Friday, March 09, 2007

Reader's Diary #238: Ken Babstock: Airstream Land Yacht (up to "Palindromic")

I'm finally reading a book of poetry that's still relevant. Thanks to the Iqaluit Public Library for getting this in especially for moi!

How is it relevant? First off, it was only published last year. Most poetry I read is in the "no longer in print" category. The genre typically has a short shelf life. Also, this book was a finalist for the 2006 Governor General's Award for Poetry. And it's currently up for Newfoundland's Winterset Award.

So far I'm enjoying and I'll get into why in a future post. For now though, I'd like to express one small bone of contention I have. In the poem "Windspeed" there is a line that goes, "the afternoon nose down in the crowberries and fir." Do you see why I'm so upset?

Okay, I'm not really all that bothered, but you're probably still wondering what the problem is. It's "crowberries". A quick lesson on Newfoundland fauna:

These are not crowberries. These are black berries:

And these don't exist (except on supermarket shelves):

In Newfoundland, most people don't say "crowberries". We call them "blackberries". Blackberries, as most of the country knows them, do not grow in Newfoundland. So why does Babstock choose "crowberries"? He was born in Newfoundland, but grew up in the Ottawa Valley. Would his mainland upbringing forgive him the word? It shouldn't. "Windspeed" is set in Newfoundland, with references to Topsail and Belle Isle. Furthermore the characters, children or teenagers, seem quite comfortable with the place as they fly their kites, so I get the impression that they are locals. This makes the "crowberries" term a little unbelievable. Was Babstock trying to give a more accurate picture for mainland readers? There are no maps of Belle Isle provided. And besides, why pick the audience? It would seem more authentic simply to stick to the vernacular of the province. Mary Dalton's poetry has been praised across the country for using Newfoundland terms and expressions.

I've tried to rationalize the use. Perhaps "crow" has more symbolism of trickery and captures the mischievousness of the children better. But then, the contrast of the sinister "black" with the sweetness of "berry" captures that almost as well. The rhythm is not affected. I can't see how it sounds any better (there's no alliteration for instance). The only reason I can see is an attempt to appeal to readers outside Newfoundland.

Lest it seem I'm being too critical, I am enjoying the book. I will elaborate later. It's but one word. I just thought it was an interesting choice that could generate a lot of discussion about readers, and how much thought is put into their locality.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

What do Newfoundlanders call blackberries? Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but I am curious (I'm of course referring to the ones in the second pic). Crowberries does have the appeal of sounding more regional and, to us outsiders, more exotic.

John Mutford said...

Yes, it does sound like the beginning of a joke, doesn't it? Sorry to disappoint you though, there isn't a punchline. Really, we just call those blackberries as well- though every time I've had them I find myself getting into a conversation about which blackberries I mean, "You know, mainlander blackberries." Incidentally, crowberries grow here as well. I've usually heard locals refering to them in English as blackberries, as we do in Newfoundland. To further your useless trivia collection: lingonberries are called "partridge berries" in Newfoundland, cloudberries are called "bakeapples" and blueberries are called "blueberries".

Allison said...

There is no such thing as useless trivia ;)

I have never heard of crowberries before, clearly I've been missing out on chances for literary discussion and general topic conversation.

I've been reading a lot of poetry lately, so I'm enjoying these posts.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I am so confused! I don't think I could ever order berries in Newfoundland.

John Mutford said...

Allison, So nice to hear from people that don't consider "poetry" a dirty word.

Barbara, How/Where does one order berries?

Allison said...

I too was wondering how one orders berries, as I need to be in the know!

Maybe if more people start talking about poetry it won't be the smallest section in the bookstore anymore.

Oh, and my WV is 'yayatoldu.'Excellent.

John Mutford said...

YayItolduso. The word verification pixies have been sniffing glue.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think the wv pixies have been snorting crowberries, myself, which they likely ordered in a restaurant.

John Mutford said...

I'm a little confused. Apparently lingonberries is just another word for a species of cranberry, also called a cowberry or mountain cranberry. It's all confusing. Who's to say whose version is "right" anyhow?

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you could help me? My grandmother is from Newfoundland and she is sure that what they call partridge berries are not lingonberries.