Faces of Cascadia: Poet, author, journalist, and naturalist Kim Goldberg

 Photo by Shirley Goldberg. Check out her website  here.   To see more of Kim Goldberg's work, click on the photo above. 
Photo by Shirley Goldberg. Check out her website here.   To see more of Kim Goldberg’s work, click on the photo above. 

Kim Goldberg was born and raised in Oregon and graduated the University of Oregon with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. She came to Canada with her family during the Vietnam war after graduation.

Goldberg was a journalist and non-fiction author for 20 years. She won the Goodwin’s Award for Excellence in Alternative Journalism for “SLAPPs Move North”/ The New Catalyst in 1993. Then she entered a 10-year period of silence where she didn’t write after taking a Tai Chi class in 1997.

The words began to flow again for Goldberg but in a different way; as poems. She has been writing poetry and short stories for about 10 years. She won the Rannu Fund Poetry Prize for Speculative Literature for “Visitation” in 2008 and was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for “Ride Backwards on Dragon” in 2008.

Her journalism on politics, media, and environment have been featured in Canadian Geographic, Nature Canada, This Magazine, Georgia Straight, The Progressive, Columbia Journalism Review, BBC Wildlife Magazine and other magazines in Canada and abroad.

Her poetry and short stories have been featured in The Capilano Review, Geist, West Coast Line, Literary review of Canada, The Dalhousie Review, Istanbul Literary Review, and other magazines and anthologies around the world. 

In her most recent book “Undetectable” Goldberg describes her personal journey with Hepatitis C and other issues looking at virus as a metaphor in a Japanese literary style called Haibun.

“I’m going everywhere with it,” Goldberg said about her latest book. [Undetectable] “ends up addressing a great deal more than simply Hepatitis C. There’s a lot of different levels of virus and levels of invasion that are being addressed”

The themes from her early career in journalism and non-fiction writing still show in her work today. Her book “Red Zone” is a poem diary of homelessness resulting from a three-year process of documenting homelessness in Downtown Nanaimo. “Undetectable” also looks at the critical issue of how the politics and pricing of Hepatitis C drugs are making it difficult for the majority of people to receive the cure. 

The following is an edited transcript from an interview with Kim Goldberg.

Why did you decide to stay in Canada rather and move back to Oregon after the war was over?

“It doesn’t seem that different from a Cascadian perspective. It all kind of seems like the same landscape… There are other aspects of living in Canada that I like and the longer I live here the more I become aware of how different life in Canada is from life in the US and how different Canadians actually are. Foremost in that I would say Canada is just a much less violent society, that’s the one thing I really notice the most. And I guess that’s because the US has a very strongly entrenched gun culture unfortunately and that’s just not a thing in Canada. It’s very unusual for anyone in Canada to own a hand gun.”

Do Canadians have a different take on Cascadia than Americans?

“Americans, in the part of the world we call Cascadia, tend to use the terms Cascadia and pacific northwest interchangeably and this does not play very well with Canadians because pacific northwest is referenced from a US perspective of what constitutes the Northwest and here in British Columbia form a Canadian perspective of what constitutes the northwest is way up further. So it seems very culturally chauvinistic when Canadians here in Cascadia hear Americans referring to Cascadia as the Pacific Northwest.”

Do the themes from your early career in Journalism and nonfiction writing still show in your poetry and short stories today?

“I haven’t walked away at all from my long standing and life-long commitment to social justice issues and also environmental issues. A great deal of my poetry is environmentally based and certainly is poetry of place very much arising from and rooted in where I am right now in Cascadia. There’s a strong connection in my poetry to this place and to the need to protect it and be better stewards and just to now screw it up as a culture… Basically these themes kind of tend to weave themselves through everything I write. I also write speculative fiction short stories, science fiction short stories published in various magazines and anthologies and almost all of those have some sort of ecological bend or some sort of a social justice undercurrent to them.”

What inspires you to write about the political and environmental issues?

“I was probably just raised that way and also just the fact that my whole family came here as war resisters. Even as a pretty young child, before I was old enough to vote I was campaigning and leaf-letting for senator Eugene McCarthy when he took his un for democratic presidential candidate which he didn’t get in the United States. So I’ve just kind of come from a background of peace activism and being politically informed and politically involved… I just love the natural world and that’s why I majored in biology. Turning my focus as a poet now very much onto nature and ecology and environmental threats, it just seems like a natural outpouring.”

You seem to be very involved in both worlds of the arts and sciences with your poetry and your background in biology. How do you blend those two seemingly opposite worlds?

“I just think that’s an ongoing process…To me, I think it’s the most exciting thing to be involved in and I think it would make such a difference to our whole culture if we could merge these different camps more so we don’t have scientists off in one room doing what they do and artists off in another room. These realms are almost like ghettos and so end up having audiences only of themselves. I just think any enterprises, whether it’s one individual’s creative work like a book of mine or an organization that takes it on to blend science with art… We can’t even make an attempt to define our culture or define what Cascadia is if we aren’t willing and able to look at the history, the geology, the geography, the hard sciences and the natural history, the natural flora and fauna as well as the poetic ways in which we render that. I love to be personally involved in and see elsewhere any melding of science with art. That’s the cutting edge as far as I’m concerned and where all the exciting stuff happens.”

In your statement of place with the Cascadia Review you talk about “the collective myths we tell ourselves about the benefits of technology, the utilitarian purpose of the biosphere, the nobility of progress, and the inevitability of conflict and violence.” Could you tell me a little more about where this comes from?

“The notion is that whatever myths we choose to adopt and live by will create the world we end up living in so maybe we need to start by re-writing our myths, by saying that violence isn’t inevitable or what we call progress isn’t necessarily always positive or beneficial.”

You also say in your statement of place that “life at land’s end also teaches one about the interconnection of all life, all substances, all actions. The Pacific Ocean is the great equalizer and the great unifier.” Where does the inspiration come from with this?

“What I was thinking about, about standing at land’s end is that in that kind of landscape more than any, you’ve got the three states, solid, liquid, and gas. Your solid is you’re standing on a cliff or rocks, the liquid you’re looking at the ocean and above your head is the air. So you’ve got all three. It’s all there. That’s where all the interconnections happen as opposed to say, being inland and you’re not getting it all. All the boundaries are constantly shifting when you’re right at land’s end, when you’re right on the edge of something because what was liquid becomes solid or what was solid becomes vapor and you’re just in this cauldron where everything is shifting all the time. So that’s very exciting. I like to live on the edge, geographically as well as creatively and other ways. I like to live on the edge because it’s the most interesting place to occupy.”

What is the first thing you think of when you think of Cascadia?

“I just see Cascadia as being humane and human-scale urban planning and being a more egalitarian an economic system with farmer’s markets, lots of organic farms, small is beautiful, backyard gardens and front yard gardens, the notion of taking up one’s lawn and just planting vegetables. You might see one house in a block do that and it becomes a newspaper article but what if every house on the block and then every block in the city had their own front yard food garden. It’d be great… I see beautiful, although disappearing pristine natural landscapes like the Great Bear Rainforest a bit north of where I am to the Oregon coast is phenomenal, Oregon rivers just thundering along… I love the fact that Oregon has kept its foreshore public, no private property can go down as far as the high tide line or it has to be back so that there’s public access to the entire Oregon coast…The first word was independence, though not necessarily a political sovereignty independence… but more like an independence of spirit and independence of though and people who, at a personal level live independent lives.”



Taylor McAvoy is a Junior at the University of Washington pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She has been a writer and photographer for the university’s newspaper The Daily for more than a year focusing on editorial reporting and arts event coverage. She is currently vice president elect of the Society of Professional Journalist’s (SPJ) University of Washington chapter. She is also working on her own as a freelance journalist and photographer. 

Twitter: @TaylorMcAvoy105

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