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Fresh Tracks: Writing the Western Landscape

by Pamela Banting, ed.

How does the land shape our perceptions of the world? In her introduction to this intriguing anthology of essays, poems, stories, and memoirs, Pamela Banting suggests that writers in western Canada are increasingly eager to search for answers to that question.

A diverse gathering of over 40 writers, Fresh Tracks is an entertaining and thoughtful exploration of how the western landscape influences all aspects of human life and creativity. Several well-known authors have contributed, including Rudy Wiebe with an essay on the caribou, Guy Vanderhaeghe with a novel excerpt about the Cypress Hills Massacre, and Sharon Butala with a meditation on prairie grass. Lorna Crozier, George Bowering, David Carpenter, and other established writers appear alongside a number of their younger peers, such as Gregory Scofield, Elizabeth Philips, and Thomas Wharton.

Indeed, one of the most impressive qualities of Fresh Tracks is its inclusiveness. While some of the contributors have considerable literary reputations, others come from outside the cultural mainstream. Rose Bibby offers a series of homespun poems depicting a rural couple’s experiences on the land, while 86-year-old cowboy-poet Slim Davis rhymes his way through tales of favourite horses and the outdoor life.

The voices in the anthology rise out of a variety of cultural backgrounds. Sharron Proulx-Turner, for example, explores language and place through her Métis heritage, Di Brandt investigates Mennonite farming practices, and Louise Bernice Halfe discusses lessons she learned from her Cree ancestors. The range of voices is impressive, particulary since it presents a comprehensive and moving portrait of the west’s geographical and social landscapes.

It is hard to do justice to a book with so many fine contributions, but the following deserve special mention: the historical fictions of Fred Stenson and Margaret Sweatman; the essays of Maureen Harris, Myrna Kostash, Theresa Kishkan, and Charles Finn; the poems of John Pass and Barbara Schott; and Blanche Howard’s touching memoir about growing up in Lloydminster during the Dirty Thirties.

Fresh Tracks offers an insightful exploration of our relationship to the natural world, an exploration whose importance continues to grow as we face the ecological and social concerns of the next century.


Reviewer: Tim Bowling

Publisher: Polestar


Price: $21.95

Page Count: 320 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-896095-42-9

Released: May

Issue Date: 1998-7

Categories: Anthologies