Dawson Creek Art Gallery

Thoughts on the Universe, Mortality and the Bones of Consciousness from Donna Kane

By Haley Bassett, August 26th 2020

“whatever grounds me, draws from a great distance” 

– Donna Kane, ‘Oh Be a Fine Girl, Kiss Me’

For this week’s edition, I was able to speak with celebrated local writer Donna Kane, author of two poetry collections, Somewhere, a Fire and Erratic, as well as the memoir Summer of the Horse. Her latest collection of poems, Orrery, is set to hit shelves September 19th.

Her most recent poetic endeavour was inspired by the Pioneer 10 space probe. Launched in 1972, and tasked with collecting data on Jupiter’s moons for only 18 months, Pioneer 10 far outlasted its original mission and continued to relay data well beyond its planned trajectory. NASA collected information from the probe until 2003. When its signal became weak, and its data of little use, NASA cut off communications with the probe, which continues to sail beyond our solar system. Scientists predict that Pioneer 10 will be in orbit billions of years from now, long after the sun has swallowed the Earth, meaning that the plucky probe will far outlast its creators.

For Kane, Pioneer 10’s lonely pilgrimage stirred questions of materiality, consciousness, mortality, and the transformation of an object to a concept. Orrery, like its namesake, puts heavenly bodies in relation to each other. In its pages, Kane employs the unmanned spacecraft to give us a perspective into where we fit in the universe. In this work, blood, shale, ants and helium vector magnetometers are not individual objects, but parts of a composite whole that transcend their materiality.

An enormous amount of research, introspection and travel has gone into creating Orrery, which comes seventeen years in the making. Kane travelled to all of Pioneer 10’s haunts around the globe, including the TRW Inc. facility in San Jose where the probe was built, its launch pad in Florida, as well as its replica in the Smithsonian. At the museum, Kane was able to have a unique experience with the spacecraft, which was in the process of being restored. During her visit, she witnessed Pioneer 10 as a disassembled collection of parts laid out on a table. A powerful piece of technology and a symbol of human ingenuity dissected into various scraps of metal, the mechanics of a concept.

Kane’s work is accessible yet layered, and her underlying intent can be gleaned with multiple readings. Her poetry grounds the human existence against this known universe, pinging from the macro to the micro like a signal travelling from a satellite to the Earth. She contemplates the large, existential questions with as much ease as she observes the minutiae of everyday life. One example of this elasticity in her words is the poem ‘On the Material World’:

For years, I tried to picture the Earth’s orbit,

the elliptical geometry of the seasons,

the eight distinct phases of the moon.

One night my husband brought me

an egg, an orange and a flashlight:

Here, you hold the Earth and the moon

and I’ll sun the flashlight on them. I watched the light

raise the ridge of his collarbone, the blade

of each shoulder as he turned, and later—

my arm on the oak slab desk, my thick-barrelled pen

writing thick-barrelled pen, the bronze lamp lit—

I tried again to imagine the Earth’s spin and tilt

in the eye of my mind, but couldn’t detach

from my bodied weight, the place where thought

took shape and mattered.

In addition to being a gifted writer, Donna Kane is a community-oriented, active member in the local and the larger Canadian writing scene. As the executive director of the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council, she organizes the annual literary festival Wild Words North, which will be held online this year from September 25th to the 27th. The stellar lineup of Canadian writers includes Jesse Thistle, Steven Price, Helen Knott, and Lorna Crozier, among many others. Look up the PLRAC website for more information. Get your copy of Orrery on the Harbour Publishing website https://harbourpublishing.com/products/9781550179187 or your local bookstore!

Check in next week for my conversation with internationally recognized sculptor and land artist Peter von Tiesenhasuen.

Do you have an artistic endeavour you would like to promote? I would love to speak with you! Please email me at programs@dcartgallery.ca.

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