Thinking beyond ourselves has become a dominant theme in my Canadian Environmental writing course that influences my decisions on a day-to-day basis. It is annie ross’ collection of poems from Pots and Other Living Beings(2019) that inspires me to reflect on my consumption of food, clothing, and other materialistic items. I am not insisting to start living a minimalist lifestyle, but to become more mindful about buying another pair of shoes and thinking twice about purchasing another tube of mascara. With the holiday season coming up, almost everyone, including myself, will be in the gift-giving spirit. Before we fumble for our wallets, I want to discuss the significance of annie ross’ work in relation to finding alternative gift-giving options that are friendly to the environment and our pockets.
annie ross is a local writer and a professor at Simon Fraser University. Pots and Other Living Beings(2019) is published and produced in Vancouver, British Columbia (- yay local!).
ross combines black and white photographs she took from her trip to the United States with insights about human consumption in her poems. She removes the hierarchal structure of placing all other-than-human beings at a lower importance than humans by removing the capitalization of human names and pronouns. Instead, ross reinstates the personhood of nature and its elements by capitalizing the given names, such as “Beach,” “Barnacles,” and “Rocks” (lines 3-4, section i, p. 131). At the same time, ross juxtaposes two black and white photographs with each poem to challenge the readers beyond the textual level.
In rock pile dish stack, ross opens the readers’ eyes to the disaster that unfolds from excess production of manmade items specifically paper plates and paper (pp. 130-135). ross compares “clay dishes, stacked” to a heavy pile of “flat, wide, River Stones” (lines 1-2, section i, p. 131). ross uses this comparison to situate the readers’ perspective of cleaning dishes in connection to the environment represented by the “River Stones” (line 2, section i, p. 131). She continues to observe the “stack of dishes becom[ing] tall, slipper with grease” that is juxtaposed to “dark Ocean swells… [with] glossy Blue Mussels” (lines 14-16, section i, p. 131). The mental images of slippery “grease” and a “dark Ocean” urges the readers to imagine the effects of the grease of our waste to the “dark” and “glossy” shine of pollution in our Oceans. ross challenges the readers to take an item from one’s home and think about the pollution from the production and decomposition of the item that infects the environment like a disease.
ross continues to challenge the readers’ consumption when she places two images together of wrapped paper plates and crates stacked together while being transported on a railroad track (p. 130).
Like many of the photographs in the collection, ross appears to be extending the idea of excessive consumption of paper plates from the text to a visual representation (line 1, section i, p. 131). The production of paper plates leads to distasteful pollution to the environment and our source of oxygen when it is transported in crates. The train of crates photograph reflects the barren scenery that is predominantly occupied by machines and transportation to support nearby factories. This is similar to Michelle Latimer’s (2018) short film, Nuuca. The audience observes and listens to the violence upon Indigenous women and the land as a result of the workers and machines that invade their hometown when the oil industries begin extracting natural materials during the oil boom in North Dakota. The continuous development of factories to fast-fashion consumption continues to harm local families from the sexual assaults in addition to violating and robbing the environment of its natural resources. By displaying the barren, cold, and lifeless scenery in the crates image, ross urges readers to comprehend our unpleasant reality that results from our excessive consumption habits.
The theme of excess is extended to the following section when ross places two photographs of a pile of metal forks and a truck filled with lumber (p. 132).
The pile of forks and lumber represents extra unused items that produced to meet the demands of a consumerist economy. The theme of excess is elaborated when the speaker describes “playing cards, [and] paper plates” being “haphazardly” (lines 1-2, section ii, p. 133). ross criticizes human beings’ wasteful habits when the speaker observes that “every new game [of cards] needs a new deck / another pack is opened, used, and thrown away / again. again” (lines 5-7, section ii, p. 133). ross’ use of repetition of “again” emphasizes the endless torment humans mindlessly support with every unnecessary purchase of playing cards, paper plates, and extra metal forks that are left unused or discarded after a single use.
ross further emphasizes human negligence when the speaker says, “no one wants to reveal / what is really going on” (lines 10-11, section ii, p. 133). This sloth-like attitude is further reflected when humans neglect to wash our own dishes and reuse items. We develop an unhealthy habit of being lazy and neglect our responsibilities for the waste produced each year. According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, they reported that “approximately 25 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste was sent to disposal across the country, similar to the amount generated in 2014.” Imagine if we become more mindful about our consumption, we can reduce our waste and thus lower the size of our landfills to improve, instead of damaging, the quality of life for humans and other-than-human beings.
ross reminds the readers that there is hope for humans to heal the environment and improve our future in section iii. She contrasts the images of manmade items to a bird’s feather on dry grass beside a couple of small white flowers (p. 134).
The third section serves as a recapitulation section, similar to a piano Sonata. ross criticizes humans for exploiting Forests to produce paper products when the
Forest turns into paper plates
to save time from washing and drying
for more eating
and more throwing away (lines 3-6, section iii, p. 135).
ross maintains the focus on Forests by only capitalizing the name of “Forests” (line 3, section iii, p. 135). She mentally illustrates the destructive cycle human habits support when the speaker repeats the word “more” (lines 5-6, section iii, p. 135). ross urges the readers to break this cycle of consumption when the speaker says, “paper, plates / the starvation time / all of the world” (lines 22-24, section iii, p. 135). The juxtaposition of “paper, plates” to “the starvation time / all of the world” reflects ross’ intentions to inspire readers to think seriously about his or her consumption of single-use items (lines 22-24, section iii, p. 135). ross shows that one’s careless decisions slowly contributes to a barren future when all living beings starve and suffer as a result of continuously consuming more materials and food than we need.
ross’ collection further emphasizes the necessity for readers to think more responsibly about his or her choices when purchasing single-use items. Her poems aid in starting a variety of discussions about making mindful choices towards our daily consumption of food, items, and modes of transportation. Our responsibility as readers is to act on ross’ ideas and implement positive change into the real world. Starting to think mindfully about our choices can seem vague at first. In Part Two of this post, I share gift-giving tips to assist with your shopping sprees for the upcoming Black Friday sales and the holiday season next month.
Stay tuned for my next post, “Literature to Life: Three Timeless Must-Know Gift-Giving Tips You Need.”
Latimer, Michelle. Nuuca. Field_of_Vision. Published on July 2, 2018. https://www.fieldofvision.org/nuuca. Accessed on November 14, 2019.
Recycling Council of Ontario. “Waste Statistics: How Much Canada Throws Out.” Recycling Council of Ontario. Published on June 28, 2019. https://rco.on.ca/canada-waste-statistics/. Accessed on November 15, 2019.
ross, annie. Pots and Other Living Beings. Vancouver: Talon Books Ltd., 2019. Print.
ross, annie. Biography. https://www.sfu.ca/fnst/about/people/annie-ross.html. Accessed on November 16, 2019.
1. “Pots and Other Living Beingsby annie ross cover art” via. TalonBooks.com; https://talonbooks.com/books/pots-and-other-living-beings. License: TalonBooks.
2. “annie ross” portrait via Simon Fraser University; https://www.sfu.ca/fnst/about/people/annie-ross.html. License: Simon Fraser University.
3. Dixie “Paper Plates” image via Bargreen Ellingson: Foodservice Supply & Design; https://www.bargreen.com/dixie-15005933-compostable-paper-plate-white-pathway-leaf-8-1-2.html. License: Bargreen Ellingson; https://www.bargreen.com/.
4. “Pile of Forks” image via Deviant Art; https://www.deviantart.com/amaranthussanctus/art/Pile-of-Forks-245929260. License: AmaranthusSanctus, Deviant Art; https://about.deviantart.com/policy/copyright/.
5. “Laying Feather” image via Dreamstime; https://www.dreamstime.com/laying-feather-lone-white-grey-black-feather-laying-field-dry-grass-image107244628. License: Shootzpics, Dreamstime.com; https://www.dreamstime.com/free-photos.
Note: The photos of the “Paper Plates,” “Pile of Forks,” and “Feather” are representations of the images annie ross took and included in her collection, Pots and Other Living Beings (2019).