Monday, July 7, 2008

Capacious Project - Brenda Schmidt

In the book Handbags: The Power of the Purse, Anna Johnson says "Marked with life, stuffed to the gills, saved for, bruised, cherished like a child, a good bag becomes an intimate extension of the body." She says that the "cleft between respectable exterior and intensely private interior is what gives the handbag such erotic and transgressive charge. It is perhaps a woman’s last secret place."

There are many distinct forms that purses take - the handbag, reticule, chatelaine, pocketbook, grip, clutch, carpetbag, satchel. There are work bags, evening bags, book bags. Bags have figured prominently in works of literature and movies. Johnson describes the Beckett play Happy Days: "a woman’s whole life is (quite literally) contained within her bag; for Winnie, who’s buried up to her armpits in a mound of dirt, her handbag is her past and her only present – the sole prop to get her through the day." And who can forget Anna Karenina tossing her red velvet handbag onto the tracks?

There has been a fascination with artist’s and writer’s workspaces – one can find pools of photos on flickr and books of photographs as well. But I’m interested in what we carry. How we carry. To paraphrase Anna Johnson, the purse has been seen as an honest time capsule, an archive, a little house, a portable boudoir. What do you take away with you in your hold-all? Is it flimsy, sturdy, practical, frivolous? What secrets does it contain?

This is the first in a series, in which I ask writers to creatively engage with these questions. Responses may take the form of a list (made up or real, mischievous or serious), a snapshot, a poem, a story, an impression, a rant, a rhapsody, a drawing. I was very pleased when Brenda Schmidt enthusiastically agreed to participate in this project and delighted with her response. Enjoy!


Brenda Schmidt lives in Creighton, a mining town in northern Saskatchewan. Her third collection of poetry, Cantos from Wolverine Creek, was published by Hagios Press in 2008.

Most bags look silly on me. They get in the way of who I am. People who know me best shake their heads when they see a bag on my shoulder. I never thought I'd see you with a purse, they say. It's not a purse, I snap back, it's a bag. I hate the word purse. Whenever I hear it I instantly picture lips, the kind of lips that make me wonder what's going on, what's going to happen next. Purse makes me anxious. A bag, on the other hand, is easy going. Down to earth. Relaxed. I carry a bag only when I enter an urban environment. There I feel out of place and contained, so carrying a container seems appropriate. It contains my excitement, my fear; it clutches my memories. It has to be sturdy.

Every one of my six bags was purchased just prior to a big occasion. It’s then that sturdiness becomes an issue. I bought the latest one in Regina this spring on the day of my book launch. It's big. The label said it's a chest. I placed my book inside and off I went.