Poetry Among the Seeds

Our BC Virtual Seedy Saturday poetry lineup is out. Eleven BC poets will be featured among the talks that make up the three days of the event.

Some months ago, when the idea for a virtual event was mooted, I was talking to Carla Hick, one of the organizers from Farm Folk City Folk. She said they were open to all kinds of ideas, and the word “poetry” crossed her lips. I jumped on that and offered to organize something.

I conferred with a couple of people – Yvonne Blomer, who’s well connected in the Island poetry community; and then Nancy Holmes, who teaches at UBC-Okanagan in Kelowna and knows many of the mainland and BC Interior poets.

It was Nancy who put her finger on the key issue: a regular poetry reading would not do, as our audience was not a literary one, but made up of farmers and gardeners whose focus is seeds, plants and the products of horti- and agriculture. She suggested something more multimedia. “Why not poetry videos?” she mused. Inwardly I cringed – learn another thing? Would there be enough BC poets writing around our subjects and comfortable with the technology?

Turns out there were! Farm Folk City Folk reckoned we’d have room for 10 videos, scattered through the weekend’s program rather than posted as one long piece. In the end we’ve got 11 poets represented, and here they are, with the names of their pieces and the date/timing in the program:

Sarah de LeeuwOctober Chanterelling – Sat Feb 20, 8:45am
Matt RaderGarlic – Sat Feb 20, 10am
Nancy HolmesThe Way We Are Made Of – Sat Feb 20, 12:15pm
Michelle DoegeFields of Wheat – Sat Feb 20, 2:15pm
Fiona Tinwei Lam – August Raspberries – Sat Feb 20, 3:30pm
Yvonne BlomerRhubarb, Death in a Garden – Sun Feb 21, 8:45am
Renée Sarojini SaklikarGrandmother’s Instruction, Sun Feb 21, 10:05am
Shelley LeedahlSometimes – Sun Feb 21, 11:15am
John Barton Malus Pumila – Sun Feb 21, 12:30pm
Rhona McAdam! – Wild Bees – Sun Feb 21, 1:45pm
Cornelia HooglandSeaweed, Sun Feb 21, 3:45pm

All the poets used their own poems and created new videos for this program, so check ’em out! Registration for the weekend is only $5 (or more if you want to donate towards a share that goes to the organizing nonprofits). See you there!

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Seedy Saturday, Pandemic Style

I’m back online after a long absence! It seems right to pick up the thread here with news of this year’s Seedy Saturday.

Autumn is the time gardeners and farmers are starting to pore over seed catalogs, and community organizers are normally well into booking venues and speakers and seed vendors for that fine Canadian tradition known as Seedy Saturday.

But back in the fall of 2020, infection numbers were starting their winter ascent, and we were beginning to hunker down for more isolation after a carefully sociable summer. So the folks from Vancouver’s Farm Folk City Folk took the bit between their teeth and invited regional Seedy Saturday organizers into a series of brainstorming meetings to see if we wanted to put all our seeds in one provincial basket.

The consensus was a resounding YES. And FFCF has done a remarkable job of engaging seedy folk from around British Columbia to prepare a rich and fertile schedule for BC’s Virtual Seedy Saturday from Feb 19-21.

The nonprofit groups who organize local Seedy Saturday events in ‘normal’ times have lost this valuable source of income, and FFCF is sharing whatever profit may ensue with those groups. One of them, with which I’ve long been associated, is Haliburton Community Organic Farm.

Hali’s contribution is a talk by Kristen Miskelly of Saanich Native Plants, one of the longtime farm lessees on Hali’s land. She’ll be speaking on ‘Native Seed For Gardening and Restoration’.

I’ve also been working with Kelowna poet Nancy Holmes to coax poetry videos from BC poets. We approached those we thought would have a passion for seeds, gardens or similar, and our harvest will be scattered through the program. More on all this in upcoming posts!

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Seeds and the Future

2012SeedSavingTomatoSeed1I’ve just been reading Thor Hanson’s delightful book, Seeds, which delves into the unanswered questions we have about seeds. Why some of them are crazy large and impenetrable, like coconuts or brazil nuts, while others are almost too small to see: petunia seeds, arugula, amaranth. They have touched human evolution in every possible way. No question they have, as the subtitle puts it, “conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history.”

So, mulling this over and with Victoria Seedy Saturday coming up in less than a week, I’ve been thinking about seeds a lot. Not just the seeds of wisdom I’ll be sharing in my talk (Superfoods in your own backyard) but the overarching importance of seeds in our lives.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years is how important seed-saving is. And like everything in this beautifully complex life, it’s a complex business. Or maybe a simple one. You can take it to any length you’re up to – from isolating and hand-pollinating squash flowers to simply shaking the yield of a leek’s seed head into a paper bag to sort out later.

In our neighbourhood we have a community seed bank. It’s a collection of seeds that we’ve grown for several years in this area, harvested and deposited into containers that a couple of our neighbours hold onto for us. It’s food security for times of disaster. It’s also a living record of seed evolution in this microclimate, which is changing as surely as all the others on this planet. And it’s a bond between those who grow and eat and keep our back yards fertile today with those in generations to come.2013SeedBankPackagingParsnipSeed

So many heritage varieties of garden vegetables and fruits have been lost as the seed companies seek to narrow their offerings down to profitable and popular lines. Our work with the community seed bank helps to maintain and develop our local seed stock. And our gardens help to maintain the soil that nourishes those plants, because that is part of a culture’s heritage too.

For as much as we know our farmland is being steadily lost to development, so are our backyard gardens, as houses are torn down to make way for multi-occupancy dwellings. You’ve seen it as you walk around your own area. The topsoil is scraped off and taken away, and what’s left is clay, gravel and fill. Mostly that’s covered with concrete. That irreplaceable topsoil is sold off, its unique and localized fingerprint lost along with the micro-organisms that give it life and nourish the plants that have grown in it for millennia.

GardenPathChiveSeedheadsWe can’t do much about the scale of development and population growth, we individual home-owners and gardeners. But we can look after our soil while we have it, and encourage others to do likewise. Some of that wisdom, some of those seeds, will follow us down the years to feed future generations.

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Dead Poets, Living Words

I am looking forward to Sunday’s installment in the Dead Poets Reading Series in Vancouver, when I will have the delightful task of reading Maxine Kumin’s work. Here she was, back in 2008, reading three of her poems, including one of my favourites, Apparition.

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Art & Poetry Walk

Yvonne Blomer kicks off the tour at Victoria Public Library

Yvonne Blomer kicks off the tour at Victoria Public Library

Last weekend was a busy time for me, with my Saturday in particular fully booked. I was part of Poets Converse with Street Art | A Walking Tour – a cultural recreation organized and led by Victoria’s poet laureate Yvonne Blomer, and featuring Victoria’s youth poet laureate Zoe Duhaime, plus local poets Wendy Morton, Daniel G. Scott, Garth Martens and me – all asked to write poems in response to our choice of public art within a walking radius of the public library. There were also readings of Victoria poems by Carla Funk, John Barton, Robert Service, Rudyard Kipling and Michael Kenyon. Here’s how it looked on a day of all weathers:

Wendy Morton reads poem to steel sculpture by George Norris

Wendy Morton reads poem to steel sculpture by George Norris

Carla Funk's Poetree

Carla Funk’s Poetree

My chosen piece: Crystal Przybille's “Raising a Tea Cup”

My chosen piece: Crystal Przybille’s “Raising a Tea Cup”

Local historian John Adams reads Kipling's record of a boozy visit to Victoria.

Local historian John Adams reads Kipling’s record of a boozy visit to Victoria.

Emily Carr's monkey Woo who inspired John Barton's poem

Emily Carr’s monkey Woo who inspired John Barton’s poem

Lekwungen artist Butch Dick's "Spindle Whorl"

Lekwungen artist Butch Dick’s “Spindle Whorl”

Daniel G Scott reads poem reflecting Crystal Przybille's "Holding a Mirror"

Daniel G Scott reads poem reflecting Crystal Przybille’s “Holding a Mirror”

Wendy Morton admires Crystal Przybille's "Panning for Gold"

Wendy Morton admires Crystal Przybille’s “Panning for Gold”

Crystal Przybille's "Tying a Rope to a Mooring Ring"

Crystal Przybille’s “Tying a Rope to a Mooring Ring”

Crystal Przybille's "Holding Binoculars"

Crystal Przybille’s “Holding Binoculars”

Garth Martens reads to Robert Wyland orca mural.

Garth Martens reads to Robert Wyland orca mural.

Michael Kenyon's poetry trapped in morse code on Broad Street

Michael Kenyon’s poetry trapped in morse code on Broad Street

Yvonne leads us down dark alley

Yvonne leads us down dark alley

Yvonne Blomer reads Running Away, to Cameron Kidd (and street artists) graffiti mural

Yvonne Blomer reads Running Away, to Cameron Kidd (and street artists) graffiti mural

Yvonne and Zoe respond dynamically to String Figure Art Anne J Steves

Yvonne and Zoe respond dynamically to String Figure Art Anne J Steves

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