I first met Carin Makuz when we were enrolled in the online Humber Creative Writing Program in 2006 and we’ve stayed in contact ever since, and have even met in person a few times! I’ve subscribed to Carin’s blog pretty much since the beginning, and when she began batting around the idea for The Litter I See Project … well, I just had to become involved, and I’ve been helping to promote this great idea all along. Here’s Carin to tell us about this very interesting project that was intended to bring attention to the two problems of Litter and Illiteracy.
When not writing short fiction or essays, Carin Makuz can be found wandering the shores of Lake Ontario muttering about darlings that won’t take a hint. She is a workshop facilitator for abused women and youth at risk. Her work has been published in journals in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. She has won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and been nominated for the Journey Prize. Essays and fiction have been broadcast on CBC and BBC Radio. She combines text with photography, reviews books and chats with writers on her blog, Matilda Magtree, and runs The Litter I See Project.
What’s the background to this idea of yours? When did you first think of the concept behind your blog?
The Litter I See Project grew from my interest in bringing attention to both litter and illiteracy. When I walk I pick up litter; I carry bags for this purpose. I’m doing it to tidy up the schmutz but sometimes I find interesting things, notes, lists, etc., and I wonder at their origins: were they dropped by accident or intentionally? I wonder about the kind of person who can be trotting along, having a fine time in a park, at the beach, on a street, anywhere really, and then just toss a can or water bottle on the ground and keep going. I wonder what they think will happen to it and if they’d even notice or care if someone did the same thing on their lawn. I wonder how people learn this behaviour. You could say I’m a wee bit passionate on the subject. As a society we talk a lot about big problems … The Environment, the oceans of plastic, etc., all of which seems so impossible a thing to tackle. And yet, really, change begins with our attitude towards the small stuff. Like litter. Because how we view that reflects how we see our communities, and our environment, in general. I’m equally passionate about literacy, and the two things, litter and illiteracy, have more in common than alliteration; both are pervasive, but only one is visible. With all this in mind I began photographing certain pieces with the idea of writing about them, maybe doing a thin collection and giving any proceeds to a local literacy group. But I wanted the effect to be broader than that. When a friend suggested I do something online, a light went off. That was it!
How are you organizing the material for the blog?
I drafted a plan, figured out a way of offering a small honorarium (am a big believer in paying for the written word), invited a number of writers to participate, created a site and named it The Litter I See Project. It went live in June of 2015. How it works is that I send out a picture of a piece of actual litter from my ‘collection’ and, using that ‘debris’ as a prompt, or inspiration, the writer responds in the form of poetry, prose, memoir, anything at all. As submissions come in I try to keep posts varied, giving consideration to genre and a few other things, but mostly it’s just a happy, trashy party.
Carin has also arranged for donations to be made on behalf of the blog to Frontier College in Toronto, a school dedicated to teaching literacy.
How much longer do you see publishing this particular theme?
No idea how long I’ll keep the party going. Through winter anyway, and probably spring.
Is there anything you have learned through writing this blog that you’d like to share? Any surprises you hadn’t expected?
It’s been more work than I thought but the best kind. I love getting these constant surprises in my inbox. I send out a muddy grocery list and get back poetry; a chocolate bar wrapper in a ditch inspires a childhood memory. I’m in awe of the talent in this country, most of which isn’t celebrated nearly enough. I also like the way the litter conversation has already grown to include larger questions, such as in Betty Jane Hegerat’s piece about homelessness, and Tanis MacDonald’s ‘rabbit litter’.
The lovely thing about a blog is that it’s your own world and if you don’t like something you can change it. I’ve been hanging out in this space for over five years and I’ll keep doing it as long as it’s fun. If that requires adding, changing things, great. When it stops being fun, it stops being.
Blogging is a commitment like any other kind of writing. You get out of it what you put in. I think readers sense the place you’re coming from, the vibe you create. That was a pleasant surprise, the feeling of connection with readers, something you don’t get from traditional forms of writing.
Was there a single post you were particularly proud to have included? And what made it special?
If I had to pick one special post it would be bill bissett’s. I was beyond chuffed to have him kick things off with his fabulous piece, ‘yr littr has arrivd, eet it’.
Overall, what is it you hope your readers will take away after reading your blog?
My hope for readers of The Litter I See Project is that, in addition to the attention and conversation it brings to the problems of litter and illiteracy in communities across the country, it might also serve as a way of introducing readers to new writers. The posts are all intentionally positioned as bite-sized morsels, meant for easy browsing, a few at a time …
Now, in keeping with the Reading Recommendations idea, please name three authors or books you’d like to recommend to readers.
If I had to recommend three books, I would reply with: Egad!! Only three??? I’d have to go with a theme; makes it a little easier to choose. So, let’s say the theme is “writing from a disadvantaged place” … in which case I’d recommend the following:
The Education of Augie Merasty, by Augie Merasty (with David Carpenter)
A Crowbar in a Buddhist Garden, by Stephen Reid
One Hour in Paris, by Karen L. Freedman
How Poetry Saved My Life: a hustler’s memoir, by Amber Dawn
(oh, are we up to four already??) (;
Also, I HAVE to add Anakana Schofield’s Martin John because a) it’s different than any book out there; it’s daring and changes how we think about sexual deviants, harassment and all manner of perverted crimes. Including the ones we pretend aren’t happening. And because, b) it’s brilliant.
I’ve chosen this theme, not because I only read heartbreaking or uncomfortable stuff (far from it!), but because I feel books that express well what it is to be human help us to understand one another and become a more broadly-thinking and compassionate society. Despite the topics covered … residential schools, prostitution, rape, sexual perversion, imprisonment… none of these books are written in the mass market scandalous-to-cause-reaction style. They’re not scandalous at all. They’re written from a real place with real feelings about things that happen all the time whether we like to admit it or not. That’s both the scary part and the part that matters most.
What are you working on now or what do you plan to do when you finish writing this blog?
Currently working on a collection of short prose and, forever it seems, a medium sized novel.
Carin Makuz maintains a main blog, Matilda Magtree, where she publishes regular segments, (at) eleven: chatting with writers (I was once hosted here!), this is not a review, and Wordless Wednesday, featuring her photography.
A number of Reading Recommendations-promoted authors have been featured on The Litter I See Project: Alice Major, Betty Jane Hegerat, Bruce Hunter, Fran Kimmel, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Katherine Govier, Kimmy Beach, Lori Hahnel, Rosemary Nixon, Steven Mayoff.