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.
TRANSLATIONS OF CORMORANTS
One of the delightful things about drawing is the looking – in drawing you give attention to details that are often otherwise missed – like the space around a bird.
This video belongs to a poem I wrote for the sculptor and hunter Billy Gauthier who I listened to at a symposium in 2020 at Toronto’s Power Plant. He was one of the speakers in a group of Indigenous artists and scientists from the Arctic and Amazon, come together to talk about climate change. It was an incredible conversation to listen to. Billy, in particular, inspired me deeply. And continues to. Here is Billy.
Through this past spring and summer double-breasted cormorants have become my companions, especially those belonging to a colony on the Humber River near home. They glide above our kayaks in the early morning, skimming the surface of the Leading Sea (also known as Lake Ontario). We've marvelled at their nests, hooked beaks, bright green eyes. The adult bird is a deep grey and brown but the youngsters have downy white chests. They are called gaagaagiishib in Ojibwe and they've been here a long time.
The cormorant is a conservation success story – their population was close to making the endangered list some time ago and now they are thriving. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation about them, mostly that they're a nuisance and a threat to fish. These are unfounded claims. Distressingly, their future is again in jeopardy. From Sept 15 - December 31st of 2020, the Ontario government has approved their long slaughter. People now have permission to kill up to 15 of these birds a day to "control" their numbers.
Toronto visual artist, conservationist and activist, Cole Swanson is currently hard at work to challenge this. You can read about his efforts (along with Gail Fraser, professor of environmental and urban change at York University) and the research behind his efforts here.
For those of you interested in the film-making process: My partner, Paul Esposti, photographed the cormorants in flight; I used Paul’s photos to draw stills with ink and pencil on vellum (about 90 drawings!). We then photographed each drawing, and Paul turned them into an animation, created the sound design and edited. This is our first attempt at animation, and we’re just getting started. Paul and I both feel like these birds are our neighbours and teachers. We made the film thinking about how much might be resolved in our world if we could learn to care for a cormorant, for the sky and space around a soaring bird.
Paul David Esposti is a photographer and videographer who does his best to listen to birds. One of the ways he listens is through looking closely. Paul's photographed birds from Costa Rica to the Salish Sea and he especially likes photographing them near his home in Etobicoke, Ontario. You can find out more about Paul and see his photographs at pauldavidesposti.com
Jessica Joy Hiemstra is a designer and visual artist who does her best to listen to birds. One of the ways she listens is through drawing. She's also written several books of award-winning poetry, most recently, The Holy Nothing (2016) with Pedlar Press. You can find out more about Jessica here: jessicahiemstra.ca.
ARTWORK BY JESSICA JOY HIEMSTRA
POEMS BY KATHRYN MOCKLER
Part of a series of cathartic reactions to Kathryn Mockler's #thisisntaconversation poems: searing, pithy, moving and funny snippets of writing that put a finger on our collective nerve around climate crisis. Kathryn and I decided that we wanted to donate 100% of the proceeds from these prints to Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge, a registered charity based in Georgina, Ontario. Licensed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Canadian Wildlife Services, SOH serves the GTA and areas throughout the South Central Ontario corridor. Their mandate: to nurture and rehabilitate injured and orphaned native wildlife with the goal of releasing healthy animals back into their natural habitats.
Prints are available for purchase from this series, and 100% of the proceeds go to Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge.
Jessica Joy Hiemstra likes what Paul Klee once said about art – that one eye sees, the other feels. Jessica works in a variety of mediums on many kinds of surfaces - from watercolour and thread on paper to acrylic on acetate to plastic bags sewn into canvas. Jessica’s also a poet and designer. One of the things people often ask Jessica is “what’s the difference between all the things you do?” Jessica doesn’t distinguish much between her mediums. She just chooses the best medium for exploring whichever question, concern or exaltation is most pressing to her in the moment - from delight in the body to sorrow and anger at how poorly we care for our world and each other. Sometimes she uses words, sometimes pencil, sometimes paint. A selection of Jessica’s work is available as limited, signed prints in Jessica’s online shop.
Kathryn Mockler is the author of four books of poetry and six short films. She is the Editor of Watch Your Head, Canada Editor of Joyland Magazine, Publisher of The Rusty Toque from 2011-2017, and she teaches creative writing at Western University. She has a poetry chapbook written in collaboration with Gary Barwin forthcoming from Knife | Fork | Book (2020) and her debut collection of stories forthcoming from Book*hug (2121). She is working on a TV series pilot called Yardbird.
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
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