Personalities and Place
- Allan Casey (Author)
Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada. David Suzuki Foundation and Greystone Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Trevor Carolan (Editor)
Making Waves: Reading BC and Pacific Northwest Literature. Anvil Press and University of the Fraser Valley Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Brooke Pratt
In Making Waves: Reading BC and Pacific Northwest Literature, Trevor Carolan brings together fifteen selections that were generated by a public call for papers on a
broad spectrum of topics relating to the literature and literary history of the region that is sometimes referred to as the
North Pacific Rim. Focused primarily on poets and poetry from the city of Vancouver, the collection consists of works written by a wide range of contributors, several of whom hail from the University of the Fraser Valley (whose new university press co-published the volume).
Making Waves is an eclectic mix of
essays, interviews, memoirs, and critiques on the poetics and politics of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. While this variety makes for dynamic subject matter presented from a diversity of perspectives, it also means that the collection as a whole is somewhat uneven. Carolan’s hope is that this
compendium of works will stand as a
constructive addition to current scholarship on the region and its literature, in part by acting as a preliminary step toward future research. Making Waves is thus most useful in its privileging of the
North-South relationship between B.C. and the American Northwest as an area of study worthy of critical consideration that stretches across national borders.
Given Carolan’s claim in his editor’s introduction that writers from the region are noticeably attuned to
the particulars of local flora and fauna and
the unconscious natural rhythms of the land and sea, the collection’s overall lack of detailed attention to the nuances of place, environment, and nature is somewhat surprising (although there are a few exceptions, including Carolan’s own contribution along with essays by Chelsea Thornton and Martin VanWoudenberg). Despite its subtitle, the book also contains fewer literary analyses than might be expected.
Ultimately, Making Waves is more about profiling noteworthy personalities than establishing any sort of definable regional sensibility. Hilary Turner, for instance, provides an informative essay on the
personality clash between Roy Daniells and Earle Birney that led to the development of the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. In a related discussion, George McWhirter offers an inside look at UBC’s Creative Writing Program and the tensions that often divide academics and professional writers on the subject of university education. Sticking with the theme of political antagonism, Ron Dart supplies a clearly written assessment of the
poetry wars between social anarchists (such as George Woodcock and Jerry Zaslove) and Canadian nationalists (such as Milton Acorn and Robin Mathews) that helped to shape west coast poetry from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. Of all the appreciation pieces and personal essays printed in this collection (a few of which read as little more than puff pieces or catalogues of private literary acquaintances), Joseph Blake’s interview with a candid P.K. Page in the final year of her life stands out for its intrinsic value to scholars interested in Canadian modernism and literary community.
In contrast to Carolan’s collection, Allan Casey’s Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada is far more concerned with place than personalities. Winner of the 2010 Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language non-fiction, Lakeland is a personalized account of the author’s travels to some of the country’s most significant lakes. As a journalist writing in response to an unforeseen absence of existing material on the subject (with the
thousands of published resources on the Great Lakes as a notable exception), Casey offers readers an important avenue into the heart of Canada’s
lake-rich landscape. But Lakeland goes beyond classification as a work of
simple travelogue. Driven by a deeply felt attachment to lakes of all shapes and sizes, Casey’s larger aim with this book is to examine
how we use lakes, what we demand of them, and what they may require of us in return. He takes pains throughout the volume to emphasize our collective responsibility when it comes to better understanding and protecting Lakeland as
a country unto itself, not least because of the pressing
ecological threat posed by our own colonizing presence in this
With an estimated three million lakes to choose from, Lakeland focuses on eleven major Canadian lakes and their surrounding communities. The chapters are arranged by season and each offers a thoughtful portrait of a particular lake and a related theme. In the course of his nationwide investigation, Casey travels to lakes in nearly every Canadian province, from his own family cottage on Saskatchewan’s Emma Lake to the freshwater fjords of Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park. He documents numerous conversations with local residents from each of the lakeside communities he visits in order to flesh out the relevant cultural, ecological, and political issues, including tourism, waterfront development, aboriginal governance, agriculture, citizen science, biodiversity, and fisheries management.
The approach, Casey explains,
is as much about finding commonalities across Lakeland as it is about celebrating variety. Based on the diversity and scope of Lakeland as an invaluable national resource, he determines that
lakes are quintessentially Canadian in a way that the country’s other signature tableaux are not.
Casey’s intimate tone and informal style make for engaging reading material. While some readers might bristle at the underlying essentialism of a few of his introductory remarks—for example, his sweeping assertion that
happy associations with lakes are part of the Canadian collective unconscious or his confident claim that
recreational use of lakes . . . is the national pastime—it is difficult to deny (after reading Lakeland in its entirety) that
ready access to lakes for pleasure is one of the great perks of citizenship in this country. In the end, his sincere and reflective approach invites readers to consider our own relationships with lakes so that we too can begin to comprehend their allure and articulate their value. For Casey,
Canadian lakes cast a spell. A certain lake will lay a hold upon you, begin to flow in your veins. If this happens in childhood, as it did for me, you are imprinted for life.
- On Atwood by Sandra Tomc
Books reviewed: Approaches to Teaching Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Other Works by Thomas B. Friedman, Shannon Hengen, and Sharon R. Wilson
- "I'll Teach You Cree" by Nicholas Bradley
Books reviewed: Gabriel's Beach by Neil McLeod, Little Hunger by Phillip Kevin Paul, Fifth World Drum by Anna Mraie Sewell, and Kipocihkân by Gregory Scofield
- Inside Scaffoldings by Keith Wilkinson
Books reviewed: Interference with the Hydrangea by Mari-Lou Rowley, Origins by George Whipple, and On Order and Things by Antonio D'Alfonso and Stefan Psenak
- La mémoire blanche by Nelson Charest
Books reviewed: Pierre Blanche: Poèmes d'Alice by Stephanie Bolster and Daniel Canty, M'accompage by Marc André Brouillette, and Arbres lumière by Michel Pleau
- Candid and Curious by Tanis Macdonald
Books reviewed: Poets Talk: Interviews with Robert Kroetsch, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouri, Dionne Brand, Marie Annharte Baker, Jeff Derksen, and Fred Wah by Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy
MLA: Pratt, Brooke. Personalities and Place. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 23 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #212 (Spring 2012), General Issue. (pg. 136 - 138)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.