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95 Books for 2013, Part 11, 106-116

Continuing the reading habit, mostly poetry, a little memoir/biography.

  1. Otherwise Smooth by Rosmary Waldrop (above/ground, 2013)
    I’ve long said for every book published, forget the blurb or synopsis. The cover, fine, price, useful but give me even two lines from the work and I’ll know from it than all that. That tells me more of angle, subject, control of language, freshness, density, style and match to my needs and taste than secondary sources. In poem 8 she started,

    Without you to say you to. Without you saying to me. Words
    don’t rise to the roof of the mouth. The rose is obsolete. The color of
    your eyes subtracted from the air. Fabric undone.

    This isn’t going to be a lineated anecdote. Not the usual sentence structure. Maybe the usual I miss the generic object-you but still, there’s not the sentimental indulgence that such subjects are apt to become. The choice of how it is expressed is fresh.

    In poem 5 she says, “I say “I” and thereby appropriate the entire language.” Like that interconnectedness. We see a conflict when both sides of a war claim the same god on their side but each person says I and means someone else. Funny universities we can parse. It reminds me of the prosody prof who described pronouns as professional nouns. They don’t need the spotlight. They will play as a band for whatever Proper Name act comes to town.

  2. Ice Age by Dorothy Livesay (Press Porcepic, 1975), p.28

    Parenthood

    my child is like a stone
    in wilderness
    pick it up and rub it on the cheek
    there’s no response
    or toss it down…
    only a hollow sound
    but hold it in the hand
    a little time
    it warms, it curves
    softly into the palm:
    even a stone takes on a pulse
    in a warm hold

    It strikes me as such a radical poem in content and such a controlled poem in form and sound. The combination makes for a devastating effect of emotional distance. It is not that she runs towards impartiality. Her sermon of “A Catechism”, p. 66 is a poetics statement about writing what matters and laying the value of a life on its impact. She is bluntly humble and the poem feels as unconfined as the one above seems straight jacketed. She starts with the question “What is the validity of your life?” and brings in everything from social games to the redbreast bird eyeing her to the value of the poem and “whether it speeds yourarrow”.

    Still, there’s something of a blowhard-feel. Even when she’s aiming to entertain, she’s cuttingly angry.

    The cabbage

    the doctor goes on handing out pills
    that reduce me
    from animal to vegetable

    why couldn’t he
    implant some sunflower seeds
    so at least I’d be able to see
    over the fence?

    At the same time I was reading, House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and p. 32 “She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making” seems to apply as well to the dramatic poems of Livesay as to the lady of the New York social scene in that novel.

  3. The Creeks by rob mclennan (above/ground, 2013)
    What a lovely palate cleaner. Livesay takes one firm step after the last. The Creeks by contrast are not such a holding forth. The mood is for the reader. He moves instead to a more crisp and delicate gestures that are about living and directing attention more than directing. There are pings of well-turned and suggest what could be unpacked with time.

    The opposite of poetry,

    I never knew approximation. We were always precise. The invention
    of trickery, to save time and effort. A poppy, in stubbly light. Each
    fool makes a doctor, a trading ship. I would understand doors, thick
    and scrupulous. Reproduced as a corpse. A grape hyacinth. Strawberry
    posies.

    There’s something like aphorism coloring but it glides more as an observation than a pat opinion. What relationship between the images are there? Doors as scrupulous, knock offs the way corpses copy one another. Then among all the disingenuousness of talking through loopholes (of the first 3 sentences) and overestimating what you know, there’s the relief of flowers and the surprise innocence of strawberry posies but even that image is troubled with posies being associated with stench of plague. A beauty not for its own sake but to survive with until loss is past. It all makes a kind of oblique sense.

  4. The Self-Completing Tree (Canadian Classics Series) by Dorothy Livesay (Press Porcépic, 1986)
    There’s no lack of things being said about this book. Each reader comes to any book one-on-one.

    It is very thick. That’s a terrible thing to say about a book I suppose. Sometimes I see what other people notice of an author and it’s exactly not what I would comment on, seeming to latch onto the most indistinct parts. Or most irrelevant.

    She’s not dull nor inarticulate. Her life seemed more interesting than her poetry judging from the symposium on her at Purdyfest. I bet she’s be a whiz at taking the audience by storm for poetry slams with her intensity and grace. p. 62

    On Reading Some Writings by Women

    Sometimes I think of a swallow
    beating its wings
    against a wire mesh:
    if she pulls her wings
    tight tight
    will she get though?

    Or I think of a child
    hitting its fist against granite rock
    where there’re no doors
    Mama, she cried, Mama

    Or a bee
    blindly bumbling
    against a windowpane:
    my helping hand
    creates more confusion

    The woman inside that box
    called “home”
    cannot wrench off
    the roof

    Always alone
    these lost ones are
    while their mates
    are standing around
    laughing

    The ending packs a punch on top of the throttling of blaming women for playing at helpless. At the same time for all the harshness she extends compassion and insight into cause. It’s not something inherent to these women who flail, but to circumstances, to larger scenes that include partners (she doesn’t specify gender, I think deliberately).

    They are bullied, perhaps even systemically, until they can’t see straight and without a confidante except perhaps writing out of these patterns. Ultimately the helplessness isn’t the subject, or these romantic angst women, but it is thrown broader to society.

    She digs deeper than just observing but looks for root cause and insights of how and why what we see came to be. That’s a step newer poets often don’t get to. For example, in “Friday’s Child” in presumably a poem for her estranged daughter, she says “I endowed you with the contents/ of my anxious state[…] when I walked at the seashore/moaning with the gulls/I pinned a black crow/on your shoulder”

  5. The Laurentian Book of Movement by Christine McNair and rob mclennan (above/ground, 2013)
    This collaborative series from a Quebec cottage has some starlit spots. For example the first poem where one place is held constant, but only as a place does with it fast-forwarding decades from thick woods to present

    A thread pulls powder across various landmarks. We walk into the Metro. This is not a pilgrimage.

    The English language corresponds with optical illusions. One looks too close sometimes, and words begin to shimmer, flick. A chance occurance, breathes.

    The next poem has some of my favorite turning the tables on parts of speech and our relationships to objects “I pablum up the stairs. I beige myself to sleep. I infuse myself with weak tea.”

  6. A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove, edited by Robert McTavish, (Chaudiere Books, 2007)
    I’m pagist. At over 150 pages, I resisted reading it cover to cover but then, one doesn’t have to finish anything all at once, just start.

    John Newlove is kind of unavoidable in part. He won a Some of the poems I’ve heard repeated at any circle where people read or recite their favourite poems. There is an annual poetry award for John Newlove run by Bywords with the winner receiving a chapbook made by them launched at the Ottawa Writers’ Festival. I shortlisted for that once yogs ago.

    While his view is dark, his struggle with depths is foregrounded, I’m glad I read it. I don’t understand why “Progress” is called a failed long poem but it is a successful 10 page poem. Each part hooks forward with a twist to something. p. 224

    […] dreaming revenge, justification, reply,
         victory, ad to be ourselves again.

    Were we ever? There are those who will find
         jobs but no comfort. Life being what it is,
    we attempt to make ourselves indiscernible.
         Honesty is praised and left to shiver.

    The soul is crystallized. And now it is winter
         again. The snow will begin to fly, white life,
    another year has gone by and so few lines
         written down and so many of them dreamed.

    Another day closer to death, said
         my father at breakfast. True enough but
    a hell of a thing to say over coffee
         and orange juice and eggs. But true enough

    Things become other things without stopping being what they were. There’s a sort of renga pivot to how images move as the poem shifts its own weight. Identity is crystallized. A good thing. No, a cold thing. A clear purpose is the winter of the soul, a lie the soul tells itself. The snow stays that and becomes time passage, becomes the white page, becomes the blotting white of death. p. 30

    Four Small Scars
    This scar beneath my lip
    is a symbol of a friend’s rough love
    though some would call it anger,
    mistakenly. This scar

    crescent on my wrist
    is symbol of a woman’s delicate anger
    though some would call it love,
    mistakenly. my belly’s scar

    is symbol of surgical precision;
    no anger, no love. The small
    fading mark on my hand
    is token of my imprecision,
    of my own carving, my anger, and my love.

    As he twists and studies himself and significances, he makes a set that surprises at each turn, refutes the proof of apparent judgements. He speaks plainly and yet there’s no flat simplicity.

  7. House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)
    Oddly her name came at me from two directions and then when the book landed in my hands, I had to begin, didn’t I? It starts witty and smart of a conversation between two characters and the full throttle energy of the woman who defies public opinion and thinks, since she’s known this man since girlhood and boyhood, she can nip up to his flat and continue their conversation. That, in true novel fashion, sets in motion several things that don’t show up until later. It was a compelling read. A can’t put it down easily sort of read. I couldn’t predict the trajectory or what the main character would do next. It is rich with details of the time, costume and deciphering of gesture. It doesn’t bog or lag, but varies its speed and details.

    The landscape become a sort of character at time but the pace shifts from clipped to slowed down according to the scene. p. 80 as she looks around a dinner table at her so-called friends/fellow social ladder climbers “Presbyterian, he paints the earth more black, the heaven more radiant white than my plain eyes perceive, my landscape’s technicolor paradise.” p. 55 “Wetheral, with his perpetual nervous nod of acquiescence, his air of agreeing with people, before he knew what they were saying”. Beyond telling a good story, picking up the texture of life, the sharp points at every social class, describing the constraints a woman of her unmarried state and ambition were under, she makes some poetic gestures in language. p. 115 when a nouveau riche suitor comes calling,

    She made the mistake, not uncommon to persons in whom social habits are instinctual, of supposing that the inability to acquire them quickly implies a general dullness. Because a bluebottle bangs irrationally against a window pane, the drawing room naturalist ma forget that under less artificial conditions it is capable of measuring distances and drawing conclusions with all the accuracy needful of its welfare”

  8. Memoirs of a Hippie Girl by Ann Becoy (Becoy Publishing 2013)
    What strikes me is the parallels of House of Mirth and Memoirs of a Hippie Girl. Not the styles of writing, but the lives. A young woman born to wealth in New York City in the late 1800s and a woman born to immigrants and middle class Toronto in the mid 1950s have the same binds.

    Whether the turn of the century of 1970s, they are each scrabbling to make enough to eat, borrowing. These two women are moving from the grace of one person who lets them stay at their house to another. In both, men around are doing high cash deals, pick up, and drop, women at their indulgence. The women form uneasy alliances. The women are without parental support, fledged early. They both want to live with the freedom of movement as a man has, but in one case she is stormed by a crowd and called a prostitute and police need to do crowd control, and the other, for going out after 9pm, midnight even, is considered a bought woman as well. Recorded with a sharp eye, different countries, and, in some sense, different eras.

    One more generation on, are we any further? Can men freely wear what they like? Can women and men talk in public without raising some version of a scarlet letter? Progress perhaps. Men still command higher incomes. And how much do well-meaning women and men still warn women not to walk alone, go out after certain hours, rather than making it practice to demand that all people can wear what they like and it not signify invitation to being harassed to walk at any time of the day?

    The book wanders around India, or rather, the white hippie sub-culture, the yogis and posers, the underground. Like Wharton, whether noticing the monks chasing the raiding monkeys in the Himalayas, or describing the scene as the group drops LSD to see the Taj Mahal, there’s a detail of space and textures. Who are the servants? They are given room and board and no more, are slaves sleeping in the kitchen or on the door stoop, which is how middle class can afford servants. There are almost 2 pages of encountering how people in India bathe without electricity or hot running water. p. 102-103,

    Chandra knocked on my door and led me to a concrete stall with a single tap that was knee-high from the ground and a drain in the floor: I guessed this was the bathing room. There was a little wooden stool covered by a clean towel, and several buckets of steaming hot water. I was invited to undress discretely in a corner of the room curtained off for the purpose. When I stepped out, Chandra gestured for me to sit on the stool It occurred to me that she had probably been up for over an hour to supervise the boiling of the water. Even the suburbs of Bombay has no such luxury as hot water, so I knew the water would be heated on the pathetic little stove, a propane burner in the kitchen.[…]
    It felt odd and a bit discomfiting at firs to have someone wash me from head to toe but it also felt luxurious, and when I finally surrendered, I discovered that I enjoyed this Indian way of bathing. I felt so babied, so pampered. For me it was doubly delicious after 3 months of self-bathing, self-nururing and self-pitying [of being in jail with ticks and illness]. I felt mothered, loved and nurtured for the first time n a long time. Part of me wanted to stay forever with this delightful family.

    It was a fascinating journey to go in on of times and places that were ephemeral and distinct from life in mainstream Canada. Seeing her thought processes as new developments came to her teenage life as she made her way were interesting. We read the whole aloud over a week or so.

  9. The Barefoot Shepherdess and Women of the Dales by Yvette Huddleston and Walter Swan (Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd, 2012)

    I want to get a few copies of this book to hand out at Christmas. Whether interested in true stories, or England, or Yorkdale, or people cutting their own path or making a switchback road through life, or from the perspective of an object lesson for young people of what women can do, whether gamekeeper, or stone carver, painter or museum keeper, it’s an interesting read and we didn’t want it to end.

    Edited by Yvette Huddleston and Waler Swan, it profiles these 14 people: Alison O’Neill “the barefoot shepherdess“, Amy Lucas, gamekeeper, Annabelle Bradley, artisan blacksmith, Rev. Caroline Hewlett, vicar, Davinia Hinde, veterinarian, Professor Dianna Bowles, academic and sheep keeper, Gillians Howells, creative consultant, Helen Bainbridge, museum curator, Isobel Davies, ethical entrepreneur of 3 things: her fashion line Izzy Lane, Farm Around and Good Food Nation, Kimberly Brereton, community publican, Moira Metcalfe, artist, Pat Thynne, organizational change consultant, Pip Hall, lettercarver, Zarina Belk, tea room owner.

    Love how the life paths of these people, who cover many states: in their 20s to their retirement, single, widowed, divorced, empty nesters, with little kids, in first career, or doing a few in parallel. They as a group are diverse and as individuals are fascinating. How does one decide to become a vet in a rural practice, or enter a male trade like blacksmithing? What’s life like living alone in a gamekeeper shack? How do you come to a place where you live in a remote region while working at a university at the same time? How does one manage a museum or a theatre group in an area with low population? As pubs are closing nearly as fast as libraries in Britain, how to sustain a pub? (With a community collective and many public events as a start). When you see that sheep are shedding wool while the wool industry imports wool from overseas, what to do about it? One part of the stone carver’s story is a working with Simon Armitage on the Stanza stones project where 6 of his poems were carved in situ along a walk, and the process of learning the stones and the poems and stones adapting to each other’s properties.

  10. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
    A sort of parlour naturalist without a parlour, he does love to talk. “My dwelling was small and I could hardly entertain an echo in it.” He seems to have affection for trees and birds while no patience for people, especially the Irish who he dismisses, such as the neighbour who entertains him and gives him shelter from the storm. (As opposed to the time he was caught out not reading the signs of rain “which compelled me to stand half an hour under a pine, piling boughs over my head and wearing a handkerchief for a shed”) Henry then says the eyes of the chickens have more intelligence than the children. Irish are the agents of blame for the railway which is his pet peeve. The bane of his life it seems. The cause a chestnut tree grove to be cut down and the trees around the lake. Yet he speaks in favour of equality of people and banishment of slavery, resisting any support or recognition of the state until there is equality. He speaks of the former black neighbours tenderly.

    He sermonizes but less so and more agreeably than Whitman. Less abstractly.

    “If we are merely […] loud talkers, then we can afford to stand very near together, cheek by jowl, and feel each other’s breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want to be further apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a chance to evaporate.”

    He battles out what he thinks of man’s place in the world and relationship to it. Should one be vegetarian? As surely as each boy should learn to kill as a child small animals before he can grow out of it. He understands both as a natural stage of life, as caterpillar to moth and sees himself with wings and others who disagree with him as less evolved. (It reminds me of a conversation at Purdyfest a few years ago where one man was expounding on how he’s been reincarnated more often, thus a vegetarian and there was nothing wrong with others eating meat. They must do as the stage of spirit urges. He was taken to task point per point and harangued by a young woman there.)

    Henry maintains that a certain level of ascetic disconnect cleans any act of vice, including eating. He rails against government, lack of morality, social decay, taking contentment as a sign of ignorance.

    “He had been instructed only in that innocent and ineffectual way which the Catholic priests teach the aborigines, by which the pupil is never educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man but kept a child.”

    It is still par for course from some egoists; if one is not vehement and verbose, there is only near tabula rasa wishy washy as the other possible state. He is full of vim. He’d be fascinating to listen in on as someone else takes him on conversationally but I’d pale at having to run into him regularly. He spares no duty or beauty in regaling. But compellingly interesting. And detailed; his ledger of costs for squatting on land to farm, or detailing the sounding of the lake or the stages of ice breaking up, interspersing with anecdotes he’s heard.

  11. Contemporary Haiku: Our Essence Within by Sarojini K Devi (self-published, 2013)
    It is a big step to take your poems public, whether at open mic, or in a zine, or thrusting your printed poem into a friend or stranger’s hand. It is coming out of the closet, into a community dialogue. By expanding our gesture wider to others, whether decades in the craft, or months, we grow.

    Here she’s compiled over a decade of short poems inspired by reading Bashō‎, quoting his

    seek on high bare trails
    sky ~ reflecting violets
    mountains ~ top jewels

    She’s taken the 5-7-5 verse approach to haiku to write in the philosophical spirit of aphorisms “sparingly touched up with some entertaining thoughts” […] and hard-learnt wisdom.” It doesn’t spring from the school of no season words nor from urban senryu.

    The book has two chapters, that of “Affairs of the Mind: A light-hearted perspective” and “Gathering Nature: a celestial awakening”. Each poem has on the back side of the page the subject the coda of the subjects of the poems on the reverse of the page as if answer to the riddle. It’s a structure she explains that aims to make the book more engaging and interactive.

    p. 23

    public affections
    union that binds entities
    territorial

    and on the reverse: marriage.

    p. 13

    compliments a smile
    dangles ~ maybe studs preferred
    simple elegance

    which on the reverse says “earrings”

    When one self-publishes, one takes on everything: writing, editing, copy editing, layout, fonts, graphics, design, printing, distribution, marketing. It is entirely in one’s control and on one’s schedule.

    That said, it helps to have someone proofread because one sees what one expects one typed, not what one did. The opening sentence of the preface “life’s abdominal experiences are inevitable; they either make or break us”. Several similar typos that spellcheckers wouldn’t catch are throughout.

    By speaking out your literature, you pledge a relationship to all that came before and all that is yet to come. By putting your poems forward, you make a step towards moving past the poems that have been lodged in your head, give them closure and opening to others while the brain can latch onto the next poems that come. By having them out there they find people who resonate with it and make connections to build community. The more voices in the community, the richer we all are.

    p. 41

    walk against the grains
    venture out your dreams ~ be wise
    be still ~ god is near

    On the reverse “courage”.

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