Article Category Archives: Editorial

Words > Stories > Action

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RE Nature: Concerning nature.
Renature: To restore to original condition.

We began plans for this issue of Understorey Magazine over a year ago, in August and September of 2018. It seems like a long time has passed.

At that time, few people knew of Greta Thunberg, fewer had attended a Climate Strike. Extinction Rebellion did not exist. The IPCC had yet to release their game-changing report, the one that warned we had only twelve years to take serious action against climate change.

In the past year, it seems, our awareness has transformed. Even our language has changed. It is now commonplace to talk of the “climate crisis” or the “climate emergency.”

But while global awareness has recently surged, the situation itself—warming, melting, acidification—is not new at all. Half a century ago, back in the 1970s, Exxon (and probably others) accurately predicted and then actively buried the fact that burning fossil fuels would rapidly warm the planet. A quarter of a century ago, in 1992, nations met in Rio to sign the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The goal was to limit “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate. And decades ago, Indigenous people, especially those in the Arctic, sounded the alarm, told us we are not doing enough. They have been living in a changed climate ever since.

The climate crisis has been called a “long emergency.” But things are speeding up—and it’s not just the climate we have to worry about. The UN has also issued dire, unprecedented warnings about species extinction. Some researchers say there are in fact nine planetary limits or boundaries; global temperature and species extinction only two of them. They say we have already transgressed four of those boundaries. Without a radical change of direction, and soon, we will not survive as a species.

So….

Why write poetry? Why write fiction or memoir? Why take time to paint or weave or sketch? Even for one morning, why ponder stories when so much is at stake?

A guiding principle of Understorey Magazine is that stories inspire change. Unearthing stories that are not often or not widely shared can build bonds, strengthen community, fuel action. This is why, for 17 issues now, we have chosen themes that are vital to our everyday lives but tend to stay hidden under the surface of everyday conversation: age, blood, service, motherhood, and more. In telling these stories, we announce: This has happened. This is happening—to me, to us. Stories help move us forward, they urge the question: Now what?

But as author and environmental journalist Linda Pannozzo recently reminded me, both through her writing and in person, stories can also blind us. Told over and over, stories can mire us in “truths” that were never truths, ideas that never made any sense at all. Patriarchy, for instance. Or more generally, dominion. Terra nullius. Nature’s bounty. Limitless economic growth. Whose stories are these? How are they sustained? What happens if we erase them and tell something new?

In his essential book, The Truth about Stories, Thomas King says: “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” Think about this for a moment. We are the stories we tell. We become the stories we tell.

In this issue of Understorey Magazine, our contributors do not lord over nature’s bounty. Nor do they stand aside in reverence or awe. They do not separate themselves at all—from nature, or from a nature in crisis. “We are accomplices,” writes Anna Quon, capturing in three words an alternate and necessary story.

Mi’kmaw author Tiffany Morris asks about specific words and definitions: “there is not a word in every language for / extinction event,” she writes. What does it mean that the English-speaking colonial world now requires this term?

Many of our contributors look at the storytellers themselves. “Auteur theory is for the birds,” writes Tanis MacDonald, forcing us to question who is penning the stories we tell of nature. Who believes they are directing the plot? And what about those relegated to the wings? Those who are homeless, endangered, living precariously, already suffering, or already lost? How will their stories shape who we are as a society and a species?

Of course, we have to do more than sit and write. We also have to rally crowds, get our hands dirty, listen to the too-busy and the still-doubtful. And, yes, we must pause to acknowledge the absolute wonder and our place in it. But creating a new narrative requires brave new storytellers, as well as a place to tell their stories.

So we invite you to read, think, comment, share, and act—RE Nature.

Thank you to all of our writers and visual artists, and to all who submitted work. We could not publish everything but we appreciated and learned from everything we read. Special thanks to our poetry editor, Rachel Edmonds, who vetted submissions and provided editorial comments, all while undergoing chemotherapy and planning a wedding. And a big thank you to our cover artist, Jane Whitten. Jane creates woven art with non-traditional but sadly abundant materials such as discarded plastic bags, telephone wire, and fishing line. The resulting portrayal of natural beauty and nature in crisis suggests not only where we now stand in the world, but several possible future stories.

The cover for Understorey Magazine Issue 17 showing sea stars created by Jane Whitten with plastic bags and telephone wire.

Editor’s Note

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To look up from my own work as a playwright and professor and edit this issue of Understory Magazine, with its focus on diverse stories of womxn on stage, was in some ways the pause that refreshes. It is inspiring to have this opportunity to engage with the unique and rich work being done by artists across the country. How invigorating to edit this issue at a time when equity, diversity, and inclusion are finally coming to the forefront of theatre and the performing arts! Pow.

Many thanks to Katherine Barrett for helping to shape and refine the idea for this issue. There were many ideas in the air when she asked me to edit an issue. Some might have easier but this, we felt, was the most needful and challenging. To have a glimpses into the lives, work, and artistic practices of the writers you see featured here, and to deliver their work to you, is a distinct honour. You will find excerpts from plays or performance texts, creative nonfiction about the inner lives of performers, and poems that capture the particular frisson of “liveness” and what it means to be on stage.

At the same time, editing this issue was also heartbreaking in some ways. As The Status of Women in Canadian Theatre, Equity in Theatre, and other similar initiatives reveal, there is a still a huge disparity between the challenging and rich work being done by womxn and what actually makes it onto Canadian stages. There are so many calls for “opportunities” for playwrights … that don’t offer much opportunity at all. There are so few opportunities for real play development and production. So much more work to be done.

It was a key and joyful part of this process to co-edit with writer and Mount Royal University student Audrey Jamieson. A colleague and I were recently discussing the fact that if you don’t have a mentee under thirty years old, you’re kinda doing it wrong. This is as true of editing a magazine as it is in the classroom or in the rehearsal hall. As I enter the middle (ahem, prime) of life as an artist, it is just as important to be a mentee as it is to be mentor. We must all strive to attune our ears to fellow artists in all stages of their lives.

We are really proud to offer you this issue, Diverse Stories of Women on Stage. It is in no way exhaustive, but it is certainly rich and diverse.

Assistant Editor’s Note

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It was such an honour to work on this issue of Understorey Magazine with Natalie Meisner and Katherine Barrett. The amount of wisdom and experience—of both the stage and the life surrounding it—from the womyn who shared their stories was astounding. Natalie has been an amazing mentor through this process, but so have the amazing voices that I had the honour of reading.

This issue of Understorey is a platform for womyn across the country to share in our common struggles around equity, diversity, and inclusion, but also rise to the challenge of creating a world where we don’t need to struggle any longer. I wholeheartedly believe that art and literature are the keys to crafting this new world. 

(Se) détordre la langue

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À quoi serviraient les expériences sans la perspective de les répéter ?
La vie, au fond, est un nombre infini de variations sur un même thème. 
—-Antonine MAILLET, Romancière et dramaturge acadienne

Ce numéro 15 d’Understorey Magazine se concentre sur les histoires des vies des femmes qui vivent une certaine francophonie au Canada atlantique, c’est-à-dire, leur propre francophonie, à elles. Nos auteures répètent, partagent, soulignent, à travers des plumes lucides, provocantes, luxueuses, traditionnelles, de formation et autre, leurs expériences; celles qui font partie de la mosaïque sociolinguistique de la région distincte du Canada atlantique.

En tant que locutrice francophone de formation moi-même, quelqu’un qui est née dans une famille immigrante punjabi-hindi-urduphone, un foyer enfoncé dans l’anglais du quotidien nouvelle-écossais, le français appartenait à une certaine population et par la suite, non pas à moi. Grâce à une formation solide à l’école et à une certaine affinité pour l’interculturalité, j’ai appris la langue française en Nouvelle-Ecosse avec enthousiasme. J’ai pris la décision d’outrepasser les barrières imposées sur et par moi-même pour poursuivre des études graduées en français.

To see someone that looks like you speaking French is really impressive.
Why?
Well, it is not what you expect.

Les mémoires des moments au foyer acadien continuent à travers la plume vivante de Paulette LARADE qui, par le biais de quatre strophes, raconte, de manière éloquente, toute une histoire familiale. La famille, vue parfois comme la vis quotidienne d’une langue, reste à la pointe de la plume poétique de Morgan MACKAY où l’espace, l’esprit et le pouvoir du message s’entrelacent pour offrir une image forte des liens familiaux. Notre dernière contribution poétique vient de Martine JACQUOT qui nous emmène sur un voyage chronologique de sons et de silences, de larmes et de rires ; les lecteurs (sur) vivent « un grand fracas, » comme elle nous démontre.

Les quatre contributions de non-fiction qui honorent ce numéro évoquent l’expérience de vivre la langue française aux multiples facettes. Sophie BEAULÉ donne vie à la notion de l’ailleurs, celui qui est subjectif, impulsif, constructif et tout simplement beau. Grâce à France SAVOIE-FRISON, l’acte d’écrire la langue française devient un moment poussé-tiré, perçant non seulement l’encre de la plume mais l’esprit de l’âme à la francophone.

Je suis tellement fière d’inclure deux contributions de non-fiction de deux de mes anciennes étudiant.e.s ; deux femmes pour qui le contact avec le français rend des émotions différentes. Pour Sonja WILLIAMS, la fierté d’être acadienne ne serait jamais en question, malgré le fait qu’elle a pris le nom anglais de son mari après le mariage. En ce qui concerne Ève POWELL, en portant déjà un nom anglophone, le français est devenu un certain kismet, un destin, car le français n’était pas présent au niveau d’héritage, mais par une introduction à l’immersion en école. Vive la Francophonie!

Carpe Diem

Au café, je prends une chaise
café crème qui fulmine mes lèvres pulpeuses
et
je m’assois.
Il n’est pas loin, aux cheveux roux
ses tatouages qui me rendent du confort, du désir
sont visibles
palpables.

Et je parle français, via Skype or whatever…
Doigts croisés qu’il puisse entendre
les sons
les syllabes
les siffles

Je ne chuchote pas.

En périphérique, je vois qu’il m’écoute.
La vapeur de son thé
tournoie
comme ma langue sur mes lèvres.

And maybe, just maybe…

Five Years Old

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Understorey Magazine Issue 15 cover, with Age by Ildiko Nova

 

Age

Welcome to Understorey Magazine Issue 14, an exploration of women, age and ageing.

The idea for this issue grew from many roots. There were discussions among our illustrious editorial board, of course, reflections on our own experiences of ageing: Reconciling that new face in the mirror or that oh-so-familiar but now elusive word. Contemplating how to act your age and then contemplating why the hell you care. Learning, all over again, how to ask for help—and how to give help in whole new ways. Many of these themes unfold in the eloquent, candid work by the writers and artists of various ages published here.

Our Age issue marks a milestone for the magazine, too. This autumn, Understorey turns five. As editor-in-chief for those five years, I have learned a thing or two about the creative process, about art and time. These ideas also inspired this issue.

I have seen, for example, far too many lists, prizes and accolades for “new” and “emerging” writers that in fact mean new and young writers. As if you might only emerge as a creative talent while young—and then either fizzle out or mature into an old, established voice. For some extraordinary young people, this is in fact their literary path. But they are exceptions, I think: art derives from experience, and experience comes with age.

Creators of the website Bloom recognise this. The site is dedicated to authors who have published their first book after age forty. Many other websites list authors who “got a late start,” first publishing after thirty or forty or even—gasp!—fifty. This is progress but, honestly, who has the means to write a novel in their forties? Why not a prize for “new” writers over seventy? An award for “emerging” artists over eighty?

Art takes experience but it also takes mental space, pauses in the day, the wherewithal to stop earning or caregiving—or both—long enough to gather snippets of images, cultivate a thought, nurture an idea into a finished work. Midlife, those moments are rare. As author, teacher and contributor Tanis MacDonald says in her book Out of Line, “I don’t have a life where it is possible to write every day, and I’ll bet you don’t either.”

Over the past five years, some of the most intriguing work has come to Understorey partly formed. These pieces were truly borne of lived experience but perhaps not into circumstances that allowed extended and studious polishing. This work is—like so much art, like most of us—both young and old. It offers wisdom but might still benefit from the guidance and wisdom of others. It is beautiful right now but will only grow more so with time and care, that is, with age.

Thank you for reading Understorey Magazine‘s fifth anniversary issue on Age. Please share with others and, if you are so inclined, leave a comment for our contributors.