Blackbird Song

Blackbird Song by Randy Lundy Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 9-780889-775572 It’s been a fair while since the poetry-reading public’s heard from writer and University of Regina (Campion College) professor Randy Lundy, but the outstanding blurbs on his third poetry collection, Blackbird Song, will definitely whet the appetites of his fans, and they should draw several new readers to these spare, contemplative poems scored with birds, prairie memories, and the moon in many different incarnations. Top Canadian poets like Lorna Crozier (“Wow, I say again and again”), Patrick Lane (he includes Lundy among “the masters”), and Don McKay (“visionary”) sing sweet praises, and Linda Hogan writes that these poems “are grounded constellations created of fire and ice”. When senior poets’ blurbs are poetry in and of themselves, you know you’re doing something right. And Lundy is certainly doing something right. Firstly, he’s turning inward, and asking questions both of himself and the universe that may be unanswerable, ie: “are you waiting for the appearance of that something whose appearance/would be its own vanishing?”. He’s creating unique images and juxtaposing words in fresh ways. Some of these poems are brief and reminiscent of…

Prairie Populist, The

The Prairie Populist: George Hara Williams and the Untold Story of the CCF: An Essay on Radical Leadership in a Time of Crisis and the Victory of Socialist Agrarian Populism, 1921-1944 by J.F. Conway Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-545-9 The Prairie Populist: George Hara Williams and the Untold Story of the CCF is a scholarly study of a virtually unknown leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, practically forgotten even though George Williams might have become premier of Saskatchewan. Author John F. Conway bases his biography on a Master’s thesis by Friedrich Steininger and an unpublished manuscript by Muriel Wiens, Williams’ daughter. Conway combines Steininger’s academic approach and Wiens’ personal story with his own massive research, uncovering the hidden history of factions within the party and friction among its leaders, to tell the untold story of the CCF. In 1917, Williams enlisted in Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment and a year later was wounded in the last cavalry charge of World War I. His fighting spirit continued as a farm and political organizer. As a full-blown socialist, he argued that the only way to defeat the traditional political parties was to commit totally to…

After The War: Surviving PTSD and Changing Mental Health Culture

After the War: Surviving PTSD and Changing Mental Health Culture By Stéphane Grenier with Adam Montgomery Review by Michelle Shaw Published by University of Regina Press $27.95 CAD ISBN 9780889775336 When Canadian soldier Stéphane Grenier headed to Rwanda in 1994 as part of the UN peacekeeping force, he had no idea it was the beginning of a journey which would change his life forever. He returned to Canada ten and a half months later grateful to be alive. But as he adjusted to “normal” life back home with his wife and children, he began to notice that something fundamental had shifted. There were changes that, in retrospect, he says, acted as signs of things to come. He was persistently impatient–the smallest thing could set him off. He had constant nightmares and difficulty sleeping. He experienced suicidal thoughts. Grenier knew something was wrong and tried to seek help but soon realized that “like numerous soldiers during the 1990s, I’d come into contact with a dysfunctional military health-care system and stale psychiatric methods, not to mention many doctors who were unaware of what war and peacekeeping could do to a person’s mind.” He discovered that “the military was completely unprepared to deal…

Antigone Undone
University of Regina Press / 24 April 2018

Antigone Undone: Juliette Binoche, Anne Carson, Ivo van Hove and the Art of Resistance by Will Aitken Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $24.95 ISBN 9-780889-775213 Great art can pick you up by the heels and shake the daylights out of you, and that’s what happened to novelist, travel journalist and film critic Will Aitken after he was invited to Luxembourg by Canadian literary phenom Anne Carson to sit in on rehearsals for (and the premier of) Sophokles’s tragic Greek play, Antigone, which Carson’d translated. The experience undid Montreal’s Aitken, and in his book Antigone Undone, he unpacks this “ambush” and explores why the 2500-year-old play’s been profoundly affecting audiences since first produced. Antigone Undone packs quite a punch itself. The hardcover’s organized into three distinct parts, and Aitken’s sassy style, subject knowledge and humanity illuminate each page. Antigone concerns an unhappy family (naturally). The title character’s a teen princess who insists that her battle-killed brother be buried, but her uncle, the king, insists he was a traitor and “his body must rot in the sun for all to see”. When Antigone – played by my favourite, Juliette Binoche – throws dirt on the body,…

Drought and Depression
University of Regina Press / 24 April 2018

Drought & Depression (History of the Prairie West Series, Vol. 6) edited by Gregory P. Marchildon Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-539-8 Grandma Knox recalled that after her father ploughed up seven acres of virgin prairie, he seeded his entire 1933 crop to oats. “He just seeded it by hand,” she wrote. “Beautiful crop. Grew up about six feet high, and froze right down in August. Wasn’t even good feed.” This one incident pretty much encapsulates the frustrations prairie farmers felt during the Great Depression. By recording and recounting his grandmother’s experiences, Clinton N. Westman brings the flavour of the past to life. His article is just one appearing in Drought and Depression, edited by Gregory P. Marchildon. A collection of fourteen articles by fifteen authors, it’s the latest book in the History of the Prairie West Series. Each book in the series is based on a particular theme. As the title suggests, Drought and Depression focuses on the Dirty Thirties on the Canadian Prairies. This selection of articles was originally published in the Prairie Forum journal between 1977 and 2009. The advantage of this book series format is that it gathers all…

House of Charlemagne, The
University of Regina Press / 20 April 2018

The House of Charlemagne by Tim Lilburn Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $19.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-530-5 Years ago I lived a block from poet and essayist Tim Lilburn in Saskatoon’s leafy City Park area, and it’s been wonderful to watch his literary star rise. He’s earned the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and is the first Canadian to win the European Medal of Poetry and Art. Like Lilburn, I also now live on Vancouver Island, and was excited to discover what my former nearly-neighbour has been (literarily) up to. Not surprisingly, his latest title – a collaboration with Métis artist Ed Poitras – breaks new ground. Part poetry, part essay, part script, The House of Charlemagne is a brilliantly conceived and executed “performable poem,” and an homage to Louis Riel’s imagined “House of Charlemagne,” named for the “polyglot Métis nation” Riel imagined rising centuries after his death. It was produced with male and female dancers by New Dance Horizons/Rouge-gorge in Regina (2015), and the book includes two black and white production photos. The bizarre and poetic story unfolds via multiple voices and shapes, but the key player is Honoré Jaxon (aka William Henry Jackson), a…

University of Regina Press / 19 April 2018

Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries by Gail Bowen Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $18.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-524-4 If you’ve ever considered writing a mystery novel, Gail Bowen provides the perfect opportunity in her latest book, Sleuth: Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries. She reveals the secrets to her success and offers a step-by-step, how-to process for other writers to emulate. Bowen coaxes writers – all writers, not just those working on mystery novels – to ask themselves, “What do I hope to accomplish with this piece of writing?” In her opinion, giving readers pleasure is ample enough reason to write in the mystery genre. She’s been writing for thirty years and offers her wealth of experience and encouragement to aspiring writers. “If you can’t imagine your life without writing, then you’re a real writer,” she says. Bowen stresses the need for accuracy. Just because you’re writing fiction doesn’t mean you can play loose with the facts. If a reader finds just one discrepancy in logic, the entire novel may become suspect. Emphasizing the mantra to show, don’t tell, she encourages writers to incorporate all five senses into their writing. She shows the importance of subplot and…

Arab Cooking on a Prairie Homestead
University of Regina Press / 28 March 2018

Arab Cooking on a Prairie Homestead: Recipes and Recollections from a Syrian Pioneer by Habeeb Salloum Published by University of Regina Press Review by Michelle Shaw $34.95 ISBN 9780889775183 I had no idea that Arab immigrants settled in rural Saskatchewan in the early part of the twentieth century. And, from the dumbfounded looks on the faces of my born and bred Saskatchewan friends, it’s not a fact that’s widely known. The story of one such family can be found in Arab Cooking on a Prairie Homestead. Habeeb Salloum’s family immigrated to Canada in the 1920s. Most Syrian immigrants of that period settled in the Eastern Canadian provinces of Quebec or Ontario, but Salloum’s father ended up settling in rural Saskatchewan. The 1920s and 30s were a tough time to be a farmer in Saskatchewan. But Salloum’s parents survived, as he puts it, on the “ingenuity and the recipes they had inherited from their forebears.” They found that many of the crops they grew traditionally in the Middle East, such as lentils and chickpeas, were ideally suited to Saskatchewan conditions. I found it amusing that, as a child, one of the highlights of Salloum’s year was his annual supply of bologna….

University of Regina Press / 27 March 2018

Mapmaker: Philip Turnor in Rupert’s Land in the Age of Enlightenment by Barbara Mitchell Published by University of Regina Press Review by Michelle Shaw $39.95 ISBN 9780889775939 Between 1778 and 1792, Philip Turnor and his guides travelled over 15,000 miles by canoe and foot to produce ten maps, which laid the foundation for all northern geographic knowledge at that time. But until now, not much has been known about him Barbara Mitchell’s carefully researched work has changed that. She first became interested in Philip Turnor when she realized she was related to him. Initially all she knew was that he was a “significant figure in the Hudson Bay Company”; their first inland surveyor, in fact. A few years later, she heard a wisp of a story passed down through the generations of “Grandfather Philip Turnor travelling rivers in Northern Canada with only the stars to guide him.” That set her imagination on fire. “I began to imagine Turnor with his sextant, compass, and watch, and with his Cree guides and my great, great, great, great [Cree] grandmother, surveying the rivers of Rupert’s Land…. Turnor introduced me to Canada’s northern geography and early history, to the men who mapped this land,…

Hero for the Americas, A
University of Regina Press / 1 February 2018

A Hero for the Americas: The Legend of Gonzalo Guerrero by Robert Calder Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $24.95 ISBN 9-780889-775091 Robert Calder’s A Hero for the Americas: The Legend of Gonzalo Guerrero is an impeccably-researched and compelling nonfiction title offering much to ingest, enjoy, and learn from. The GG award-winning author and Emeritus Professor (U of S) came to his subject as a frequent traveler to the Yucatán Peninsula, where the Spanish-born sailor Gonzalo Guerrero and numerous other conquistadors believed they’d find their fortunes. A sculpture of Guerrero, “a powerful figure dressed as a Mayan warrior,” first piqued Calder’s interest in the enigmatic 16th Century hero, and indeed, Guerrero’s relatively unsung story (as compared to that of fellow conquistador, Hernán Cortés) has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster: adventure, battles, romance, and legacy. The robust Andalusian sailor defied his country and Catholic religion after being shipwrecked (of nineteen, only Guerrero and fellow Spaniard Jerónimo de Aguilar survived) off the Yucatán Peninsula in 1512. Guerrero was enslaved by a Mayan chief; earned the tribe’s respect; married the chief’s daughter; became a Chactemal military captain; and fathered the first mestizaje children in Mexican history….