23 December 2014

"Being underestimated…is something most women have in common."

"It’s not just men who reveal their assumptions in this way. Being underestimated — by men, by women, by themselves — is something most women have in common. We have to work harder from the outset to resist being dismissed, to attain equal footing, and then to maintain it. It’s endless, repetitive work, cut across and intensified by yet other assumptions based on accent, skin color, class, education, dress. And it’s a powerful thing, the learnt reflex to look at a woman and see someone who is by definition unaccomplished, a novice; someone’s disciple, companion, muse; someone with no power or expertise of her own. I’m not immune to it — I’ve caught myself in the act of underestimating women, of having assumed that the woman in the room isn’t the expert in the room. It’s a reflex so disturbing to notice that it’s tempting to pass over it in silence. But it’s a reflex enabled by the shocking paucity of women of authority and expertise across all media — a paucity not easily registered, so used are we to it."

from "Gender, blah, blah, blah by Katherine Angel in The Los Angeles Review of Books

16 December 2014

on rereading: Short Haul Engine

I'm rereading Karen Solie right now, beginning with her first collection, Short Haul Engine. I realized that it's been a long time since I picked up her first book. I'm often returning to her third book, Pigeon, but cannot recall the last time I revisited her first, the one that made me fall in love with her work. (I was going to write her most recent, but I see that she has another forthcoming. Very exciting!)

I've reread more this year than any year before, and one thing that keeps surprising me, which really it shouldn't by now, is how little I remember from previous reads. Rereading Solie is no different.

There's lot to love in Short Haul Engine. It's an accomplished first collection, but like most first collections there is a rawness. It's a little messy, not at all self-conscious. I like that the edges haven't been all polished down.

I had forgotten that Solie once lived in Victoria, the city I now call home. I think of her as a Toronto poet from Saskatchewan, and I'm curious how long she lived here. There is a great poem in Short Haul Engine called "East Window, Victoria" about the longing for a real Prairie winter while living on the West Coast, where "Everything about the place/ demands affection." It was the second stanza that compelled me to read the poem to my husband last night:
In Edmonton, they are cursing
ancestors and old Volkswagens, shovelling
themselves into cardiac events.
In Churchill,
snow is an animal.

When I finished the poem, my husband said it was like the poem had been written for me. Here I am, living in what many consider paradise, but part of me longs for Edmonton, especially the winters. I know that I've romanticized our time there--my anger at the cold, long winters, the predatory johns, the crack-dealing neighbour have all softened. I loved all the free outdoor skating and I know I'd have become a cross country skier if we'd stayed.

Here, it's beautiful. Here it's always lush, even in the middle of December. Today, not only did I see robins, but also hummingbirds. It smelled of mud and new life. It felt like April. As Solie wrote, "So much evergreen. So much/ a constant."

The penultimate stanza sums up my longing, my strange allegiance perfectly:
But how dare you long
for those first mornings of frost
you bit into like an apple, the winters
skating an unbroken line
around your small clean body.

I do feel grateful to Solie for writing "East Window, Victoria" a poem I don't remember reading the first time, but now, where I am in my life both physically and emotionally, is the perfect poem for me. I suppose that's how all good literature works, but it seems especially true for poetry, that its meaning shifts as time does, as people do.

13 December 2014

Undark: to have lived is not enough

I was first introduced to the work of Sandy Pool when we read together at The Edmonton Poetry Festival. She gave an incredible performance and was also completely charming. I finally read it recently, devouring it in two evenings.

It's an accomplished book, rich with stunning images and voices. It's subtitled "An Oratorio" and has a list of Dramatis Personae, which includes Sappho, Undark ("a propaganda radio personality) and the Radium Women (on whom Undark centres).

There's a mix of styles for each voice, although I had to read the dates for Sappho and Hatshepsut to keep them clear. It's all so cleverly done, but this book is more than just clever, it's political and human and incredibly moving.

When I started the book, I thought that it would make a great pairing with Marie Clements' Burning Vision and Veronique Greenwood's "My Great-Great-Aunt Discovered Francium. And it Killed Her." in the New York Times for my imaginary syllabus. The syllabus would have to be flushed out some more, but I haven't read much that I could add.

Then, I came to Pool's poem "Nox, New Jersey, 1998"
are speaking. To have lived

is not enough. They have to
reverberate like elbows

poking through undergrowth.
The rate of pulses rising

to terminal buzz. Women
like whale music, singing

under the newly mowed lawn:
lick tick lick tick lick tick.

To be dead is not enough.
The Dopler shift of history

buries them deeper.Geiger
counter clicks into being.

and it reminded me of my own Glossolalia, and countless other stories of silent/silenced women. So many contemporary women poets are drawn to these historical women, trying to give voice to those who no longer can voice their own stories. Is it because we worry about our own fates? Perhaps subconsciously, but I don't know.

So my revised imaginary syllabus would have:
Undark by Sandy Pool
Glossolalia by Marita Dachsel
The Invisibility Exhibit by Sachiko Murakami
The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy*
The God of Missed Connections by Elizabeth Bachinksy

(*I have not read this, but I loved what Melwyk said about it over at Indextrious Reader so I'm taking her word on it, and still have it on my to-read list.)

But regardless of my imagined syllabi, do pick up Undark. It's so very good, plus the cover glows in the dark, so how could you pass that up?

2 December 2014

a meagre attempt at catching up

It's been busy, but mostly good. I helped program the Victoria Writers Festival this year as well as hosted my first panel. It was a lot of work, but very rewarding. I should have blogged about it all as it was happening, but I didn't and I fear so much of the great stuff is now lost. But I will say this: if you ever get the chance to hear Leanne Simpson speak, do everything you can to attend. Her Carol Shields Lecture was inspirational, vital, and life-changing.

The other big news is that Glossolalia has been shortlisted for the Acorn-Plantos Award for People's Poetry. I thought my wives had missed the awards boat, so this nomination so long after it was published was a wonderful surprise. The winner was to be announced in November, but there has been no news yet.

December means Christmas and while I have put up the Advent calendar and some of our decorations (no tree yet), I'm not in the spirit of the season. Being in this tepid climate doesn't help the internal clock. When we lived in Edmonton, I felt like getting ready for Christmas in early November. Now, it seems to sneak up. I don't like it. But St. Nicholas Day is on Saturday and we celebrate that, so I hope that will put in me the right frame.

In the last few months I've read some great books. If you're looking for poetry, let me suggest Kayla Czaga's For Your Safety Please Hold On. It's a stunning book.

And now to sweep up the rice that is strewn across the floor post-dinner and hopefully return to Twin Peaks.