Blue Grama

Blue Grama

poetry and botanical illustrations
written and illustrated by Heather Peat Hamm
edited by Bruce Rice
softcover ~ 64 pages ~ 6" x 9" ~ $18.00 (sale - only $9.00 until Sept. 26!)
cover: full colour
interior illustrations (pen & ink with ink wash): black & white
ISBN 978-0-9881229-6-3
released fall 2014

AN ECOLOGIST EVOKES THE GRANDEUR OF THE PRAIRIES.

Wild Sage Press is sold out of the second printing. However, copies are available from the author.

Blue Grama describes the intensity that is prairie life - people, plants and spaces - and the drive that sends us away and brings us back again to our roots. The author, who grew up in Saskatchewan and currently lives in Forget, Saskatchewan, opens windows into her world as a prairie advocate. From conversations with a prairie bush to reflections of lives of prairie people who populate the author's past, this visual treasure is an emotive ode to all things prairie. Equal to the writings (poetry, songs and one prose piece) are the author's own botanical illustrations, accompanied by field notes, which portray her delight in prairie details not often seen until you kneel amongst the grasses. The author writes, "This book might save you getting your knees dirty, or it might encourage you to do so!"

Comments Why read this book | Excerpt | Conversation points 
Meet the author/illustrator Funding | Photo gallery Buying notes 

Comments

  • Trevor Herriot (author and naturalist)
    If you are like me and love prairie, Blue Grama will go right to your heart. Shooting stars, Baltic Rush, and Broom Rape are all interleaved with glimpses of Stan Rogers, Edward Abbey, and an old Malibu. Heather has given us songs for a grassland life, each crafted and illustrated lovingly out of a desire to gently urge us toward sanity in a time where so many are madly exploiting the gifts of the prairie without thought for tomorrow. Her voice is a welcome balm for souls afraid that the petro-state will have the last word in this land. There will be other words and they will sound much like these ones.
  • Marcia Eames-Sheavly (senior lecturer at Cornell University, illustrator)
    Such a powerful love of place in this book - Heather's sensitivity regarding her treasured prairie is nearly palpable, gently leaning out toward you from every word and fondly rendered image.
  • David Carpenter (author)
    I have sometimes surmised that our poets on the prairies write about the Earth, give being to the voiceless rocks, creatures and plants, because these wordless entities are in great need of advocacy. This may be true, but when I read the poems of Heather Peat Hamm, I am tempted to believe that these mute entities are not voiceless and without being; that they are knowable to those who bring their best attention to the rocks and grasses, the snakes and insects, be they ever so lowly and wild. Line after line, Heather reminds us how utterly important they are. God bless the grass, sings Pete Seeger to generations of his followers. Let me add, God bless the poets who listen to the grass.
  • Justin Dittrick in his Blue Grama SPG Book Review - Read the full review...
    The collection’s greatest triumph might be that it metaphorically couples the hardships, pathos, joys, and raptures experienced by the land’s people with penetrating insight into that which perseveres among them, the creatures and plants that share the conditions of life, wondrously unique, yet familiar, in their adaptive movements. 
  • Stella Leiterman (excerpt from her email to author Heather Peat Hamm)
    So much of your writing brings me back to my early life on the prairie. Your passages are beautifully descriptive....and your sketches are lessons in biology...I could mention so many examples of triggered memories...for example, "Canoe on a Slough"....we were always excited to go swimming in the slough on my Aunt's farm near Bromhead...never heard of a lake!!!
         And words like "beside the old railroad bed"...I used to run across the field to meet Dad when he came home from work at the railroad....his job was to fly a small plane along the railway, checking for trouble....and on the field I would see small cactus plants, topped by a rose-like flower...I can't put into words, the emotions I felt, over and over, while reading your book.
  • Stacey Mackenzie on Facebook 
    Dear Heather Peat Hamm, I bought your book. It gives me goosebumps and makes me smile. It is ABSOLUTELY PERFECT! Congrats.
  • Bill Robertson, The Star Phoenix November 22, 2014 - Read the full review (it starts six paragraphs down)
    [Blue Grama]
     is a slender volume chock full of drawings, poems and song lyrics. Hamm is a ferocious advocate of the prairie in its natural state and stands up tall for the grasses...An essay at book's end called Northern Limits tells why she loves blue grama so, and it's something of a manifesto, written in love and full botanical knowledge, the little book itself summed up and put right.
  • Ann Volden in an email
    Hello Heather, I heard you read from your book 'Blue Grama' at the Stegner House dinner in Eastend on February 28, 2015, and subsequently bought your book. The poems, the drawings and all the information re the poems and drawings made your book a joy to read, my kind of poetry. Keep up the good work.

Why read this book

If you love the prairie, are curious about the prairie but have never been here, are from the prairie or connected to the prairie in some way, or simply like plants and the natural world, this book is for you. This book is also for you if you love fine poetry and/or exquisite botanical illustrations and/or toe-tapping songs!
 

Excerpt

To Canoe on a Slough

Under my hands I feel the years
the flakes of paint
on the imperfectly stretched canvas
chips of colours like an ice core
bleached, summer-sky blue paint first
rimmed by the previous red
below that
a gentle butter yellow
all suspended over the original base
a down-the-highway-line yellow

On dry days with all the work
on the to-be-ignored-today list
we launched
that canoe in the reedy slough
our feet
shuffling underwater to find
stepping stone clumps
bunchgrass and sedges in the murk
until we were deep enough
to float the boat

It didn’t matter
how deep the water
so long as it would lift us
we changed
from dust-burdened and land-bound
to a sleek ship
prairiebound
but afloat 

Illustration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Conversation points

If you are a member of a book club, like to discuss what you read with family and friends, or enjoy interior dialogues with yourself, a few questions follow to get the conversational ball rolling.

  • What is your connection to the prairie?
  • In what ways are your experiences of the prairie and prairie people similar to the author's? In what ways are they different?
  • What new insights into the prairie did this book give you?
  • What perspectives of the prairie did the book confirm for you?
  • Has the book changed your view of the prairie at at all? In what ways?
  • What other landscapes do you have a connection with (e.g. mountains, oceans, deserts)? How does your connection with nature differ according to the landscape you are in?
  • Are you familiar with any of the plants in the botanical illustrations? Where did you come across them? Are there particular favourites you wish had been included in the book?
  • What is your favourite poem? Favourite song? Favourite illustration? Why?
  • What is your reaction to David Carpenter's comments about rocks, creatures and plants, that "these mute entities are not voiceless and without being; that they are knowable to those who bring their best attention to the rocks and grasses, the snakes and insects, be they ever so lowly and wild"? Have you had the experience of "hearing" or "knowing" one of these "mute entitities"? How would you describe the experience.
  • Which poem or song had the strongest emotional impact on you? In what way?
  • Some of the poems and songs are quite "small p" political. Do you agree or disagree with the political viewpoint expressed? In what ways? 
  • If you were to write or draw something about the prairie, what would it be?
  • Although the book focuses on prairie landscape, people and plants, much of the writing has a broader resonance, for example when the author writes about her parents. What insights into life in general, and your life in particular, did the book give you? Alternatively, what in the book did you recognize that relates to your life, whether prairie-themed or not? 

Meet the author/illustrator

Heather Peat Hamm is a prairie ecologist by training and prairie advocate at heart. Fifteen years in agricultural and ecological research left Heather with a keen observational bent and drawing skills honed at the microscope. She has studied ecology at universities of Saskatchewan, Toronto, and Alaska, Fairbanks and broadened her botanical illustrations skills through Cornell University. With a banjo or guitar on her knee, music is a constant in her life and songs another form of poetry for her. Although she has strayed around the world, the prairie - her mission, her muse, her roots - has drawn her back again. Heather currently lives in Forget, Saskatchewan. 
photo by Donna Konsorado

About Heather's writing
Every since her high school English teacher sent her off with the instructions to, "keep on writing and running," Heather Peat Hamm has done just that. Through all sorts of adventures in many landscapes, Heather has always endeavoured to keep writing (and running) in one way or another. After a couple of decades of ecological studies and science writing, Heather abandoned her post to start her own communications business, initially focusing on science and broadening to commentary and creative non-fiction. During this period, Heather diverged into the botanical illustration wood and has not emerged. Putting these together, Heather continues to write and run, adding illustration and music to round out her days. CBC Radio, WaveLength, Canadian Wildlife Service and numerous scientific publications have graciously presented Heather's work, both prose and graphics. Her current project is a work of non-fiction of the adventures of Olive Peat, a northern nurse and prairie care-giver. 

To find out more about Heather

When and where did you write/illustrate Blue Grama?
Blue Grama was written in a wide variety of places, mostly in Canada. The newest material was written in Forget, Saskatchewan. Much of it gets written (or at least formulated) in my head while out on the landscape. The illustration work was all done at my bench in Forget. 

What inspired you to write/illustrate it?
There are things that I see every day of the field season and also later in the fall looking through a stereomicroscope that I suspect others don't get to see and I wanted to share those things through illustrations, to show off some tidbits of the prairie. With respect to writing, this book is informed by prairie people and ways of being, things that prairie people know but don't realize that others don't necessarily experience. I wanted to share some of those things and hope to remind people how important the rural way of life and the native prairie landscape is.

What was the evolution of the manuscript? 
It is a subset plucked from my larger body of work that relates to prairie in some way or other.

What is your favourite medium and style for creating your art?
Black ink and ink wash I think allows one to focus on details other than colour. Bright colours can overwhelm one's senses and cause one to ignore things that can be quite beautiful. That said, I love watercolour, coloured ink, pastels...I would love to dabble in oils but need more time. The ink, art markers and watercolour lend themselves to the details I like to portray. I would like to start working on larger pieces, to make large small plant features that otherwise can't be seen.

What is your favourite poem in the book?
The poems and songs are all particular and different experiences of the prairie. Each one is special to me but if I had to choose, I might suggest "Leaving Green" simply because it evokes so many images of the prairies all in one poem. 

Your favourite song?
It's a toss-up between "Beau of Iron," which is a very private experience, and "Singing Along With Stan," which is a song to a dear friend.

Your favourite illustration?
The image of three morphs of prairie coneflower is one of my favourites because it reminds me of the multitude of coneflowers I have seen and joy I felt in finding the dark morphs and then the in-between morph...very fun. This season I have seen a couple of other variations of the dark-to-light morphs and I would love to add to the illustration some of the other versions. It is one of the ones that would most satisfying to do in colour - likely watercolour--but tricky at the same time.

What is your general writing process?  
In a word, spew. When I write it is very nearly a stream of consciousness, a sharing of an experience all in one flowing rivulet or river, depending on the topic. It's rather more instinctive than intellectual. Later I push words around and find sharper words to strongly evoke the emotions I feel but basically I write poems in one fell swoop; the ones that don't go that way and I try to add to later nearly always end up abandoned. Sometimes the idea or image is too simple and 20 words pretty well says it all and then it is only a waste of time to try to develop it further as I realize some things are written only for myself and not worth sharing. 

Your general drawing process?
I really prefer to draw from live subjects (well, actually plucked subjects, so technically they are dying as I draw... but they will come back from their roots!). The live subject is easier to connect with and thus easier for me to present the essence of the features. I ask myself why I know it as the species it is and that helps me focus on the most important features and to really portray the character of the plant or creature. Because I am so busy in summer out in the field, I do often end up working from photographs I have taken myself. It's not quite as satisfying but I do make an effort to put myself back in the space where I took the photo and that helps to really portray the plant I think. I remind myself of what features caught my attention, such as the translucence of the white evening primrose flower. 

What were the easy/challenging parts of creating this book?
The illustrations are a lot of work and discipline but very satisfying. The hardest thing might have been to let the songs out into the world, to be satisfied with them. The poetry is the easiest I think but it is all very satisfying work for me.

What are the differences for you between creating a poem, a song, a prose piece and a drawing?
Oddly, the songs come with music attached almost, even if I don't have an instrument in hand. I really don't know why some are songs and some are poetry.  Short prose and poetry don't feel much different to me and I suppose, given the way my poetry is, that's not surprising. Some could go either way and it's simply a matter of deciding which I want it to be. Drawing on the other hand, is another world that I slip into and time passes so I'm always surprised what time it is when I finish. Music can be like that too. Both perhaps shut out the calculating or textual part of the brain so time doesn't count there. 

Why is music so important to you?
Music is simply another form of expression, a way to let some inside things out. I've always had music inside but am not always interested in sharing it, which I think is not an uncommon way of being. When I do let music out into the world of other people, I want it to be what I'm hearing and that requires a lot of practice and thus a lot of time. More time for music would be good. For everyone!

How would you describe the essence of your relationship with the prairie? 
Read the book. Hahah! But seriously, Don Gayton has written a book called Landscape of the Interior in which he explains that he has no "home" landscape, no landscape of his interior, and I find that somewhat sad. Luckily, many of us have a treasured home for our heart that is a personal landscape of our interior, no matter where we live or how happy we are in other places. It's the place where your soul sighs when you arrive there. For me, that is native prairie. 
 

Funding

Publishing was made possible with the support of Creative Saskatchewan.

 

 

Thank you Creative Saskatchewan!

 

Photo gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 



Heather with Words on Air host Jeanne Alexander                          Heather's sheet music from Blue Grama
after interview at CJTR (July 2014).


 

 

 

 

 

 



Heather with Blue Grama designer Larry Mader.                    Matching illustrations to text.

Photos below are of Regina launch (November 2, 2014, co-hosted by Regina Public Library, Connaught Branch, and Wild Sage Press). See more launch photos on the Events page

 

 

 

 

Heather Peat Hamm being interviewed by Trevor Herriot (filmed by Richard Diener), for YouTube video

 

 

 

 


Photos below are of Blue Grama author Heather Peat Hamm 
at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg (November 4, 2014) and Saskatoon (November 13, 2104). 

 

 

 

  

Heather reading in the 
Stoughton Library 
Nov. 19, 2014
(as published in the 
Grenfell SK newspaper)

 

 

 

 Heather reading at the 
Vertigo Series, 
February 8, 2015

 

 

 

 For more about the 2014 performances, visit the Events page. For the 2015 Vertigo reading, read the description.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Books and Art, Fort Qu'Appelle, August 29, 2015: left, Heather reading; above, Heather and Ken Hamm with Heather's art. For more about the event, visit the Events' page.

 

 

Heather reading in Lethbridge, October 24, 2015, start of 
Drive-By Reading Tour with musician Ken Hamm.

        Blue Grama and Heather's art at Jocelyn's Fine Art Gallery
        in Esterhazy, January - March 2016.

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heather at concert at Jocelyn's Fine Art Gallery in Esterhazy,
Jan. 23, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below: Heather reading and performing at Covernotes Tea and Coffee House, in Newmarket, ON, March 25, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

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