Rising Tides edited by Catriona Sandilands

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cover image for Rising Tides showing starfishIn the few weeks it has taken me to read and review Rising Tides: Reflections for Climate Changing Times (Caitlin Press, 2019), the world has all but forgotten the climate crisis. It is March 2020. Headline stories of wildfires and floods have slipped to the bottom of news websites or disappeared completely. We are consumed by another—seemingly separate—crisis: COVID-19.

But as contributors to Rising Tides show, as all nature writers show, few things are truly separate. A virus moves from wildlife to humans and then, within months, is transported around the world. Is COVID-19 different from the climate crisis, or are both symptoms of a larger problem: our unyielding consumption and exploitation of nature?

Rising Tides is a collection of poetry, fiction, and essays that originated in a workshop on Galiano Island, British Columbia. Most of the forty-plus contributors are from Canada’s west coast; many others are from Ontario, and a few write from the east coast. Despite their range of geographic location and writing genre, Rising Tides’ contributors are united in their portrayal of a world already altered by climate change. Their writing is not speculative, as editor Catriona Sandilands notes in her introduction, but rather bears witness to what we have already lost and what we continue to lose. Right now, every day.

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High School by Tegan and Sara

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cover of High School

Dancing (or crying) to songs by Tegan and Sara is practically a rite of passage for queer women and girls in Canada and beyond. Both Vancouver-based twins have been open about their sexuality since their music career took off in 1998 and they quickly became icons for the LGBTQ+ community. But before “Closer,” before “Boyfriend,” before the Grammy nomination and the inception of their LGBTQ+ advocacy foundation, Sara and Tegan Quin were just everyday sisters growing up in Calgary, Alberta. Their new memoir, High School (Simon & Schuster, 2019), guides readers through the tumultuous halls of Crescent Heights High as the sisters find love, drop acid, and pick up the guitar.

Told in alternating perspectives—one chapter is Tegan’s, the next Sara’s—the memoir spans grades 10 through 12. By the end, the Quin sisters are beginning to emerge as the queer rock stars that we know today. Though the conclusion is no surprise for Tegan and Sara fans, the raw emotion and honesty of their shared memoir never fail to captivate. The stories that earned High School a 2020 Alex Award (given to adult books with special relevance to teens) offer comfort to people who may be having similar experiences and are as relatable as the duo’s hit songs.

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Atlantic International Film Festival: Diary of a Feminist Film-Goer

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Cover of the program guide for FIN 2019Did you attend the 2019 Atlantic International Film Festival? Are you planning to submit a film to the 2020 festival? We are now about half way between the ’19 and ’20 festivals so what better time to post a review? Last September, we sent our intrepid reviewer Corinne Gilroy to FIN. (Yes, the Atlantic International Film Festival is known as FIN. No, FIN is not an acronym; it’s just a name.) In the diary entries below, Corinne relates her experience at FIN, focusing on select films directed by or about women. Enjoy—and maybe we will see you next year!

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Although 2019 was my first FIN, it wasn’t my first kick at the film canister. I was but a young whippersnapper, newly away at school, when the Tidal Wave (now Silver Wave) Film Festival launched in Fredericton in the early aughts. My friends and I made a November ritual of shuttling our bundled-up bodies between the rigid bear-trap seats of an old UNB auditorium and the drafty uptown multiplex. We wrung every last ounce of movie magic out of our student passes and cut our teeth on quirky world cinema in the process. Continue reading

Rebent Sinner by Ivan Coyote

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Book cover for Rebent Sinner showing a black-and-white photo of a child blowing bubbles through a window; an old-fashioned toboggan run is also seen through the window.)“I read and then reread Stone Butch Blues [by Leslie Feinberg] in 1993, and […] I recognized myself in someone else’s story for the very first time.

“I recognized myself and picked up a pen, and now it’s twenty-seven years later and I have not put it down.”

Observations like this are the heart of Ivan Coyote’s remarkable new book, Rebent Sinner (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019). A collection of anecdotes, memories, and essays that range from a single sentence to several pages, Coyote takes the reader on an odyssey-like journey through life as a trans person, a working artist, and a storyteller. The stops along the way range from a trailer party in Whitehorse to a prison-turned-arts-centre in Hong Kong, but Coyote skillfully guides readers to each place with their clear, passionate voice. Continue reading

Hustling Verse edited by Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme

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Book cover for Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers' PoetryHustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers’ Poetry (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019) showcases the literary talent of almost five dozen self-identified current or former sex workers (an umbrella that includes stripping, phone sex, full-service, etc.). The autobiographical thrust of Hustling Verse renders slut-shaming absurd and delivers a kind of reality check that only sex workers can.

Sedgemore’s poem, “A John’s Funeral,” for example, is a fond tribute to a client who “paid fucking well / and tipped too, also a great fuck” —one hundred and eighty degrees from the “violent john” bogeyman used to infantalize or concern-troll consenting adult sex workers. Hysterika’s “Going to Hell” revels in hedonism and not only eschews judgement but mocks the judgemental for their lack of imagination: “Twerking for Jesus / And his hair is metaphorically tied back in a gorgeous yoga man bun.” Continue reading

On Creating a Literary Festival: Five Questions with AfterWords Co-Organiser Stephanie Domet

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Official poster for the After Words Literary festival listing a selection of speakers.Understorey Magazine: AfterWords is a brand new literary festival for the Halifax area. What inspired you take on this project?

Stephanie Domet: My co-organiser, Ryan Turner, and I have had the idea for AfterWords since the final Halifax International Writers Festival back in 2008. Halifax hasn’t had a multi-day literary festival for the past ten years. We aimed to create the kind of event we would like to go to. There’s so much happening in Nova Scotia. We wanted to show writers who travel here for the festival—as well as local readers and writers—the very best that Halifax has to offer.

UM: Tell us about the AfterWords slogan: “Where writers and readers meet.”

SD: The focus of the festival is on conversation and hospitality, not just readings to an audience. So we have a lot of different venues, including Cafe Lara and the Agricola Street Brasserie. Some events free. Some have food and drink. We hope to widen the appeal of a literary festival, especially to people who might not think “literary” is their thing. This is not an elite event. It’s for everyone. Continue reading

Women on the Ballot by Betsy McGregor

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Book cover for Women on the Ballot: Pathways to Political PowerIt is an unfortunate fact that there have been more MLAs named John elected to Nova Scotia’s provincial legislature than there have been women. Women on the Ballot: Pathways to Political Power (Rubicon, 2019) bills itself as an “essential roadmap” to correct this imbalance by empowering women to run for political office.

Author Betsy McGregor ran for Liberal nominations three times and for Parliament twice. I have also run as both a federal and provincial NDP candidate and can say that many of the experiences and insights shared throughout this book ring true. McGregor interviewed more than 90 women with experience at all levels of politics. She spoke to Liberals, Conservatives, and New Democrats—from women of experience like Alexa McDonough, the first woman leader of the Nova Scotia NDP, and Hazel McCallion, Mississauga’s longest-serving mayor, to Roseanne Archibald, the youngest Chief at 23 years, and Farheen Khan, the only hijab-wearing woman to run during the 2015 federal election campaign.

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The Nap-Away Motel by Nadja Lubiw-Hazard

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Book cover for The Nap-Away Motel, showing a illustrated tree with cats.

We all have stayed at the Nap-Away. For a night or a week or a longer time, at some point and for some reason, we all have found refuge in a small motel on the edge of a city. The facade is nondescript except for one or two curious features. The same might be said of the staff. Because it’s the residents who, for the length of their stay, define the motel and create its story.

The Nap-Away in Nadja Lubiw-Hazard’s debut novel (Palimpsest, 2019) is somewhere in Scarborough. Its walls are yellow, the roof grey. Behind the Nap-Away is a huge oak tree and butterflies. In front is an open space where pigeons alight. And for the length of Lubiw-Hazard’s beautiful tale, the Nap-Away is home to three wildly different, struggling characters.

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No Meeting Without Body by Annick MacAskill

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Book cover for No Meeting Without Body

Annick MacAskill’s debut poetry collection No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018) strikes me as off limits—as fenced-in under high security. Perhaps MacAskill’s personal vignettes and anecdotes—conveyed through the work and labour of figures such as Aristophanes, Hildegard von Bingen, and Ovid—will resonate with the guiding metaphors of other readers’ life and loves. But I am straining, from the other side of a barrier, to hear conversation that may not want to be heard.

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Shut Up, You’re Pretty by Téa Mutonji

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Book cover for Shut Up You're Pretty

“But who was I?” asks Loli, the singular narrative voice uniting Téa Mutonji’s engaging collection of short stories. Shut Up, You’re Pretty (forthcoming, April 2019) is Mutonji’s debut and the first publication by VS Books, a new imprint of Arsenal Pulp founded by Vivek Shraya. The stories follow Loli from childhood, when she moves from Congo to Scarborough with her family, through to young adulthood. Loli’s question, posed after an awkward night out, highlights the themes of self-exploration and identity that permeate the book.

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