Life skills assist Visual Arts grad on journey from worker to working artist

While university may be the logical choice for many high school students, not everyone finds their path right after graduation: many opt to spend some time working or traveling before deciding on a specific field of study.

Recent Visual Arts grad Brandon Poole was principal photographer for “The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim” project in Ontario’s Algonquin Park in 2017 (photo: Paul Walde)

Brandon Poole made just such a choice, spending his 20s as a carpenter and electrician, hitchhiking across Canada, living on a sailboat; and the classes he did take (philosophy, photo journalism) didn’t lead to any specific path. It wasn’t until he decided to shoot a series of photos in downtown Vancouver’s back alleys that he had his academic epiphany.

“I was trying to find a way of resolving my myriad of skill sets without leaving anything behind,” says the 31-year-old Poole, graduating this month with a BFA in Visual Arts. “I like working with my hands, and I need an output that’s not just about writing and concept; it needs to be combined into a more overarching mode of work. Art school solved all those problems.”

Accelerating through his degree in just three years, Poole put his time in the visual arts department to good use. More than just taking classes, he also applied for (and received) BC Arts Council funding, took on a variety of workstudy positions at UVic — including darkroom technician, faculty studio assistant and lab assistant in the Studios for Integrated Media — launched his first solo gallery exhibit, The Principle of Original Horizontality, at the local Fifty Fifty Arts Collective (which he described as “kind of a mad science project,” in this Monday Magazine interview), was the undergrad representative on a faculty hiring panel, and was nominated for Vancouver’s inaugural Phillip B. Lind Emerging Artist Prize in 2016.

He also spent a good part of this past summer working with department chair Paul Walde on his latest site-specific intermedia project, The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim. Poole traveled to Ontario’s Algonquin Park where he put his camera skills to work as the primary videographer documenting Walde’s complex project, as well as handling logistics and equipment purchases.

Poole and his Fifty Fifty exhibit (photo: Monday Magazine)

“All of these opportunities provided me with a well-rounded understanding of what’s possible in an academic situation for arts-based work, as well as the outside opportunities that exist,” he says. “It’s simply more skills to bring to the table for whatever I choose to do next.”

As for what is next, Poole says the next logical step is pursuing an MFA back east. “I draw a lot of strategies from journalism, from photography, from the building industry and architecture — and the outputs of those are videos, photographs, sculptures, and drawings, all of which get tied together in a specific space. The works aren’t enough on their own; the space is always highly considered.”

For a guy who never would have described himself as an artist before attending UVic, Poole has indeed found his path. “I really think the undergraduate program here is fantastic,” he says. “It’s especially useful for encouraging the cohesion of skills and interests.”

Expert panel celebrates a decade of inspiring journalists

For the past 10 years, students in UVic’s Department of Writing have benefited by learning from veteran journalists and authors, thanks to the Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction.

Named for UVic alumnus Harvey Southam — who, before his unexpected death in 1991, worked as a journalist before serving as director for a number of companies owned by one of the country’s leading publishing families — this influential journalist-in-residence program sees a mid-career writer join the Writing department each year to teach a course and give a public lecture on their chosen topic. Courses have varied widely, ranging from print and broadcast journalism to sports, humour, popular culture, Indigenous perspectives on storytelling, and changes in the media landscape itself.

Now you can join the Writing department in celebrating a decade of this prestigious position with a special 10th anniversary panel: “The Future of Journalism in the Age of #FakeNews” brings six former Southam Lecturers together for the first time for a lively moderated discussion at 7pm Tuesday, November 7, in room 105 of UVic’s Hickman Building.

“The idea for the panel was sparked by a perfect convergence,” says Writing chair David Leach, author of Chasing Utopia: The Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel. “A chance to mark the 10th anniversary of the Southam Lectureship, the opportunity to thank the Southam family for their generosity, and to respond to a sense of global urgency around the role of journalists as guardians of our democratic institutions — especially when the most powerful elected official on the planet keeps attacking the free press as #FakeNews.”

Leach, who will act as emcee and moderator, will be joined by recent Writing grad Quinn MacDonald — now the publisher/editor of the local urban agriculture magazine Concrete Garden — as well as six returning Southam Lecturers:

  • Jody Paterson: former Times Colonist columnist, whose course focused on experiential and activist journalism
  • Terry Glavin: current Ottawa Citizen columnist and author of Come From the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan, who focused on foreign affairs
  • JoAnn Roberts: CBC veteran and retired host of CBC Radio’s All Points West, who focused on public broadcasting
  • Tom Hawthorn: freelance writer and author most recently of The Year Canadians Lost Their Minds and Found Their Country, who focused on sports media
  • Mark Leiren-Young: freelance writer, whose most recent book is The Killer Whale Who Changed the World and whose course focused on satire
  • Vivian Smith: former Globe & Mail editor and author of Outsiders Still: Why Women Journalists Love — and Leave — Their Newspaper Careers, who focused on women in journalism

“All were keen to talk about their experiences as guest lecturers and debate the future of journalism,” says Leach. “Taken together, it offers a broad range of ways to look at contemporary journalism.”

Jo-Ann Roberts holds the crowd’s attention at her public lecture in 2013

And it’s that diversity of voices and experiences that sets the Southam Lectureship apart from other courses with embedded journalists. “We try not to think of ‘journalism’ in too narrow or stereotyped of a way,” he continues. “We are always looking for a different voice, a different background, a guest lecturer who has an interesting ‘hook’ that will interest both our professional writing students and also curious undergraduates from across campus.”

Fake news causes outcry

Given the almost daily outcry over “fake news” — both real and perceived — in the media today, is Leach legitimately concerned about the future of journalism?

“Absolutely, we should all be. There are very powerful forces — political and corporate, domestic and international — feeding misinformation to the general public in ways that undermine our democratic institutions, increase inequities and even incite hatred against vulnerable groups of people,” he says.

Terry Glavin at his lecture in 2012

“The role of good journalism has always been as a BS detector that speaks truth to such abuses of power. We need to remember and support that vital function before we all disappear into our private filter bubbles of socially mediated information in which we only hear echoes of our own points of view and declare anything contrary to our own biases as #FakeNews.”

Not that the solutions aren’t without their own challenges, says Leach. “How do we fund the time-consuming and often dangerous investigative work that is the beating heart of great journalism? And how do we inspire and train the next generation of intrepid writers and reporters to do that work?”

The answers to those questions will come from the panelists themselves, along with recent Writing grad Quinn MacDonald —  not only a graduate of the Professional Writing Minor in Journalism & Publishing and a teaching assistant for many of the Southam Lecturers, but is already out in the trenches herself.

Tom Hawthorn’s sports talk was a crowd favourite in 2014

“Quinn is the future of journalism, so we figured we better get her thoughts,” says Leach. “I want to hear how she can connect the hard-earned wisdom from our six other panelists to the kind of journalism needed to inspire her generation . . . and the generations to follow.”

Read more about the Southam Lecture in this November 2 Times Colonist interview with David Leach.

Looking ahead to the next decade (and beyond), does Leach have a “dream list” for future Southam Lecturers? “I’d love to attract more writers and reporters with strong voices who are also shedding light on communities and stories that are under-reported by our traditional media: people like Kamal Al-Solaylee and his investigative book Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone), or culture writer Scaachi Koul and her work for BuzzFeed, as well as her personal memoir and Twitter presence. Or perhaps some of our own graduates, such as Rebecca Collard, who has been doing fearless reporting about the various conflicts in the Middle East.”

Richard Wagamese talks to a packed house at his public lecture in 2011

Finally, the evening will also include a memorial to former Southam Lecturer, Richard Wagamase, who passed away earlier this year. “His course challenged our students to think about First Nations history and forms of storytelling in new ways,” says Leach. “He was an amazing presence when he was here as a guest lecturer.”

And while this event celebrates the first decade of the Southam Lectureship, the 2018 Southam Lecturer is ready to go: Judith Pike is a social-issues documentary filmmaker, whose January class and public lecture will look at investigating and telling stories through film, and reaching different audiences.

Whatever the future holds for our students, there’s no denying the first 10 years of the Southam Lectureship have laid a strong foundation for whatever comes next.

This event is free and open to the public. It will be followed by a book signing and reception.

A fresh crop of book prize nominations

Fall is traditionally book prize season and, as with most years, our Department of Writing has a fresh crop of alumni and faculty currently up for prizes.

Alumna Eden Robinson is a Giller Prize finalist for her latest novel, Son of A Trickster (Penguin Random House). This is Robinson’s second Giller nomination, following her debut Monkey Beach back in 2000. Robinson is one of five finalists chosen from a longlist of 12 books — which also included alumna Deborah Willis for her story collection The Dark and Other Love Stories (Hamish Hamilton) — and the winner will be announced on November 20.

Writing professor emeritus and beloved poet Lorna Crozier is a finalist — again — for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, this time for her poetry collection, What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Broadview Press). Crozier won her first Governor-General’s Award back in 1992, and we’ll find out on November 1 if she wins again.

MFA alumna Yasuko Thanh took home the 2017 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize on October 11. She was awarded the $5,000 cash prize for her first novel, Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains (Hamish Hamilton Canada), which was reported in both this Times Colonist article and this CHEK news broadcast, while Thanh spoke about the writing life in this CFAX 1070 Radio interview.

Jurors described Yellow Mountains as “a haunting book that explores the harsh impact of colonialism, the blind, random damage it drags in its wake, and the puny nature of ill-thought out resistance versus the well-oiled wheels of imperialism. Thanh’s book is a sensory treat, a complex collage of images and themes. Original sharp and spiky language brings the reader fully into the narrative moment.”

Also nominated for the 2017 Victoria Book Prize were fellow alumni Patricia Young for her poetry collection Short Takes on the Apocalypse (Biblioasis) and Steven Price for his novel By Gaslight (McClelland & Stewart).

Theatre alumna Carleigh Baker was announced as the winner of the 2017 Vancouver Book Award on October 13 for her short story collection Bad Endings (Anvil Press), which explores a range of human experiences, from the death of a relationship to struggles with mental health. The $3,000 prize recognizes authors of any genre, who evoke an appreciation and understanding of Vancouver’s history and people. Bad Endings is also nominated for the $50,000 Rogers’ Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and Baker was named one of CBC Books’ writers to watch in 2017.

Congratulations also go out to current Writing undergrad Kade Bound, who was recently announced as the winner of the Lambda Foundation’s annual Candis Graham Writing Scholarship.

Finally, Writing professor Tim Lilburn was named the first Canadian recipient of the prestigious European Medal of Poetry & Art on October 10. Commonly referred to as the “Homer Medal,” Lilburn was presented the award by visiting Chinese poet and editor Zhao Si at a small reception on campus.

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Lilburn becomes first Canadian to receive international award

Distinguished poet and respected Department of Writing professor Tim Lilburn has become the first Canadian to receive the European Medal of Poetry and Art.

Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal and visiting poet Zhao Si

Commonly referred to as the “Homer Medal,” Lilburn was presented with the 2017 prize by visiting Beijing poet and editor Dr. Zhao Si Fang, vice-president of the award committee. Following the tradition of presenting the medal in the country where the writer resides, Zhao Si traveled to Victoria to present the award at a small on-campus reception on October 10.

“The members of the council wish to emphasize the importance of your poetry for contemporary Canadian culture and the world,” noted Zhao Si in her presentation. “You belong to a group that includes some of the greatest poets of our time.”

A prominent Chinese poet, Fang has been translating Lilburn’s work since 2008, including his acclaimed 2012 collection, Assiniboia. She is also the editor of the Chinese magazine Contemporary International Poetry in Translation; their special 2016 Canadian issue included Lilburn’s work, as well as that of retired Writing professors Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane.

“To be part of a group that includes [former winners] like the Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, who would complain?” Lilburn told the Times Colonist in this September 29 interview. “It is a great honour.” Lilburn was also interviewed on October 8 on the provincial CBC Radio show North By Northwest about his award.

Created in 2015 in association with the European Union, the Homer Medal is awarded annually by a jury to outstanding creators in the worlds of literature and the visual arts. Previous winners include Turkish poet Ataol Behramoğlu, Armenian poet Gagik Davtyan, Iraqi poet Gulala Nouri and American poet Stanley H. Barkan.

The Homer Medal now joins Lilburn’s other prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Literature, the Canadian Authors Association Award and the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award, among others. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014, Lilburn is the author of 12 books of poetry and essays, and his work has been translated into French, Chinese, Serbian, German, Spanish, and Polish.

“I can think of no more worthy a recipient for this international award,” said Writing chair David Leach at the reception.

Dr. Susan Lewis, Dean of Fine Arts, was quick to praise Lilburn’s work. “The quality and depth of Tim’s poetry create a model of excellence in research and creative activity for faculty, and it’s through his teaching that he provides a strong example for how our artistic practice informs the learning process for our students,” she said before a group that included Writing professor emeritus Lorna Crozier, Governor General’s Award winner Arleen Paré, visiting American poet GC Waldrep, award-winning MFA alumnus and WSÁ,NEC Nation poet Kevin Paul, Writing alumnus and Malahat Review editor John Barton, and a number of Writing department colleagues.

“Tim’s accomplishments and commitment to our students and community exemplify the mission of the Faculty of Fine Arts to provide the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals and students through the integration of the creation of art in a dynamic learning environment.”

After receiving his award, a clearly moved Lilburn spoke briefly but emotionally about the role of poetry in society.

“We are in a historical moment, where poets can be especially conflicted about what they do. Poetry can seem ineffectual before climate change, the rise of fascism, the need to decolonize and work toward reconciliation with First Nations,” he said. “Some poets could be tempted to set poetry aside in favour of activism, or make their poetry overtly political and turn it into pages of declaration and denunciation . . . . but we should not be so quick to abandon poetry in these extreme, dire times.”

Citing the works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda — who was himself influenced by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera — Lilburn used the example of Neruda’s poem Let the Woodcutter Awaken, which was written while in exile from Chilean totalitarianism, to describe the impact poetry can have on people’s lives. “He learned from Rivera that if you present large, sweeping depictions of society and history, you can free people and give them a sense of power . . . . he also learned to describe in detail distinct lives, which helps to establish empathy, love, respect and a commonwealth of courtesy, civility and solidarity in his readers.”

Zhao Si presents Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal

The small room was quiet as Lilburn spoke, his voice embodying poetry’s simple power. “I believe the act of poetry-making itself . . . can have deep, social effect. In my books, poetry is not relegated to the social margins; it is not an adjunct to life and politics. It stands in the very centre of both, quietly and anonymously; in its empathy, imagination, narrative range, and commitment to the assemblage of beautiful, arresting patterns, it creates the political centre.”

In addition to receiving the Homer Medal, Lilburn has two news books coming out shortly: The Larger Conversation: Contemplation and Place, an essay collection being released in November by University of Alberta Press, and The House of Charlemagne, a book-length poem being released in Spring 2018 by the University of Regina Press.

Phoenix alumni are making history

Alumni Danette Boucher and James Douglas

Each fall, Phoenix Theatre’s Spotlight on Alumni offers the chance for returning alumni to share their experiences with both audiences and current students alike. This year’s spotlight features a pair of performers who are currently living their dreams, every day, as writers, performers, directors and filmmakers—as well as husband and wife: Danette Boucher and James Douglas.

These two talented UVic alumni are making history — literally — every day, working in BC’s fabled Barkerville Historic Town. And now, on stage at the Phoenix from October 10 to 21, Boucher and Douglas will present the stories of two BC pioneers who traveled west in search of a new future: Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show. But whether backstage or in the classroom, Boucher and Douglas will mentor current students, offering guidance on how they too can navigate life’s journey and achieve their dreams.

Donning hoops, petticoats, bonnet and a classic Victorian cotton dress, actor and playwright Danette Boucher’s “office” looks like a 19th-century ghost town, albeit bustling daily with tourists from across Canada. In truth, Barkerville is one of BC’s most frequented and important heritage sites — and has a long history of hiring Phoenix students and alumni to perform in the park. Together with her husband — actor, director and filmmaker James Douglas — Boucher has spent decades telling the stories of Barkerville’s past, and they are now both part of the park’s artistic and management team.

Their passion for history also led Boucher and Douglas to create Histrionics Theatre Company to better tell their favourite dramatic stories from our past — including current productions Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show, each featuring actual historical characters on their own quest for gold.

A scene from Lady Overlander

“I first stumbled into museum theatre in 1989 while auditioning to play Emily Carr at her childhood home in James Bay,” says Boucher. “I didn’t know then that it would lead to an exciting career in museum theatre and historical interpretation.” Beyond Barkerville, Boucher has also developed programming for the Royal BC Museum, Helmcken House, Craigflower Farm and Schoolhouse, Point Ellice House and Tod House. Many may also remember her as the “unsinkable” Margaret Brown, a character that she performed for the RBCM’s Titanic: The Artifacts exhibit.

“Over the years of interpreting BC’s history, it has given me great joy to watch stories and ideas morph as we mature and strive to understand who we are, as a result of who we have been,” she reflects. “At the start of my career, we celebrated our pioneer stories and often neglected the darker, less well known, aspects of our founding. 30 years later, we are eager to question and reframe our stories, considering many angles and experiences.”

Her play, Lady Overlander, is a dramatic first-person account of the legendary Catherine O’Hare Schubert, who — while pregnant! — walked from Winnipeg to Kamloops in 1862 in search of a new life in a tantalizing new land. Meanwhile, The Fred Wells Show also tells a fascinating but little-known story from a gold rush during the Great Depression: Wells, an introverted yet charismatic American prospector, persevered against the odds until he finally struck gold just outside of Barkerville. The ensuing 1930s gold rush saw thousands of fortune seekers flock to the town named in his honour, and saved countless BC families from poverty during very desperate times.

A scene from The Fred Wells Show

“These scripts were written with love for my home province, but are also part of a desire to understand what happened when BC was first defining itself,” says Boucher. “BC history is like the best book I have ever read, with chapters that are celebratory and adventurous, and chapters that are gut wrenching and painful. When I write, I am driven by the idea of home, how we find it, and what it means to each of us.”

The couple make their year-round home in Wells, just outside of Barkerville, with their twin daughters. Although both Danette and James attended UVic’s Department of Theatre —  twice each — remarkably, the couple didn’t meet until they worked together in Barkerville. You can read more about Boucher and Douglas in this October 5 Times Colonist interview.

Despite their lives up north, Victoria and UVic are still a big part of both their lives and their work. “Victoria has a really strong heritage and theatre community that work together well,” says Boucher. “The Phoenix is a special place for us both, a place we both called home for an important time in our lives. Even though we attended at different times, we still share many common experiences . . . and so, so many common friends.”

Both Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show run at 8pm till October 21 (no show Sundays) at Phoenix Theatre, with a 2pm matinee on October 21 and a bonus 7pm pre-show lecture on October 13. Tickets are $15 to $26 and are available at the box office or by phone at 250-721-8000.

—With files from Adrienne Holierhoek

French Connections concert unites community

Music and food have a way of bringing people together — colleagues, friends, communities — and the Faculty Chamber Music concert and dinner on October 14 is no exception. Faculty and alumni will join on stage with some special guests for a 50th anniversary celebratory concert of stories and songs. The program features Igor Stravinsky’s theatrical masterpiece L’Histoire du soldat, Camille Saint-Saëns’ humorous and fun-loving Carnival of the Animals, and Rapsodie nègre by Francis Poulenc.

CBC’s Gregor Craigie

Gregor Craigie, local celebrity and host of CBC’s On the Island, will narrate the Stravinsky. Donovan Waters, Professor Emeritus at UVic’s Faculty of Law, will recite the Ogden Nash verses during Carnival of the Animals (the poems were written more than 60 years later to accompany the music). Waters, a leading international expert in trust law and the author of several texts including Law of Trusts in Canada, has a passion for the spoken English language. The Saint-Saëns will be conducted by School of Music  alumnus Owen Underhill, who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Music Centre.

A special French-themed dinner at the University Club — think beef bourguignon, ratatouille and crème caramel — will give concert-goers the opportunity to mix and mingle with hosts Craigie and Waters as well as gain insight into the program in a pre-concert talk with UVic Distinguished Professor, Dr. Harald Krebs.

Phillip T Young breaks ground for the new Music building in the 1970s

The concert will give special opportunity to honour former School of Music Chair and Professor Emeritus, the late Phillip T. Young. Young was the real force in establishing the then Department of Music and in getting a music building back in the 70s. “Phil is seen as the main inspiration for the school and the direction it went,” recalls Professor Emeritus Lanny Pollet. “He was an excellent administrator and good at getting things done. The school, including its recital hall, wouldn’t have happened without his leadership.”

In appreciation of this, the School of Music faculty named the hall the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. As Pollet recalls, “there was no question…it was important to honour his contribution to the school.” Young’s wife, Cathy, will be present and a new plaque will be installed in the lobby of the Recital Hall to commemorate him and the hall as part of this 50th anniversary year.

“This special evening affords the opportunity to think about and celebrate all the faculty whose contributions echo in the halls of the building and especially this wonderful concert hall,” explains Lafayette Quartet cellist and co-head of performance, Pamela Highbaugh Aloni. The Faculty Chamber Music Series brings a large number of the School’s performance faculty together on stage. “We really are stronger when working together,” remarks Highbaugh Aloni, who has been teaching at UVic for 25 years. “This concert really speaks to my experience at UVic over years: the synergy that is palpable when you enter the building and the relationships I’ve built with this very collegial, immensely talented and fun group of colleagues.”

The all-star line-up of School of Music performers includes Bruce Vogt, Arthur Rowe and Harald Krebs (piano), Patricia Kostek (clarinet), Suzanne Snizek (flute), Merrie Klazek (trumpet), Scott MacInnes (trombone), Benjamin Butterfield (tenor), the Lafayette String Quartet and Alex Olsen (bass). Several School of Music alumni will also join the stage.

Join us for French Connections Faculty Chamber Music dinner (6pm at the University Club) and concert (8pm in UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall) on Saturday, October 14. Tickets for the concert are just $10-$25, or $80 for the concert and dinner package, from the UVic Ticket Centre (250-721-8480 or online) and at the door.

—Kristy Farkas