Local authors speak to the wild in all of us

Culture Literature

Lorna Crozier and Brian Brett have a lot to say. In an interview with the two authors, the discussion ranges from dancing with parrots, to Nietzsche, to the dialects of whales. That being said, it may come as a surprise that the two authors never once went off topic — these subjects and more feature in Crozier and Brett’s books, The Wild in You and Tuco.

The two books were released in October with Greystone Books, a publishing company located in Vancouver.

Brett’s book, Tuco, was named after and written for a pet parrot that lived with Brett for over 25 years; a long enough time for Brett to discover that his pet was as wonderfully clever and multi-talented as any human. The book is part biography of Tuco, part autobiography of Brett, and part commentary on humanity’s relationship with nature. Crozier’s book, which also comments on that same relationship, is half poetry, half photography; each of Crozier’s poems stands opposite photos taken in the Great Bear Rainforest by conservationist and photographer Ian McAllister.

Both Wild and Tuco are similar in several ways. Firstly, they are exceptional pieces of art. Crozier and Brett have both been writing for several decades, and age only does them favours. Crozier’s writing is master-fully lyrical, yet oftentimes strikingly incisive, while Brett’s storytelling is instantly compelling. Both books discuss nature and humanity’s relationship with it; although, as both authors tell me, the thematic similarities were completely accidental.

“I’m a little bit super-stitious,” says Crozier over the phone. “I don’t talk about something while I’m working on it, or while I’m writing it, because I’m afraid that I will talk it out and there’ll be nothing left for the magic of what can happen . . . on the page.”

The Wild in You is, if nothing else, a book about nature. Written after an expedition in the Great Bear Rainforest, an old-growth forest situated in Northern British Columbia, the poems focus on several species found only on the West Coast of Canada. However, Crozier, who taught at UVic from 1991 to 2013, believes the book is universal in its message.

“What I would always tell my students,” Crozier explains, ”is that if you begin with the specific and the local . . . you write the universal; you speak to people far beyond the borders of where your writing is set.”

And the truth that lies at the heart of both Wild and Tuco is just that: universal.

“[Wild’s] underlying theme,” says Crozier, “is that creatures other than the human are holy and mysterious, and they should fill us with wonder. It makes us a very small and demeaning species if we destroy their habitat or destroy them.”

This environmental stance is echoed by Brett’s book, which not only deals with the shocking statistics around smuggling parrots (“80 per cent of all smuggled parrots die,” Brett tells me), but with the concept of “Othering.”

“It’s your way of sepa-rating yourself from the other world,” explains Brett, “and it’s one of the most unhealthy things that we can do — both unhealthy to ourselves and unhealthy to the world.” He explains that bullying is a prominent effect of Othering, and that demoting an animal or species to “Other” status is to accuse it of not being as good as us.

Tuco is all about Othering, and Brett not only discusses humanity’s Othering of nature but our Othering of one another, which he has experienced firsthand. This is discussed in the autobiographical sections of the book, which flow thematically with the larger environmental themes. Brett had a difficult childhood that he describes in the book, and his personal experience of Othering makes him a perfect candidate to explain it to the rest of us.

The two authors are currently travelling together promoting their respective books, and being friends for some time, they are full of compliments for each other’s writing abilities.

“I admire his storytelling,” says Crozier of Brett, “and how Brian can take the most ordinary happening and incident . . . but make it colourful enough to be of interest to somebody who doesn’t know him or the story or the animal involved.”

Brett also was full of compliments for Crozier.

“[I like] her ability in finding a story in something that would never have occurred to me,” says Brett. “I was listening to those poems [at a book reading] and I was thinking, ‘How did she get there?’”

I can almost hear Crozier smiling on the other end of the phone.

“Thank you Brian,” she says. “That’s a great compliment.”