Watch Your Head
Coach House Books, 2020
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.
Cover design by Ingrid Paulson
...Watch Your Head does not disappoint. It serves as a warning to heed, a reminder to be thought of often, and a well-thought-out piece of art. Throughout the anthology, readers encounter pieces that provoke and insist, demanding attention, consideration, action, and creativity. Essays and stories and images alike bring about questions and statements on Indigenous rights, white privilege, exploitation of land and people, colonial power structures, place, home, language, and imagination.
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.
I ought to start with someone else's gain,
step outside myself, put on the red
and distant visor, be the other queen.
Remember what is still to come. Forget.
An ocean, say, with pebbles full of eyes –
or what were once the outer skins of sight –
how beautiful they are, intact and white
against the deadened grey, intense cerise.
Or maybe sand instead; the other side
of memory. A hundred million minds
A sparrow hops across snow.
A dog barks.
The wishbone though.
Intact and delicate
like a canoe slicing
through the nothingness
that should have been
a heartbeat. Strength
so often gets overlooked
in the pink hour of
dried blood. And so we miss
the open mouth of determination,
the way a foot is lifted not
towards or away from
Ayesha Chatterjee is the author of two poetry collections, The Clarity of Distance, and Bottles and Bones. Her work has appeared in journals across the world and been translated into French and Slovene. Chatterjee is past president of the League of Canadian Poets and chair of the League’s Feminist Caucus. She is poetry advisor for Exile magazine.
SEVEN IMAGES FROM THE SERIES 'ENDANGERED.'
Butternutbutternut creates art inspired by conscious living, a bright and quirky take on a utopia where animals and humans coexist in harmony. For this series, Endangered, I wanted to hero endangered species to bring awareness to the alarming reduction in population. When we think of tigers, rhinos, orangutans, the general understanding is that they exist, freely, in the wild, but the truth is that we are close to extinction, and they only exist in conservation areas. This series in meant to humanize these animals, hence they are shown on human bodies, and start the dialogue on what we can do to help them, whether through mindful tourism, conscious buying of goods and services or donations. Over continued years of illegal trade, poaching, deforestation, and climate change, we are responsible for this tragedy, and now we need mass awareness to help save these species.
Butternutbutternut was started in 2018 by Shinjini Sur, a self-taught artist. Shin's vision is to create art inspired by conscious living - bright, fun, and quirky pieces critiquing social norms. Her iconic work shows animals on human bodies to personify and humanize them, ultimately bringing to life a utopian world where humans and animals coexist in harmony. She is currently experimenting with new materials and home decor - check out butternutbutternut.com for more of her work. *20% of all proceeds from shopping this collection goes to the World Wildlife Fund in support of endangered, critically endangered, and vulnerable animals.*
There is one road in and out –
mountain to sea and back again.
We take it while we still can,
trail the steady line of traffic
climbing towards a choked sky.
Streams only travel in one direction
or dry up in heatwaves such as this.
The temperatures are still rising.
Last night, as the children slept,
we watched light streak across the sky
illuminating our shack on the hill –
the back steps built close
to jagged shrubs and grass.
This morning we packed everything
and left, shoved pink flip-flops
and beach-balls into the boot,
headed north. We saw flames
above the trees. By nightfall
that road was blistered, nothing
but a scorched leaf-littered underpass,
a net for fiery embers and sparks.
Burning strips of eucalypt bark
leapt from one side of the black lake
to the other. We watch the news,
recognise place names, on digital maps,
not meant for tourists. We walked
those beaches where huge groups
gather, waiting for the ferocious fires
to burn themselves out, return again
to ash-dusted patches of land.
When life comes down to a headspace of air
beneath a jetty – the atmosphere toxic –
and above swirling tornadoes of fire,
the house burning down to the ground,
trees glowing scarlet in the haze, hissing,
spitting out sparks, and a fireball sun
beaming yellow, eucalypts exploding
under a Mercurian orange-streaked sky –
you cling to wood, cling to your grandchildren,
let the youngest lock fingers around your neck,
her blonde curls bobbing on the cold surface,
her eyes wide, lips a thin, pale line – wonder
where their mother is, if she’s praying, check
for five heads above water. Make your case.
Stephanie Conn is a poet and current PhD Researcher from Northern Ireland. Her first collection The Woman on the Other Side (Doire Press, 2016) was shortlisted for the Shine/Strong Award for Best First Collection. Her pamphlet Copeland’s Daughter (Smith/Doorstep, 2016) won the Poetry Business Poetry Competition. Her most recent collection Island was published by Doire Press in 2018. Stephanie is a multi-award winning poet, including the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. She is the recipient of a range of Arts Council awards and has read her work locally, nationally and internationally. Find out more at https://stephanieconn.org/. Follow @StephanieConn2
8 POEMS: SENRYU, HAIKU, KYOKA, TANKA
How did she do it
Red Riding Hood, luring wolves
Was it expert marketing
or her flawless marksmanship?
Is this blazing earth
just angry - or signing
The heavens last night
Poured out their discontent heart
Flooding our basements
Showers in forecast
After us comes the deluge
Our prospectless toast
Too drunk to dream a future
Our off-key drinking song
While the ice cap thaws
I'll regret my lusting for
Gentler winter winds
Lonely ice flake floats
on lukewarm Arctic waters
- my eyes are melting
The edges of existence
now bend toward depression
tiny bug bites won't disprove
our insect collapse
I offer my scratchy arms
In pursuit of atonement
The city's humming
I listen for sounds of hope
through morning traffic
Hege Jakobsen Lepri is a Norwegian-Canadian translator and writer. She returned to writing in 2011 and had her first story published in English in J Journal in 2013. She has since been published widely in Canada and the US. Her most recent work is featured or forthcoming in The New Quarterly, Carve Literary Magazine, Hobart, Agnes and True, Journal of Compressed Arts, Gone Lawn, Belletrist, Crack the Spine, Prism International and elsewhere. You find her on her on twitter @hegelincanada, Instagram: @hege.a.j.lepri and on her website: www.hegeajlepri.ca
bottles plastic bags underwear gum wrappers
receipts caps toothbrushes lighters cups
end up in the sea’s vast net of light
waves heaving the weight of
our waste back and forth
back and forth
tumbling shards of beer bottles
into oblong pebbles of sea glass
weaving bloated plastic bags
into nooses for seagulls
breaking bottle caps
into bait for lantern fish
Our sparkling garbage dump
brims with cockles and crap.
our hands throw
the giver of life receives.
"Flotsam" was originally published in Firesmoke, Mawenzi House, 2014
Sheniz Janmohamed (MFA) is a firm believer in fostering community through collaboration, compassion and creativity. In her own practice, she strives to embody words through performance, land art and writing in the ghazal form. A poet, artist educator and land artist.
Sheniz has performed her work in venues across the world, including the Jaipur Literature Festival, Alliance Française de Nairobi and the Aga Khan Museum. Her land art has been featured at the Aga Khan Park, the Indian Summer Festival and the Art Gallery of Mississauga.
Sheniz is also the author of two collections of poetry: Bleeding Light (Mawenzi House, 2010) and Firesmoke (Mawenzi House, 2014).
Sheniz visits dozens of schools and organisations each year to teach, perform, and inspire creativity in her students. In 2015, She was awarded the Lois Birkenshaw-Fleming Creative Teaching Scholarship, and holds a Artist Educator Mentor certificate from the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto).
Sheniz is also the founder of Questions for Ancestors, a blog that encourages BIPOC writers and artists across Turtle Island to ask questions of their ancestors as provide advice for their descendants.
Sheniz is currently working on her third collection of ghazals.
DISCOURSE OF THE LAST BLADE OF SENSITIVE SHY GRASS
Oceans recede and Henry Darger
was tracing all along.
Boys are carrying banners and I am
If my bedroom light is burning
electricity and the on-switch.
Your dryer is done,
That’s not a claxon.
Wind blows that way—alright,
wind blows other way—okay
We are the four
who discover Lascaux
we bring lichens and
mold to the dun horse and stag
we turn bison to talc,
choke the longest living duck.
When our mothers
see the clay
we part our arms,
like curtains at the opera
when they insist,
we grow antlers
cut them off and
let them have it:
the head of a stag,
branched as lightning,
is the new forest,
centerpiece of her dining room
supper to her feast.
Marta Balcewicz's poems and stories appear in Tin House Online, AGNI Online, The Malahat Review, and elsewhere. She is the fiction editor for Minola Review and lives in Toronto. Find her at www.martabalcewicz.com.
HOPE OF THE HUMMINGBIRD
For the past decade, severe wind storms have battered the little community I live in on the Pacific Coast.
Leg-thick tree limbs have busted roofs, littered lawns, flattened bushes, and felled old trees in our adjoining forest.
This spectre is climate change. Elsewhere, the world is burning. What can one person do?
Our solution is simple. During fall, we hang up a hummingbird feeder, seed feeders for larger birds, and a suet feeder for winter. We nourish the most vulnerable creatures of the forest, without discouraging their natural ability to forage.
The small, bright glow of hope of our hummingbird friends inspired this poetic honouring:
Shimmering red tweed on green
our tiny guest
wings beat time
its needle dips deep
into the slit of our offered feeder’s
yellow plastic petals
your forest retreat thinned
our serving a small buffer
against a grievous global surge
of natural tragedies
one shock-absorber stands firm
"A Vortex" previously published in print in Otoliths, issue fifty, part two, southern winter, 2018 and online at the-otolith.blogspot.com
"Hope of the Hummingbird" first published by Elephant Journal, September 25, 2019
Elaine Woo has long engaged in the discourse on environmental justice through her poetry and visual art. She would like to see many more join in and take action in ways, big or small, as able. She is the author of the collections Put Your Hand in Mine, 2019 and Cycling with the Dragon, 2014.
To Aliens (all)
we fucked up
the planet that is
not by choice
well not by my choice
and not by a lot of people I know
it was sort of an accumulative fucking up
so you probably shouldn’t come back here
or visit for the first time right now
you should probably just wait
until this part of humanity is gone
because while we have fucked it up currently
i don’t have much hope that we’ll be around that much longer
to continue fucking it up
and after that you can come visit again
the things that come after us will probably be hotter anyways
To plant life (all),
you show what you heal
in your very makeup
the cellular structure of what you are
giving us a map to all that means to be alive
seen in valerian root
shaped like a nervous system
used to calm our nerves
and send us to sleep
seen in strawberries
cut in half
the picture of a human heart
used to heal our hearts
seen in St. John’s wort
bright yellow flowers
calling forth joy
used to heal depression
you show us and
sadly, only some of us see
Francine Cunningham is an award-winning Indigenous writer, artist and educator originally from Calgary, AB but who currently resides in Vancouver, BC. She is a graduate of the UBC Creative Writing MFA program, and a recent winner of The Indigenous Voices Award in the 2019 Unpublished Prose Category and of The Hnatyshyn Foundation’s REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her fiction has appeared in Grain Magazine as the 2018 Short Prose Award winner, on The Malahat Review’s Far Horizon’s Prose shortlist, Joyland Magazine, The Puritan Magazine, and more. Her debut book of poetry is titled ON/Me (Caitlin Press). You can find out more about her at www.francinecunningham.ca.
Light slow as honey
in its antique shell, rubber stopper
lazy at the end, snarled curl
of the lip ring silver
round glass—yes glass, but thick,
the kind that keeps you guessing,
stretching feeble for the other side.
The way a frenzied starling
builds her nest in May,
one flimsy clutch of twigs
at a time. The light unclaimed
through my delay, seeping in
as if from nowhere, stilted,
clotted as in the white-shelled
tank I saw
one inverted summer day
in Melbourne, where a squid lay
slumped in a corner
like a pile of unwashed laundry,
her eye a steady accusation
before the rounded window
that glimpsed our own grey-glimmer world.
TRY TO HATCH FISH AND STONES*
know what to do
with your chalky misfortunes.
like mammoths, an old
relationship. Await the birth
of a patience, eternal,
yet to be mastered
in any hemisphere. Know what to do
with disappointment. If lucky,
lucky. In the long quest
for an everyday, don’t forget
to revise your expectations.
Protect the charge
that is your wanting. If queer,
what to do
with heartache. Hitch your wagon
to a laboratory. Keep that hope
within your belly,
under the perfect tuxedo flap
of skin, snug
beneath your lungs.
*“Berlin gay penguins adopt abandoned egg.” BBC News from Elsewhere, 12 August, 2019. Reporting by Martin Morgan.
Annick MacAskill is a queer and feminist poet and translator based in Kjipuktuk (Halifax) on the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq. Her debut collection, No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018), was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted for the J.M. Abraham Poetry Award. Her second collection, a book of love poetry, will be published by Gaspereau Press in the spring of 2020.
THROUGH ALL KINDS OF WEATHER
They’re down to the final four on So You Think You Can Text? The judges have locked in their scores and Richard is going home. To costal Regina.
The party’s off to a slow start on Orgy Pad. Contestants can’t concentrate. Not with the roof missing. There’s mood-killing daylight in the Velvet Room. And all that blurred-out flesh moves with virtually no enthusiasm.
Flash floods in Fredericton. Wildfires in Winnipeg. Tornados in Toronto, the CN Tower plucked, planted needle-down, piercing a pipeline. It’s Russ and his State of Emergency roundup.
“Is this the end? This reporter thinks so,” he says to empty living rooms across the country. “Is anyone out there? Maybe you’re flipping through the channels, looking for something mindless to take the edge off.”
Russ hits a button. It brings up a banner graphic with his cell phone number.
“Russ is going full telethon. All Russ all the time. Call me. I don’t want to die alone.”
Undercover Brute. In which Rico discovers the smog-related respiratory illnesses plaguing his deadbeat clients. He’s moved to tears. He gives them another week to pay up before he breaks their legs.
Knife Swap. A cleaver for Rita. A carver for Ted. Because it’s getting crazy out there, people.
Russ has the whiskey out. And his clothes off. He’s draped over the anchor’s desk checking his phone for missed calls.
The banner graphic with Russ’s phone number is still on screen.
“Call me. You can’t live for tomorrow. Tomorrow is happening and it’s an arid wasteland. Fucking disease and tumbleweeds. And I want to live. I want to find you and make post-apocalyptic love. So pick up the phone and—”
Adam Giles’ short fiction has appeared in Sonora Review, The Feathertale Review, The Humber Literary Review, Riddle Fence, The Dalhousie Review, and other journals. His story “Corduroy” won the University of Toronto Magazine Short Story Contest in 2013, and other stories have been longlisted and named runner-up in PRISM International’s Fiction Contest, the House of Anansi Broken Social Scene Story Contest, and the Penguin Random House of Canada Student Award for Fiction. His writing has also been nominated for the National Magazine Awards and the Best of the Net Anthology. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario, with his wife and two children. Find him on the web at www.adamgiles.ca.
WHAT TIME LEFT
Geoffrey Nilson is a writer, editor, visual artist, and the founder of poetry micropress pagefiftyone. His work has appeared recently in PRISM, CV2, Coast Mountain Culture, and is forthcoming as part of Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds from Caitlin Press in winter 2020. He lives with his daughter in New Westminster on the unceded territory of the Qayqayt First Nation.
our grocery store is out of tofu
o town that runs on beef & crude oil
understocked soy blocks
a sign of hope
when we’re usually just coughing
our way out of smoke this time of year
the amazon’s burning for profit and everyone’s
so scared of death they forget
some of us will survive The End—
mass extinction doesn’t happen in a day!
yap the dinosaur jaws compressing below us
and if climate change is getting you down
you can send a gif of Jeff Goldblum
through a server system
that will burn as much fuel
as the airline industry
it’s all pretty bleak
but you know, uh,
life, uh, finds a way
Trynne Delaney is a Black/EuroSettler queer living as an uninvited guest on Treaty 7 territory. She's currently completing her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Calgary. You can catch her bundled up like a 7 layer burrito watching the river and waiting for another chinook.
ALIENATION (THE TRANSFERRING OF TITLE OR OF INTEREST)
Accounts were ignition sources
from within their own perimeter,
but in recent months, climate
without change reduced
the spread of public attention
A media agent increased persistence
but there were no linkages
between abatement and refugia
and park status dropped
below natural levels
The lawsuit may have referred to
the next largest remnant, properties
sorted by size, scattered matrices,
the formation of a complex
as well as the countless gaps
Criterion A: The wood turtle
taken on a voluntary basis
Criterion B: The two-lined salamander
plotted as two single bars
Text created from the following article: Anand M., Leithead, M., Silva, L., Wagner, C., Ashiq, M, Cecile, J., Drobyshev, I., Bergeron, Y., Das, A. and Bulger, C. (2013) The scientific value of the largest remaining old-growth red pine forests in North America. Biodiversity Conservation 22(8): 1847-1861
"Alienation (The Transferring of Title or of Interest)" from A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes. Copyright © 2015 by Madhur Anand.
Reprinted by permission from McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House Canada.
Previously published on Lemon Hound.
Madhur Anand, a poet and a professor of ecology and environmental sciences at the University of Guelph, where she mixes poetic and scientific approaches to articulating current and impending crises
OTTO E. ECKERT STATION TAUNTS FIRE TO GRANDMOTHER
She rises through
nitrous oxide sunset
greets the Boji Tower,
greets it in persimmon
sky, arrives in the fall
of this late burning sun.
Before her, coiling bolts
of coal cooked air pour forth
into diminishing light,
slip and fade in opaque
whisps. One street over
in a sapling park, several geese
lament the lost Oldsmobile
plant. What song will rise
to greet the final train load
of Powder River Basin earth,
when it arrives to be cooked
up beneath the Eckert Station’s
unfiltered bundle of shareholder
ambition, pleasure, ambivalence.
Landmarks, despite their poison
are missed in the absences before
and behind us, their ends the loss
of measures to our traces left
upon creation. Grandmother rises,
her downward fixed gaze rests
on the steady tumble
of coal-fired smoke
feeding a hundred-thousand air conditioners.
SWALLOWS RUN FRANTIC AT THE WATER'S EDGE
Trace the pathways
of swallows, running
veins atop Waabiishkiigo,
left by minnows,
stalking the same hatch.
Discarded, yellow ash leaves
islands unto themselves
crest and fall on this lake
swollen past temperament
by distant snowfalls,
creation rising to meet creation
Beyond us, northward
our land peters out into
shipping lanes, currents
of sand, algae, driftwood.
Each caress of this lake
refreshes us, slows us
Horizon holds mid-lake
lighthouse, toilet shaped,
blotting out Wheatley beyond.
A lesson that lake freighters,
pleasure boat fishermen,
ignore in due course.
The lake, creation moves
slow. Swallows frantic atop
it, us lazy on this beach,
and the water rises, another
freighter steams past lighthouse
green moves atop high waves.
I come to you as you squeeze
into the cement culvert bisecting
the heart of Springwells treaty land
at fence line you stretch out
to the horizons, beneath lowrise
office buildings, straight as a slash
of a shixikwe bite, still, as moments
after the strike. Know your destination
arrives at an island of fire, constant
grumble of angry earth. Above us
shopping cart rapids slow to glass
top rifle of water, wailing past
weeds, nènèskakw burst skyward
from cracks in constricting shore.
D.A. Lockhart is the author of Devil in the Woods (Brick Books, 2019) and Wenchikaneit Visions (Black Moss, 2019). His work has been widely anthologized and has appeared in Best Canadian Poetry 2019, Grain Magazine, the Malahat Review, CV2, and Triquarterly among others. He holds a MFA in Creative Writing from Indiana University-Bloomington. Lockhart currently resides in the Souwesto region of Ontario where he splits time between Pelee Island and Waawiiyaatanong in Three-Fires Confederacy Territory. He is the publisher at Urban Farmhouse Press.
Watch Your Head is an online journal of creative works devoted to the climate crisis and climate justice.
New work is published monthly!
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
Sign up for our Newsletter