30 November 2010

Glossolalia Installation: Martha McBride Knight

Back in September, I took my wives to Toronto. I should have written about the experience when I first came back, but you know how life is, it bulldozes good intentions.

My installation featured six poems from my manuscript Glossolalia, about the polygamous wives of Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church. Over the next few weeks (months, probably, but let me be hopeful!), I will feature them. Thanks to the gracious Book Madam (aka Julie Wilson), I figured out how to upload sound to this site. The sound files are what was used in the installation. The photos I took, unfortunately, aren't the best, but hopefully they will give you an idea.


23 November 2010

talking about talking about

Over the last month I've been in an email conversation with the lovely Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This fame about talking about talking about motherhood. She asked some difficult questions and I wrote and wrote my way through trying to sound intelligent in my answers. I wish we could have been able to have this conversation over tea and scones, but unfortunately we live provinces apart and consequently we wouldn't have been able to share it with you.

While participating in this email exchange, I realized that there are some topics a person can talk about forever, and for me this is one of them. Here's is the start of our conversation. If you'd like to read the rest, you can find it here.

Kerry: Marita, I think I’m beginning to change my mind. You see, I’ve been fascinated by narratives about motherhood since before I was a mother, and as I prepared to become one, I devoured the modern “ambivalent motherhood canon”.

But I’ve been reluctant to pursue such narratives myself. When I interview writers, I insist that their work is what’s important, and I avoid questions about writing and motherhood that would probably fascinate me as much. I worry that such questions would undermine the writers’ works, would undermine the individuals as artists, would undermine me as an interviewer and a reader. But I can’t shake a suspicion that these questions are important, that perhaps we just have to carve out a time and space for them. Or not. I’m not sure.

Did you feel any similar qualms as you embarked upon your Motherhood and Writing interviews?

Marita: When I first conceived of the Motherhood and Writing interviews, I had no qualms at all. I think that may have been because I really wasn’t aware of all the books written about motherhood and writing. I’m sure if I had dug a bit, I would have discovered them and not felt the need to start the interview series.

The interviews came from purely selfish place. I wanted content for my blog, but more importantly, I really needed to know how other writing mothers did it. My boys are twenty-two and a half months apart. When my second child was born, I panicked. I remember clearly breast feeding him while reading a biography of Margaret Laurence and having the terrifying flash that I would never write again. I knew I wasn’t as driven as Laurence was and couldn’t make the choices she had. My nascent career was over.

After my husband helped talk me down, I realized that of course my career wasn’t over. There were many, many writing mothers out there who were kind, loving, stable mothers. I wanted to talk to them simply to know how they did it. How does a mother balance all those things mothers do and make time to write. And I wanted to talk to women who were in various stages in their careers–from award winning to not yet published.

The project was supposed to be just for a year, but I’ve managed to draw it out longer, partly out of laziness and partly whenever I think it’s time to shut it down, I’ll get an email or a comment on the blog from some writing mother out there to thank me. It’s important, especially in those early difficult years, for those in the trenches to be reminded that they are not alone, that there are other women out there who are struggling, too. And, of course, that it will get better.

That said, recently I’ve begun to have qualms. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer in the trenches, or maybe because I’ve become sensitive that I might be contributing to the creation of a “motherhood ghetto”.

We would never ask a man how he manages to write while being a father, so why do we feel it’s relevant to ask a mother? Is it because there is an assumption that the woman is at home with the babies and that the man is not? And that if she isn’t, she should be? It’s insulting to both mothers and fathers. But I don’t know what I’d rather see–interviewers asking fathers what they ask mothers, or stop asking mothers what they don’t ask fathers.

So, yes, I am now quite conflicted. I hope that in the context of my interview series, the questions I ask aren’t insulting because that is the point of the interview. But I don’t think if I was interviewing a writer in another context, I would feel comfortable about asking about their relationship between writing and motherhood, unless the writer brought it up or it was clearly related to the writing.

17 November 2010

seeking comfort

Sometime in July I read somewhere on the interwebs (twitter? a blog post? a comment? I can no longer remember where) (also, that should show you why I never update my blog, it takes that long for me to finish a thought) that poets do not read poetry for comfort. I really wish I could remember where I read that, because I'd like to revisit the context. From what I remember, it's not only that they don't, but shouldn't.

I read for many reasons, and it usually is not just for one. When I read a novel, at the bare minimum, I want to be transported, entertained, inspired. When I read poetry, it's even more complex. One of the many things I love about poetry is its diversity. I can turn to it for inspiration, to be challenged, for humour, for complexity, and so many other reasons. But there are times when a person must seek solace, and when I must, I will search for it in poetry.

I am not alone in this. Culture after culture turn to religious texts and song, both forms of poetry, for solace. So why is it so wrong for poets to look for it in the work of their peers?

I won't go into details here, but last year tragedy struck the lives of close friends. Many, many have been mourning and trying to make sense of this new reality ever since. In the Spring, I borrowed Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversation with America's Poets from the library and discovered a poem that I keep returning to. I have copied it in the front of my writing journal (and below), and when the anniversary of the tragedy loomed, I found I would reread this poem multiple times a day. I still read it at least once a week. It is a beautiful, brilliant poem by one of America's best poets. It also gives me solace. Is it less of a poem because of this? Am I less of a reader because this what I take from it? I hope not.

I am curious where you, dear reader, seek solace. I would love to know the texts or songs you turn to when need comfort.

by Louise Gl├╝ck

Public sorrow, the acquired
gold of the leaf, the falling off,
the prefigured burning of the yield:
which is accomplished. At the lake's edge,
the metal pails are full vats of fire.
So waste is elevated
into beauty. And the scattered dead
unite in one consuming vision of order.
In the end, everything is bare.
Above the cold, receptive earth,
the trees bend. Beyond,
the lake shines, placid, giving back
the established blue of heaven.

.................................................................The word
is bear: you give and give, you empty yourself
into a child. And you survive
the automatic loss. Against inhuman landscape,
the tree remains a figure for grief; its form
is forced accommodation. At the grave,
it is the woman, isn't it, who bends,
the spear useless beside her.

9 November 2010

Unfurled Reading

I'm excited to be reading with my old partner-in-crime, Gillian Wigmore this weekend. We toured our first books together way back in 2007 and it will so much fun to share the stage with her again. If you're in Edmonton, please join us on Saturday, November 13, 3pm, at Audreys (aka, the best bookshop in town). We'll be reading from Unfurled a new anthology of poetry by women of BC's North.

And if you are in town and looking for something else to that weekend, may I suggest my husband's play Studies in Motion at the Citadel? It's simply amazing. Directed by Siminovitch Award winning director, Kim Collier, choreographed by the always brilliant Crystal Pite, and acted by an incredible company of actors.