A warning, a movement, a collection borne of protest.
In Watch Your Head, poems, stories, essays, and artwork sound the alarm on the present and future consequences of the climate emergency. Ice caps are melting, wildfires are raging, and species extinction is accelerating. Dire predictions about the climate emergency from scientists, Indigenous land and water defenders, and striking school children have mostly been ignored by the very institutions – government, education, industry, and media – with the power to do something about it.
Writers and artists confront colonization, racism, and the social inequalities that are endemic to the climate crisis. Here the imagination amplifies and humanizes the science. These works are impassioned, desperate, hopeful, healing, transformative, and radical.
This is a call to climate-justice action.
This anthology is not to be missed. The pandemic may have defined our year, but the climate crisis defines our time in geological history. See how this roster of talented writers and artists advance the conversation, put the crisis in context and call for climate justice.
The hermit crab lives alone in its own small shell.
I, too, live in my own small shell.
Its walls are dark and cozy like a cave.
I scuttle about from tide pool to tide pool and I am happy.
But lately my shell/cave paintings trouble me.
Images of dark seagulls and undulating creatures live on my walls.
I fear my shell/cave has grown too heavy.
I fear I no longer know where
the shell/cave ends and where I begin.
I am shell/
I am dark cave.
DEATH IS A MAN WHO FEELS SCARED
Bains Corner, New Brunswick
Trudging over fickle ice crystals,
moss brittle, trees broken,
collecting slight sheets
of birch bark for scribbling,
we hear something cry out
deep in the brush.
What was it?
A deer, perhaps.
A song of sadness,
I am compelled to sing back
but what could I possibly say?
"Shell/Cave" originally appears in Poets for Living Waters. August 5, 2010
“Death is a Man Who Feels Scared” will appear in Ghost Face (DC Books).
Greg Santos is the author of Blackbirds (2018), Rabbit Punch! (2014), and The Emperor’s Sofa (2010). His third full-length poetry collection with DC Books, Ghost Face, is coming soon. Santos is the Editor in Chief of the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s online magazine, carte blanche. He lives in tio’tia:ke/Montréal with his family. As part of the National Arts Centre’s Canada Performs initiative, Santos read excerpts from his forthcoming book on May 2, 2020 on Facebook Live. View the performance in its entirety here.
Niro is a member of the Six Nations Reserve, Bay of Quinte Mohawk, Turtle Clan.
Shelley Niro is a multi-media artist. Her work involves photography, painting, beadwork and film. Niro is conscious the impact post-colonial mediums have had on Indigenous people. Like many artists from different Native communities, she works relentlessly presenting people in realistic and explorative portrayals. Photo series such as MOHAWKS IN BEEHIVES, THIS LAND IS MIME LAND and M: STORIES OF WOMEN are a few of the genre of artwork. Films include: HONEY MOCCASIN, IT STARTS WITH A WHISPER, THE SHIRT, KISSED BY LIGHTNING and ROBERT’S PAINTINGS. Recently she finished her film THE INCREDIBLE 25th YEAR OF MITZI BEARCLAW.
Shelley graduated from the Ontario College of Art, Honours and received her Master of Fine Art from the University of Western Ontario.
Niro was the inaugural recipient of the Aboriginal Arts Award presented through the Ontario Arts Council in 2012. In 2017 Niro received the Governor General’s Award For The Arts from the Canada Council, The Scotiabank Photography Award and also received the Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Award. Niro recently received an honorary doctorate from the Ontario College of Arts and Design University. She also was the 2019 Laureate of the Paul de Hueck and Norman Walford Career Achievement Award for Photography.
Alana Bartol, Orphan Well Adoption Agency, 2017-ongoing
Founded in 2017, Orphan Well Adoption Agency (OWAA) explores new methods of reading, assessing, and understanding the health of sites contaminated by the oil and gas industry. As part of its work, OWAA is dedicated to finding symbolic caretakers for orphan oil and gas wells across Alberta. As of 2020, over 60 wells have been symbolically adopted.
From 2017-2019, Orphan Well Adoption Agency held temporary offices in Alberta at TRUCK Contemporary Art, Latitude 53, and Art Gallery of Grande Prairie. Members of the public were invited to meet with OWAA representatives and apply to symbolically adopt a well. If approved, caretakers received a certificate of adoption with the name and location of an orphan well in Alberta along with a postcard of a well. Caretakers also have the option receive mailed correspondence from their well.
OWAA re-imagines dowsing (aka water-witching) as a form of technology for environmental remediation, one that might shift our relationship to natural resources, while examining remediation, care, and the reliability of information. OWAA dowsers uncover information and messages from well sites which transcribed and mailed to caretakers. Although some wells may be dormant and uncommunicative, the OWAA makes every attempt to reach them.
Part of the OWAA’s mission is to share information and educate the public about the plight of orphan wells and related issues. The number of orphan wells has steadily increased since the OWAA began its work in 2017. As defined by the Orphan Well Association (OWA), a non‐profit organization that operates under the delegated legal authority of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), an orphan is “an oil or gas well site which has been investigated and confirmed as not having any legally responsible and/or financially able party to deal with its abandonment and reclamation responsibilities”. (Orphan Well Association) These sites threaten to contaminate land, water, and life, with remediation efforts lasting up to a decade. Unlike the OWA, OWAA extends the definition of orphan wells to include the 90,000 inactive (or suspended) and 77,000 abandoned wells in Alberta that are not yet fully reclaimed. (Government of Alberta) Though these well sites are still under the responsibility of their company caretaker, they are in the OWAA orphanage so that they might find the recognition and care they deserve. With no time limits on how long a well can sit dormant, many sit in various states of disrepair and remediation, with leaks, spills and excess gas.
Learn more at: www.orphanwelladoptionagency.com.
Thank you Canada Council for the Arts and Alberta Foundation for the Arts for their generous support of this work. The work of the OWAA has been made possible through connections with Surface Rights Groups in Alberta.
Government of Alberta, “Upstream oil and gas liability and orphan well inventory.” Alberta, Government of Alberta, 2020, https://www.alberta.ca/upstream-oil-and-gas-liability-and-orphan-well-inventory.aspx. Accessed 26 Feb 2020.
Orphan Well Association, “FAQ.” Orphan Well Association, 2020, http://www.orphanwell.ca/faq. Accessed 28 Feb 2020.
 Abandoned is an industry term for a well that has been permanently dismantled, meaning that the surface infrastructure was removed, and the well is plugged with cement and capped. Not all abandoned wells are orphan wells, most of the abandoned wells in the province are still the responsibility of the company owner. After abandonment, the next step is to reclaim the site.
Alana Bartol comes from a long line of water witches. Her site-responsive works explore divination as a way of understanding across places, species, and bodies. Through collaborative and individual works, she creates relationships between the personal sphere and the landscape, particular to this time of ecological crisis. A multidisciplinary artist with a B.F.A. from the University of Windsor and an M.F.A. from Detroit’s Wayne State University, she has been a visitor to Treaty 7 territory living and working in Mohkinstsis (Calgary), Alberta for 5 years. Bartol’s work has been exhibited and presented nationally and internationally in galleries and festivals. In 2019, she was longlisted for the Sobey Art Award. She currently teaches at Alberta University of the Arts.
"Shifting Baseline Syndrome" originally appeared in Vallum 13.2
Aaron Kreuter is the author of the poetry collection Arguments for Lawn Chairs (Guernica Editions, 2016) and the short story collection You and Me, Belonging (Tightrope Books, 2018), which won the Miramichi Reader's 2019 'The Very Best!' Short Fiction Award and was shortlisted for a Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature. Aaron is an assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel. He lives in Toronto, Canada, where he is currently writing a novel that takes place at Jewish sleepover camp. Follow him on Twitter @aaronkreuter.
Ryanne Kap is a Chinese-Canadian writer from Strathroy, Ontario. Her work has been featured in Grain Magazine, Scarborough Fair, Ricepaper Magazine, Feelszine, and The Unpublished City Volume II. Following her BA in English and creative writing at the University of Toronto Scarborough, she will be pursuing an MA in English at Western University.
Watch Your Head is an online journal of creative works devoted to the climate crisis and climate justice.
New work is published monthly!
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Check out our latest project: a print anthology published by Coach House Books!
Watch Your Head: Writers & Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis
Coach House Books