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Place-ing a Poetic Gesture: Celebrating Community Engagement-as-Activism

by on September 26, 2013

Performance is increasingly challenging the dictionary definition of activism as being solely “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change” (OAD), upsetting the often-implied elements of confrontation exercised with the term.  Performance is reminding us that ‘activism’ might not begin with igniting change, but rather, with celebrating ‘what is’: operating as a building block for cohesion, marking polyvocality, pluralism and diversity.  Activism, in this sense, can equally be defined as widespread community engagement.

In this vein: on one small, 350 peopled, relatively remote, entirely off-the-grid island, off the west coast of Canada, such a performance project occurred. Performing the Ecology of Place: Embodying an Eco-Cultural ‘Living History’ on Lasqueti Island/Xwe’etay involved the creation of a one-time cross-generational, outdoor, community performance event that endeavored to allow for a deeper understanding of the local relationships to place and the eco-cultural web in existence on the unique island of Lasqueti/Xwe’etay (April 2013).  The project hoped to elucidate Dr. David Abram’s visionary statement:

The singular magic of a place is evident from what happens there, from what befalls oneself or others when in its vicinity.  To tell of such events is implicitly to tell of the particular power of that site, and indeed to participate in its expressive potency (Spell, 182[i]).

The multi-month project, which I facilitated, was not dubbed ‘activist’ or an act of ‘activism’ at any point during the process…but what transpired could be described as nothing else, in my mind.  With participants and performers ranging in age from 3 to over 70, the performance unfolded as an exquisite honouring and reminder of the place and the people that are the very shape-shifting definers of this geographically-contained space.

The activism was the place-ing by a community: the myriad of voices (both past and present) forming a gestural pastiche, igniting reciprocity. Vignettes of perspectives were threaded together, forming a full two hours of saturated space…

which I try to capture here, in a performative poetic gesture activated by one community’s engagement in an active process:

 and so she called

      “all aboard”

toted through ferry-madness

the names of a community

            held together in space

in place

            for all the hear, for all the be here

present as the circle is opened

cast wide through expansive direction(s)

earth, air, fire, water

below and all around

            stories surround

eagle high a top

old growth tree and juniper-nestled

trickster raven recall

the poetry

their inter-species ventriloquism

usher in students from the past

swinging on history’s branches in

maple grove –

            this is I-T-E-U-Q-S-A-L


where invading pirates land

boats taking on water

            emerging drunk from the row

forgetting their quest for rumored treasure

            leaving poster of their 1913 leader

            beneath wet floorboards

they set to pillage for women


about to make off with unsuspecting local

dame, is stopped mid-swoop, by his

sword-carrying, ransacking comrade:

            ‘wait, that’s my mum’

taunting tubas intervene, in a show-(down)

            staging three generations of one family

through bolting brassica grace, the rogues

make off only with ‘jake’

            pink-sparkle tailed feral lamb

saxophones, trombones and

trumpets secure the peace…

& quiet (as the camouflaged ‘plants’

            nestled into bluff ‘give thanks’) through

stoned labyrinth

lasquetia and little people walk through, as

horse-logging taxis

bare-back the witnessing of an

ever-moving post office…

there must be rules to all of this,

            sung and ‘rap’ped in

plastic bags

welcome to lasqueti

where’s the bar?

blue-in-the-face we wait for

gas til Monday

this is reason enough to declare a

world war

armed with driftwood

            and oyster shell

32 enlist

four year olds are employed to drive the first

            highways truck

headlamps are delivered by the three year old

            power company official

everyone else is otherwise occupied

            sipping local moonshine in the

            noisy pirate grotto, while

three little lasqueti lambs

quest to find their mother

            (now burnt beyond a recognizable

            crisp, equally forgotten by

            ‘overseeing’ pirates)

perhaps the wood-splitting wwoofer could

prepare something for the feast, stepping out from

bear/wolf/cougar…dog stalked plywood/log/cob

home –

            to be wrapped up in one community’s

            knitted blanket of


            that presents and that ‘speaks’ through

            every ‘disability’

guitars, banjos, drumkits and

xylophone cannot coax the

xylem of the

back-to-the-landers’ voices to

flow any stronger

but through this ‘recipe’

one woman

“inserted into the middle

comes out muddy and



Eagle-Eye View of ‘Performing the Ecology of Place’


***A more detailed articulation of the philosophy, process, and substance of this community-wide event, I would gladly love to elaborate on…looping it back into the context of gestural local activism and animism!

[i] Abram, David.  The Spell of the Sensuous.  New York: Vintage, 1997.

[ii] Quoted by poem Recipe written and read by Sophia Rosenberg at the end of Performing the Ecology of Place.

From → Engage, Site

One Comment
  1. earthbodyment permalink

    Sorry…photo did not upload properly!

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