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.
Dear Tree, From Shadow
Bijarim-ro in Jeju Island is a two-lane road connecting two nearby towns, Songdang and Gyorae. With justifications such as high traffic for tourists using this road and the convenience of transportation for the residents of Songdang, the provincial government of Jeju unilaterally pushed for the “Bijarim Road Expansion Project” in 2018. Since then, 1,000 cedar trees had been clear-cut around Bijarim-ro.
Upon hearing the news, a small group of people came out to protect the forest. Sometimes with the support of the residents, other times with the extra help from the creatures living in Bijarim-ro forest, they’ve been protecting the forest for the last three years.
I also heard the news about Bijarim-ro, but I couldn’t run out to the forest like them. Perhaps because of their sound of resistance occupying a small corner of my heart, at some point, without thinking, I was out making work with stones by rolling them around in the Bijarim cedar forest. While working there, I met the “Bijarim-ro Cedar Forest Keepers” and was invited to participate in an art event that they organized.
I send this video letter to a tree once faced the light, and to a tree facing the light right now.
제주도 ‘비자림로’는 ‘송당’과 ‘교래’를 잇는 2차선 도로이다. 이 도로를 사용하는 관광객 교통 수요 증가와 ‘송당’ 주민들의 교통 편의를 명분으로, 제주도 도정道政은 2018년 ‘비자림로 확장공사’를 일방적으로 밀어붙였다. 결국 ‘비자림로’ 주변 삼나무 1000여 그루가 벌목되었다.
이 소식을 들은 제주 시민들은 현장으로 뛰어나와 ‘비자림로 삼나무 숲’을 지키기 위한 저항운동을 시작하였다. 때로는 시민들의 호응을 받으며, 때로는 비자림로에 사는 뭇 생명들의 힘을 빌어 3년 간 이곳을 지키고 있다.
나 또한 비자림로의 소식을 들었지만, 그들처럼 ‘비자림로 삼나무 숲’으로 달려가진 못했다. 내 마음 한 켠을 차지하고 있던 그들의 함성 때문 이었을까? 언제 부턴가 나는 작업을 한답시고 ‘비자림로 삼나무 숲’에서 돌멩이를 굴리고 있었다. 그러던 중 ‘비자림로 삼나무 숲’ 지킴이들이 진행하는 문화행사에 참여하게 되었다.
한 때 빛을 향했던 나무에게, 그리고 지금 빛을 향하고 있는 나무에게 이 영상편지를 보낸다.
고승욱/ Koh, Seung Wook
I was born and raised in Jeju Island.
For 20 years, I lived in Seoul, building my art career.
Even though I’ve been back in Jeju for over 10 years,
I’m still learning about the island and
I surprise myself for my ignorance of Jeju.
제주도에서 나고 자랐다.
20년간 서울에서 미술활동을 했고
제주 내려온지 10년이 지나고 있다.
늦깍기 제주공부에 매달리면서
제주에 대한 자신의 무지함에 새삼 놀라고 있다.
THE CONSUMPTION THERAPY™ DEMONSTRATION CHAMBER
The Consumption Therapy™ Demonstration Chamber was a performance that occurred during the 2019 Hold Fast Contemporary Arts Festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland. This performance was framed as a live demonstration of an absurdist therapy that claims to cure an individual of the drive to consume goods at the rate encouraged by our neoliberal, klepto-capitalist society.
The Chamber was a large, inflatable plastic ball, half-filled with plastic recycling that was donated by the art community in St. John’s. Plastic of all varieties was included, creating a visual cacophony of colours, textures, and advertising. During the performance I was inside the ball, in character as “The Hobbyist”, tumbling, rolling, and immersing myself in the plastic detritus, forced to confront and exist within a tiny fraction of the throwaway plastic waste that is generated each day across the world.
This performance was an absurd spectacle of a person yielding to plastic waste: a demonstration of the struggle to remove one’s self from the society that is engaging in the destruction of the planet. It reverses a person’s typical relationship with waste: instead of being rendered invisible with waste management infrastructure, it engulfs the consumer, forcing them to surrender to the evidence of their consumption.
The Consumption Therapy™ Demonstration Chamber, 2019
Arianna Richardson is a sculptor, performance artist, and mother from Treaty Seven territory (Lethbridge, AB). Richardson most often works under the pseudonym, The Hobbyist, employing hobby-craft techniques to work through an investigation of ubiquitous consumption, gendered labour, waste, excess, and spectacle.
Richardson holds a BFA (2013) in Studio Arts from the University of Lethbridge and an MFA (2018) from NSCAD in Halifax, NS. She was awarded the Roloff Beny Photography Scholarship in 2012 and the Alberta Arts Graduate Scholarship in 2016. Her work has been exhibited across Canada and has been featured in the December 2018 issue of Performance Research, “On Generosity” and Volume 8 of Emergency Index: An Annual Document of Performance Practice. Website: www.ariannarichardson.ca
판교낙생대공원 / at the Pangyo Paradise Park, Seoul, Korea
두터운 잎 Project/ part of Thick Leaf Project
As time goes as humans love the city forest, the forest loses herself and morphs with our habit. Her power and beauty are destroyed by our impatient and insignificant acts. We think the forest will remain the same, but she loses her language every time we walk through her path. The beautiful path for us is a plastic wind for her.
- How do we express love?
사람이 도심의 숲을 사랑하는 시간이 흐를수록 작은 숲은 자신을 잃고 사람에 맞춰 변해간다. 숲은 그 자체로 힘이 있고 아름답지만, 사람이 만든 성급하고 작은 사건들에 무너져버린다. 숲은 계속 그대로일 거라고 생각하지만, 사람들이 한발자국 걸을 때마다 숲은 빠르게 숲의 언어를 잃어간다. 사람의 아름다운 산책길이 숲에게는 플라스틱 바람인 걸 모른다.
-사랑의 표현은 어떻게 해야 하나
CHOE Rayun is a visual artist who works closely with elements from everyday and nature. She is an active member of Mullae Art Village in Seoul. Site-specificity of Mullae informs her work and directs her attention to nature, human and urban, and their relationship to each other. With her thought provoking works, she offers a moment to share and an opportunity to contemplate. She works in diverse mediums such as painting, drawing, sculpture, video and performance.
Becoming Rock (2018)
Video excerpts from a series of 13 video performances (02:57)
Becoming Rock: Road Rock (2019)
Video still image from performance series ‘Becoming Rock’
Becoming Rock is a series of performative videos that explore the relationship between body and earth through the repeated action of becoming a rock within the landscape. Although it is physically impossible to merge with the land, Jessica Slipp sees the exposure of each repeated attempt as an absurd, awkward, yet genuine and honest gesture to engage with the land.
Jessica Slipp uses rocks as a form and means to compact earth and time. She is interested in what rocks contain and how, when deconstructed, they return to tiny particles of matter – the elemental component to the fabric of the universe and where all of life began. With concern for planet Earth, she looks to Donna Haraway’s rethinking of the Anthropocene and use of the term Chthulucene to describe our current epoch. This encourages the process of thinking, making, and being with all living and non-living species. In this time of ecological crisis and global climate change, it is vitally important to shift anthropocentric modes of thinking about the world to thinking with the world.
Jessica Slipp is a Visual Artist currently living and working in the unceded Indigenous land of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation in Tiohtiá:ke (Montréal). As an interdisciplinary artist her work investigates notions of place, uncovers new perspectives of land & landscape, and challenges the way we exist within the world. She is interested in the the ways that place and identity are embedded in the land through geological, ecological, and human histories, and the intrinsic connection we all share with the world — from the particles that randomly composed it, to the very nature that we embody. Through her artwork she attempts to repattern perspectives towards a more caring and compassionate engagement with the world, and seeks to find new ways of rekindling the fundamental relationship between body and earth.
IF TINY CRYSTALS FORM CLOSE TO THE EARTH’S SURFACE THEY FORM DIAMOND DUST
My antler heart grows hooves.
I follow the lead from the pack.
Find shelter in a drunken forest--
what species isn’t at risk.
Insulating properties of snow
keep me warm--
trapped air between each flake.
With body heat and earth-transfer heat
my home becomes a snowbank.
It’s not the hare’s scream
it’s the antecedent silence.
we fill ourselves up
with slow-banked health
push off the not needed
with the growth behind it
we tick silent rings
inside our own xylem clocks
each wound is sealed
with home-spun adhesive
we synthesize sunshine to a flameless fire
we shed to survive to burn spring green
All parts have a line
with never end.
a shatter zone.
Cries by a gate can’t
slip out, they hover.
Hold blue in your hands.
Go on, cup sky. This isn’t illusion.
The sound of absence is your boat
coming in. The work is in the meadow.
It’s hard to put past in a safe place.
Some eyes see, if not birds.
“If Tiny Crystals Form Close to The Earth’s Surface They Form Diamond Dust” first published in the UK literary journal Stag Hill Literary Journal
“The Trees” first published in the LCP anthology: Heartwood: a League of Canadian Poets Anthology
“Intersections” published in the online UK journal/website Burning House Press
Catherine Graham is an award-winning Toronto-based writer. Her sixth poetry collection, The Celery Forest, was named a CBC Best Book of the Year, appears on the CBC Books Ultimate Canadian Poetry List and was a finalist for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry. Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insect was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Poetry Award and the CAA Poetry Award. Her debut novel Quarry won an Independent Publisher Book Awards gold medal for fiction, “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Fiction and was a finalist for the Sarton Women’s Book Award for Contemporary Fiction and the Fred Kerner Book Award. She teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto where she won an Excellence in Teaching Award and is a previous winner of the Toronto International Festival of Authors’ Poetry NOW competition. Æther: an out-of-body lyric will appear in 2020 with Wolsak and Wynn. Visit her at www.catherinegraham.com Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @catgrahampoet
OCTOPO AND TEUTHIET
Two octopoteuthis deletron squid collided in the Pacific depths at sunset in July. Each
one mirrored the other, with a shimmering, voluptuous, sperm-plastered mantle, and
engorged arms bursting with come-hither barbs. The squid fell deeply in love. But soon
they found themselves unable to feed. Both deletrons were inevitably drawn to hunting
the other, now possessing the only flesh each craved in all the ocean. They pledged a vow
of starvation, lest they risk consuming each other. With every passing wave, their bodies
grew less sumptuous; their love more incandescent.
And one November morning, both flesh and love were gone.
reflects no octopus;
its sand-blessed face now blasted
to the harvest, swarm on
the bars of a vintage metal
an octopus would shun
the primitive lenses; covet
recreate your branchial arcs
li’l miss mermaid!
this octopus has one
dinglehopper your museum
to the white king.
a tentacular caress.
untrained suckers, swords are
more direct and less efficient
half-submerged in white sand,
could an octopus measure a
seashells in a
frame an abalone portrait
BREEDING GROUNDS: EMPTY CALORIES
so much depends
the Greenland shark
its toxic jaws
Rasiqra Revulva is a queer femme writer, multi-media artist, editor, musician, performer, SciComm advocate, and one half of the glitch-art and experimental electronic duo The Databats. If You Forget the Whipped Cream, You're No Good As A Woman (Gap Riot Press, 2018) is her second chapbook. She is currently adapting her first chapbook Cephalopography (words(on)pages press, 2016) into her debut collection, to be published by Wolsak & Wynn in spring 2020. Learn more at: @rasiqra_revulva and @thedatabats.
WHETHER THE HEAVENS BREAK
WHETHER THE HEAVENS BREAK
WHETHER THE BROKEN CLOUDS ACCUMULATE ENOUGH
AUDIENCE TO DEBUT AT TIFF
WHETHER CURIOUS CUMULI INCUBATE OUR ATTENTION
WHETHER THE WEATHER BURSTS FORTH
LIKE HEAVEN'S GATES
LOCKING DOWN ALL THE LATCHES
WHETHER WATER AND ETHER COMBINED
MAKE A BEAUTIFUL SUNSET
WHETHER DUSK IS UPON US SOONER
RATHER THAN LATER
WHETHER YOU PREFER HURRICANES OVER HEAT WAVES
MONSOONS OVER ICE MELTS
WHETHER YOU HARVEST FRUIT FROM THE FOREST FLOOR OR
WITHERED ON WIZENED VINES
WHETHER YOU PINE FOR YOUR MUSKOKA CHILDHOOD
WHETHER PILEATED WOODPECKERS DELIGHT YOU
EITHER THE CONTINUOUS PRESENT OR THE LOOMING FUTURE
EITHER SOME OF THEM
OR ALL OF US
WHETHER TRUTH WAVERS BEFORE SIX-DOLLAR LATTES
AND MAUVE MACARONS
WHETHER IT WAS A TOTAL BLOCKBUSTER
WHETHER YOU'VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT
WHETHER THE SKY GETS DARKER THAN "BREAKING BAD"
WHETHER REALITY IS A MALEVOLENT COLOSSUS
COMING ON LIKE AN ADORABLE BABY LION
WHETHER SUPERWINDSTORMS MAKE THE RATINGS RISE
WHETHER THE DEADLINE PREMIERE
IS A NO-HOLDS-BARRED DOCUMENTARY ON SUBLIME
DO WE HAVE OUR TICKET IN ADVANCE
DO WE HAVE OUR SEAT RESERVED
DO WE HAVE A COVETED SPOT BESIDE THE RED CARPET
WHETHER WE LIKE COMEDIES
WHETHER THE FILMMAKER WAS FUNDED
BY A FRACKING CONGLOMERATE
OR A BRAZILIAN MINING CONSORTIUM
WHETHER THE CLIMAX IS A MASS SHOOTING EVENT
THAT SOUNDED LIKE A RUNAWAY TRAIN
THAT BARRELLED INTO CANADIAN TIRE
LIKE A BLOOD AVALANCHE AT NIAGARA
WE'VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT EVER BEFORE
STEP RIGHT THIS WAY
STEP INTO THE HARSH GLARE
OF THE BIGGEST SHOW ON EARTH
WHETHER WHATEVER WE DREAM
IS JUST LIKE A MOVIE
WHETHER IT IS ALL JUST LIKE CUTTING-EDGE CINEMA
WHETHER WE'RE ON 24/7 CANDID CAMERA
ALONG WITH FACIAL RECOGNITION
HOW ABOUT GLACIAL RECOGNITION
OR WILL THAT SPOIL THE PLOTLINE FOR US
WHETHER IT IS ALL SO ORIGINAL
WHETHER IT IS CRAZY GENIUS AT HAND
WHEN THE HEAVENS HEAVE AND THREATEN
YES THE SKY MIGHT BREAK OPEN
YES THE SKY IS MADE OF GOSSAMER ETHER
YES THE ETHER IS MADE OF TRANSHUMAN MEMORY
YES THE MEMORY DRINKS IN RAIN
YES THE AUDIENCE IS AN OCEAN
WE WANT THE C.G.A. WEATHER TO LOOK
MORE WILD THAN WILDERNESS ALONE
WE WANT THE ENDING TO SHOCK US
WE WANT TO BE AWAKE
SO WAKE UP
CAN WE WAKE UP
LET'S WAKE UP
Margaret Christakos creates poetry, teaches, and thinks about forms of direct and indirect social address as part of her thirty-year artistic practice. She hails from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Toronto. Recent books include Multitudes and Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies. In Spring 2020 her new book charger is forthcoming.
WE WILL TELL THEM OF OUR DOMINION
First, we will tell them of our dominion
We will tell them of the web peeling back
in the heavens, the sun's maw radiating
We will tell them we can see the air
We will tell them green turned brown and grey
We will tell them green covered the earth
We will tell them of plastic islands
We will tell them of sands too hot to inhabit,
We will tell them of where people
cannot hold their breath forever
We will tell them of undulating obituaries
We will tell them of backroom deals, of slow-moving cogs
We will tell them of childhood depression
We will tell them of corporate footprints,
handprints, fingers in pies, stained red
We will tell them of mass delusion
We will tell them of moral misbehavior
We will tell them of fears for marble over feather and fur
We will tell them about the non-identity problem
We will tell them of the powerful two-faced
We will tell them why the scientists cried
We will tell them why the philosophers cried
We will tell them why the parents cried
We will tell them of carbon dioxide
shouts, of splintered protests
We will tell them of tear gas, of turned heads
We will tell them of laws broken
We will tell them of backs broken
We will tell them of turning, turning
Later, we will tell them the oil barons are dead
We will tell them guardians fought back
We will tell them a panacea was birthed from the Amazon ash
We will tell them blood is not translucent, but still pumping
We will tell them the ocean is still loud
We will tell them we relocated the sacred
We will tell them we refined our brains
We will tell them the sun is everything
We will tell them we were sorry
We will tell them we know why the sky is blue.
Terese Mason Pierre is a writer, editor, and organizer. Her work has appeared in The Hart House Review, The Temz Review, and others. She is the poetry editor of Augur Magazine and volunteers with Shab-e She'r poetry reading series. She lives and works in Toronto.
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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