Undercurrent. Rita Wong. Nightwood Editions. Gibsons, British Columbia. 2015.
Rita Wong's Undercurrent is a siren scream, call to action, manifesto, electric cattle prod, banshee wail. Wong's poetry is a passionate plea, a desperate entreaty for us to act. This is a love song for our planet.
Wong loves water and she has researched her heart out as her list of materials, journals, essays, books and so on stretches for several thousand pages. She has distilled, from the murk of our most polluted streams, a clear vision and it requires our participation.
Declaration of Intent
let the colonial borders be seen for the pretensions that they are
i hereby honour what the flow of water teaches us
the beauty of enough, the path of peace to be savoured
before the extremes of drought and flood overwhelm the careless
water is a sacred bond, embedded in our plump, moist cells
in our breaths that transpire to return to the clouds that gave us
life through rain
in the rivers & aquifers that we & our neighbours drink
in the oceans that our foremothers came from
a watershed teaches not only humbleness but climate fluency
the languages we need to interpret the sea's rising voice
water connects us to salmon & cedar, whales & workers
its currents bearing the plastic from our fridges & closets
a gyre of karma recirculates, burgeoning body burden
i hereby invoke fluid wisdom to guide us through the toxic muck
i will apprentice myself to creeks & tributaries, groundwater &
listen for the salty pulse within, the blood that recognizes marine
in its chemical composition & intuitive pull
i will learn through immersion, flotation & transformation
as water expands & contracts, i will fit myself to its ever-changing
molecular & spectacular, water will return what we give it, be that
arrogance & poison, reverence & light, ambivalence & respect
let our societies be revived as watersheds
"water is unstoppable" -Wes Nahanee, from the Squamish Nation
because i am part of the problem i can also become part of
although i am part of the problem i can also become part of
where i am part of the problem i need to be part of the solution
while i am part of the problem i can also be part of the solution
one part silt one part clear running water one part blood love
not tar but tears, e inserts a listening, witnessing, quickening eye
broken but rebinding, token but reminding, vocal buck
the machine's gears rust in rain, moss & lichen slowly creep life
the rate of reclamation is humble while the rate of destruction
because we are part of the problem we can also become part of
Who are we? We are the beings who need clean water in order to live a life of
dignity, joy and good relation. Maybe you are a part of "us" without even knowing
that you are. Maybe we are the one who are too often taken for granted or
ignored, the quiet witnesses to atrocities, greed, mean-spirited hierarchies,
hostages of capitalism. Maybe we are remembering what it means to respect
water, because doing so is to respect ourselves, our shared, fluid vulnerability,
our funny contradictions, our stumbling, dancing, crying, laughing, eating,
drinking, pissing, working, playing, burping, farting, messy selves. Maybe we are
the thunderstorms that precipitate when too much has been repressed, the weeds
that refuse to stop, the coyotes, the grandmothers, the yet unborn. Maybe we are
flash floods, demoralized workers, the hospitalized, the angry entitled children
who don't even remember to thank the water that keeps them alive. Maybe we are
system change as well as climate change. Dripping & spitting, we rise.
One way or another every person on earth is in Wong's Undercurrent. Back in the early 1980's I was studying at Trent University in Peterborough and was a student in their first year of having a Cultural Studies program. Jody Berland was one of the instructors for that program and here she is again. Deep inside Undercurrent. You and your mother are in here, her mother too, because Wong is swinging for the fences big time, she wants all of us to come with her and makes a damned good case.
Today's book of poetry remains a big, big sucker for the list poem. Rita Wong does not disappoint. My minions all had numerous poems picked out from Undercurrent that they wanted used, they campaigned hard but it all fell of deaf ears. It was as though there was a rush of a waterfall, all taps turned on full, the shower drowning out all minion sound. The list prevailed.
immersed in chlorinated water
immersed in formaldehyde off-gas
immersed in car exhaust
immersed in the oxygen produced by oceanic plankton
immersed in windy chinook
immersed in barbecue aroma
immersed in smog
immersed in someone's sneeze
immersed in the oxygen produced by cedar
immersed in the oxygen produced by fir
immersed in the oxygen produced by hemlock
immersed in carbon dioxide
immersed in the colonial present
immersed in loonsong
immersed in endocrine disrupting dust
immersed in the smell of the ocean
immersed in stale air
immersed in English
immersed in ego-jacking capitalism
immersed in thought
immersed in ancestral respect, or not
immersed in natureculture
immersed in electromagnetic fields
immersed in gravity
immersed in radio waves
immersed in multilingual contact zone
immersed in transmission frequencies
immersed in ultraviolet rays
immersed in someone's perfume
immersed in ambient sound
immersed in neighbourhood vibe
immersed in urban hurry
immersed in pedestrian drift
immersed in the protocol of sunlight
immersed in the irrepressible commons, come!
immersed in q'elstexw
The forest is falling.
It hears itself.
The rain ineluctable
Speechless and necessary.
Years ago a dear friend, David Collins, told me that I should listen to more of Ben Webster. He was right. We should all listen to more of Ben Webster. At first it falls over you like a warm mist that you didn't know you needed. The more you listen, the deeper you get in the water, until finally you are adrift on an ocean that is beautiful. Today's book of poetry is making everyone in the office listen to Ben Webster exclusively this morning. It goes perfectly with the deep, deep water Rita Wong wants us to swim in.
Good poetry is always timeless, and really good poetry is timely as well. Rita Wong could be singing these poems on the late night news. Her crisp interpretation of world of water could headline.
North Shore Sewage Story
at the wastewater treatment plant
hop, skip, skim the scum
for meaty delectables
released from urban drains
the bubbling froth
with the grace of gravity
one lone monkey puzzle tree
sits at the lions gate
witnesses sludge stream
the huge digesters process
what we have left behind
our discards sifted
chlorinated, pumped out
into the burrard inlet
was built to handle good shit, not
phthalates & flame retardants
birth control pills & antidepressants
morphing fish anatomy
decreasing sperm counts
infiltrating fishy homes
while i long for tertiary rescue
the crows salvage
what they can
from cities industriously pumping out
transgendering water & children
testing ocean temper
"The era of flush-and-forget is ending... it is the responsibility of every citizen to make sure that
defecation means fertilization of the land that feeds us" - Peter Warshall, Septic Tank Practices
Today's book of poetry takes off our Pork Pie Hat to Rita Wong. It takes a lot of gas to really put your money where your mouth is. Undercurrent is as strong as truth always is.
Today's book of poetry nominates Rita Wong to be Canada's next Poet/Minister of Water.
ABOUT THE AUTHORRita Wong is the author of four books of poetry:monkeypuzzle (Press Gang, 1998), forage (Nightwood Editions, 2007), sybil unrest (Line Books, 2008, with Larissa Lai) and undercurrent (Nightwood Editions, 2015). forage was the winner of the 2008 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and Canada Reads Poetry 2011. Wong is an associate professor in the Critical and Cultural Studies department at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design on the unceded Coast Salish territories also known as Vancouver.
undercurrent is Rita Wong's love song for rivers, land, and sentient being on earth. It's an elegy for the polluted and cancerous rivers, land and life. It's also a cry to wake up all the warriors to do something for the earth dying in the hands of humans. "What better gifts can we offer?" asks Rita. Well, her poetry is the best gift, the current that jolts us into actions before it's too late.
- Wang Ping
Rita Wong painfully & poignantly articulates the devastating impact of capitalism on water & the health of our planet., while reminding us of the beauty that surrounds us and providing hope that we can change the direction of this nightmarish journey of consumerism we're currently taking. Rita Wong offers us another way of seeing this world and our place within it, and she does so in a way that exudes kindness, respect, joy and a deep love of life. This poetry will enrage, enlighten & move you to try engaging your fellow beings & the waters we share in a more protective & humble way.
Cascadia Poetry Festival Readings
video: MS PoetryDocs
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