Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Cabin of One's Own

We're heading to Jasper next week for a few days and I'm looking forward to hanging out in a cabin, not necessarily this one. Once the dog has been walked and the child and husband have been sent off to the pool, the afternoons will be mine. The cheap wine has been selected, the pomegranate liqueur ditto. The books are stacked. I just have to print off the work in progress to tinker with and I'm pretty much set. I don't have a laptop, though when this baby dies (it's in its death throes as we speak), I'll have to get one. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to four days without computers. No email, no facebook, no google. Just a sheaf of paper, a clutch of my favourite pens (Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen, superfine in sepia), and a few good notebooks. I'm fond of my big Mead Grad Recycled notebook. I'll throw in a Moleskine or two for doodling. There are so many great notebooks out there these days, and even blogs on notebooks. Have you seen the blog, Notebookism? There's also Moleskinerie for the Moleskine addict. I love the paperblanks journals, but in general they're too fancy for the nonsense I scribble about.

A friend asked what poetry I'm reading right now and what I'm taking along. I'm not reading quite as much poetry as I'm used to mainly because I'm not currently writing poetry. I have the new Tim Lilburn. I've skimmed it and it looks amazing, but this one will require a long sit down and repeated readings. You can read what Lemon Hound says about it here. Another book I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into is Do Not Awaken Them with Hammers by Lidija Dimkovska, Ugly Duckling Presse, Eastern European Poets Series. Not only is the book itself a beautiful object, but at first run through, the poems are full of surprising images, and just generally kick up some dust. From, "Bouillon Cube": "Loneliness is like a bouillon cube for a single plate of soup. / It dissolves easily but doesn't disappear. / It swims in your spoon like diluted acid / and collects from around your soul / the leftovers of the so-called dinner for two..." Or, from "Budapest": "Had you not set out to conquer the void / between the balcony and Budapest / I wouldn't have left you with one ear, / I wouldn't have held you in a total derangement of nerves."
Two more beautiful books by Souvankham Thammavongsa, Small Arguments and Found, have been recent splurges. These are by Pedlar Press. I'm kicking myself for not picking up Daphne Marlatt's new book yesterday when I was in a book store, especially after reading the review of it in today's Globe and Mail.

The other books I'm packing are the usual friends. Woolf, Gunnars, Brossard, Cixous, Smart, Lispector, Ondaatje. And I've finally got my hands on a copy of Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson. Can't believe it took me so long to realize I needed it.

If you're starting to wonder how much room there will be in the suitcase for clothes, so am I.....

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Book with Wings

Book with Wings, 1992–94
Lead, tin, and steel
74 3/4 x 208 5/8 x 43 3/8 inches (189.9 x 529.9 x 110.2 cm)

This image of Anselm Kiefer's sculpture, Book with Wings, has gotten into my head in the same way that a song or refrain will. I'm tempted to buy the book that went along with the show, (now past) Heaven and Earth. There's something beautiful and awful and sad and majestic all at once, this book with wings, flying nowhere. The viewer is transported nevertheless. It's an image I don't mind having rattling around in my head for a while.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Power of the Unfinished

"I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen; for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied; another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole is implied."

"It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished."

(Louise Gluck, from Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry)

(Image: Nike Adjusting Her Sandal, from the Acropolis Museum, Athens)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Heterochromia Iridis

What do I have in common with Dan Akroyd, Kate Bosworth, Jane Seymour and Alexander the Great? Heterochromia. When a person has two different coloured eyes this is Heterochromia Iridium and when there are a variety of colours within one iris (me, above) then this is Heterochromia Iridis. The "character" in the creative non-fiction piece I'm writing has the latter distinction, hmmm, just like me. Scrolling around the web here and there, I've found interesting lists of famous people with heterochromia. (Once you start using the word it's a bit addictive...) There are also places (flickr) where you can upload photos of your eyes, groups that you can subscribe to, and groups that you could subscribe to but only if you have Heterochromia Iridium, and not Heterochromia Iridis. Heterochromia has even inspired "eye-catching palettes." Then again, the Nazis and Mengele conducted experiments and exterminated people, including children, with Heterochromia.

As a kid, I remember when people did notice, which they often didn't, they'd ask daft questions. The most common being, did you know your eyes don't match? Uhhh, yah. Then, are you a witch, or a cat? Yes, I would say, I'm both a witch and a cat. And then, do you see things differently, in different colours? Sure, I do.... I haven't run into too many people who don't think it's kind of neat. As an adult, I get this question a lot: what do you put on your driver's license as your eye colour?

What I'd like to do is start a list of literary characters with Heterochromia. More research is needed on that one - I haven't found a handy index anywhere yet. I'll keep looking. The only one that comes immediately to mind is the woman in the painting in Richler's Solomon Gursky was Here. (But don't quote me on that - it's been a long time since I've read it and I don't have a copy on hand). I know there must be many more.....and there must be authors too. Know any? Feel free to leave a note in the comments.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Capacious Friday - Beads of a Feather

This silk handbag is called "Bedazzled in Red" and is designed by Radhika. I love the Novica website - the fact that you get to know a little bit about the person who made and designed the piece. Three of my favourite things in one handbag - beads, sequins and red silk. Oh, and the gold tassels are sweet too.

More beads. This one is also from the Novica site: "The News is Hot" by Francis Oliveira. Here's the description: This colorful shoulder bag carries an ecological message as Francis Oliveira recycles magazines to create the bright beads. She joins the handmade beads to form a novel handbag. Fully lined, it features glass bead trim and macramé on the shoulder strap.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Library Links

A couple of examples of the libraries posted on Curious Expeditions compendium of beautiful libraries. The above picture is from Hereford Cathedral Chained Library, Hereford, England. The first image is the Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

This is the fairytale section from the Ann Arbor District Library, Fifth Avenue. It reminds me of the book The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I hadn't read it as a child but found it after reading Lawrence Weschler's book, Vermeer in Bosnia. In it there is the transcript of a radio program with Ira Glass, called This American Life. (It also appeared in Brick magazine at some point). Weschler and his eleven year old daughter Sara talk about an exchange of letters - her dad writes tiny letters to her from the borrowers, and she believes in them. It's about a "breach of trust without meaning to." It's a very moving piece about the magic of childhood and belief and trust.

The interesting thing about the fairy tale book section in the Ann Arbor library, is that the fairy business doesn't stop there. If you follow some links you'll see that the whole town has hidden these fairy doors in plain sight all over town. It's a tourist attraction I guess, but I think it says something about the adult belief in magic too.

I thought some of my friends at the Riverbend Branch of the Edmonton Public Library where I used to work might enjoy this post...I miss you guys!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

For Interruptions There Will Always Be

I wrote a review for the Edmonton Journal some time ago now of a book called, Between Interruptions : Thirty women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, edited by Cori Howard. Here is an excerpt from that review (I won't bore you with the whole thing):

There is a line from Virginia Woolf that my writer friends and I have bandied about over the years. Sometimes it appears in the middle of an abandoned email, and once in a while it composes the email in its entirety. The line is, “For interruptions there will always be.”

The interruptions, as well as the questions that Woolf asked in Room of One’s Own still persist, and have also evolved. Woolf suggested that the different needs of women be “discussed and discovered.” This is precisely what occurs in Between Interruptions, an impeccably edited book that gets it right in so many important ways. There is a wonderful diversity here – the stories explore a wide variety of situations, the contributors reflect a decent cross-section of the mothering population. If there is a fault to find in the selection of these essays, it’s for someone else to find. For myself, I was too busy admiring the fearlessness of every single one of these thirty contributors.

The honest revelations about motherhood in this book are, in my sleep-deprived, pulled-in-all-directions experience, ridiculously rare. When the message is that women can have it all (though I know better, this blinks away on a neon sign in my mind), it’s no wonder we end up fictionalising our experience of motherhood, and sanitizing the behaviour of our children. The truth is that it takes an enormous amount of courage, creativity, and energy, along with a healthy amount of uncertainty, to live well, and to love our beautiful, perfectly imperfect children. And what happens in this process to women is not often enough discussed or discovered.

So, yes, I did like the book, and have noticed that there are a couple of interesting books along the same theme, give or take, coming out. Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood (McGill-Queen's UP) edited by Cathy Stonehouse and Nobody's Mother: Life without Kids (TouchWood Editions) edited by Lynne Van Luven. This is the catalogue copy on the latter: "Statistics say that one in 10 women has no intention of taking the plunge into motherhood. Nobody's Mother is a collection of stories by women who have already made this choice. From introspective to humorous to rabble-rousing, these are personal stories that are well and honestly told. The writers range in age from early 30s to mid-70s and come from diverse backgrounds. All have thought long and hard about the role of motherhood, their own destinies, what mothering means in our society and what their choice means to them as individuals and as members of their ethnic communities or social groups."

I'm pleased to see that the different needs of women are being examined and that they're telling their stories. It's all about having choices, feeling one has choices, whether it's to choose when, or how, or even not to have a child. When I first had my daughter (not even 10 years ago) it was difficult to find such books. I read Blue Jay's Dance by Louise Erdrich
and was ecstatic to find a book on being a poet and a mother: The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood with a foreword by Rachel Blau DuPlessis. Before that I had read an Alice Walker essay about having one child, "One Child of One's Own". (I haven't yet read Walker's daughter's book about being that child). I remember making little lists in my head of women writers who I knew had children: Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Kristjana Gunnars, Elizabeth Smart, Clarice Lispector etc etc. It could be done. But in the foreword to The Grand Permission, DuPlessis quotes from Tillie Olsen's book Silences from the 1970s, noting that "the 'childless' list is exceedingly impressive: Woolf, for example, Stein, Richardson, Barnes, Nin, Hurston, Wharton, Mansfield, O'Connor." She points out that "motherhood and writing did not historically seem to go together."

A lot has happened since Silences, which is still extremely instructive to read. But there's still a lot to add to the discussion on motherhood and writing. Kim Echlin's absolute gem of a book
Elizabeth Smart: A Fugue Essay on Women and Creativity has a chapter titled "The Mother Voice." In it, she says, "Mother's diaries are still a mostly unexplored genre of journal writing. I think of the immense detail of Virginia Woolf's journals recording her intellectual and social life, and of Anais Nin's voluminous diaries detailing her psychological world. Elizabeth did not keep them, though she kept detailed records about certain other parts of her life." She also says that "The book Elizabeth could never complete was something called her 'mother book'." (See rob mclennan's blog on the Smart book where he also mentions Between Interruptions).

I keep thinking about women and creativity, and the particular obstacles that women face when writing. I don't get far enough past the mulling stage most days, always between the interruptions. But I thought it would be worth something just to point towards these books. I think I would have liked to have had a sort of list, a beginning of a list anyway, like the above books to start with that year I birthed both a baby and a book.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Capacious Friday - Follow Your Bliss

This one is by designer Laura Victore - I found it here. I have a thing for fortune cookies, also the Joseph Campbell line, "follow your bliss," and I love what she has to say about her design:

During Laura Victore’s senior year at the School of Visual Arts in NY she was involved in a portfolio class wherein all projects were focused around one central these– her thesis was “Gift.” Throughout the year she became fascinated with the idea of gifts and giving, and did research into the history of gift-giving in different cultures. During her studies she became interested with the idea of the fortune cookie. “It has a sublime simplicity of design, and more importantly a wonderful sense of surprise that comes with the ritual opening of them after a nice meal. The cookie is a gift. You don’t pay for it. And then, once you open the tiny package, you receive a forecast or positive message, and then you instantly want to share your fortune with everyone around you.” The results? She made these beautiful suede leather small fortune coin purses which comes with 3 different fortunes to choose from: All things are possible, everything is going to be alright and of course, follow your bliss.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More Colour

I'm fixated on colour lately. Wouldn't this be a great show to see? It's called "Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today" and is at the MOMA in New York. The above painting is "Colors for a Large Wall," by Ellsworth Kelly, 1951. It's not the same as seeing it in person, but fun to scroll through the paintings online.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Craving for Colour in the Long Preamble to Spring

There is a huge longing for the green of spring in this house which we assuaged a little on the weekend by taking photos (me) and making paper flowers (the child). I thought I'd share the colour therapy.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Theologically Speaking

Michael McCarthy grew up on a farm in West Cork, Ireland. His first poetry collection Birds' Nests and Other Poems won the Patrick Kavanagh Award. His children's books have been translated into seventeen languages. He works as a priest in North Yorkshire.

We met in the poetry section of the bookstore I worked at when Michael was on sabbatical in Edmonton. We've corresponded ever since. I was delighted to find a package in my mailbox last week containing a perfectly red, small book by Michael called Cold Hill Pond published by Smith/Doorstop Books. One good turn deserves another, so I thought I'd post a poem from the book here.

Theologically Speaking

i.m. Tess Carr 1921-2003

The Church: there beside the lake
hunchbacked against the wind
since eighteen-fifty-four.

In the background
Cardinal Wiseman's cedar
growing taller every year.

Close by: the grass cut
the undergrowth cleared away
the small wooden cross now obvious.

'Who's burried here?' I ask.
'Bernadette', she says.
My eyebrows puzzle;
'The cat'.

Realising this wasn't
your average cat I hesitantly suggest,
'it's not a matter of being small-minded
or anything, but theologically speaking
Jesus didn't die for cats.
Could the grave be marked say by a shrub?'

Over a medium-sized pause
my suggestion is dismissed.

'She did enough for this Church.
Everybody loved that cat.'

Theology would have to please itself.
May Bernadette have eternal rest.

- by Michael McCarthy