31 January 2014

on rereading: Gloria

As mentioned earlier, I am rereading Gloria by Keith Maillard. As of writing this, I'm about 200 pages into it and oh, how I am loving this book. It really is the perfect novel for me. Gloria, a young woman who loves clothes, boys, but above all, poetry.

I had forgotten that Susie was religious and the long conversations about literature. I had forgotten about Delta Lambda and being rushed. I had forgotten how early Billy Dougherty turned menacing. I had forgotten so much, but I am remembering the pleasure of reading the book and I wonder if the pleasure I'm feeling now is equal to, or even greater, than on first read.

A lot has happened to me in the fifteen or so years since reading it the first time and I know that there are things that are resonating with me thanks to my own life experiences that flew above my head the first time. I am now much closer to Laney's age than Gloria's, and I am far more sympathetic to her now. I am aware at how deftly Maillard crafts the family relationships, their conversations, how beautifully handles subtext.

I shall cut this short as I'd much rather use the little time I have to (re)read Gloria than write about it.

30 January 2014

the pleasure of reading her again

I am turning forty this year. It's a big number, weighed down with baggage and expectations. I wish I could say that I'm staring down this number with grace and a light heart. Turning thirty was not a problem for me (I say, in retrospect--am I rewriting history here? I don't think so, but I might). I still have plenty of time in my thirties--the perk of being an autumn baby.

But I didn't want to write about aging today, so let me steer this post around.

It is fashionable amongst a certain set of people on social media to read only certain types of books in a year. A few years ago it was The Year of The Short Story (#YOSS). This year, I'm seeing a lot of The Year of the Woman (#ReadWomen2014) or The Year of People of Colour. I'm not one to jump on wagons of any sort, but I'm going to hitch my own this year--not exclusively, of course; I am a polyamorous reader.

But, staring down forty, I'd like to reread some books that were important to me earlier in my life. Steinbeck's East of Eden is the only novel I can think of that I've read as a teen and in my twenties. I'm going to reread it this year and will plan to read it in my forties as well.

I'm also going to reread Keith Maillard's Gloria. Gloria is a beloved book. I read it in my mid-twenties and it has stayed with my in a way very few novels have. I've said that it taught me how to be a woman, though I'm not quite sure that's true anymore. It at least shaped how I was a woman in my mid-twenties. I've been nervous to revisit it because I have elevated it so high in my mind and heart. But I am reading it again. I'm only about sixty pages in, but oh, it's so good to be back with Gloria. I'd forgotten a lot, but not everything, of course. Being with her is like being with an old friend. It all comes flooding back, and the past and present are richer because of it.

I'm a slow reader, so I'm not sure if there will be more books I will reread this year (both Gloria and East of Eden are long. There aren't that many that I can remember reading in my twenties that have really stuck with me, though as I write this, I few are popping in my head. But no grand pronouncements, no hashtags needed. Just the pleasure of revisiting a good friend.

29 January 2014

on memorizing poetry

I went to a Coffee Talk last week that has me thinking about memorizing poetry. The focus of the talk was a reflection on Harold Coward's lecture from the previous evening. I hadn't be able to attend his lecture, but I really wish I had.

In the talk, he spoke a bit about learning orally/aurally--how vital memorization is to fully understanding a text. There was discussion on how in many religious practices, the sacred text is memorized and this knowledge is passed down from teacher to student. Christianity used to have a much stronger oral tradition that seems to have disappeared in the mid 19th Century (reasons to me were not clear).

Harold spoke of how important it is for young children to memorize things (texts, facts, etc) as these are the foundations of their future knowledge.

Of course, this got me thinking of my own children. My eldest is a whiz at memorizing and has always done it for fun. He used to (may still) have all the countries in the world memorized. He reads a book more than once and has it mostly memorized.

My youngest is two and she's loved Julie Morstad's illustrated book of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Swing ever since she was given it--over half her life, now! The boys and I quickly memorized the poem to recite to her. After Howard's talk, I realized that other than sections of my own poems and Leonard Cohen's "Marita", it's the only poem I have memorized.

This needs to change.

I went to FB and asked what poems and why people have memorized. Over twenty people responded and almost all of them named poems--there was Shakespeare, Millay, Frost, Hardy, and many others, with very few repetitions. And what heartened me the most was that not everyone who responded were writers. That shouldn't surprise me, but it did, in the best possible way.

I once went to a reading where a poet put her book aside and recited a poem of her own. It was a true recitation and the delivery sounded like a child reciting "In Flanders Fields." This put me off wanting to memorize my own work, though through osmosis I have done so. I doubt I'll ever recite a poem completely from memory at a reading in fear of it becoming a parlour trick or transporting everyone back to grade three, but when I do read certain poems, they are mostly from memory.

There are a few poems I love and I'm going to attempt to memorize them, just for the joy of it.

(And then, of course, I remembered this video. Oh, Lynda Barry, you are brilliant.)

24 January 2014

Too True

Glossolalia has been out in the world for almost a year now and has garnered a modest bit of attention. I keep planning on posting all the reviews and interviews I've received and given in support of my wives, not so much for bragging rights, but mostly so that I have them all together. Soon, I hope.

One of my favourite things I've done since Glossolalia was published is a reading and panel discussion with some of my favourite poets: Jennica Harper, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Amber Dawn, and moderated by Gillian Jerome. Gillian did a great job asking difficult questions, and I think the ensuing discussion was provocative.

It's about an hour and a half long, so make sure you have a pot of tea and a hearty snack beside you if you plan on watching it all in one sitting. If you do watch it all, let me know what you think. I'd love to keep the discussion going.

23 January 2014

On Reading: Stag's Leap, part five

The "Summer" section of Stag's Leap only has four poems and they left me frustrated. Perhaps it's because I taught a form class last semester and I've become enamoured with form, constraints, and poetic devises, that these free verse (and not, may I point out, free verse in the sense of organic verse) confessional poems are starting to feel like a drag. More than halfway through, there has been little deviation--almost no stanzas, few indentations. They look and sound the same.

I reread the four poems of "Summer" only once. I assume if I gave this section closer read, I'd be rewarded, but I simply didn't want to. The subjects of these four poems were none that I wanted to sink into deeper. The one that held my attention the most, "Skleekit Cowrin'" turned me off with its heavy-handed symbolism--mice traps on the wedding china, leaving the mouse corpse on the plate on the porch and it being infested by bugs. I'm sure that there is more artistry in the poem and the others in "Summer" but I don't have the patience or inclination to find them right now.

The following section, "Fall," only has four poems as well, but this section appealed to me more. I read "Haircut" as I was in the salon waiting for one of my own, which was a nice little gift. It probably does not need to be noted that my haircut was nothing like the one in the poem.

That said, I find "Crazy" the most compelling in the section. Ultimately, it's a revisitation and reconsideration of what it means to be "crazy for each other"--a phrase the speaker claims to have used (often) in the past. It begins:
I've said that he and I had been crazy
for each other, but maybe my ex and I were not
crazy for each other. Maybe we
were sane for each other, as if our desire
was almost not even personal--

Olds' choice to have "crazy" end the first and begin the third line not only draws attention to the word in its repetition and prominent places on the lines, but also transforms them into their own parenthesis, having the second line--a line which simply announces she and her ex--be surrounded by "crazy." It's a subtle nod to what the poem will explore. Perhaps the crazy was not them, but outside of them.

The speaker ruminates on what the alternatives were, if they weren't crazy for each other--a marriage arranged by the elements (with "a fire of pleasure like a violence/of kindness); they were "sane for each other"; that their union was inevitable "like the earth's and moon's paths" (that line got an eye roll from me, I admit--so hard to invoke the heavens that way). The speaker then admits that despite these other options, she was crazy about him
--oh for God's sake
I was besotted with him. Meanwhile the planets
orbited each other; the morning and the evening

Her invocation of celestial bodies returns, this time paired with "each other," a term used throughout in reference to her and her ex--three times in the first four lines of the poem alone. Here, the reader can't but help fuse the speaker and her ex with objects in the sky.

Now that the speaker is confident with admitting that she was crazy for him, she considers what he felt for her and settles on "mortal fondness," a phrase that feels both full and paternalistic, or perhaps avuncular.

With this realization, that yes, he had positive feelings for her, but nothing near what she felt for him, Olds ends the poem, returning to the celestial imagery and "each other":
What precision of action
it has taken, for the bodies to hurtle through
the sky for so long without harming each other.

Is there relief or gratitude in this? The tone implies this, but there is also a hint of accusation in "what precision of action/ it has taken" suggests deliberate action on the ex's part, avoiding the implosion for as long as they had.

post script

Last Thursday, I gave my talk. I want to write a bit about it, but there really isn't much more to say than it went well.

In summary, I started by discussing my interest in writing about faith and spirituality, then I read from Glossolalia. Then I talked about where my current interests are (grief, messianism). I showed some slides and talked a bit about the installations I did at Lab Cab, Performance Creation Canadian Conference, and Initiation Trilogy. I spoke a bit about how I want to grow as an artist and how all the things previously mentioned have led me to my nascent project, which I also spoke a bit about.

There were about 45-50 people in the audience, about half affiliated with the CSRS, a few past students (such a treat!), and a swath of faces I didn't recognize. The questions that were asked were smart (some smarter than I could answer intelligently), but everyone was kind and generous.

I find it hard to tell if things like this go well. I think it did, and I hope for everyone in the lecture hall felt the same way.

15 January 2014


This is a picture of my desk at the Centre this morning. I've just returned from Coffee Talk (Nazis in film, banality of evil, colonialism, Wag the Dog, Downton Abbey, amongst other subjects today) and have to buckle down, git'er done. I'm doing my talk The Voice in Your Head tomorrow afternoon (if you're in Victoria, please come!) and to be honest, I'm starting to freak out.

I haven't done much planning yet, and I need to. It's a big deal this talk. I'm to present for 40 minutes and then be open to questions from the audience for another ten minutes. If you read the description, I'm to be reading from and talking about the project I'm here to create. Unfortunately, I don't have much. I don't really have anything I feel comfortable reading from just yet. So now, I've got to figure out a Plan B.

I have ideas--read from Glossolalia, talk about the creative process--and these sounded/felt good until this morning, when the panic set in. I like to do readings. I'm comfortable and confident reading from my work, especially Glossolalia, but this isn't to be a normal reading and the crowd is used to academic presentations. I feel like a failure for not having the work I had hoped to have done.

Okay, enough procrastination. Send good vibes my way. I'm off to figure this beast out.

9 January 2014

On Reading: Stag's Leap, part four

The most compelling poem in the short section "Spring" is "To Our Miscarried One, Age Thirty Now." Largely, I find this compelling because I am drawn to poems about loss, especially the loss of a child. Part morbid fascination, part research, and part because I've been writing about this subject myself.

What I most appreciate about this poem is the tone--not sentimental, yet full of feeling; visceral without being macabre.

The poem is layered with loss. Obviously, the poet is ruminating on her miscarried son, and, being in a collection about her divorce, she weighs these losses against each other ("That he left me is not much, compared/to your leaving the earth…") but she also considers her own mortality.

The exploration of her own mortality was the most interesting to me, as she is reflecting on her lost son in what appears to be a new way to her:
…And yet
the idea of you has come back to where
I could see you today as a small,impromptu
god of the partial.

She imagines upon her own death, he will be there waiting for her her and asks,
When I leave for good,
would you hold me in your blue mitt
for the departure hence.

She desires to be cradled by this son she never knew, a son (who may not have been a son at all) who she never cradled, but who
…moved house, from uterus
to toilet bowl and jointed stem
and swear out to float the rivers and
bays in painless pieces.

She ends the poem:
I never thought
to see you again, I never thought to seek you.

What I find interesting in this, is she does not write "I never thought I would see you…" but "I never thought to see you" which sounds a little more awkward only because we are used to reading/hearing the former. In the way she has written it, she is clearly enforcing that she is conjuring her son. She will never see him again, but in creating this fantasy of him bringing her to the afterlife, in remembering his loss thirty years earlier, she finds a comfort. She had "never thought to seek" him, but does so now, in the wake of divorce. This seeing, this seeking is not a mourning of potential--of what or who the son would have, could have been--but a sense of perspective and, more importantly, a celebration of the essence of what he is now--a creation of her, of her imagination, of her creativity.

8 January 2014

On Reading: Stag's Leap, part three

The penultimate poem of the "Winter" section is "The Easel." Other than "Not Going to Him" and "Pain I Did Not" I wasn't really taken with the poems in this section on first read. I decided to revisit the section before moving on to see what I may have missed. When I did, "The Easel" stood out.

On the surface, the poem deals with tropes I'm not excited by: the destruction of an ex's property, choosing art over family/love. I sped through reading this one the first time, but I'm glad that I returned to it.

Yes, the speaker is dismantling and then burning her ex-husband's easel. But of course, the easel is more than an easel. Once she has set it alight, "by the flame-light" she realizes that this easel is more than just something he once owned, but something that was integral to their early life together:
...all told, maybe
weeks, a month of stillness--modeling
for him, our first years together,

That honeymoon year, a month in hours of when she was his object.

Olds is famous for mining her family's life for her art. Her poetry is unabashedly autobiographical, confessional. When she writes:
… I am burning his left-behind craft,
he who was the first to turn
our family, naked, into art.
I cannot help but read this as an accusation, or perhaps a defence of her own choices. Ending the line on "to turn" is important, a signal to the subtext of the phrase.

The final seven lines explores the question whether or not she would have not pursued her craft if it meant he would never leave her. Upon first read, it feels a little trite, a little too predictable to me:
… --what would I
have said? I didn't even have an art,
it would come from out of our family's life--
what could I have said: nothing will stop me.

The last line feels a tad rah-rah-sisterhood, rah-rah-artist. But, there is more to it than that. Do we read that his abandoned craft is analogous to hers? That the abandonment of his craft didn't save their marriage any more than if she would have? Or do we read it that, ultimately, this is what she wanted? That she wouldn't go back in time give up her art because not only did the last thirty years of marriage give her great fodder for great art, but this moment, this divorce is also the case?

She's not saying she would chose art over love. She chose art because of love and both were inevitable.

In the poem, she is sacrificing (burning on a pyre) his lost art, while she is creating her own art out of it. In the first-half of the poem she writes
… And laying its
narrow, polished, maple angles
across the kindling, proving for updraft--
good. …

She is conscious here, lays the groundwork for the rest of the poem: her art is fed off of his, even in its absence, even (more so) in its distraction. Good, indeed.