28 February 2014

Weekend news

Mostly, my life putters along. I don't spend much time thinking about my life as a writer, although thanks to the CRSR, this year I've been able to spend much more time writing than I have in a very long time. I think about writing, yes, and I write, but I don't think about being a writer. If there is a job I think about, it's about my role as a parent, about keeping our family of five running as efficiently as possible (this is a bit of a joke, as I don't feel efficient at all, but perhaps that's why I think about it so much).

But this past weekend, I felt like a Writer (note capital letter). Thanks to the generosity of my sister who watched the kids all day, I spent Saturday at Words Thaw. After attending two panels and sitting one, by the end of the day I was completely exhausted, my brain fried, but also invigorated and inspired.

I hope the audience got as much out of the panel I sat on as I did. Sharing the stage with Tim Lilburn and Jane Munro was a wonderful experience--they're both incredibly smart and inspiring. It's so hard to tell when I'm in the middle of something like that how I'm doing. I hope I came close to matching their levels. They were wonderful.

The only downside to my day at Words Thaw, was that I became a little overwhelmed. There were people I met that I wanted to speak with more, and there was a man who asked me to sign my book but then I lost track of him and never did. I felt brainless by the end and wish I could have been more present and aware (especially sign that book!).

Now, even as fantastic as Words Thaw was, I have to admit that nothing could match my level of joy in seeing my book glowingly reviewed in The Globe and Mail. Poetry doesn't often see the pages of our national paper and that the review wasn't just online, too, was cause for celebration.

I'm so grateful my wives have received such praise and I hope they find a readership. It seems to be happening, as small as a readership poetry may garner.

21 February 2014

Words Thaw

I'm honoured to have been asked to participate in this year's Words Thaw, a symposium at UVic that is billed as an “intellectual icebreaker at the cusp of spring.”

In addition to attending events all day, I'll be sitting on the panel The Inner Life of Our Words: Writing and the Human Spirit. The copy for the event is:
Is there a relationship between poetry and the inner life? And if there is, what form or direction—or directions—does this relationship take? Can writing and reading be a useful, even insightful tool to probe the spiritual life (or lives) of the self, of another person, of a community, or even of an age? With moderator Andrew Rippin as their “guide,” poets Marita Dachsel, Tim Lilburn, and Jane Munro, each approaching the inner life of our words from a unique perspective, talk about how poetry can be a catalyst to discovering and expressing not only “what we know,” but about “what we want to know.”

I'm hoping to listen more than speak, as I'm very much looking foreword to hearing the others' thoughts on this. It's such a wide subject and I know we're going to approach it in different ways, so it should be an enlightening and exciting conversation.

As a lead up to Words Thaw, Stephanie Harrington recently produced a podcast based on a conversation we had a few weeks ago. She's clearly talented as she took my 30+ minutes of babbling and crafted it into a concise six minute podcast. You can listen to it here.

19 February 2014

on rereading Gloria, part four (and final)

I finished Gloria two weekends ago. When I was about fifty pages from the end and I kept trying to put it aside, not wanting leave Miss Gloria Cotter and 1957 just yet, but I couldn't. There is a momentum that builds that begs, no demands, the reader to read just one more page, until BAM you're at the end. And oh, what an end it is.

And then I spent the rest of the weekend googling characters and things from the novel, as if these were real people. Like Gloria's BFF Susie. I found this delightful video of a head majorette in 1950. Susie would have been a little younger than this woman, and I think she'd have been even better.

Fun, no?

I want to write about the ending and the book as a whole on last time, but I also don't want to spoil anything for those of you who haven't read it yet, but plan to, so I'm doing one of those fancy "after the jump" things. Trust me, you don't want to be spoiled, so instead of reading on, start on your copy of Gloria now.

Click here to continue (but only if you've read the novel!).

18 February 2014

the rhythm of running moves like a heartbeat

"We're not usually given the insight to know when we're running through the core of our life; usually it's years later when we look back and say, "Oh!" But I was lucky enough to know it, and hope, when I'm dying, I'll be lucky enough to remember it. The rhythm of running moves like a heartbeat, first one foot and then the other, like the pulse, deep thrust out, kick back of the veins, the twin beat that is music before there was music, löparglädje the Scandinavian distance runners called it, translates into English as "the joy of running," but it means life."

from Running by Keith Maillard

13 February 2014

On Reading: Stag's Leap, part six (and final)

I finished reading Stag's Leap Wednesday evening and I really enjoyed the final section "Years Later," especially the final few poems.

I found the whole section strong, possibly the strongest section in the book, except for one poem. While I appreciated the visual play attempted in "Read Sea," I found it lacking. I suppose there is a reason Olds doesn't often play with form. I don't think she's confident in it. I think she could be--she's clearly an excellent poet--but like anything, it's a skill that needs to honed and perhaps she's not interested in it enough to spend the time working on it.

On thing I admired in "Years Later" was how imagery found in poems throughout the collection are revisited, reach what could be considered either their pinnacle or, perhaps, denouement--celestial, marine, sexual, geological, mortality.

The morality feels more pronounced in this section, but it has a different tone. Earlier, such as when Olds had written about her miscarriage, death and loss were about lives cut too short, about lost potential, about tragedy. But in this final section the tone has shifted. In general, it feels more generous, more open, more kind, and specifically in terms of morality, there is an acceptance--no railing against what could have, should have been--but an acknowledgement of death's inevitability in mentioning her mother's and father's deaths, the hoped for long life.
Years later, during his cremation,
the liquids left my father's corpse,
and smoke left the flue. And even
later, my mother's ashes left
my hand, and fell as seethe into the salt
chop. … (from "What Left?")

Clearly, this change in tone at the end of the book signals an acceptance to the narrator's divorce. In the poem "Years Later", the narrator and her ex-husband have met in a park (Central Park this reader assumes). There is acceptance, a longing that is less mournful than stoic, and it's not a longing of desire (what she wants) but a longing of what has passed--a gentle nostalgia. The poem ends:
...And then there is the spring park,
damp as if freshly peeled, sweet
greenhouse, green cemetery with no
dead in it--except in some shaded
woods, under some years of leaves and
rotted cones, the body of a warbler
like a whole note fallen from the sky--my old
love for him, like a songbird's rib cage picked clean.
Her love for him, no longer rotting or decomposing--stinky and messy--but clean and fragile. A skeleton of what it once was. I find the final two lines of this poem stunning.

"Years Later" leads in "September 2001, New York City" a poem, we know from the title, will hold death, but not the death(s) we expect. She opens the poem with:
A week later, I said to a friend: I don't
think I could ever write about it.
Maybe in a year I could write something.
Clearly, years have passed and she has written something, but other than the dream image of a a game of jacks, the events of 9/11 aren't explored directly. What I do find interesting, is the warbler image returns, this time as her mother:
… And I thought of my
mother, minutes from her death, eighty-five
years from her birth, the almost warbler
bones of her shoulder under my hand, the
eggshell skull, as she lay in some peace
I now want to reread the collection to see if the warbler image is used earlier. Not off the top of my head, but knowing how Olds returns to images, I think it must be there. The warbler image here relates to someone fragile, someone loved. Olds requests that we make a connection between her "almost warbler bones" of her mother and the warbler skeleton of her love for her husband--something precious, something fragile.

Before I return Stag's Leap to the shelf, I want to address the last poem briefly. "What Left" is where we leave the narrator on her journey, and it's a meditation on where she was and where she is now. There is a rhythm to the piece that builds, almost an incantation. She explores conception, birth, nursing, the death of her parents (as noted above), and ultimately what she and her ex-husband accomplished together and for each other in their marriage. The final third of the poem is one long sentence:
We fulfilled something in each other--
I believed in him, he believed in me, then we
grew, and grew, I grieved him, he grieved me,
I completed with him, he completed with me, we
made whole cloth together, we succeeded,
we perfected what lay between him and me,
I did not deceive him, he did not deceive me,
I did not leave him, he did note leave me,
I freed him, he freed me.
That final line. Normally, that would make me cringe. It's sappy and sentimental, absolutely, but Olds earns it. If this line showed up anywhere else in the collection or even in the poem itself I would object, but ending the collection this way is especially rewarding for the readers who read from front to back.

I'm going to put aside Stag's Leap now, but I know I will return to it. If you've read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the collection. Do you disagree with anything I've written? Have a completely different take? Please let me know! I'd love to have a discussion about it.

If you'd like to read all six sections, you can find them here

11 February 2014

The M Word giveaway

Now for something completely different, I'd like to encourage those of you on GoodReads to join the giveaway for The M Word, a book in which I have an essay exploring parenting under the fear of loss.

The catalogue copy reads:
There isn’t a mother who hasn’t thought of herself as stationed far outside maternity’s central zone — that imaginary place where all the babies are cooing, bananas are never bruised, and every woman is comfortable enough in her own skin to disregard a magazine’s blaring provocation: Are You Mom Enough?

In this original and sometimes provocative collection of essays, Saleema Nawaz, Alison Pick, Nancy Jo Cullen, Carrie Snyder, and many others explore the boundaries of contemporary motherhood. There are the women who have had too many children or not enough. There are women for whom motherhood is a fork in the road, encountered with contradictory emotions. And there are those who have made the conscious choice not to have children and then find themselves defined by that decision.

Here some of Canada’s best writers face down motherhood from the other side of the picket fence. The M Word. It means something to every woman. Exactly what it means is rarely simple.

I'll be writing a bit more about the essay and the anthology in the next few months. I don't have my copy yet, but am really looking forward to reading it, some of my favourite Canadian women writers have essays in it and edited by the excellent Kerry Clare. Thrilled to be in such fine company!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The M Word by Kerry Clare

The M Word

by Kerry Clare

Giveaway ends April 10, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

10 February 2014

the God of poetry

"Gloria closed her eyes and tried to imagine her God--an incomprehensible, impersonal, sexless force--the God of coincidences, of her dreams and mental floodings, of the strange leaps her mind made when she knew something absolutely without knowing how she knew it; the God of love, certainly, and of the created world when it had been given to her to see it with heart-stopping crystal clarity; the God of poetry, she realized with a sudden inner leap--true poetry, she amended it--the God who inspired the words when they were true words--and her mind, taking off on its own, found the breath in the root of the word 'inspire.'"

from Gloria by Keith Maillard

6 February 2014

on rereading Gloria, part three

I am now about two-thirds of the way through Gloria, but I'm not going to write about the plot right now. I want to talk about where Gloria sits in CanLit.

In a previous entry, I linked to Keith Maillard's own page on Gloria. In it, he wrote, "Gloria was short-listed for the Governor General’s Award in 1999. It is out of print." I couldn't quite believe that it was out of print, so I asked him via twitter, and he responded, "Yes, alas, Gloria is out of print. I am going to publish it as an eBooks eventually. A major project."

How can that be? How can a book nominated for one of the most important literary prizes in our nation, a book this good, is out of print? I've been thinking about this a lot and have a few theories.

Keith Maillard is an American born and raised and largely writes about America, most of his novels are set in fictional Raysburg, West Virginia. (I had always thought he was a draft-dodger, but reading his short autobiography, he clarifies that he was deemed unfit for service and left for Canada as a political statement.) He now (and by now, I mean for a good thirty years) lives in Vancouver, BC.

Those brief biographical details are a one-two punch. Would he be a more celebrated writer if he lived in Toronto? I honestly think so. Would he be a more celebrated writer if he was writing about Canada, or somewhere more "exotic" like India or Germany? I also think so.

Canadians have an uneasy relationship with the United States, especially when it comes to literary culture. A Canadian choosing to write about the United States doesn't seem very, well, Canadian. And, as much as things have shifted a little, Toronto is the publishing centre of the country.

Keith Maillard is a brilliant writer. His name should be mentioned when we talk about our greats: Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Michael Ondatjee. And Gloria Cotter deserves a place in our collective consciousness, beside Duddy Kravitz and Anne Shirley.

But she won't. She's privileged, she's beautiful, she's smart. Her story is of the female experience in the 1950s--a young woman coming of age, discovering sex, poetry, and herself. She's the Prom Queen, the May Queen, a sorority girl, a country club brat. Class makes Canadians uncomfortable as does facing our privilege. We fancy ourselves underdogs, and Gloria is on the wrong side of what we like to experience, who we root for. (Though, if you've read it, you know that Gloria herself does feel like an outsider, a fraud. This is partially why I would consider this a Canadian book for a Canadian audience. We do see ourselves in this unlikely extraordinary young woman.)

It's a pity, as Gloria's story, while may not be universal, is vital. It's a woman's story told from a point of view we rarely experience. But above all that, it's beautifully written and a pleasurable read. Canadian literary culture is poorer for turning its back on Miss Gloria Cotter.

(There are about 80 copies of Gloria listed for sale on Abe Books. Pick one up, or even better, go to your local used bookshop to see if they have a copy.)

1 February 2014

on rereading: Gloria, part two

Ken Henderson! For that section alone, I think all high school seniors/English 100 students should read Gloria. (I was going to say girls instead of seniors and students, but really, boys need to read this too.) I feel like all women have encountered a form of Ken Henderson at some point. I know I did, but I didn't have the sense to turn to Faerie Queene afterwards.

Also, we all need a Professor Bolton in our lives. I'm not sure I had one. I had potential Professor Boltons, but none were in my life long enough, or perhaps, I wasn't open enough to them to have such an impact.

Now, back to Gloria...

poetry was far more than a bunch of pretty words

"Poetry had always been the great love of her life, and so, of course, she'd cried over it before, but she'd never before heard music like Wyatt's, and now she understood what she must surely have always known: that poetry was far more than a bunch of pretty words--it was, of all the works of man, the most beautiful and profound and eternal."

from Gloria by Keith Maillard