apply to indigenous people, be they diasporic urban and suburban people, rural and reserve-based people, provincial and territorial-based people, status and non-status people, wealthy and impoverished people, connected and disconnected people, female people and male people, miscegenetic people and non-miscegenetic people. The collective rights of Indigenous people do not extinguish the individual rights of Indigenous people. The collective and individual rights of settler people do not extinguish the collective or individual rights of Indigenous people.

3) In Canada, in BC, we hereby acknowledge that artists and craftspeople are primary producers, in the same way that hunters, trappers, fishers, foresters, loggers, miners, and farmers are primary producers. Secondary producers such as gallery owners, academics, publishers, bookstore owners, elementary school teachers and high school teachers, college and university instructors, all rely upon the labour of primary producers, in order to execute their work. All levels of governance, industry, and labour must now work to protect the human viability of the families of primary producers, without regard to race, caste, or kind of production, by protecting the human rights and the health and well-being of primary producers, to the same degree that the more privileged families of secondary producers rely upon.

4) In Canada, in BC, we hereby acknowledge that persons victimized by crime are not culpable for the crime of which they have become a target, and thus, we do not tolerate the systemic public humiliation and dismissal of victims of crime, contemporary or historical, by permitting persons raped, murdered, assaulted and/or disappeared to be publically represented as inviting assault through any human choices made by themselves, or through any racial or religious or class or gender affiliations. We do not tolerate the systemic dismissal of Indigenous persons rights to personal safety. We do not tolerate police or military personnel who, through word or through deed, exemplify the spirit of racism and fear and denigration of “the other,” on duty or off duty, and we do not dismiss the ongoing impact of viral racism that results from the political finessing of overt racism and ongoing harm.

5) In Canada, in BC, we hereby acknowledge that children are persons, and must be adequately cared for, and we further acknowledge that the family is as integral a unit of polity as is any larger unit of society, thus, we will cease and desist over-privileging the non-familial caregivers of children, and systemically pushing primary families into distress and disintegration, by harmonizing the financial and medical supports available to all families of children in need of governmental support, without discrimination, inclusive of all races of people, all levels of government, and all regions of the province and the country. We will revise policies that prohibit poor families from accessing resources, or we will appoint bureaucracies to support those families to find their way through the current bureaucracies, thereby employing everyone.

6) We will, eventually, acknowledge that it is not the individual that is the basis of our society, but the connections between individuals, and the connections between families, communities and Nations, and that these connections are not wholly governed by individuals’ self interest, but by the ocean of vitality which we— altogether in our actual natural habitat— embody and exemplify. In Canada, in BC, we understand how the conditions of life imposed on some of us are the price that is paid for the conditions of life enjoyed by others of us, and, we have a transformative urge to correct the situation, for the long-term well-being of all.

All best,
Joanne Arnott

Photos of Joanne & her family's hands by Dan Fairchild, August 2005
For more of Dan's work visit

Thanks to Jesse Rae for permission to share theLocalOnlyz link, a little to the left or a little to the right of this blog post.

Monday, 21 June 2010

june 21 2010: journeys

I attended my local National Aboriginal Day celebration in Richmond on Saturday, listened with joy to the beautiful M'Girl.

Two of the many NAD events I wanted to share knowledge of are a World Poetry/Aboriginal Writers Collective west coast collaboration, and walk4justice 2010. The first takes a single evening to unfold, and the second will be unfurling for weeks, across half the continent at least.

Vera Manuel was a member of both the World Poetry community and the newly-formed Aboriginal Writers Collective west coast, and asked me to meet with Ariadne Sawyer and help organize a First Nations-focussed poetry event. We did that last June, in a twofold way, Russell Wallace helping with a Native Education College FN Poetry Day, and myself and others assisting with a Tribute evening for Vera herself,  at Richmond City Hall. This year, this evening, a single collaborative event will take place at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, featuring Doreen Manuel's short film, "Survivor," musician Wayne Lavallee, and many local poets of diverse traditions, performing in memory of Vera and with thanks.

Night scene inspired by a nature walk. Marie-Micheline Hamelin

I met Gladys Radek in November, on a rainy day, with doves flying around us: BC Bereavement Day in Vancouver, at a Downtown Eastside event dedicated to BC's missing women. Given my own dark night in the bush, which lasted a week and had a sort-of happy ending, and my years in the DE as a young mom and emerging writer-- or perhaps that's an emerging mum and a young writer-- I am wholly inspired by walk4justice. These ladies can sing! They can and do put their bodies on the line, to walk for justice, and in so doing they bring the famillies of missing and murdered women back into the compassionate awareness of the communities from which mothers, daughters, aunties, cousins, and sisters were plucked. From walk4justice 2010 brochure:

This walk is to continue to voice our concern about on-going violence against our women and children in Canada.

We want to honour our lost, but not forgotten, women who have died through violence and/or are still missing for over 40 years.

We will continue to walk to seek justice, closure, equality and accountability for the families of these victims. We are still demanding a public inquiry into all of the cases we have already presented to all the politicians and leadership nationwide. We want them to stop ongoing genocide and the legacy of "systemic racism" still happening in this country.

We want Accountability for the children of these women who are still missing and unaccounted for, they are our future leaders and we want them to know that somebody cares.

We will be leaving Kamloops, BC on June 22, 2010 and arriving in Winnipeg, Manitoba on July 28, 2010.

For more information, please visit our Website:

For full route details, and how to support the walking warriors and the famillies of missing and murdered women, please check their website, facebook page, and this years' walk4justice2010 brochure.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Always Giving Birth

It is a great deal of work, this birthing, and to have the moment captured in green stone forever is a gift. 

Ephemeral, the art of birthing, yet not transitory in the sense of most things: decisive, rather, a collapse of the wave function, a world-shaping day. Either I will die, or the child will die, or the child will be born quite fully. It has always been this way, and it will always be this way.

I have more in common with this stone hewn woman than I have with the books my children bring home from school libraries. I have this child caught in descent, my vulva filled up with you; I have that true friend who is gripping me from behind, between my breasts and my collarbone, head turned to sky. I have that urgent inward look carved upon my face.

The troubled hair is not as eternal as the smooth stone and certain lines, from the sure fingers on my lap to the curl of the hood, moving toward my spine. Animal substances will die away, much more rapidly than the flesh and bone of the earth, and the dust that is captured there feels just like my heart. What begins clean and crisp, if uncertain, eventually becomes gummy, dull, and less attractive than it was. But still—what? Serviceable?

I wonder if the artist, circa 1968, thought ahead to my visit of 2008, and worried—even for a moment—about his hair? The fine feathers he used, so bright back then.  I have more in common with the passing art sellers, who approach me when I leave the museum and—feeling faint—sit down to rest on a bench outside, than I have with the people who make the legislation that governs our lives.

By 1968, I'd already stood on the hilltop with my grandmother, watching the Voyageur paddling up the river, feeling her pride: I'd already looked through the dusty train window, at the insistence of my mother, watching the transformative appearance of Mountain from what clearly presented as Coal Pile.  Prairie to mountain, mountain to coast, coast to the great lakes region, all the way back: lifelong migrations. 

By 2008, I have already travelled from my home on Lulu Island to gambol with you on the shores of Baffin Island, Frobisher Bay.  From a sandy accretion in the west to a lichen-dressed tremendous pile of rock in the east, all falling away, I become dizzy enough to sit down for a moment. Having you sit down beside me, a real gift. 

You tell me you usually run this way, that sitting long enough to watch the small birds bathe is a boon. I tell you I never tried to come North again, after the assault in the bush and my turning away. Back then I wrote about myself as rockpiles, today I write of myself as a small flock of birds: still, ideally, we are stone people, always giving birth.

Inspired by a visit to Iqaluit in 2008, reflecting on the sculpture Woman Giving Birth by Elijah Michael, Kimmirut, circa 1968 & my own circumstance. Michael's sculpture is currently housed at Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, pictured here in postcard form.

Elijah Michael bio: Inuit Art Quarterly, "In Memoriam", p.46, Vol. 23, No. 3, Fall 2008, online here: 

Sunday, 18 April 2010

love & love poetry: everything we never talk about, let's talk about right now

I have a book of love poetry in print, steepy Mountain love poetry (2004), available via Kegedonce Press. I have to thank my friend, Greg Scofield, for listening to my over-excited conversation about this guy I used to go with, and who I was in touch with again, and all the possibilities that life was teasing and tormenting me with: put those feelings into a poem! he said. Within hours, the first draft of "Crucible" was written, and over the following year, many, many more love poems ensued.

In weaving the manuscript together, I chose that poem as the natural opening piece, and included only those poems that I thought others could relate to-- a poetic record of a journey through rekindled relationship.

All sorts of worries that might never have occurred to me as a girl of 19, when I first fell for the guy, were very much a part of my journey with him twenty years later. What had changed was, I was no longer a youthful traveller with a canvas knapsack, but a single mother of four. I was no longer 19, 20, 21, but 39 years old.  Most of the traumatic events of my life had been experienced either before I met this young man, who I would eventually marry, or they happened within the three on-again, off-again years we spent together, so, perhaps I was a more peaceful person, too, in many ways.

It was a tremendous time of wish-fulfilment, the courtship year, and the first years of marriage, for the poet, her muse, his ma and pa, her children.  I'd once dreamt that we had a child together, and the babe had one blue eye and one brown eye, so as the early years of our marriage passed, I was not at all surprised to have two more children, a little blue-eyed girl and a dark-eyed boy.

Somehow, sadly, the marriage we dreamt we would have, the one we discussed and plotted and planned, never fully took root: it seemed that the ghosts of the past, and the habit of disappointment, were stronger than all the common-sense, life-skills, and good wishes that either one of us could bring to bear.

When I found myself writing love poetry for some body else, I initiated one of those conversations that intimate partners have to have from time to time, the one that might be called, "Everything we never talk about, let's talk about right now."  Money, sex, the past, his paintings, my poetry, our future plans, and how we feel about everything.

Unfortunately, the conversation came too late. I had already made some decisions at a depth there is simply no arguing with. The conversation went well, but the marriage did not survive.

I think of the end of my marriage as a work-related accident.  I'd promised to write a piece about sex & sexuality, for a special issue of Spirit Magazine. I had most of a draft written, touching on a variety of sex-in-the-family topics, such as birth, masturbation, and my inclusive understanding of the term, family values. I just needed to write one more section, the I-&-Thou view.

Unfortunately, the problems in my  marriage were showing up as a block in my bodymind, and the deadline was breathing hot on my neck!  Ever the problem-solver, I called up impressions of the best of times with my husband, and I called up an impression of what an interesting somebody new might be like, and I pitched myself imaginatively between these two points of wonder. I wrote the missing segment, and completed the task at hand.

Alas, and as you already know, this is a cautionary tale. What I imagined for the sake of completing a writing task had a powerful impact on my inner life, and very soon I felt the earth shifting under me.  I tumbled in love with this other person, whose emanation I'd only meant to borrow, and the depth of my unhappiness with my husband became solidified into the decision I hadn't realized that I was on the verge of making.

Any time we publish a book, there is a parting of the ways. The book goes on to have it's own journey, or journeys, and we move along with our own. When things were most painful in my relationship with my husband, I became quite hilarious in performance, countering the love poetry with an irreverent between-the-poems patter. Once the end was in sight, however, all of the tension was gone, and I could read again the poems in this book, with the full measure of tenderness with which they had been written. Nostalgia, too, for what we both wholly wished may be.

I now have some 300 pages of love poetry, writ for a new muse, about half of which will be eventually published in a new book of love poetry, "halfling spring."  Some of these are finding their way into anthologies and journals, including the much-anticipated new anthology of Kegedonce Press authors, edited by Warren Cariou and to be launched this spring,  Speaking True: W'daub awae.

But love poetry is not restricted to romantic partners, the whole collection of mother poems I had published in 2007 are love poems of another sort, and the poetry we write for our friends, heroes, those we admire, are all expressive of love. However fraught with pain, if there were no love, no passion, there would be no poetry. Poetry is a vehicle for vitality, and vitality is love.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


Four Friends- Save The First Nations University of Canada!

20 March 2010

Please help us save and support First Nations University of Canada. Send this video to FOUR Friends and also go to print the letter of support and send it to your MP, Indian Affairs or the Prime Minister.


Four Friends Video

March 20, 2010 by fnuniv

Please support and help us save First Nations University of Canada.

1. Send this video to FOUR Friends
2. Go to
3. Print the letter of support and send it to your MP, Minister of Indian Affairs, and/or the Prime Minister.


The Four Friends video can be found at

“Everything that I’ve ever achieved in my life was made possible because someone believed in me and my right to an education,” Ignatieff told a crowd of students that assembled to hear him speak.

“The least I can do is to repay that faith by standing with you to defend this extraordinary institution which is unique in Canada, unique in the world... its destruction is an act of folly which we must stand together and fight.” 

M. Ignatieff

Sources for quoted material Fund First Nations University Now!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Longing: love and sorrow mix't

This chapbook, available through Rubicon Press, includes four long poems that I wrote between 1998 and 2008. The shortest of the long is a meditation on my relationship with my father, who passed into the spirit world this past December. The idea for the chapbook was sparked in my mind while reading through Aaron Paquette's Journal, and he very generously agreed to allow the use of his strong image, "Drumbeat," on the chapbook cover, and his own related thoughts within the pages of the small book.

Each of the poems is a meditation on matters of safety, and the heart, and these things come to mind over and over again. How do we, as warriors, have the safety and freedom that we need, to express who we are from the deepest levels, and to welcome others in who are relating from their own deepest levels of being? My fourth child was nearing school age before I realized that his tantrums were the same as those I'd witnessed my father having, through all my early years, and that I myself was prone to in those early years of parenting. How do we accept the pressures, snubs, insults of the world, and disperse them rather than carry them, so that we can step lightly through the days of our lives? How do we mend ourselves from the blueprints that we received from our parents? How do we engage with others who are expressing historical rage or grief in the here and now, without seeking to silence or moving into combat mode?

The answers to those questions are myriad, a thousandfold. The important thing is, to allow the energy to flow, to avoid stagnation, to lend strength to weakness and to receive expressions of pain with exquisite tenderness. To allow for and to embrace the multiplicity of truth.

I am grateful for my friendships, and glad that I hung around all these years, to see what would happen next: we all have our fragile moments, and we continue to live and to learn, from the young as well as from our elders, and from our colleagues and fellow travellers of every description.

all best,