When God was Flesh and Wild

Haverluck cover flesh 3Storyteller/artist Bob Haverluck uses stories, art and music to inspire community groups in their engagement with issues of conflict and violence against the earth and her creatures. His stories and drawings spring from a deep encounter with the Bible but they go to some pretty wild places. If the prophet Jeremiah mated with the entire cast of Monty Python, the miraculous child of this union would be someone like Bob.

His book of stories and drawings, When God was Flesh and Wild; Stories in Defense of the Earth, has just been published by Liturgical Press. He’s launching it at McNally Robinson Bookstore on Wednesday, May 31, at 7PM and he’s bringing along some actor and musician friends to help him out. Should be a unique evening.

See more info here: http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/event-15753/Bob-Haverluck—-Book-Launch#.WRI2SVLMyi4

I’ve known Bob a long time and I’m delighted that he agreed to have a conversation with me.

CM: Welcome to portage and slain, Bob. Tell me about what you’re trying to do with these stories.

BH: I thought—you being you—that you were going ask me why I thought the Bible was a hell of a murder mystery. And I wasn’t going to tell you. But now I am.

Predictably, it begins with a murder. We are there at the edge of the garden when Cain pulverizes his brother Abel’s head with a rock. Cain, our mythic ancestor, murder weapon in hand. The smoking rock. Murder solved. But wait, even with Cain sidelined, other bodies begin piling up. Killing after killing with music in the background, compliments of the first maker of musical instruments, the grandson of the first murderer. And the murderers keep coming. Until, as the story goes, Love itself comes down from heaven playing hide and seek in the form of some kind of beer drinking shepherd. Soon, he is nailed to a man made tree in a little forest of man made trees. One more carcass like the rest.

Even before then, the careful reader begins to feel increasingly uneasy. And long before it all ends the reader realizes that she, he is implicated…and has something red and sticky on their hands. Something like a victim’s blood.

Like you said Cathy, I’ve known you for a long time. But I didn’t know you weren’t going to ask that question about the Bible as a murder mystery. And I knew you back when you were Howie Morenz and played forward for the Montreal Canadiens. You were five foot ten then, had black hair and could skate like Barbara Ann Scott. “But things aren’t like they used to be,” to quote the mayors of Sodom and Glockamorra.

CM: Um…Let’s get back to firmer ground, shall we? Now, is there really that much comedy in the Bible?

BH: Okay, Okay, you done give me other questions and I will try to circle round and answer them without the use of mind altering drugs or references to your earlier lives. Such as when you went by the name of Bridie Murphy.

Clever boots Cathy, you ask questions about why I am busy reading and writing the Bible as a comedy. Taking Northrop Frye’s course on the Bible as a romantic comedy (1967-68) did help get things going. In part the comedy aspect is perhaps a quirk, a kink in my nature nudging me. Maybe, it is because as I read scripture I see it is about re-reading the world in ways that see the world as often haywire, upside down. Mary’s Magnificant singing the Christ child into the World is about a world downside up. Red Rover Red Rover, we call Samson over: “with the jawbone of an ass, he ass ended them.” Much of this is a donkey’s business, the stuff of comedy when it is not bloody tragedy. So the Hebrew Christian scriptures themselves invite, no, demand a comic, no, a tragical comical reading . Yes?! Of course they do, don’t be silly.

CM: Uh, Bob, could we get back to—

BH: Okay, Okay. You ask me, “what are you trying to do with these stories?” To best live wisely as part of this watery animally earth, methinks, we need to have a better sense of our many companions. Among them are many aunts and uncles, sisters, brothers found in the great spiritual traditions who knew we have a peace treaty with the earth. Wild and crazy many of them.

I’m betting that we can well rejoin with our kin with the help of parable-like stories. Why? The round about comic business of confronting the ruling orders’ destructive “common sense” with nonsensical ways of being and doing may well entangle us with our greater kindred. The stories might even help us better realize our kinship with feathered, hairy, bark encrusted or ten miles long and home to turtles, cat tails and frog choirs. If the stories help that happen, I’ll buy beers all around or my name isn’t Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor.

CM: Aha. Right. Now, in Genesis, it seems that God gives humans dominion over the fish of the sea and all the plants and creatures of the earth. Your stories and 50 odd, I choose my words carefully, odd drawings and four stories argue that “dominion” is not at all as it seems to many.

 BH: Dominion? Sure dominion, a lover’s dominion…attentive to the beloveds’ ways, wants, well being. We have a paradox here and a pair of ducks and every kind of creature kin attended to. This understanding has both its yeas and nays and neighs in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures’ mélange of stories, myths, historical dramas, poetry, teachings, songs and parables. My stories play among the clusters that see humans as essentially inseparable from the well being of the rest of creation. We are tragic and comical creatures in an often tragic but ultimately divine comedy.

CM: I see. Well, I don’t really, but let’s just suppose I do for the moment. Aren’t you afraid no one will take you seriously?

BH: The push to comedy comes from my sense of the world, of life and of scripture’s own frutata of delights and sorrows, sweet, sour and savory. Inside, outside, all around the town, there are pulls and pushes in that direction. As proposed in the book’s introduction, comedy at its best is serious about the rights things. But not all the time. Much of our life is being serious about the wrong things most of the time.

Also, living in a cultural era much wired to irony, comedy has a certain tactical function. However, recognizing that irony must ultimately feed upon itself, unless it has a standpoint outside itself that discloses, exposes its deserving targets. (Knew my old philosophy lecturing on comedy in Hegel and Kierkegaard would get a rerun. Or my name isn’t Jean Paul Sartre, Thane of Glamis.)

CM: I could swear I was in control of this interview when we came in. Oh well. Can you pick a drawing from When God was Flesh and Wild and comment on it?

BH: No. Or to phrase that differently, yes. The cover drawing for the book might work for us here (see above). Years ago in an article for Border Crossings entitled “Why a Pig”, l did a drawing of Jesus kissing a pig. The fish, like the pig is not a bad metaphor for the losers, the write-offs, those made least by the ruling order which the Christly Jesus insisted on identifying with. They were often called the “anawim” meaning the dirt, the poor, the shit. This drawing also opens the story “God is Flesh and Wild” which rightly precedes the story “Little Sparrows see God Fall”. Jesus’ baptism in the wild river in the company of turtles and trout is portrayed. It sees Jesus’ time in the wild place as playing out the child lying down with the lion and lamb, bear and cow (Isaiah). Jesus is understood to be initiating and bodying forth the anticipatory enactment of the peaceable “kindom”. This christly booze artist—who is later infamous for hanging out with, identifying with, the sex trade workers, squeechy kids, and petty civil servants, all restless for a world downside up—here smooches with one more creature of no stature. A wild thing, here a representative of all that is not domesticated. Not within the dominion of “domination”. What this disturber of the false peace does in the world of nature, he will do in the social political economic and religious realms. Lovingly embrace the untouchable, the hidden away good possibilities of a peaceable commonwealth.

Sweet, soon soured. Now, to portray the seeming rule of death. But how? In this drawn place perhaps a “gotcha” fish hook could say it? So there it is coming up from the side. As sure as bad bad Good Friday needs come before the Sunday of eastering forth. Or my name is not Haverluck, Thane of Burnam Wood and supplier of rubber gloves to her Majesty the Queen.

CM: Let’s drink to that—but pour me the first glass.

After Light Shines

After LightCatherine Hunter’s novel, After Light, is a brave, big-hearted book. It’s also the best book I’ve read so far this year.

Hunter made her name first as a poet but has also published several slender, clever and genre-bending mystery novels. (See the July 16, 2014 post below.) After Light, at 442 pages, is a more ambitious book and probably her most personal yet. The character Frank Garrison is based on her father, who fought in the Canadian Army during World War II and was blinded as a result of wounds sustained in Holland after the D-Day invasion.

The story takes up a lot of territory in both time and space. The action runs from 1916 to the present and ranges through Ireland, New York City, Toronto, Winnipeg and Holland. Time slips back and forward but Hunter handles these flashbacks deftly so that the reader is never lost.

After Light is the story of the Garrison family and of how betrayals, small and large, reverberate down the generations. Life is hard for the Garrisons. A girl is forced into marriage with an older man; a boy’s artistic ambitions are stifled by poverty and war; a father’s PTSD blights the life of his family; a child experiences a life-changing disfigurement. The tragedy of these characters is that, in their attempts to overcome these circumstances, they take actions that seem to solve an immediate problem but have dire consequences down the road.

There are whiffs of Yeats and doom-laden Irish mythology here. It can be no accident that Hunter named the matriarch of the Garrison family Deirdre, who, in the legend, avoids marriage to the aging King Conchubor by fleeing with her lover Naoise. Escape, for both Deirdres, sets off a chain of sorrows.

But this is not a dreary book. The story telling is compelling. The writing is well crafted but not showy. Alongside the frailties of her characters Hunter places the healing and transformative power of art. It is this transcendent vision that you’re left with at the end of the book.




Get the Podcast

owl bookplateI enjoyed guesting on Carmelo Militano’s P.I.  New Poetry show on CKUW 95.9 FM. (And I learned that those initials in the show title stand for “Private Investigator”, entirely apt for my appearance.)

Here’s the link to the podcast:


Please also consider subscribing to the podcasts of the show. Carmelo has a relaxed interview style and is good at taking the conversation down whatever road or alley looks most inviting. It’s a spontaneous exploration of the writing process.


A quick note to say that my guest gig on Carmelo Militano’s CKUW show described in the post below has been postponed a week. The new date is Sunday, May 22, 4:30PM on CKUW 95.9 FM

Chatting with Carmelo

antique head bookplate singleCampus radio stations like CKUW offer programs that you won’t find on commercial radio. For instance, Carmelo Militano hosts a CKUW show every Sunday afternoon from 4:30 to 5:00pm called P.I. New Poetry. Carmelo’s guests are poets and writers, mostly from Manitoba, but also from other parts of the country. While poetry is the main focus, other genres are given due consideration. It’s a half hour of conversation about writing and what could be more interesting?

I’ll be one of those guests this coming Sunday, May 15, should you want to tune in. That’s P.I. New Poetry, 4:30pm CKUW 95.9 FM

What’s With the Cane?

Cathy&Cane3440 copyAs the winner of the Michael Van Rooy award for Genre Fiction at the 2016 Manitoba Book Awards, I get temporary custody of Michael Van Rooy’s silver-headed walking stick. The award is named in memory of Michael, author of gritty and gripping crime fiction, brandisher of walking sticks, a larger than life presence on the Manitoba writing scene who died too soon at the age of 42.

It’s my honour to keep Michael’s cane safe until the next winner comes along in 2018.

fullCoverFront Armour 1

My thanks to the Manitoba Writers’ Guild and the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers for sponsoring the Manitoba Book Awards that do so much to encourage Manitoba writers.

See the other winners here:


Now for those tap dancing lessons.


The Tanka of Debbie Strange

Poet and photographic artist Debbie Strange uses the Japanese minimalist forms of haiku and tanka to explore her responses to the landscapes she encounters. Last month she launched Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads, a collection of tanka triptychs that editor M. Kei calls “primal poetry with a pagan heart”. A recent interest unites her two passions; at the launch she presented a slideshow of her photographic and artwork images into which poems from the collection were embedded.

Here’s an example.

going back

Debbie Strange makes her home in Winnipeg after having lived in each of the four western Canadian provinces. She is a member of the Writers’ Collective of Manitoba and the Manitoba Writers’ Guild, as well as several haiku and tanka organizations. Her short form writing has received many awards, and has been translated, anthologized and widely published internationally.

Debbie’s photographic images have been exhibited and published, and she is currently working on a collection of haiga (haiku with art) and tanka art.

Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads, was published through Keibooks by M. Kei. Find it at these retailers:

McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg

Keibooks via atlaspoetica.org


Read my e-chat with Debbie Strange below.

CM: I know a bit about haiku but nothing about tanka. Can you explain the conventions of tanka composition?

DS: Many Westerners were taught to write haiku in grade school, and most of what we learned was based on the misconception that haiku must be written in 17 syllables! Although tanka is not as well known in Canada, this form is also often thought to be based on syllabic count (31 in this case). The confusion stems from the fact that Japanese sound units differ from English syllables. If you would like to read a selection of my haiku, please visit the featured poet archive of the Mann Library, in Cornell University, Ithaca, New York:


The term “short song” is commonly used to describe tanka, and this well-respected Japanese lyrical form has been written for more than 1300 years. A basic description of contemporary tanka is that it is generally composed of five unrhymed metrical units or poetic phrases, using approximately 20 words or syllables that are arranged in a rhythmic short/long/short/long/long pattern. The poems often contain juxtapositions of the natural and the human world, and each line must be able to stand alone, or perform a critical function. Tanka allows more metaphor and simile than haiku, and tanka often have a turning point which belongs equally to the first and last halves of the poem, and which builds to the last line, with only one clear grammatical break. Individual tanka are usually untitled, with little or no punctuation and capitalization, and few articles. That said, modern tanka is still evolving, and so are the “rules” of writing these quintains!

CM: How did you come to write haiku and tanka? Had you written other kinds of poetry before?

DS: I have written poetry and songs since I was a child, only beginning to share my work after joining the Writers’ Collective of Manitoba in 2000. I entered their annual contests, and I was fortunate to receive a few awards for free verse poetry, fiction, and non-fiction over the years.

In 2013, via social media, I discovered a thriving Japanese short form community, and instantly fell in love with haiku and tanka. I began focusing exclusively on these forms, and I practice writing them and creating haiga and tanshi (small poem) art on a daily basis. The example of my tanka art reproduced above contains a prairie tanka sequence which was first published in 2015 in Ribbons, the Tanka Society of America’s journal.

Since I narrowed my writing focus, opportunities to publish have expanded beyond my wildest imaginings. This is completely astonishing to me, and I am grateful every day for the amazing turn in my writing life!

If you are interested in discovering more about my published work, I invite you to visit my blog archive and Twitter feed:



CM: Tell me about your new collection, Warp and Weft.  The title encourages the idea of threads. Can you describe the threads running through the book and present some of the poems?

DS: Warp and Weft is a collection of over 200 individual tanka, written in both traditional and modern styles, and presented as themed triptychs.

In sorting through my published tanka, I was interested to find that although the works had appeared in a variety of journals, there were recurring themes, phrases and word choices. There was also a nearly equal division between light and dark moods.

Each triptych in this tanka collection contains poems taken from different publications, but sharing a common thread. A word or phrase from the last poem in each triptych also serves as its title. The work is arranged so that readers shuttle back and forth between the light and dark tanka fibres. Poems tracing my family history are woven into the book’s underlying fabric.

The following selections were inspired in part by my experiences in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park (Bannock Point), Riding Mountain National Park, Steep Rock, and by my love for our Canadian winters!

the altar of air

on sacred stones
scarred with lichen
we listen to the chanting wind

in the highlands
we are standing stones
toward each other
f r a g m e n t e d

tobacco bundles
tied to jackpine bones
prayer fragments
hanging deliverance
in the altar of air


a blue fan
unfolding in the distance
so many hills
we meant to climb before
they became mountains

of this blue life
by the hour glass
my furrows deepen

we replay
our lowest notes
over and over
these blues wailing
through harmonica bones

turning season

winter winds
play an aeolian harp
of barbed wire
a lone coyote and I howl
at the long night moon

lying in sage
on limestone cliffs
sunning myself
with ribbon snakes
emerging from hibernation

mercurial wind
in this turning season
my body
a weather vane tilting
in a new direction

filling up winter

a lullaby
of snow fluttering
against the tent
unzipping our cocoons
we emerge into winter

ice dancing
between frozen waves
on winter’s lake
silver blades carve initials
in the diamond dust of snow

in my open hands
the slow drift
of our memories
filling up winter

CM: Are you working on any other projects at the moment?

DS: I have a haiku chapbook called A Year Unfolding to be published in November 2016 by Folded Word Press.

I also have work forthcoming in More Grows in a Crooked Row: Tanka Conversations with 15 Canadian Poets, edited by Angela Leuck, as well as in Wild Moons: The Canadian Tanka Anthology, edited by Angela Leuck and George Swede. Hopefully these two publications will help to further the tanka cause. It would be wonderful if more people in Canada discovered the joys of writing and reading tanka!

Thank you for the interview, Catherine, and for this opportunity to discuss my creative processes.