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95 books for 2013, Part 12, 117-125

  1. Moments of Truth: Twelve Twentieth Century Women Writers by Lorna Sage (Fourth Estate, 2001)

    It was pitched oddly so far as cover — the literary critic’s name is 3x bigger than the title of the book and who she’s talking about is relegated to hard to read text on the back cover. Perhaps that is because of the rush to praise the newly dead, since it was published post-humously. Lorna Sage’s autobiography is on a list of 25 pieces of non-fiction everyone should read, sharing it with Manusfacturing Consent, Link, The Art of War, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and A Brief History of Time. Have I been sleeping under a rock again so that I’ve never heard of her?

    These are literary criticisms on Djuna Barnes, Simone de Beauvoir, Jane Bowles, Christine Brooke-Rose, Angela Carter, Katherine Mansfield, Iris Murdoch, Jean Rhys, Christina Stead, Violet Trefusis, Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf.

    I have said before I don’t read novels but read one by Edith Wharton just after I read the first essay on her in this. She gives details of lives and how the works landed at the time, details on what writer lives intersected and works in context to each other. It makes for thick reading which is good. The essays were engaging enough that I wanted to read on.

    How did I come to be so that I perk up to read essays on writing. I see suspect where that began.

  2. A Primer of Organic Form by Jim Kacian (Red Moon Press, 2013)

    Kacian demonstrates other ways to text, using colour, stepping away from lines of text stacked like bricks, kerning differently, having poems lines criss-cross vertically and horizontally. He points out a blackout poem is a variant on the tehnique perfected by Tom Phillips in A Humument (1970). I find poems allowed shape other than default wrapping get a bad reputation by textbook examples where teh shape is redundant. The poem describes the object in text, and in silhouette of ink which adds nothing more. There’s more that can be done between prose blocks and shape blocks. He says,

    The alternate isolation and clustering of units creates movement and tension on the one hand, and stasis and resolution on the other. Such an arrangement in a poem concerned with just such matters can add a sense of inevitability and depth.

    There’s also a certain sense of tension in a ragged margin and inevitability to a poem shaped like a wedge. Lines that are very different in length, thoughts that are in different sizes of units are unsteady and off-kilter. If thoughts and images, grammatical units and lines are all making lego units on the page, there can be a closed-to-debate smugness.

  3. Wintering Over by Joan Finnigan (Quarry Press, 1992)
    This collects up plays and poems, historical fiction, autobiographical, local and family histories. It goes back to first settlement by whites to present. p. 73 from Songs from Both Sides of the River,

    Fannie: That old Widow Kinnelly — a terror she is — was in seeing Doc Connell at Mount St. Patrick the other day and he was explaining to her how if you are blind in one eye you are always sure to get stronger in the other, and if you’re deaf in one ear, you’re always sure to get stronger in the other. And do you know what she said to him?

    Janet: Speak.

    Fannie: She said, “Sure, by God, I have often noticed too, if a man was short on one leg, he was always sure to be longer on the the other”

    Interesting that slam poetry uses the command speak but it comes out of the 1800s Ontario speech as well.

    It covers riots to women’s lives while men are away in lumber, gives a sense of natives as partners on the land among the Irish, fixes the French and Irish and natives as the underdogs to the over-educated and under-smart upper class rich British. There are small poignant stories of lives, like a man who would propose but father refused; the eldest had to be married first and the woman he loved never did marry. Seems as I was growing up, a lot of old bachelor’s in the Ottawa Valley took a shine to someone but ended up single for life.

    p. 127-128 has stories from farm life, now passing to most of the population.

    Poet: When I first heard the strange bawling in the far fields of his cousin’s farms I thought of a cow going down in quick-sand, or hoisted on thorns, and I was all ready to ride to the rescue of a dumb animal. But Carl laughed. “I’ve heard them go on like that for two or three days after the calves are taken to market.” And this morning, horses knee-deep and crushing the wild strawberries underfoot, the barn swallow, climbing frenzy, are weaving in and out of the woodshed where the nest was knocked down and the eggs smashed on the pines boards of the old floor.

    […] grieving mates, the swallows, continue to do unswallow-like things; they squawk like crows, chirp like sparrows, fly stumblingly through the trees at the woodshed door as though grief, grooven deeply enough, will black out instinct and direction

    […] They are lost. What is the reason now let for flying? How shall the barns have swallows next year, and next, to keep them safe from infestations and emptiness”

    She closes in the contemporary, living memory:
    p. 151

    My Aunt Bessie always used to say,
    “The worst kind of lies
    are not mouthed, but lived.”
    After she died, and they found
    the love letter, we knew
    she was talking about herself.

  4. Ballast by Karen Houle (House of Anansi, 2001)

    Oddly, as I switched from the previous book to join this in progress and turned the page to in Filia, p. 20

    I want to live in the elation
    of open water, high and climbing
    like the lapping heat of wine.

    I want to live where I will name name my family
    by their carefulness with rice,
    and sandstone fossils —

    the ones my green eyes treasure in the railbed.

    And those who love the world’s full belly—

    rolling, coral, sudden
    as a barn swallow plays the eaves;

    and vulnerable as a pitch of roof, to hail

    Egad, what a coincidence. More swallows.

    How could a pitch of roof be vulnerable to hail? But then, the railbed has sandstone fossils there and here is black slag and blue gravel.

    Geography’s built into poems. A poem I had with a highway mentioned towards the end it being black and that threw a reader who was picturing his own local highways to then, which are always read in his area, in Australia.

    Her lines run ragged. I get a sense in some squared off quatrains of feet not bound smaller but forced to grow larger to square off the thoughts, to puff into a forced certainty. Her sense is more assured in a way. There is this. There is that. This all holds together, wait, wait. Pay attention. Let me show you a few things.

    There’s a lovely density to the 3 lines quoted here, which is the 6th page of the poem, leap from emotion to flooding to a tipsy sensation yet somehow there isn’t a clank of the shifts.

    Earlier she makes bastard ghazal-like leaps such as p. 16 “our blood relations circulate// the diagram / of what burns between us // intact and sweet-smelling / as home, //” It should sound bafflegab to run so much together and yet it sounds intentional and emotive not random. The ideas are concrete. Even when a little unreachable a page later, “sympathetic magic, dulled plain/ by the pocket’s amnesia,” there’s that grounding of intangible with tangible of pocket with amnesia. p 40,

    Undertow

    In effect we find the sketches of invention:

    a waterproof book, cross-wired for gold thread balance,
    the key to doing many things at once.

    But in the standard silver photo
    her back is turned to me:

    upright as premonition in emulsion’s freckling grain.

    Your hand is going for her hair,
    your face exactly halfway

    between a flood of light and a momentary dark, a cloud
    which is not a cloud but me

    starting out from where anyone starts out.

    You met her later in Switzerland, and I have practiced
    the name like undertow, and mostly in the legs,

    a name which never matches the imagined,
    the legendary pull of water.

    There’s a certain truth to Robert Louis Stevenson saying, “the less they understand, the more they admire the sleight-of-hand'”. How did she build that poem? It isn’t spoken plainly yet it has a clear plot of lover lost to another.

    How to compose the idea of a name as an undertow, on the legs mostly. It’s such a complex idea yet truthy. “But in the standard silver photo/her back is turned to me://upright as premonition in emulsion’s freckling grain.” That has as much movement and content than some books. There emulsion of photo having a freckling grain has a level of intensity that I can’t see why it has.

  5. Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel by Richard Brautigan (Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, 1976)

    How very strange and compelling this book is. I don’t know what to make of it. And didn’t even as I read it. It is like You Can’t Do That on Television or sketch comedy or Jerry Seinfeld mixed with Kurt Schwitters. Odd. Dark. Would an excerpt convey anything? So much is accumulation and juxtaposition of chapter to chapter as it intercuts from the public square to the writer’s kitchen and the sleeping girl. That would tell you nothing.

    p. 20-21, 87

    “He would have to where to go forever and his life would be tired of breathing him.[…] When she stopped moving, the cat went back to sleep.

    It was a black cat and could have been a suburb of her hair.

    […] He was no longer shouting at the two men to stop crying or threatening to call the police.

    He was shouting things that have no meaning like the licence plate number of a car he had owned in 1947.”

    And even saying that might have been a spoiler. It’s an interesting read.

  6. Open Letter: Surrealism in Canada: A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory: Fifteenth Series: Number 3, Summer 2013
    I often get journals but rarely read more than a third, there being so much mix of short stories, or essays that are dull. These pieces and poems and prose were all interesting.

    [Oops, I did lose something when the browser crashed. I’ll have to rebuild this tomorrow.]

  7. The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    The book is very readable. It seems fluffy beach read. In 1858 it it sold 25,000 copies after two months.

    It is curious that in the 1600s the Pilgrim women were singing hymns and spinning wool while men were out doing man-stuff, like killing natives, and in Joan Finnegan’s account of Canada in the 1800s, the women were singing hymns and spinning wool while men were out doing man-stuff like living in logging camps.

    It doesn’t time travel so well as some in that in some stuff about natives. A satchel made of a snake filled with arrows as a presentation to go to war, or interpreted as such? Some characters are cardboard, including the title character, but at least not all.

    Wikipedia says Longfellow was writing about Priscilla through the eyes of being her descendant. He makes a striking strong female in Pricilla who says,

    “No!” interrupted the maiden, with answer prompt and decisive;
    “No; you were angry with me, for speaking so frankly and freely.
    It was wrong, I acknowledge; for it is the fate of a woman
    Long to be patient and silent, to wait like a ghost that is speechless,
    Till some questioning voice dissolves the spell of its silence.
    Hence is the inner life of so many suffering women
    Sunless and silent and deep, like subterranean rivers
    Running through caverns of darkness, unheard, unseen, and unfruitful,
    Chafing their channels of stone, with endless and profitless murmurs.”
    Thereupon answered John Alden, the young man, the lover of women:
    “Heaven forbid it, Priscilla; and truly they seem to me always
    More like the beautiful rivers that watered the garden of Eden,
    More like the river Euphrates, through deserts of Havilah flowing,
    Filling the land with delight, and memories sweet of the garden!”
    “Ah, by these words, I can see,” again interrupted the maiden,
    “How very little you prize me, or care for what I am saying.
    When from the depths of my heart, in pain and with secret misgiving,
    Frankly I speak to you, asking for sympathy only and kindness,
    Straightway you take up my words, that are plain and direct and in earnest,
    Turn them away from their meaning, and answer with flattering phrases.
    This is not right, is not just, is not true to the best that is in you;

  8. Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire

    This is a fascinating book, written frankly but artfully of the experiment to experience “a day of silence” where she doesn’t talk for a day, then for alternate Mondays of the months. What did that skew. What did that illuminate? What is silence to different people? Saying is one thing and relating but she got to the expanded nitty gritties of riding the moments. At first silence was a block, then a release of energy then a resistance again, an opening and a fight against all the inner that wants to spill. It is a mediation, whether practiced for 15 minutes, or for a week of no people. What is it socially? Is it a refusal to connect? Or are there other ways to communicate? It creates a way to look at boundaries and expectations. What if someone dies? What if you are needed? You shouldn’t take time for yourself if if if. It creates an interesting box for examining roles and understandings.

    Since she’s known as a chatterbox, people at first thought she wouldn’t be able to do it. As she explored she thought about how silence is used. In some families it is a form of violence. What is the distinction between choosing silence, owning it or being silenced? On going away on a week’s silent retreat he is part, p. 161

    I thought of Rumi’s admonition: “Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them.Fee the artistry moving through them and be silent.”

    Gradually I was aware of the sounds. The drone of a plane overhead. A car door slamming. Two voices carrying over from the beach parking lot. Something petulant was in the woman’s voice, as if she was always asking for something. I was resentful at these noises — too harsh, intrusive and demanding. I did not welcome them as connectors to humanity. I shut them out to concentrate on the natural world.

    As if tidal sounds without humans aren’t part of nature. But I know what she means. On a bog boardwalk, two humans clumping along with heavy footfalls, or two teens talking loudly about their parents saying they can go to Florida or Europe but not both this year, seemed at odds with “nature” and “breath”. So is monkey-mind but that is all part of the same continuum. Once the defences drop more, the mind and body can unclench into a different kind of silence.

  9. Unus Mundus: Poems by Mari-Lou Rowley (Anvil 2013)
    In “her ninth collection of poetry, Mari-Lou Rowley explores how we, as a species, have moved beyond our search for a union with the cosmos—in the spiritual sense—to the desire to conquer its mysteries and exploit its resources.” The language is lively, not poet voice abstract nouns and hearty feelings in the usual drumkit. Instead of making small hurts cosmic, she take the knowledge of the tiny cosmos and puts it in fleece. p 23 starts,

    Quantum Leap

    Try building a universe from scratch —
    quarks on top. It’s true they travel in packs
    of three — red green blue — inseparable
    as adolescents in coordinated fleece,
    bound by gluons they eventually become one
    protron or neutron with no colour at all. White
    Madonna in need of a partner. Boys lined up
    along the gym, buddies/anti-buddies growing
    unstable, mesons that like to mess around,
    turn into electrons and nefarious particles, spin

    And did you ever see atomic level and school dance as one before, the random/not random movements? Rather than working only from what people knew of the universe centuries ago, we have toes, and dawn, and we and animals die of holes in them, I like this rolling in more knowledge into what we can speak to as poets.

    Which is not to say she only does science. There are linear animal story poems as well but some are zippy, if I might say so. They bounce kind of like Adeena Karasick, playful and zooming among sounds, hitching assonance forward. Like Houle the less tangible is intercut with tangible that grounds the reader before the next commuter flight of a line. Take for example, p. 31’s Acoustic Photons,

    Listen! Ear to heart, thumb to Vegus, nervous
    oscillations simply mechanical and fine
    machinery of body parts, of quasiparticles.
    The problem is complicated. Squealing frequency
    of acoustic phonons due to elastic deformation.
    Imprints on skin white or red depending upon
    thermal fluctuations at room temperature,
    or some kind of violation. The literature filled
    with erroneous formula, tongue embedded
    in a solid matrix such as glass, sheets littered
    with charged particles, noble metals in particular.
    Sound speeds varying drastically with direction.
    Remove the ring and this won’t matter. Take off
    the watch and you won’t hear a thing.

    She’s reading tonight at the Carleton Tavern, as I mentioned in the post down thataway.

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