Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Flashback Review of Malahat Review 123

Our Back Pages

Issue 123

Issue Date: Summer 1998
Editor: Derk Wynand
Pages: 128
Number of contributors: 21
Derk Wynand taught in the University of Victoria’s Writing Department from 1969 to 2004 and had a long association with The Malahat Review. In 1979, he guest-edited a special issue (#37 January 1979) on “Austrian Writing Today” and in the 1990s he was editor of the magazine for six years. This issue—the last under his editorship—also marks a sort of independence for the magazine. Until the end of Wynand’s tenure, the editor was always also a professor at the university. Marlene Cookshaw, who was Associate Editor for this issue, took over and the Malahat editorship has been an independent position since that time. 
The issue opens with Séamus Ó Ceallaigh’s 1998 Novella Prize-winning story, “O’Sheen’s Flu” which is a lyrical, smart, often funny romp through the beginning (or maybe the continuation) of a relationship. Ó Ceallaigh is not a prolific writer and this issue of Malahat is the only home for it. The story is worth the price of the back issue, if only for brilliant flourishes such as a silent conversation that takes place through the gestures of each character over an Irish breakfast:
Fiachra brought two segments of black pudding together in a way that said, You don’t know everything. 
Bridgette coughed into her napkin. You’re awkward and childish, and your hair is a mess, and you’ve a hole in your sweater. 
Fiachra scraped egg from the knife to the fork. I read his diaries. 
Bridgette spread her napkin across her lap. Honey, I wrote his diaries

Pain Not Bread (the collaborative poetry writing collective of Roo Borson, Andy Patton, and Kim Maltman) are back in Malahat with eleven more poems from what will become their important work, The Introduction to the Introduction to Wang Wei. 
Toward the end of the issue, there is a story by Sean Virgo called “Introduction to The Undiscovered Country, a collection of stories” which is the same length as the Novella Prize winner and which cleverly questions structures since the introduction also is the story. 
David Solway, Ryan Knighton, Kathryn MacLeod, and Adam Chiles have poems included in #123 and there is a good selection from Patricia Young’s Ruin and Beauty, including the titular poem from that book in which she says that we are like our ancient ancestors with wolves foraging among us, “just another species / looking to the stars and howling extinction.” 
—Jay Ruzesky

You can read this review on the Malahat website:

http://web.uvic.ca/malahat/issues/featured/issue123.html


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Quick Review of Maudie (Dir. Aisling Walsh)

I went to see Maudie last night — it has been playing for weeks in Victoria which made me think there must be some reason why it was so stubbornly taking up screen time. There is. 

Maud Lewis was a self-taught Nova Scotian painter. Aisling Walsh, the film’s director, is a self-taught Irish film maker. Lewis’ paintings were simple, popular, bright, colourful, sometimes funny, and deeply authentic. Where some people see a lack of style (“My kid could do better,” says one character in the film) others see truth. 

The film works in much the same way. What could have been a sentimental biopic, becomes a rich portrait of a woman who painted away in poverty all her life and became fairly well-known while she was still alive. Much of the film’s success is due to the acting talent of Sally Hawkins who portrays Maud in a way that seems so honest that the audience doesn’t have time to pity her. We also don’t feel that we need to. As her aging aunt says, Maud is the only one in the family who managed to turn out “happy”. Ethan Hawke is brilliant too. He screws up his face in a funny way throughout the film which may seem odd, but it helps him to “become” Everett. it strikes me as a sign of a great performance when I no longer see the well-known actor and instead see only the character. One of his best moments is when a photographer asks him to smile for the camera and it’s as though no one has ever asked Everett to smile before in his life. 


So… female director, female writer, great story, fabulous acting and, as an Irish/Canadian coproduction, we all get to see it before it goes down to American (where so many of Maud Lewis’ paintings ended up).  


http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3721954/


Bold combo of memoir, travelogue

Ruzesky's compelling new memoir, In Antarctica, tells the story of his trip to the Antarctic a century after his ancestor became the first person to set foot on the South Pole.
Ruzesky, who now teaches in Duncan, spent his childhood dreaming of the polar expeditions. But his adult life had been consumed by writing three collections of poetry and a novel, teaching and having a family.
As the 2011 anniversary of Amundsen's achievement approached, Ruzesky tried to reconcile himself to not following in his ancestor's footsteps.
He failed. Instead, Ruzesky found himself online, booking a berth on a ship that would take him from Patagonia to the Antarctic.
What's more, he convinced his brother Scott to come along, even if his sibling's first question was, "Which one of us is Amundsen?"
Ruzesky knew he was incurring tens of thousands of dollars of debt but thought there might be a book in his trip across the ice. (Which, in case you're wondering, makes perfect economic sense to a poet.)
Structurally, In Antarctica parallels Ruzesky's 2011 trip with episodes from Amundsen's 1911 voyage on the Fram and his earlier expedition to the Antarctic on the Belgica in 1887. His title is obviously an homage to the late Bruce Chatwin's classic 1977 travel memoir, In Patagonia.
The sections from Ruzesky's point of view meld travel writing with memoir, which effectively sets the stage for the writer's month-long voyage.
For instance, though Ruzesky has called B.C. home for 20 years, he spent his childhood in the cold-weather climes of Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Saskatoon and Calgary.
One story that would be familiar to anyone who grew up on the Prairies details how the entrance collapsed to the quinzee he and his schoolmates had built in their school playground in Thunder Bay.
This is meaningful, given that Amundsen's crew spent more than a year in a large hut connected to a series of snow caves on the Ross Ice Shelf before making their attempt on the pole.
Also interesting is Ruzesky's anecdote of a failed dog-sledging lesson in Whitehorse in 2002. Knowing that Amundsen's success in reaching the South Pole was largely attributed to his use of dogs instead of ponies, like his English rival Robert Falcon Scott, supercharges this story.
Ruzesky also includes meditations on exploration and cartography and provides context for Amundsen's journey by providing thumbnail sketches of other voyages to both the North and South poles.
The other half of In Antarctica is in Amundsen's voice, an incredibly detailed account that Ruzesky somehow cobbled together from the explorer's journals and photographs.
More importantly, these sections are very finely written. Ruzesky illuminates Amundsen's dreamy childhood and his possible motives for devoting his life to exploration instead of medicine, as his mother would have preferred.
Ruzesky's description of Admundsen's affair with the married Sigrid Castberg that preceded the 1911 voyage, however, read like the best historical fiction.
All of which is to say that In Antarctica is a bold and satisfying composite of creative non-fiction, memoir and travel writing.
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg poet whose paternal great-grandfather died on the shores of Antarctica's South Georgia Island in 1914.


http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/bold-combo-of-memoir-travelogue-218195082.html

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tattoo



I am getting a tattoo for my 50th birthday. Two stylized penguins will forever grace my left shoulder with their presence. 

The buzz of the tattoo needle reminds me of the sound of the electric razor my dad’s barber used on the sides of my head and the back of my neck, only the razor was louder and more painful. I give blood routinely and that involves having a nurse insert a nice thick spike into my brachial artery, so I don’t have to pretend to be a tough guy as Dave, my tattoo artist, works away on my shoulder with with the little machine as it pokes black ink into my dermis. It’s annoying more than painful. My body responds to this invasion by sending white blood cells to the rescue to absorb the foreign matter, but the pigment is too much for the white blood cells to carry, so instead they remain there in stasis. 

This is my first, and probably my only tattoo, and I gave a lot of thought to why I want it. 

The practice of making designs on human skin with ink, or ash, or pigment goes back about 6000 years. In 1991, some tourists hiking in the Italian Alps took a detour off the main trail and found Ötzi the Iceman, the corpse of a man who lived sometime around 3300 BCE. Ötzi bled to death from an arrow wound and was then preserved frozen in a glacier for thousands of years. He was tattooed and his tattoos were created from incisions rubbed with charcoal. Scientists think the purpose of the tattoos was therapy for body pain rather than decoration. The word tattoo may have its roots in the Samoan “tatau” but in one way or another, the practice of marking the body is global and goes back a long time. Tattoos have been used as punishment, to mark criminals or undesirables, as spiritual practice, as war paint to instil fear, or to delineate royalty. At their worst, we can imagine the power of the tattoo on prisoners in Nazi Death Camps, but tattoos have also long been an art form, as in the example of the horimono in Japan. 

Love potion, good luck charm, funereal marking, clan designation, or rite of passage—one of the reasons people have had their skin marked over the centuries is that it looks good and that it means something to the tattooee. 

In my case, the tattoo is about my personal mythology — the stories that most significantly contribute to my understanding of who I am. One of those stories is the myth of Castor and Polydeuces who are the twins of Gemini. Leda, the swan, was their mother, but Polydeuces’ father was Zeus and Castor’s father was Tyndareus although they both hatched from the same egg. Castor was mortal, and Polydeuces, being the offspring of gods, was not. When Castor was slain in battle, Polydeuces begged Zeus to restore him and make him immortal too, and though Zeus was not known for his sympathy, he gave Castor his wish on the condition that the two would have to take turns living in the underworld on alternate days and would not be together again, but would pass each other every day as they changed places, as the stars in the constellation Gemini seem to do on the horizon. 

For me this story is meaningful not just because I was born in June, but because the Gemini myth is about finding ways to live with paradox. How can you live in the underworld and in the heavens? How can you be mortal and immortal? 

I have never been someone who is able to bear dichotomies. If my choice is this or that, my answer is “both.” If I have to have black or white, I’ll have black now, and white later. All my life I have found ways to solve problems. When someone says, you can’t be in two places, I usually find a way. 

The other important story for me is the story of my ancestor, Roald Amundsen, the polar explorer who was first to the South and then the North Poles. He was my grandfather’s cousin and I was brought up hearing stories about him and his travels. It was the pursuit of his story that took me to Antarctica in 2011 — 100 years after his arrival at the South Pole — and it is his spirit of adventure and exploration that is sending me to the high Arctic this summer. As Amundsen looked north again after Antarctica, so will I.

So for me, my gemini penguins have a lot of meaning and represent my will to embrace paradox in life and to push toward personal adventure. The image on my skin is adornment, it’s true, and it’s swashbuckling and sailor resonant, but it is also laced with meaning. 


I was not brought up in a particularly religious way, and in my late teens and early twenties, I struggled to find what I thought was a sense of meaning and purpose in life. I investigated Catholicism, Anglicanism, Buddhism, Sufism, and Taoism and at this stage of my life, having just turned 50, prefer the label that I once saw in a bookstore: “Miscellaneous Spirituality.” I’m open to the wonders of the world, but don’t follow a particular practice to make meaning from them. Having lived a mere half-century, I know I have a great deal more to learn, but it seems to me from here that unlike my younger, searching self, I don’t need to forage for meaning in my life, I need only to see the meaning that is already there. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

After Antarctica -- The Beginning of a New Story

I'm going to Svalbard this summer. Not a lot of people can say that but I like the sound of it. "What did you do on your summer vacation?" "I went to Svalbard." The idea gets my Viking blood going.

My research into my famous Norwegian ancestor, Roald Amundsen, continues. After Antarctica, he began trying to reach the North Pole by air and eventually disappeared on a rescue mission on his way north from Tromso.  

I felt a kind of relief when I published In Antarctica because a decades long project was finally between covers.  I had needed to bring my own obsession and experience into the text I had been working on for years, and I did that by going to Antarctica. Later, as I traveled to book launches and gave lectures and readings about that work, I thought I would begin to tire of it and would want to put my polar library away for a while.  Instead, I began to think that the project was really just beginning.  

Amundsen arrived at the South Pole when he was thirty-nine years old. That success was his greatest achievement, and at the time was quite akin to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. What does one do as a second act?

For me, what Amundsen did next is the reason I believe I am not yet finished with his story. Amundsen continued exploring, but his South Polar expedition marked the end of a heroic age of exploration and to some extent, he found himself in a world in which he no longer belonged.  He adapted, however, and took to the air and, after a disastrous expedition across the North-east passage in a wooden sailing ship, he learned to fly and began exploring the north from the air from Svalbard, above the Arctic Circle.  In 1926, he flew over the North Pole in an airship and became the first verified explorer to make it there.  In 1928, his estranged comrade on the 1926 voyage, Umberto Nobile, crashed a second airship and Amundsen himself disappeared shortly after joining the search for Nobile. 

The story of Roald Amundsen is filled with mystery, betrayal, and also romance, and I now believe that after my Antarctic journey, my work is only half-finished.  I would like to continue to follow in his footsteps, and to visit Tromso, Norway (which was the staging ground for his final rescue mission), Bear Island (which is near where he is believed to have crashed), and Svalbard (from whence he mounted his northern air expeditions).  

Thanks to some exceptional circumstances, I’m going to be setting sail this summer. Rather incredibly, the expedition ship Polar Pioneer (which is the vessel upon which I traveled to Antarctica) is making an expedition in July 2015 from Aberdeen, Scotland to Oslo, Norway, up the coast of Norway to Tromso, and then past Bear Island to Svalbard—exactly the route I feel I need to travel.  

Perhaps more incredibly, I asked the expedition company, Aurora Expeditions, if they would sponsor me on the trip and they have agreed to give me passage in return for a lecture onboard the ship. I'm still pinching myself. 

So I’m dusting off my expedition boots and scrambling to get everything I need in place before the end of June. This time I hope not to follow quite so closely in Amundsen’s footsteps (since they disappear in the ice) but I’ll haunt his Northern turf and take notes.  

More soon….




Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Frightening Beauty in Colour:
Jay Ruzesky in Conversation
with Laura Ritland

Laura Ritland
This summer, Malahat poetry board member Jay Ruzesky was able to commandeer the Prime Minister's office in the parliament buildings in Ottawa for an afternoon.  There, by a roaring fire to keep out the summer chill, he sat down with this year's Far Horizons Poetry Award Winner,Laura Ritland







Let's pretend you just won the Rogers Open instead of the Malahat Review's Far Horizons Award for Poetry. How are you feeling about the win and what was it about your competitiveness that got you through the semi-finals to triumph in the championship?
After finding out about the news, I was in dead shock for the first 15 minutes, wildly ecstatic for 30 minutes, desperately nervous for several weeks, and now mostly thankful and happy. Competitiveness…hmm. This is the first magazine prize I’ve entered and for a while I was trying to talk myself out of entering it! I have a thing with rejection. I guess the reason I did end up entering was because of what Julie Bruck said about contests in her pre-contest interview and because a few friends kept bugging me to get going with this whole publication and contest biz. It was almost like I had to take contests less seriously to finally take a chance and enter one. Self-doubt is an awful opponent… but it just goes to show that you can often do more than you think you can.
Your poem is a pantoum. What drew you to form and to that form in particular? This year's judge, Julie Bruck, says your poem was “born to be a pantoum” because of the way the circular form is so appropriate for a poem that wrestles with memory. Was form an extension of content in this case or did you fit the subject into that formal mold?
Form as an extension of content. Although, in my mind those two terms have a more complex relationship than, say, one coming “first” in the creative process before the other. I see a poem’s meaning as inseparable from its form, as an inexplicable synthesis between structure and content. So, in this case, it wasn’t so much that the pantoum form “extended” or “represented” something about Van Gogh’s mental illness and his nostalgia for childhood as that it was the only way to really enact or produce an experience I wanted to convey – through repeated phrases, circulation, variation, and rhyme. The redundancy of pantoums can make them feel a bit like fever dreams or nightmarish merry-go-rounds, and yet this quality, as well as the end-rhymes, can also allow for tremendous songlike beauty. It’s this same beautiful, nightmarish effect that I get from looking at a Van Gogh painting – have you noticed how the brushstrokes of a Van Gogh painting repeat themselves? That kind of frightening beauty about his colour choices? – and it’s the same effect of nostalgia and sadness, that repetitive longing for something lost, again and again, on and on, in circles. I like to believe that forms create experiences for the reader, and so I hope this pantoum produces this particular emotional and psychological state of being.
No one is going to take your trophy away, but you sort of cheated with the form. Strictly speaking, the repeated lines in a pantoum should be repeated exactly. Can you tell me how you feel about form generally?  What do you (or what does the poem) gain when you put yourself in a box and then poke holes in it?
Well, Elizabeth Bishop wasn’t disqualified for twisting the villanelle, so I thought I might play around with the verb tense and switch around a preposition here and there. I think it allows the poem a certain amount of independent, organic freedom, and it encourages the reader to pay attention to what the poem is saying rather than mentally tick off all the boxes on the Perfect Form list. For example, the first line of the second stanza technically should have started with “going on,” but instead I chose “that go on,” and that tiny departure, I hope, implicitly alerts the reader that “hey, this isn’t exactly the same line I just read. It is, but it also isn’t.” The mind stays interested; it stays attached to the line, doesn’t get lulled into pure repetition. My theory is that patterns are interesting, but breaking a pattern can be more interesting.
I’ve often heard forms should enable, not constrict, and I think that’s a pretty sound philosophy; you use them to your own ends, and shouldn’t become “used” by them. Initially, writing form poems can feel like a math exercise, but once you learn the rules, once you learn how to “think” in its terms, you can do anything you’d like with its routine and make it your own.
You take on the voice of Vincent Van Gogh. Are you often possessed by the dead? When you read the poem aloud, does your voice get all raspy?
Sometimes I hold séances with my cats at midnight and try to reach into the deep, dark recesses of the phantom world to make contact with wayward spirits. But so far, no luck with Vincent.
How much research went into this poem? Is it important to you to be accurate when writing about historical figures or are they fair game for the imagination? Did you dig up any new dirt on Van Gogh and, if so, can you share it?
Okay, confession: this poem is based on a specific letter Vincent wrote to his brother, Theo, on January 22, 1889, pretty much describing what my poem is about. Confession #2: the details in line 3, “each path, each field, the magpies in the acacia in the cemetery,” are paraphrased almost directly from the letter. The rest of the poem is drawn from my general sense of Vincent’s character after months of casual research and reading the Van Gogh brothers’ letters. Hmm, I didn’t discover any facts that no one had previously known about. If there’s anything very unique about my depiction of Vincent, perhaps it’s my attention to his childhood, something that’s relatively obscure in the case of many historical figures (it’s not like we can dig up Vincent’s childhood home videos and give them a watch).
That’s where the “fiction” had to come in a little more; I’m guessing this is what he felt, but I don’t know for sure. And, even if I don’t, does it really matter? I think historical facts are only important insofar as they give us pieces of a never-fully-knowable portrait; the actual process of composition, the imagination part, is far more interesting, because that’s where we have to make decisions about who or what a person was, that’s where we end up adapting a story because it resonates with something about ourselves or our present condition.
I'm fond of the line in your poem that goes: “There is a colour I find sometimes in stories.” Julie also points out that because your poem invokes the paintings of Van Gogh, it seems to be full of colour although you don't name any particular colours. If you made this poem into a movie, would you shoot it in colour or in black and white?
Colour, definitely. I’m intrigued by the idea that colours can create an emotional experience or that an emotional impression of a person, place or event can manifest itself in a set of colours. I think Van Gogh probably thought of colour in a similar same way. It’s not so much what we “see” as what we “feel” that becomes a “colour.”
You recently graduated from UBC and are working on your M.A. so you're probably spending more time in the world of poetry than a normal person. Does that have an impact on your ability to give people simple directions, or to fill out government forms?
Oh yeah, I bump my head on floating stanzas all the time, it’s awful! Actually, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do and study what I love, and among people who are so passionate about ideas, art and literature. Poetry can be a very anti-social activity. It involves a lot of reading and writing alone in quiet rooms. But through it, I have encountered people and community that have enriched my life in innumerable ways; if anything, it’s made me feel more connected rather than less connected to other people.
What do you hope poetry will do for you in your life and (to paraphrase JFK) what do you hope you will do for poetry?
I hope that poetry continues to do what it has done for me: make sense of the world, give meaning and significance to the myriad number of ways we live, create vessels for the mind to think, imagine, hope and aspire. If I can make my work resonate for another reader as poetry has done for me, then I’d feel my mission is accomplished.
This interview was originally published in The Malahat Review online. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Professor shares ancestor's tale
Ruzesky's great-grandfather's cousin was Roald Amundsen, the first explorer to reach the South Pole
Julie Chadwick / Nanaimo Daily News
October 11, 2013

VIU professor Jay Ruzesky will speak about his experiences in Antarctica and his famous ancestor Roald Amundsen in a presentation at the university on Oct. 18

It was out on the bow of the Polar Pioneer headed for Antarctica, that Jay Ruzesky got a peculiar sensation.

The vast, inscrutable landscape was stunning, said Ruzesky, and in its presence he struggled to understand his accompanying emotions.

The closest he could come to describing it was that he felt he was home.

Though it was a completely foreign locale, Ruzesky may have been picking up on an ancestral affinity: His great-grandfather's cousin was Roald Amundsen, famous for being the first explorer to go to the South Pole.

"Lots of families have their claim to fame, whatever that might be," said Ruzesky. "That was kind of our family's fame story, was that we were related to Amundsen the explorer."

On Oct. 18 Ruzesky will share the tale of his ancestor, as part of VIU's Arts and Humanities colloquium series.

In his presentation, Amundsen Then and Now: The End of the Age of Heroic Exploration Ruzesky will look at his own 100th anniversary expedition to Anarctica and analyze how exploration has drastically changed in the last 100 years.

It was on Dec. 14, 1911 that Amundsen arrived at the South Pole in a five-person, 16-dog expedition team.

Plunging a Norwegian flag into the frozen ground, the acheivement was the culmination of years of fundraising and planning.

Some of those funds were raised through North American speaking tours, one of which had stopped in Claresholm Alta., where Ruzesky's ancestors lived.

It was at that time that Ruzesky's grandfather received a watch as a gift from Amundsen, a keepsake that remains in his family today.

Amundsen was initially inspired by the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin.

"One of the things he said in his autobiography was that he read about polar exploration when he was a young man," said Ruzesky. "When he was 14 years old he read Franklin's accounts of one of his expeditions in the North. .. it was a horrible expedition and all of the men spent a couple of weeks barely surviving to get back from where they'd been. They ended up eating the leather from their shoes because they had no food. So it was horrible suffering, but what he says in his autobiography is that he read that and was attracted to it, and thought, 'Wow, I'd like to go suffer for a cause too.'" Amundsen's experiences in turn served to inspire Ruzesky.

"That idea of polar exploration, of going to the ends of the earth to these stark, cold, lonely places which was where he really spent his life - that reaches pretty deeply into the imagination," he said. "I was told those stories from pretty early on."

However, travelling to far-flung places means a very different experience for the modern explorer, he added.

Ruzesky's own expedition to Antarctica in December of 2011 - which he detailed in his memoir In Antarctica: An Amundsen Pilgrimage - highlighted these changes.

"One goes in rather a different way now. I was not as interested in suffering, as he seemed to be," he said.

"It's a very hostile and challenging landscape. .. but it's also a place where modern clothing and transportation can take a lot of the risk out of it and make it a lot more comfortable."

In his talk Ruzesky details how he came to terms with his own romantic notions of exploration - his visions of frostbitten cheeks and dogs howling into the wind - to come away with an appreciation for what remote places like the Antarctic can offer to one's perspective.

Ruzesky's talk is free and will be held in VIU's Malaspina Theatre from 10-11:30 a.m. on Oct. 18.

JChadwick@nanaimodailynews.com

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A poem from Painting the Yellow House Blue 



Here's me when I used to spend more money on shampoo; and a little something from the archives -- way back to 1994.  



Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Quick Review of Blue Jasmine



Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen does comedy well, and he does tragedy better.  This provocative film will make you think about your relationship to money and happiness (don’t kid yourself – money may not buy happiness, but poverty is no virtue either).   Cate Blanchett should have a temper tantrum if she’s not nominated for best actor in next year’s Academy Awards – hard to imagine a more compelling portrait of a woman breaking down.  




Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ariel Gordon's Review in the Winnipeg Free Press makes my holiday weekend:


Bold combo of memoir, travelogue


Reviewed by: Ariel Gordon

IN ANTARCTICA: AN AMUNDSEN PILGRIMAGE BY JAY RUZESKY

NIGHTWOOD EDITIONS, 240 PAGES, $25

On his mother's side, British Columbia poet and professor Jay Ruzesky is a cousin, twice-removed, of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

Ruzesky's compelling new memoir, In Antarctica, tells the story of his trip to the Antarctic a century after his ancestor became the first person to set foot on the South Pole.

Ruzesky, who now teaches in Duncan, spent his childhood dreaming of the polar expeditions. But his adult life had been consumed by writing three collections of poetry and a novel, teaching and having a family.

As the 2011 anniversary of Amundsen's achievement approached, Ruzesky tried to reconcile himself to not following in his ancestor's footsteps.

He failed. Instead, Ruzesky found himself online, booking a berth on a ship that would take him from Patagonia to the Antarctic.

What's more, he convinced his brother Scott to come along, even if his sibling's first question was, "Which one of us is Amundsen?"

Ruzesky knew he was incurring tens of thousands of dollars of debt but thought there might be a book in his trip across the ice. (Which, in case you're wondering, makes perfect economic sense to a poet.)

Structurally,In Antarctica parallels Ruzesky's 2011 trip with episodes from Amundsen's 1911 voyage on the Fram and his earlier expedition to the Antarctic on the Belgica in 1887. His title is obviously an homage to the late Bruce Chatwin's classic 1977 travel memoir, In Patagonia.

The sections from Ruzesky's point of view meld travel writing with memoir, which effectively sets the stage for the writer's month-long voyage.

For instance, though Ruzesky has called B.C. home for 20 years, he spent his childhood in the cold-weather climes of Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Saskatoon and Calgary.

One story that would be familiar to anyone who grew up on the Prairies details how the entrance collapsed to the quinzee he and his schoolmates had built in their school playground in Thunder Bay.

This is meaningful, given that Amundsen's crew spent more than a year in a large hut connected to a series of snow caves on the Ross Ice Shelf before making their attempt on the pole.

Also interesting is Ruzesky's anecdote of a failed dog-sledging lesson in Whitehorse in 2002. Knowing that Amundsen's success in reaching the South Pole was largely attributed to his use of dogs instead of ponies, like his English rival Robert Falcon Scott, supercharges this story.

Ruzesky also includes meditations on exploration and cartography and provides context for Amundsen's journey by providing thumbnail sketches of other voyages to both the North and South poles.

The other half of In Antarctica is in Amundsen's voice, an incredibly detailed account that Ruzesky somehow cobbled together from the explorer's journals and photographs.

More importantly, these sections are very finely written. Ruzesky illuminates Amundsen's dreamy childhood and his possible motives for devoting his life to exploration instead of medicine, as his mother would have preferred.

Ruzesky's description of Admundsen's affair with the married Sigrid Castberg that preceded the 1911 voyage, however, read like the best historical fiction.

All of which is to say that In Antarctica is a bold and satisfying composite of creative non-fiction, memoir and travel writing.
______________________________________
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg poet whose paternal great-grandfather died on the shores of Antarctica's South Georgia Island in 1914.

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/bold-combo-of-memoir-travelogue-218195082.html

Monday, June 24, 2013

Rather a kind review from Colin Holt at the Victoria Times-Colonist

Colin Holt in The Victoria Times-Colonist
“A tale worth following to the end of the Earth”

Times - Colonist [Victoria, B.C] 16 June 2013: D.9.

IN ANTARCTICA
By Jay Ruzesky
Nightwood Editions, 239 pp., $24.95


Vancouver Island author Jay Ruzesky's In Antarctica is a hugely enjoyable tale of a journey to Antarctica, both his own and that of his relative, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

Ruzesky alternates between his own voyage to Antarctica and Amundsen's historic achievement of reaching the South Pole in 1911, managing to fill each chapter with adventure.

Amundsen's attempt at the South Pole begins in secrecy as everyone, including the crew, believes he is setting out for the North Pole - one of the Norwegian's many tactics used to get a time advantage over the British as they race to be the first to claim the Pole.

Amundsen's experience is a hard and dangerous one as he has to battle the elements, the dogs and at times his own crew along the way. The relationship between the crew and the dog teams that eventually get them to their destination is a fascinating, and at times heartbreaking, story all on its own. The fact that he not only successfully made the South Pole, but then went on to be the first to reach the North Pole, makes him one of history's greatest explorers.

Ruzesky's route to Antarctica is a bit more relaxed, and he and his brother make stops in South America and spend time sightseeing in shorts and T-shirts - a far cry from the wintering the crew of the Fram experienced a century earlier. As Ruzesky points out, "I was taken to Antarctica because that is how one goes these days." And while his route may have been less gruelling, it also allows him time to visit spots like the home of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda.

If Ruzesky had to go to Antarctica because it was in his blood (Amundsen was his great-grandfather's cousin) it could just as easily be argued that he had to go to Santiago because poetry is in his blood. In Antarctica may not be a book of poetry, but the respect and command of language that makes Ruzesky such a wonderful poet is on display throughout the book.

He vividly brings to life the beauty of Antarctica, a place that to the unfamiliar may seem like just a white barren wasteland. Ruzesky seems to find himself at home here and treats readers to wonderful descriptions of the animals (he grows particularly fond of penguins) and the many colours of the land that make up our least-populated continent.

A successful work of nonfiction should do at least two things for a reader: First, it should leave one feeling as though they have learned something, and second, they should want to know more. In Antarctica succeeds on both these counts quite handily, and includes a list of works consulted to point readers in the right direction should they want to spend more time in Ruzesky's Antarctica.

Ruzesky closes out the book with a nice round of acknowledgements of all the people who helped with the book, and also includes a paragraph that states: "This story, while fiction, is based on actual events." This seems to blur the lines even more than the creative non-fiction classification on the back of the book. It made me wonder just what was it that I had read, but it was immediately apparent that it wouldn't have mattered if the entire story was made up. Ruzesky is such a fine writer - fact or fiction - that he is worth following to the end of the Earth.
-- COLIN HOLT
___________








Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Literary Events

There were plenty of events this past few weeks - readings and signings.  Thanks everyone for coming out and saying hello.  The lecture at the Maritime Museum of BC was wonderful as was the book launch in Duncan with Carol Matthews.

Coming up: I'll be at Laughing Oyster Books in Courtenay BC on Sunday, June 9th at 2pm; in my old stomping ground at Mosaic Books in Kelowna BC on Thursday, June 20th at 7:30pm; and I'll be giving another lecture and slide show at the Vancouver Maritime Museum on Sunday, June 23rd.  Admission for that one is free.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Race to the End Exhibit

I was at the opening of the Race to the End of the Earth exhibit at the Royal BC Museum yesterday and had chills - not just from the Antarctic atmosphere, but from the artifacts and clever displays.  One of Amundsen's sledges is there and, maybe my favourite thing, the Kino camera he took to get film footage from Antarctica.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Next Events for In Antarctica:

If you are in the Cowichan Valley, join us on Saturday, May 25th at 1pm at 
10 Old Books, 330 Duncan St., Duncan BC (in the Duncan Garage) for a reading and book signing.  Nanaimo's Carol Matthews will also be reading from her recent work.  It's market day in Duncan so if you're from further afield, it's a good reason to come up and say hello. 


On Wednesday, May 29th at 7pm, I'll be giving a talk about my Antarctic adventures illustrated with photos.  There WILL be penguins.  The talk is in the old courtroom upstairs at the Maritime Museum of BC -- 28 Bastion Square, Victoria BC.  Cost is $6 - free for MMBC members and children under 12, especially if they like penguins.  



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

 

In Antarctica 
has arrived!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Launch Events for In Antarctica:
_____________________________

Sunday, April 28th 4pm Fernwood Inn
1302 Gladstone Ave. Victoria BC
(with Dede Crane and Marita Dachsel)


Saturday, May 25th 1pm 10 Old Books
330 Duncan St., Duncan BC
(with Carol Matthews)


Wednesday, May 29th 7pm 
Maritime Museum of BC
28 Bastion Square, Victoria BC
(slide show and book launch)





Here is a book trailer about In Antarctica:



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

At Home at the Edge of the World: Jay Ruzesky Shares Two Epic Voyages at Ben McNally's Travellers Series | Open Book: Toronto

At Home at the Edge of the World: Jay Ruzesky Shares Two Epic Voyages at Ben McNally's Travellers Series | Open Book: Toronto





At Home at the Edge of the World: Jay Ruzesky Shares Two Epic Voyages at Ben McNally's Travellers Series
Jay Ruzesky was fascinated by the diaries of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen from an early age. The Vancouver poet, author and teacher of English is a descendant of Amundsen, the first man to cross the Northwest Passage and reach the South Pole. Ruzesky spent much of his childhood pretending to be his famous ancestor, navigating the rough waters of his parents’ attic aboard the ships BelgicaGjoa andFram, but it wasn’t until he was an adult that he began to think about following in Amundsen's footsteps.
“I was interested in his role in the heroic age of adventure and wanted to be a part of it in my own way,” he says. In 2011, 100 years after Amundsen’s year-and-a-half-long voyage across land and sea, Ruzesky boarded the 71-metre research vessel Polar Pioneer, beginning the epic journey that inspired the writing of his new creative non-fiction memoir, In Antarctica: An Amundsen Pilgrimage.
Ruzesky will be reading from In Antarctica alongside authors Matthew Goodman (Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World) and Iain Reid(The Truth About Luck: What I Learned on My Road Trip with Grandma) as part of Ben McNally’s annual Travellers Series at Harbourfront Centre. The event, presented by Authors at Harbourfront Centre, celebrates new travel writing by North American authors.
In Antarctica tells both the story of Ruzesky’s expedition to the South Pole and that of his forefather. He traveled in relative comfort compared to Amundsen, but Ruzesky’s voyage still proved challenging, and took him, just as it did Amundsen, to the very edge of the world and the most isolated continent on the planet.
“It is like nowhere else on earth and it feels very remote,” he reminisces. “It's more like going to the moon than anything else. There is no infrastructure. No planes fly overhead, there are no wires, no cell towers. You have to cross 1000 kilometres of very nasty ocean to reach it. What surprised me is the way I felt belonging there. Somehow I felt at home in that landscape and I'm still thinking about what that means. How is it that I feel at home when I am so thoroughly away from the world as I know it? In a way, that was a spiritual awakening — a feeling of getting deeper into my essential self than I had before.”
Ruzesky's voyage to Antarctica took him through Canada, Norway, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, but prior to this adventure, he’d travelled extensively. He notes that travel isn’t important to everyone, but that part of what appeals to him is the vulnerability one feels when they find themselves in a new place for the first time.
“It helps us become children again, and to see like children — wide-eyed and full of wonder,” Ruzesky offers. “If there is value in travel, surely that is it. Travel takes us out of our comfort and complacency and, in opening our eyes to difference, urges us to reconsider our own lives, values and wants.”
When asked where he’d like to head next, Ruzesky names more of Amundsen’s turf: the far reaches of the Arctic Circle. “I'm working on a way to get up close and personal with some polar bears,” he says. “Amundsen got to the North Pole in 1926, so that gives me lots of time to make plans.”

Ben Mcnally hosts the Travellers Series on Wednesday, March 13. Tickets are $10 to the general public and free for supporters, students and youth 25 and under with ID. To reserve a seat, please call 416-973-4000 or visit the online box office. For more information on Authors at Harbourfront Centre's weekly event series, check out their website.

Thursday, March 7, 2013



Five Questions with…Jay Ruzesky


Ruzesky, Jay (c) Scott Ruzesky (cropped)

Authors at Harbourfront Toronto - March 13, 2013

http://internationalfestivalofauthors.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/five-questions-with-jay-ruzesky/
Adventurer and In Antarctica author Jay Ruzesky answered our five questions.
IFOA: You’ve been interested in Roald Amundsen’s adventures since boyhood. How did you originally stumble upon his stories?
Ruzesky: I am an Amundsen through maternal lines, and he is our family’s claim to fame. He visited my mother’s farm and gave my great grandfather a compass which my mom used for show and tell in school, so I was probably imagining his adventures before most kids hear about Peter Pan.
IFOA: What’s one thing you and Amundsen have in common, and one way in which you are different?
Ruzesky: We have in common a feeling of belonging in the polar regions. I don’t know what it says about me that I felt at home in Antarctica (a place as geographically hostile to humans as you can get), but I did. A difference is that I am nowhere near as tough as he was. He skied into -50 degree winds for days in a row, and, with his crew, hauled tons of supplies up a glacier to the Antarctic plateau. I wouldn’t have the endurance.
IFOA: What’s your favourite thing about travelling by water?
Ruzesky: Maybe it’s the mariner’s genes I have—I don’t get seasick even in rough water. No doubt that was an advantage in Antarctica.
IFOA: Who is your favourite poet?
Ruzesky: Depends on the hour and the day: Sharon Olds, P.K. Page, Michael Ondaatje, Don Coles, and bp Nichol.
IFOA: Finish this sentence: Next time I’ll bring…
Ruzesky: I’ll bring a good portable audio recorder. I didn’t want to see Antarctica only through a lens, so I thought long and hard about it and then left my film equipment at home. I brought a small digital camera and got some quite good photos with that. What I had not thought enough about is what a powerful aural landscape Antarctica is. There are no planes flying overhead, no trucks on a far highway. There is only the sound of a whale spout way in the distance—like someone catching their breath; or the noise of 20,000 chinstrap penguins raising a flap. Those are sounds I wish I would have been able to record.
Ruzesky will appear at Authors at Harbourfront Centre as part of the Ben McNally Travellers Series on March 13.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Well, the bad news is that I'm not going to have the publishing adventure I thought I might.  In the process of thinking through publishing IN ANTARCTICA, I went looking for a publisher who could help me with distribution.  I got in touch with Howard White at Harbour Publishing, but instead of talking about a distribution deal, he asked to see the manuscript and now Nightwood Editions, an imprint of Harbour, is going to publish the book this coming spring.

It will be its own big adventure -- there is a big exhibit at the Royal BC Museum called Race to the End of the Earth which will be on from May until October so I'm hoping to do all I can to get this book out there.  The show looks like it will be fabulous and I'm not above dressing up penguin-like to flog books.

For me, the gift is that I get to put all my energy into rewriting and making the best book I can over the next few months and that's an adventure I'm up for.

Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Leaving Antarctica


December 28, 2011

As we have travelled north from the Antarctic Circle, we have seen more evidence of humanity. At Cuverville Island, two sailboats were moored in the bay. They were unlikely and vulnerable there anchored among icebergs. They looked, in fact, out of place. Antarctic glaciers make just about anything seem puny.

On Deception Island yesterday we wandered around a haunted whaling-turned-research station whose human inhabitants were chased away not by ice, but by a violent volcano.

This morning we are bound for King George Island—our last stop. I'm on the bridge early, wanting to be as awake as I can be for my last few hours in Antarctica. The plan was for a quick breakfast after which we would go ashore and walk up to the airstrip operated by the Chilean government, and we would fly out to Punta Arenas. But Antarctica doesn't want to let us go. There is a strong gale blowing across the tip of South America and the pilot has decided it is unsafe to take off. It is a two hour trip from Punta Arenas so they will let us know by radio when the plane is able to leave. In the meantime, we'll have a chance to explore this active research station.

In fact, King George Island is home to several research stations. In order to belong to the Antarctic Treaty Group, a country has to maintain a presence in Antarctica and even though King George Island is in the South Shetlands and has a sub-Antarctic climate, it counts. So there is a Russian station alongside a Chilean station, and everybody else has their toes planted here too: Argentina, Brazil, China, Ecuador, South Korea, Peru, Poland, and Uruguay. Provisioning is easier here than in other places because the airfield is of size and can land relatively large planes on its gravel tarmac.

It's cold and misty. A skua clutches an anchor hold on the bow and looks hopefully toward me. This is a much more domesticated bird than we have seen further south. It must have habituated to life around the research station and it knows that sooner or later, humans mean food. The wind is strong and there is a little snow in the air although I'm uncertain if it is new snow or if it is blowing off the island. Everything we do today happens with a sense of finality. We gear up with coats, boots, and warm gloves; we decontaminate our footwear in the troughs on deck; and we climb down the ladder and into the zodiacs to go ashore.

Robyn is driving our boat and as she cuts the motor to drift us up onto the gravel shore and another sound fills the silence. It is a low humming at first, but quickly builds to a coughing roar and I realize it is only unfamiliar because it is a sound I haven't heard in a while – a Toyota pickup truck. One of the scientists from the base has come to welcome us.

In 2004, an Orthodox Church went up on a hill above Bellingshausen Station. It was built in Russia out of Siberian Pine then taken apart and shipped here to be reassembled. It is one of the star attractions of the island and we haven't been ashore long when the priest bursts out of his trailer to greet us. He is wearing a frock and a long open coat which he tries to gather around himself with one hand, hauntingly like the image of a flasher on the subway. He's using the other limb to gesture his welcome and to shake hands. Hairy legs poke out under his frock. His long beard blows sideways in the wind. I join the line to follow him up the track to the church. From the top of the hill and in the grey light and bad weather, the research base looks desolate. There is a muddy river flowing through the center of it which roughly delineates the Russian and Chilean buildings that share the space. In winter, snow would cover the ground and make it brighter and less-dirt-splashed, but at the moment Collins Harbour could as easily be a lake in the Northern Alberta tar sands. The priest struggles with the heavy wood door and when he opens it, God pours out. There is a blast of light and those at the front of the line begin to glow. The church is so small that we go in ten at a time and when it is my turn, I see where the light comes from. There is a gold screen of panels which holds paintings of Mary and several Saints. There is also an upper section showing Jesus and the fourteen Apostles.
I have a strong sense of spirituality that comes from my experience with the broadly unexplainable wonders that are life on earth as a human being, but that sensibility isn't connected to any particular religion. I understand the power of ritual and yet these shining relics of veneration seem out of place here. I have kayaked through castellated icebergs, I have communed with penguins, I have caressed thousands-year-old ice and allowed the heat of my fingers to melt it. In Antarctica you have to come to terms with immensity. The ice at the Pole is three kilometers thick and it is a desert where snow rarely falls. That fact alone says something about our how Antarctica shows us time. This place is so unlike anywhere else on the planet and is so hostile to human life that coming to Antarctica is as close to travelling to another planet as we can get. So far anyway. Dante Allegheri's Hell is a place of smoking sand and burning rain, and of pools of boiling blood in which the damned must swim. What is the opposite? If you woke up suddenly in Antarctica with no idea how you got here, I suspect you'd think you were in Heaven. No lutes though.

We find out that the plane has left Chile and is on the way. Down at the beach, three penguins line up: an Adelie, a gentoo, and a chinstrap and as they flap and preen, it is as if they have come ashore to wave us off.

It is a 1.5 kilometer hike up the road to the airstrip and as I make the walk, I already feel absence. I will be leaving behind this community of shipmates, and I'll also be leaving something more.

As we're making the walk, the plane, a BAe-146 touches down and taxis toward a flat open space. By the time we arrive, the disembarking passengers have been herded into a group. They're frantically zipping up winter coats and putting on gloves. We are smug veterans now, and we packed away our cold weather gear. In a few hours we'll be in Punta Arenas and people will be wearing summer clothes. We wait to board while the air crew refuel the plane with a barrel of kerosene and a hand pump, and then we climb up and fly away and that's it. We rise into the sky and I catch a last glimpse of King George Island before it disappears under the clouds.

At the hotel in Punta Arenas, there is an orange pickup truck parked out front with a sledge strapped to the roof. The tires are size of hot tubs, and painted on the side it says “expeditiontothesouthpole.com” so I learn that this truck set a world record by driving to the South Pole in a day and a half. Had I made it all the way to my goal, I would have been standing at 90 degrees south when this thing arrived and would have had to try to come to terms with it invading what I have come to think of as a sacred space. It's a sign that the “real world” whatever that is, can not be escaped. And we shouldn't want to escape it. We should strive to live in it, to see more of it, the be the stewards of the world as we know it.