Where in Canada: Richard Harrison's Calgary

October 13, 2016

When we think of Calgary, we think of towers and the wild swings of the oil economy. We think of the Calgary Stampede, the quick trip to Banff (traffic allowing) the tips of the mountains at the western edge as the way to orient yourself in the city. But it’s the rivers and their water that are the heart of the city, and it’s the people that make it come to life.

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What:

On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood (Wolsak & Wynn, 2016)

Who:

Richard Harrison's eight books include the Governor General's Award-finalist Big Breath of a Wish and Hero of the Play. He teaches English and Creative Writing at Calgary's Mount Royal University, a position he took up after being the Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Calgary in 1995. His work has been published, broadcast, and displayed around the world, and his poems have been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.

Where in Canada:

In 2013, Calgary experienced extreme flooding, with the both the Bow and the Elbow rivers breaking their banks, putting much of the city’s downtown underwater. If you’ve ever walked Calgary’s Sunnyside neighbourhood, where Richard Harrison has long lived, you’ll recognize his sunflower-filled gardens, the bus stop beside the clover-filled field, the trees and the light. But in On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood, we also deal with the flood. There are waterlogged pianos on front lawns, the river fills the Saddledome and water is lapping in basements. The poet sees an old TV discarded on a lawn, but really, all he wants is the dolly.

This is a collection about loss and recovery, where the river waters wash away so much, paralleling our own losses, in particular the author’s recent loss of his father. When we think of Calgary, we think of towers and the wild swings of the oil economy. We think of the Calgary Stampede, the quick trip to Banff (traffic allowing) the tips of the mountains at the western edge as the way to orient yourself in the city. But it’s the rivers and their water that are the heart of the city, and it’s the people that make it come to life. Harrison walks the inner-city neighbourhoods, lives his life there, wrestles with death, loss, change. He pauses on the bridges that connect his neighbourhood to the downtown core. He wanders the sidewalks hand-in-hand with his wife, captivated by bees in flowers. This is the Calgary where people live and raise families and have done so for decades. It’s an intimate picture we rarely see.

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Thank you to Wolsak & Wynn, especially Noelle, for sharing this emotional collection with us. Go cross country through literature by exploring our Where in Canada column here.


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