For the Bricoleur
Sentences for Stan
The magpie mind knows nothing so well as its limitations. Skate over thin ice by keeping on the move. — Stan Dragland
Stan Dragland passed on earlier this month, while out for an afternoon walk on Gun Hill, in Trinity, in Newfoundland. He was a writer, an editor, a wide and generous reader, a guide for so many, a self-professed bricoleur (a title first bestowed on him by his friend, the poet Don McKay). He was also a dedicated reader of and respondent to these crop samples, often emailing back a sort of sampling of his own, a mix of missive, essay, idea, memory, association, and meander, which I’ve cherished from the start. He showed a profound yet easy, daily respect for the work of writing, of art, the living within it, and what it can do, what it can be for. He exuded conviviality and common cause. That was the gift I got from Stan, what I’ve learned from him.
He spent part of his youth in Oyen, Alberta, a place I’ve never been, but the towns that surround it are familiar: Hanna, Consort, Drumheller, Bassano, Leader, Kindersley, Eston, Provost.
“Slough, magpie,” Stan wrote to me in the spring, “just a couple of words in a poem are enough for one Albertan to identify another.”
He taught for three decades at the university in London, Ontario, and while he was there he founded Brick Books and Brick magazine, the latter of which celebrates forty-five years this year. I’ve been around for twelve of those years, working in its service, with the last six as publisher. And it does feel like service work, which is why I do it. I think I have Stan in part to thank for that. He made Brick, along with Jean McKay, to review books published by independent presses, offering a deeper reading and more space on the page than the traditional outlets were providing. Brick seemed to be thinking, from the start, about the writer, about the act of writing, and it still does. For that, I work in its service.
For the longest time, I used the following sentence of Stan’s as a sort of working epigraph to Fast Commute, from his book Floating Voice: “Desolation is having no possible answers but one.”As I described in a previous sample, early drafts of that book started out full of other voices, was the sort of bricolage that Stan writes about and then displays in his book The Bricoleur and his Sentences, a long, winding essay followed by a gathering of scavenged sentences. “The bricoleur is first a scrounger,” he writes. “If you’re going to construct items from available materials, materials have to be available. That means picking stuff up and squirrelling it away for the day when it might come in handy....The bricoleur is not really a collector. A collector targets certain things—stamps, matchbooks, cars, baseball caps, insults, you name it. The bricoleur is a generalist.”
On what might prompt his squirrelling away: “I like sentences that jump out from their surround, whether as examples of some rhetorical pattern or just as weird or classy bits of prose...but, except in epigrams, proverbs or aphorisms, sentences are seldom meant to stand alone. The progression is the thing. ‘A Sentence is not emotional a paragraph is,’ says Gertrude Stein.”
So, in homage, below is an assemblage of sentences, a few things I’ve picked up. Thank you for being a good guide, Stan.
Place may of course be many things—it may be sea or earth or a spot in the firmament or on some distant world. And place may in many cases actually be land. But land is in all cases, and always, place. — Simon Winchester
But how did you manage to hold on to the conviction that there are timeless places like that? That I can’t understand. Didn’t you know that places like to mislead us? Everything misleads us, it’s true. But places more than anything. — Wiesław Myśliwski, trans. Bill Johnston
I do not say that we are sovereign. I do not say that the land belongs to us, because to do so would be to buy into the fiction of property. Instead, I say, I belong here. I belong to the land. I am the land. I am this place. — Harold R. Johnson
And so, with neither the ancestral nor Indigenous Peoples visible or legible to me, the Ukrainian Canadian imaginary was a set of symbols and activities rooted entirely in locations made-in-Canada such as historical sites, community and church halls, summer camps, weddings, dance festivals. I took no umbrage at the time. — Myrna Kostash
Gardening...is a painstaking exploration of place. — Michael Pollan
“I am looking after you, just as I would my children,” they are saying. “Because of this you will grow strong and tall and give us much to eat. I am praying this will happen.” They were careful to do everything correctly. They didn’t rush or try to hurry their work. They depended on their corn, so they treated it with respect. This would help it grow. — Charles Henry
I have loved you and given you the best I had in me. There is not a single piece of you that my foot has not touched or that my hand has not felt. I and my dead Helena have drenched you with our sweat from one boundary to another. Yet I have no regrets, for you have paid me with peace, with happiness and with pride. — Illia Kiriak
This wise and generous plant [Plantago minor, the common plantain], faithfully following the people, became an honoured member of the plant community. It’s a foreigner, an immigrant, but after five hundred years of living as a good neighbor, people forget that kind of thing. — Robin Wall Kimmerer
With the Tang poets, thinking is a sensuous process. If the heart is a muscle, it is a thinking muscle. — Wong May
At the time of creation, human beings were told that everything they need to live, survive and prosper on this earth was ready and waiting. Everything found in Mother Earth then is an Nishnaabeg’s garden, including fish, animals, plants, water and trees. These they harvested with care and ritual, obeying the Original Instructions given to them at the time of creation. One of these rituals is that one must drop tobacco before reaping any plant or animal.
Original Instructions are primal, not primitive, as the latter implies progress. Nishnaabeg believe that progress is by natural law a violation which will ultimately end in the destruction of humanity. One could say then that modern gardening is progressive and therefore, part of a lifestyle which will eventually show itself as destruction in the long run. Certainly, I see modern mega-agriculture already showing signs of destruction. — Gidigaa Migizi (Doug Williams)
Sometimes, lying awake at night, I imagined I could hear far, far off the whistle of a train echoing in the valleys. I would follow it in my thoughts all the way down to the driftwood-strewn shores of Lake Superior and on toward...I stopped myself, and tried very hard to sleep. — William Kurelek
Thanks for reading. If you haven’t yet, feel free to subscribe to crop samples.
Stan Dragland, Floating Voice: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Literature of Treaty 9 (House of Anansi, 1994), 8.
Stan Dragland, The Bricoleur & his Sentences (Pedlar Press, 2014), 34–35, 65, 89–90.
Simon Winchester, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World (Harper, 2021), 41.
Wiesław Myśliwski, trans. Bill Johnston, A Treatise on Shelling Beans (Archipelago, 2013), 9.
Harold R. Johnson, The Power of Story: On Truth, the Trickster, and New Fictions for a New Era (Biblioasis, forthcoming fall 2022), 46.
Myrna Kostash, Ghosts in a Photograph (NeWest Press, forthcoming fall 2022), 24.
Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education (Grove Press, 1991), 62.
Charles Henry in Keith H. Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places (University of New Mexico Press, 1996), 22.
Illia Kiriak, Sons of the Soil (St. Andrews College, Winnipeg, 1983), 7–8.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, “In the Footsteps of Nanabozho: Becoming Indigenous to Place” in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed Editions, 2013), 214.
Wong May on the Carcanet blog
Gidigaa Migizi (Doug Williams), “The Right Size for a Garden” in Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg: This Is Our Territory (ARP Books, 2018), 96.
William Kurelek, Lumberjack (Tundra Books, 1974), foreword.