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95 Books, Part 10: 98-105

Reading some novels, memoir, essays, but finishing mostly poetry in this section.

  1. Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck (Book, 1946),
    I’ve had this book on the to-read list for some time. It travels over years from one point of view in pre-revolution China.

    That, my friends, is how to a novel, build a world, resolve without a pat. It is unexpected but not random. It is about surfaces and motivations. p.255 Madame Wu counsels her daughter-in-law who fights constantly with her son.

    Trouble between men and women always arises from the belief that there is some duty between them, “Madame Wu went on. “One once having given up that belief the way becomes clear. Each has only a duty to himself. And how to himself? Only to fulfil himself.[…] It is when one is happy that the other is happy, and it is the only happiness possible for both.”

  2. Changing on the Fly: The Best Lyric Poems of George Bowering (Polestar, 2004)
    The poems range over 40-odd years. Although I went to look for a particular poem, which I never found and have since forgotten what I sought, I enjoyed the book. He plays more straight than his usual good natured humour of anecdotes. for example, p. 34

    The silence

    The silence
    that some days
    brings between us

    fools my heard.
    it thinks there is
    a loud constant noise.

    An elegant, and attentive to both human nature and to language and pause.

    Some are tender love poems for Angela such as “Rime of Our Time (p. 27, “Here is Angela’s / hair on the side of/ my face; love as // clean and soft as/ it is immediate”. His humour breaks in there now and then too, like. p 73:

    A prayer

    Lord God,

    if I have but one life to live,
    I hope this aint it.

    And there’s this that I was tempted to send to Marilyn Irwin “Silver and Gold, the Floor of the night” which starts “She can paint a garden so terribly Irwinesque, you/ want to levitate so you wont squash a Martian tendril.”

  3. Pleasantries and Other Misdemeanors by Christine McNair (Apt 9 Press, 2013)
    I have to admit a soft-spot for a 10-section poem of “the problem of orchids” in her chapbook which in part 7 “florescent with the patron saint/of lost causes, divinity lessons” and her’s an excerpt from part 7,

    How many of these questions do you answer
    YES: Are you afraid of your orchid? ◊ Do you
    sometimes feel like you have to walk on pins
    and needles to keep your orchid from getting
    angry? ◊ Has your orchid ever hit, slapped,
    choked or pushed you? ◊ Has your orcid ever
    pulled your hair? ◊ Do you feel like you deserve
    to be punished? ◊ Does your orchid drive you
    crazy or make you feel like you’re going crazy?

  4. You know you’re over the hill when, ed by Shelley Klein (Readers Digest, 2009)
    Many of the jokes I’d heard before, or variants of. There’s a lot of preface to the jokes that explain what’s coming which is kind of cutting the legs off the jokes. Here’s one, shortened, p 14

    Mel Brooks was asked by an interviewer what he thought of critics. […] He is said to have replies: “They’re very noisy at night. You can’t sleep in the country because of them.”[…] The interviewer explained that he had asked about critics not crickets. […] “Oh critics! What good are they? They can’t make music with their hind legs.”

  5. Archive of the Undressed: Poems by Jeanette Lynes (Wolsak & Wynn, 2012)
    I saw some people going gaga over the book. I didn’t get the title or cover until the preface. Women as inescapable from burlesque. To be female is to be a form marked sexual while presumably men aren’t. Unless it wasn’t explicit I was surprised there was no mention of drag queens. But with the dual history being classic Playboy magazines, maybe it’s a narrower slice of the pie than that.

    I didn’t immediately figure out if it is celebratory or critical. It is bouncy and aiming to amuse with its play with structure of book and reveal turning the page, or word play or jaunty language, list poem of Canadian clichés, but it isn’t all fluffy. Watch for the crowbar in some of that feather boa. Or in letter to the reader complaining that this should be fun. “Bite my bunny tail.”

    The Playboy mansion doesn’t come out of a vacuum. It is symptomatic, a continuity with the rest of society and history.

    p. 65

    With her armloads of flowers and leaves Anne brought burlesque to Green Gables. Pastoral burlesque. Not to mention puff sleeves. Hyperbole. “The Lady of Shalott.” A sinking boat rendered romantic. […]

    Everything is burleqsque. Celine Dion. Liberace. Pigeons in a certain light. “Lady of Shalott”. The Muppets. Don Cherry.

    Women are positioned as carnivalesque fertile chaotic life force that has checks and balances. The woman in tiny clothes presenting little brain and much disproportional sparkle percolates down to Hew Haw and Beverley Hillbillies, colors expectations from 4-H to waitresses, with a finger pointed at rich men and women of a lower economic culture.

    The book – which feels like a book of varied angles, not themed poems written in repetition of one another– is both celebratory and critical, in the sense of declaring pride and a line of dignity and strength but something of a bubblegum popping, just giving ya notice boy, a war cry.

    She relates the Playboy bunnies who were murdered. The forces at play are wrestled with by all people, and the land itself. It’s one binary that looks to keep inequity, but perhaps get a better bargain for “your side.”

    p. 14 “S & M in the Queen’s Bush” there’s the flirtatious play in the title in one of a few poems that has as a subject the national landscape, politically and physically. And footnote 3 on the poem reads “Note the inherently submissive position of footnotes.” The poem starts:

    Farmers. Marquis de Sodbusters. Yep, that was us. The stony land demanded a dominant stance. Each season it had to be shown who was boss. Ruled with an iron brand (Massey-Harris), heavy dose of diesel. Crop rotation. The groundhogs punching holes in the fields to fashion their underground mansions where no doubt furry orgies occurred, debauches like in that painting by Bosch only with groundhogs. Those crazed tunnel-sinners must be put in their place, enter the township boys with pellet-rifles, thwack, thwack, kapow, sound balloons just like in the funnies. You thought we bore no arms? […]Ours was a long covert tradition in firearms.

    The ones about land are most interesting. p. 48

    The land denuded, surveyed, & carved: concession lot, back forty,
    baseline &
    even bigger boxes of dirt: township, county. Jurisdiction. Fieldwork
    after dark, tractor headlights metal-rimmed brassieres burrowing
    into the night.
    Full throttle.

    Before that, horses. Voluptuous rumps. Harness & fetlock & shank.
    Working girls. Giddup. Girl.

    An earlier poem remarks on horsehair used in a stage costume. It starts in those born before suffrage where women in living memory are not a legal person but chattel. Workers but in unpaid or underpaid force, lumped together with horses. Farms run because of women’s labour, and not just birth labour.

    There is another poem that I wanted to quote from. As I go back and forth across the text I cannot find it. So perhaps one night after reading, I dreamt a narrow-columned, 3 stanza on the right side of the page response poem??

    No, I have it now. It is a poem from the next book on the read list that chimes in beautifully.

  6. Turning Left to the Ladies by Kate Braid (Palimpsest Press, 2009)
    I meant to read this when it first came out, but was rather afraid it would fall short of the first book of hers I loved. It seems familiar. She’s not retreading old tires. I read this and forgot to take it off my to-read list.

    Lesson 2: The Partner

    You give ‘im hell, girl! Get tough.
    Sure, you got a peanuthead for a partner, but
    trust me – when he says those things,
    pull yourself up tall, tell him to fuck right off.
    Say it nice.

    Guy like that, if he’s such a genius,
    ask him why he’s not in college?
    You know why it’s important, don’t ya’ kid?
    We’re not talking ha-ha here, we’re talkin’
    safety, talking your life.

    A partner’s gotta be there for you.
    A good partner is the guy you rely on,
    the mustard on your sandwich.
    You tell this guy he shapes up or else.
    Tell ‘im Ben sent him.

    Many of the poems are anecdotes. p. 56 “Talking Trades” there’s the concrete, or rather in this case, wood, context of where, what’s happening what’s said (her joke on the construction site) and then a stillness through the middle of the poem of internal

    I dare you, my eyes say. Now you know I know
    your secrets. I am making them mine.

    I watch, in case he chooses anger.
    Joel leans forward, holds my gaze, gives me
    one long slow wink. You said it sister!

    then back to the spin out outward action again.

    I’d forgotten her poem Pinker where, like me, she grew up detesting pink because of the confines and all the not-for-yous in aggregate it represented. “don’t rock the boat/be a little lady”. Until in an all-male context it became clear her being female was an issue. If that’s going to be rules of engagement, can’t change them or her gender, so, fine, in their faces. As Gus Allis put it, “Sorry for not being sorry”. p. 31

    one wished
    I’d drop dead
    (but it was nothing personal)
    so I started to wear pink.
    First, little pink embroidery flowers so small
    you could hardly see them on my coveralls,
    then a pink mackinaw, a pink plaid shirt and tomorrow
    I’m going to paint my lunchbox –
    you guessed it.

    It might make a bad situation worse, or it might break through but clearly the old keep your head down and take it, or get mad was doing nothing. “when I dusk behind deafness/they hit harder”. (p.45). Once I shared a workplace with a lady who felt a need to air her homophobia. So it was she I sidled up to gave her the gift of uncertainty if she was being flirted with. In return she gave me the gift of wide berth and avoiding being in the same room. All kinds of things serve as a kind of peace.

    Like the previous book on list, there’s a questioning of what essentialism is for gender. If our society insists on its petty division into clumps or males or female, how do we navigate the commonality? When do we get to be recognized for that instead of being seen thru a filter of caricature? What boxes we are shoved in, what we fit in as individual and what our compliance or resistance means.

  7. Almost Invisible by Mark Strand (Knopf, 2012)
    It’s fair to say I’ve never wasted my time anytime I sat down for some of his words. In this collection he has paragraph-long parables rotating [isn’t that funny, rotting is one a short of rotating] around death, anomie and melancholy. If that sounds like something that could put a damper on any good mood, consider that it is offset by clever set up, quirky perspective and/or philosophical distance.

    “The Emergency Room at Dusk” without the title is about a king surveying many cold rooms of his castle, how he should have bought a warm one instead. It is an apt experiencing of a waiting room and an episode in illness, instead of talking about it. The context spin of the story gives it an oomph of depth. How the title fits may not be clear at the start but it works by the end. For example, p. 6

    Harmony in the Boudoir

    After years of marriage he stands at the foot of the bed and tell his wife that she will never know him, that for everything he says there is more that he does not say, that behind each word he utters there is another word, and hundreds more behind that one. All those unsaid words, he says, contain his true self, which has been betrayed by the superficial self before her. “So you see,” he says, kicking off his slippers, “I am more than what I have led you to believe I am.” “Oh, you silly man,” says his wife, “of course you are I find that just thinking of you having so many selves receding into nothingness is very exciting. That you barely exist couldn’t please me more.”

  8. Lorine Neidecker: Collected Works (University of California Press, 2002)
    (Second cover-to-cover read.) p. 238-239


    Having met the protozoic
             here is man
    Leafing towards you
       in this dark
             deciduous hall

    Far reach
       of sand
             A man

    bend to inspect
       a shell

    part coral
       and mud

    Simple, slowly proceeding but not at all simple. You have the human as observer, a specimen among specimens. I like the flattening of human into tree, moving like a leaf, the world is plants, “deciduous hall”. A person bends to inspect a shell or the shell of himself. In it what’s there? The human shell is comparable to both mollusk and god. A human is a basic structure made of mud, made as clam that eats and moves and defecates, that is visibly by the tongue/foot. He’s a shell for soul, he’s a shell made of muscle and calcium. Both a mandala of god who is indistinguishable from “humble” things, also made of the stuff of the earth.

    She’s openly critical of the press for war as a solution. p. 115

    A working man appeared in the street
    in soldiers suit, no work, no peace.
    What’r you doing in that dress,
    a policeman said, where’s the fight?
    And they took him for a ride
    in the ambulance, they made arrest
    for failure to molest

    Impersonating an officer by wearing cloth that signifies you harass and kill on command. If you are unemployed soldier at peacetime, you aren’t doing your job and that too is a problem. A mixed up system.

    Her poems go though the habits of various camps but through it is her sharp eye and sharp wit. She was a war protester and skirted what she was told modern and feminine is in her poetry and life. She did observation and research and then tended to come out with a few words. Re-reading consistently yields more.

    I’m rather keen on her lean language. She was an unconventional woman. She had quite a biting wit. She was married twice, once young and divorced then a decade long affair and in her 50s married a second time to a good companion, who unfortunately was an alcoholic.

    She was considered local from transcribing what locals said verbatim but it seems more a matter of class war. Why should she support the language of the upper class? She was educated but her allegiances showed in where she lived. She lived most of her life in a one and a half room shack without plumbing. Through the public library (or at least some of them) one can connect for free to Gale’s Literature Resource Centre and there are more than 30 papers on Niedecker available. This one was good: An Uncanny Vernacular: Comparing the Radical Modernisms of Lorine Niedecker and Lesbia Harford by Ann Vickery.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] June, Christine was profiled at Open Book: Ontario. The chapbook made it onto Pearl Pirie’s ongoing 95 Books project, with Pearl admitting a “soft-spot” for the sequence “the problem of […]