Monday, June 29, 2009


An essay titled, "Try" that I wrote for a book history class I took from Ted Bishop during my MA has been published in rob mclennan's Garneau Review. It's a great issue, full of Edmonton favourites - Alice Major, Catherine Owen, Jenna Butler, Lainna Lane, Douglas Barbour, Trisia Eddy, Christine Stewart, and Paul Pearson.

Red Velvet Forest Launch

Please join me on Tuesday, June 30 (7:30 pm - Audreys Books, Edmonton) for the launch of my book of poetry, RED VELVET FOREST. We shall take a walk through a particular reddish, darkening forest, while sipping pomegranate liqueur and leaving a small trail of red velvet cupcake crumbs....

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Blogging and the Creative Process - A Short Interview with Michael Bruce Adams

Michael Bruce Adams has written or co-written 23 feature length screenplays. His body of work also includes short film scripts, television series templates, and technical articles on screenwriting and filmmaking. He is a sought after Script Consultant and Story Editor with clients in the US, Canada, Africa and Europe. Michael is currently writing and directing the feature length documentary, “Kulka: The Final Round”.

His produced writing credits include the feature film “Reach For Me”, (Best Feature and Best of Festival, Lake Arrowhead Film Festival), produced in 2008, and as Story Editor for the feature film “A Shine of Rainbows”, produced in 2008, and Script Consultant for the television movie “Taken in Broad Daylight”, also produced in 2008.

After studying Biomechanics and Psychology at the University of British Columbia, Michael sacrificed a career in Advertising to follow his passion; screenwriting. To build a practical foundation for his craft, Michael immersed himself in the study of story theory and structure, and their application to screenwriting, an education he considers an ongoing commitment.
To gain practical filmmaking experience, Michael joined the production side of the industry in 1994, first as a Production Assistant and Assistant Director, then as an Assistant Cameraman, where he had the honor of working with acclaimed cinematographers such as, Dean Semler, Mikael Salomon, Maryse Alberti, Peter Menzies Jr. and Bill Roe, and directors John Mctiernan, John Curran, Phillip Noyce and Martin Campbell.

The invaluable ‘on-set’ filmmaking experience he gained on over 120 film and television productions including; “Dark Angel”, “The ‘L’ Word”, “Elektra”, “I Spy”, “Beyond Borders”, “Walking Tall”, “The Thirteenth Warrior”, and “Miracle”, allows Michael to contribute to projects not only as a writer offering imaginative solutions to creative challenges, but as a practical collaborator with years of production experience.

Michael remains active in the technical side of the industry by publishing technical articles on screenwriting and filmmaking (; Your First Draft: Breaking Free of Structure Paradigms, Getting Started as a Screenwriter, and Notes on a Year as a Working Screenwriter, Canadian Society of Cinematographer News, Feb. 2008; Painting in the Dark: The Rebellious Adolescence of Digital Cinematography).

Michael Bruce Adams’ blog on the making of the feature length documentary “Kulka: The Final Round” is called Glenn Kulka Documentary Journal.

SL: Can you talk about the ways in which the blog has affected your process in the making of your current film?

MA: I can tell you unquestionably that the blog affects the creative process for “Kulka: The Final Round” in wonderful ways; it allows me to explore ideas ‘on paper’ before shaping them on film, it allows me to experience the emotional affect of certain subjects prior to shooting, it allows me to tie in experiences and ideas that I may not, on the outset, have naturally included in the film, and most importantly, the blog allows me to express ideas and opinions that I know do not have a place in the film itself.

As creative people, we often battle an urge to over-do. We over-write scenes and dialog, we make huge statements in the execution of our craft that can sometimes overshadow our themes… we self indulge. The blog allows me to exercise those urges in a format that is cathartic, and that means I won’t be tempted to try and force those ideas into the film. This is especially important for a documentary film where the goal is to let the subject and the story reveal themselves organically.

SL: When you mentioned that using the blog has suggested ideas that you might not otherwise have pursued, it reminded me to browse through a book that I think you’ve also read – The Conversations: Walter Murch and the art of Editing Film where Murch is interviewed by Michael Ondaatje. He talks about developing a ‘photo-board system’ and finding ‘provocative’ visual juxtapositions and he also says that “there’s an incredible richness that comes from the unanticipated collisions of things.” Can you describe any particular collisions that have come out of your process of using the blog so far? Would you compare the blog to Murch’s system?

MA: Murch’s ‘photo-board system’ has had a huge influence on all my writing. Even when doing dramatic screenwriting I will storyboard or photograph images that inspire a scene or a theme or a character, almost to the point where I will create an image outline for a film. You can still use this process with documentary filmmaking though in a much more reactionary way. The blog is a natural extension of this process.

Let’s say you go into a documentary having done extensive research on your subject and your subject’s world, you’re going to have a certain set of images, sounds and words that inform you as the filmmaker in regards to the story you are trying to tell and the way you are thinking of telling it. Yes, it’s a documentary and yes, you are creating a set of preconceived notions about the film and yes, those things aren’t supposed to work together… but we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have some idea of what we are after as storytellers.

The real gold in documentary work is when your subject takes your preconceived notions, flips them upside down and slams them back in your face. The blog becomes your emotional and reactionary outlet when this happens, and as a result, it becomes the template for organizing concepts and ideas when the shooting is done. So in a sense, the blog becomes the emotional imagery building blocks of Murch’s ‘photo-board system’.

SL: In the same book, Murch talks about how when he writes he lies down and when he edits he stands up. One of the things I’m very interested in is the relationship between word and picture, image and text and those tensions that occur between them. How do you navigate the various roles that you’ve taken on to make this documentary? What strategies have you developed to explore that tension between word and picture? Is the blog part of that preliminary exploration?

MA: This is a great question because I had always hoped that I would have enough money to hire a great Director of Photography for the shoot, but I ended up having to shoot almost all of it myself. Without realizing it, this dilemma has created a ton of creative tension in me, most of it positive and useful. It forced me to be always conscious of tension in the frame as opposed to finding the ‘most beautiful’ image, which I do not have the skills to find anyway!

One of the concepts that I have always envisioned for the documentary is to constantly layer images and sound, and as much as possible, offer conflicting and confrontational pieces within any given moment, I feel the subject matter in this case demands it. This has provided a conscious motivation to create tension on screen between layers whether they are word, image or multiple layers of each… or sometimes the absence of one or the other.

The blog entry I have received the most feedback about is hands-down the one from March 29, 2009 entitled “Sunday Morning Comes the Dawn”. This is the only blog entry I posted without an image supporting it and this was a conscious choice because I wanted the reader to experience the post as they would a mystery novel, with the full powers of their imagination helping to create tension for me. So the absence of elements is always something I think about as well, black space, white space, silence and dissonance all play a massive role, in very subtle ways, to create tension for the audience.

The blog helps reinforce those concepts by challenging the blogger to maintain interest using only the tools and palette they choose to work with. My blog is quite simple; words and still images, but I’m trying to combine them in different ways to see what impact each has; images that juxtapose or complement, narrative in first or third person, bad writing with ridiculous, indulgent description, and hopefully some good writing with carefully crafted sentences.

SL: There’s always an excess that one is left with at the end of creating a work of art. The blog can be a way of documenting that excess too. One of my favourite writers, Helene Cixous, has said about notebooks (which share some things with blogs), that “it’s rare for someone to manage to keep within the narrative the spontaneous, frothy quality of the notebooks and diaries.” I think blogs can convey a rawness, a frothy quality, that can be useful to my creative process. But I also keep a notebook which is indispensable to my process. What other tools have you used besides the blog?

MA: Film is all about excess! Documentary in particular breeds excessive capture; hours and hours of footage, thousands of stills, hundreds of songs and sounds… the real work is to sculpt and edit these excesses down to an essential, visceral story. Obviously with all that material it’s easy to get sidetracked so most of the tools I am developing are about organizing and flagging all that stuff. The primary tool for me is the typed transcripts I am doing of all the interviews and descriptions of images for all the footage. All these go into a binder that I have organized into a rough outline. To this I add screen grabs of key images and storyboards of things I need to find or create. Then I highlight the key bits of dialog I really want to use, add music cues, etc. What I end up with is a visual script of the film, with all the resources at my fingertips. Mind you this is all definitely moving away from “frothy” and fully into a right brain world!

I guess when I am doing dramatic (fiction) stuff my favorite tool is the short story… and these are fully frothy! I’m not so much interested in journals or personally driven blogging when I’m doing dramatic stuff because I like to keep myself in the world of my characters. A journal drives me back into my own reality, my physical restrictions, right brain responsibilities.

Short stories allow me to work out challenges with characters or a story by using the other world and imaginative powers of my characters… it’s extremely liberating! I just give the challenge over to my characters to solve and write out how they deal with it in a story. Eventually the characters will find a solution, and in the process I gain new insights into the characters' psyches. Of course, you need to have developed your characters and done your research to be able to do this… but to me, you can’t get to the truth of your story and your characters until you’ve done your homework anyway.

SL: The blog enriches the creative process in many ways, but would you say that there are any dangers or risks to blogging? Have you ever felt that maybe you revealed too much, or worked with certain elements too early in the creative process?

MA: I’m not too worried about over extending in a blog. The danger for me is switching back and forth from right brain work to left brain work. If you are blogging as a marketing obligation, you will constantly be fighting the responsibility, the demand on your time, the draw into your own reality that posting represents. If you can find a way to use the blog as an enhancement of your creative process, or at least be aware of when the blog is interfering with your creativity, I think you can find a balance.

I think the other danger of blogging would be making public declarations that aren’t eventually backed up. Again, when we are marketing, we tend to stretch and bend and declare in order to create interest. It is my personal belief that if we choose to communicate publicly then we have a responsibility to maintain personal integrity… a blog is a piece of art and should be handled with that kind of care, that kind of truth. Take a look at what’s happening on things like Twitter right now… not much truth and integrity being tweeted right now, mostly just a bunch of self serving garbage… in my humble opinion.

SL: What will happen to the blog when all is said and done? Will you allow it to stand, to remain in cyberspace after you’ve finished the project? I’m thinking also of practical concerns – is the blog useful as a form of publicity? Will you refer to it at a later stage of your creative process?

MA: I think for “Kulka: The Final Round” the blog will remain as a document in some form. We will certainly use it as another product for marketing, but understanding that a blog on its own is not a fantastic marketing tool. The blog is excellent for marketing certain aspects of the film like the depth of the material, the care with which it is handled, so we will certainly direct people to it. But we have to be respectful and understand that not everybody has time to read pages and pages of material just because we ask them to… better perhaps if we can direct people to specific posts within the blog, and if they are interested in reading on… wonderful. It comes down to energy cost benefits; if you could spend all your time making a fantastic blog that everyone would want to subscribe to… number one, you wouldn’t have any time to work on the project you’re hyping… number two, you’d be better off making a full-on website.

I think the real value of a blog is very similar to a journal, except that with the electronic access today’s technology provides, the traffic we can drive to a blog mind blowing. But like a journal, a blog’s greatest value is in the fact that you are, with some regularity, communicating; taking time to record thoughts, fears and dreams for others to see.

It is the process of becoming vulnerable, and nothing could be more important, because vulnerability and trust… are the key elements of hope.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blogging and the Creative Process - A short interview with Ariel Gordon



(All photos - Ariel Gordon)

Ariel Gordon is the Winnipeg-based author of three recent small press poetry chapbooks. She is a regular contributor to the Winnipeg Free Press' books section and, each September, is Blogger-in-Chief of HOT AIR, the official blog of THIN AIR (i.e. the Winnipeg International Writers Festival). Her first full collection of poetry is slated for publication with Palimpsest Press in spring 2010. When not being bookish, Ariel likes tromping through the woods and taking macro photographs of mushrooms.

Capacious Hold-All: Can you talk about the ways in which your blog has affected your creative (writing/painting/photography) process?

Ariel Gordon: Posting first/second draft poems on my blog has become a part of my process. Which is not to say that every poem I write goes up on the blog, but I see it as another way of saying “this is what I’m doing/thinking/feeling.” A few months after starting my own blog in 2005, a friend and I started a group blog called the May Day Poetry Project. Participating poets commit to a writing and posting schedule over the month of May and, although it isn’t required of them, comment on each other’s work. It’s a fleeting but immensely satisfying community but is getting almost overwhelming in terms of the number of poets. This past year we had fourteen poets take part, which meant writing my own poems but also reading - and thinking critically on - five or six other poems a day. I will admit that I don’t get the same kind of feedback on the poems I post to my blog on a day-to-day basis as I do when May Day-ing, but I can’t seem to break the habit. Or maybe it’s that May Day reinforces my thinking around the posting of first drafts…

In terms of my photography, I don’t think I would have pursued it so doggedly if I hadn’t had a forum like the Jane Day Reader on which to post pictures. It was important to “do something” with the photos - beyond shooting/processing/saving them to my hard drive – in the same way that it’s important to publish poems here and there: to be in dialogue with other people via the work.In terms of the ways that the photos and poems have cross-pollinated each other, I’ve often wistfully thought that I should write a series of poems to “go” with the photos but have come to the conclusion that they’re separate processes. I’ve said what I need to say with the photos already, so writing poems to them feels extraneous.

But when I’m at a scheduled writing retreat or out-of-town workshop and find myself unable to likewise schedule a spurt of writing, I will often pick up my camera and go see what’s under the trees. (And work editing the material I brought with me and read, of course...)

But if I’m shooting, I somehow don’t feel like I’m wasting my time.Sometimes I’m able to do both. And then I feel full nearly to bursting with satisfaction. Ripe, even…

CH: Has blogging suggested ideas that you might not otherwise have pursued?

AG: Not that I’m aware of, but I think it would be hateful if I was able to trace all my fragmentary thoughts/ideas/feelings back to a source. I’m too self-conscious of process as it is…

Blogging has given other people ideas about me that were useful, in that they considered me for opportunities that they might not have otherwise…For instance, when I proposed to THIN AIR, The Winnipeg International Writers Festival that they should do a blog and that I should be Blogger-in-Chief of said blog, all I had to do, in terms of establishing my credentials, was provide them with a link to my site.

HOT AIR was pretty overwhelming: this past year, between myself and the four other contributors, we were responsible for 125 posts in little over a week. To make matters better/worse, I decided to I use a few more bells and whistles on HOT AIR than on my own blog: a flicker stream, group twittering, posting photos from my phone, doing a time-lapse video of opening night, etc., etc. But it was good to stretch my tech-muscles, to talk to other writers and have a good excuse to attend as much of the festival as possible.

Another possibility suggested by blogging is that I’m thinking on doing a print May Day anthology at some point…I think it would be interesting to try to translate my administrator role on that blog into that of an editor.

CH: One of the things I’m very interested in is the relationship between word and picture, image and text, and those tensions that occur between them. How do you see this playing out on your blog?

AG: I’m one of those uppity words people that has ideas about what things should look like but no skills with which to make those ideas flesh. So having a blog (and limited HTML coding ability) has allowed me to play with visuals a bit. I can change the template as often as it seems needful, I can include all kinds of images in individual posts, I can change the spacing of the posts themselves, all of which is very fiddly and very satisfying, when it works.

It occurs to me too that playing with the look of the blog is much like playing with the look of a poem on the page. All of that said, I’m vaguely suspicious of images. They’re too easy, too direct versus the imaginative leaps of images-in-text.

CH: The blog enriches the creative process in many ways, but would you say that there are any dangers or risks to blogging? Have you ever felt that maybe you revealed too much, or worked with certain elements too early in the creative process?

AG: Like most teenagers getting naked for the first time, I don’t worry about the dangers. I mean, if someone is determined to steal my work, they can do it almost as easily from lit mags and/or books.The one time someone reprinted my work without permission, he credited me, so I found out. And after I enquired as what was going on, he got barraged with similar enquiries from other writers and subsequently stopped his mostly-well-meant (I think…) thievery.

I use my blog to connect with people, to engage around aspects of my writing life and specifically to share work-in-progress. And I’ve set up the blog to reflect those aims, posting reviews I’ve written and writing news and first drafts of poems.I’m conscious, when blogging, of posting a variety of material. I think a blog that was all early poems or all photographs or all braggart-y writing news would be extremely boring.

There’s also some crabby/reverent non-fiction and photos around extra-curricular activities like mushrooming but that’s what makes the blog tick. That’s what makes my blog MY blog.

But I will note that I set boundaries for myself when I reluctantly started blogging back in 2005. The blog is a ‘work’ space. That means that I don’t ‘journal’ on my blog about “how that wretched M is making me mad” or “how nobody appreciates my writing, boo hoo,” or, specifically, post photos of my daughter.

I’m not an especially private person, but I was really firm on that: there will be no pictures of my daughter. I suppose because that’s the holiest of holies when it comes to my private life but also, isn’t it enough that my first book is mostly pregnancy and mothering poems and the second, so far, mostly about parenting?

One benefit to blogging is that I have a presence on-line if an editor or fellow writer or someone who reads my work somewhere and wants to find out a bit more about me, quick.

Also, if I’m neglecting my writer friends, they can check the blog to see what’s up, even if it’s complaining (which is probably what I’d be doing if I were corresponding with them specifically…).(I had to create a tag called ‘complaining’ because I was kvetching so much…to clarify, given my previous comments on not journaling on the blog, it was mostly during periods when I was too busy to write or blog to any great extent and I briefly noted it on the blog.)

To sum: blogging has made me more fearless but also more certain of my boundaries.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blogging and the Creative Process - A Short Interview with Marita Dachsel

Marita Dachsel
Photograph by Sheryda Warrener

Capacious Hold-All: Can you talk about the ways in which your blog has affected your creative process?

Marita Dachsel: Before I had a writing blog, I had a mommy blog. I started it when my eldest was just a few weeks old and other than the odd poem it was the only writing I did for the first few (many) months of his life.
When my first book, All Things Said & Done, was published, I started what I had hoped to be a book blog. I posted the occasional bit of news--readings, reviews--but mostly it was ignored. Not long after my second child was born, I found I simply didn't have time to enjoy life with my children, be a mother, keep up my blog(s), and work on my own "real" writing. It was a no-brainer that blogging had to go.

I still read blogs, both the parenting and writing kinds. I've never been terribly active, more a lurking wallflower, but I missed being part of the community. In the fall of 2008, over a year since going on blogging-hiatus, I developed a reason to blog again. Merging my mothering-world and my writing-world, I began laying plans for my Motherhood and Writing Project--a series of interviews with writing-mamas.

I find this series invigorating. I'm constantly inspired by the women I interview. I'm connecting with people I wouldn't have had the chance to if it weren't for this project. I'm working on a brand-new top-secret project with Ariel Gordon, a fabulous poet and someone who is transforming from an online friend to a real friend. This would never have happened if it hadn't been for blogging. And because of the Motherhood and Writing project I've been asked to sit on a panel for a screening of the film Who Does She Think She Is?, a film about motherhood and creativity.

I don't think blogging itself has directly changed my creative process, but it has opened up opportunities for me. It has also made be reachable to strangers. For example, this past year my poem Mrs. Torrance was part of Vancouver's poetry-in-transit program. I've had people email via the blog to comment on the poem. This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been so accessible.

C: Has blogging suggested ideas that you might not otherwise have pursued?

M: I suppose I wouldn't have attempted my Motherhood and Writing Project if I hadn't had an existing blog begging to be filled. My guess is that blogging is like anything in life, you never know from where inspiration is going to come or to where ideas will go.

C: One of the things I’m very interested in is the relationship between word and picture, image and text, and those tensions that occur between them. How do you see this playing out on your blog?

M: The only pictures I have on mine are ones the interviewees send along to illustrate their interviews. Ideally they'll be representative of what mothering and writing looks like in their lives, but sometimes it's simply a headshot. I rarely post photos of my own. My mommy blog was all about photos of my life, they didn't need to seep into the writing one, too.

C: The blog enriches the creative process in many ways, but would you say that there are any dangers or risks to blogging? Have you ever felt that maybe you revealed too much, or worked with certain elements too early in the creative process?

M: I think there are many dangers. The first is, obviously, that any time spent on the blog could (and should?) be used creating. I would much rather write poetry than blog posts.

Another hazard is that if you're google-able, you will be found. My first book of poetry didn't get many reviews (whose does?), but in one of the few reviews I did get, the writer had obviously googled me, found my family blog, and spent a good portion of the review reviewing my life. Let me quote the opening paragraph: "Literary couples are odd couples, or so it's said. Vancouver's Marita Dachsel, author of this volume, may disprove the rule, given how exceptionally normal her marriage to Kevin Kerr appears. Their family website depicts costumed toddlers, grandma's Prince George backyard videos, and two married writers--serious, talented ones--acting halfway normal. Heartening odd, that. It's also cheering that said spouses are a poet and playwright, respectively; it shows mixed marriages can work."

Not surprisingly, it was soon after a receiving a copy of this review from my publisher that I slowed down on writing about my family.

My Motherhood and Writing Project is ideal for me because it's a finite time (2009), I don't spend much time on it (the interviewees do most of the work!), and it's on a set subject. I'm not sure what I'll do for 2010. I have a couple of ideas simmering, but I may simply do nothing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blogging and the Creative Process - A Short Interview with Brenda Schmidt

Spruce Grouse
Photograph by Brenda Schmidt

Capacious Hold-All: Can you talk about the ways in which your blog has affected your creative (writing/painting/ photography) process?

Brenda Schmidt: Living in a northern mining town in Saskatchewan has its advantages. Here I have the space and time to concentrate on my work. Thanks to the digital age, I cannot imagine living anywhere else. Gone is the craving for a writing community. Thanks largely to blogs, I am part of it. Gone is the-grass-is-so-much-greener-in-big-urban-centres fantasy. Thanks largely to blogs, I now know better. Once the craving and the fantasy began to subside, I felt so much lighter. This lightness has had a positive impact on my work. I set up my first blog, Alone on a Boreal Stage, in 2005 prior to the publication of my second book. I wanted to increase my visibility with the hope that my books would find more readers. However, I soon found myself worrying about other things. I wanted to entertain the reader of my blog just as I would if they were sitting at my table. I wanted to be a good host. To engage. To play. Play is vital to my creative process. Play means all kinds of things, as the OED points out, but here I'm thinking of play as free and unimpeded movement. In many ways, the blog feels like a canvas that can't be resolved. It keeps calling for another brisk stroke. A bit of light here. A warmer shadow over there.

C: One of the things I'm very interested in is the relationship between word and picture, image and text, and those tensions that occur between them. How do you see this playing out on your blog?

B: Over the years I've become increasingly interested in the appearance of each post and the blog as a(n expanding) whole. I focus on both its content and composition. On the weight of each word and image. On the juxtaposition of the post to the one below and the one that might follow and the overall tone. I treat the blog as I would any work-in-progress and revel in the interactive element and how it feeds the process. I now think of blogging as an emerging art. An art of emergence.

C: Has blogging suggested ideas that you might not otherwise have pursued?

Culvert Installations is one example of a project that I pursued because of blogging. The blog format allows me to go my own way. No exhibition proposals. No deadlines. No acceptances. No rejections. There is great freedom in that. So right now I'm pursuing my thinking with images. I suspect writing will follow. It usually does. Select Hops is another. It's a collaborative linked creative nonfiction project that Gerald Hill proposed last year. A project like this could be done privately by email or letter. However, the public nature of our exchange has a more conversational quality. It's as if we're sitting on coffee row, trading stories and trying to one-up each other. Writing a post for Select Hops usually leads to other writing, so it's a valuable process for me. The comments section on my blog is invaluable. Comments matter, whether playful or serious. Reciprocation matters. Playful banter elevates my mood and that in turn elevates my creativity. Some posts on Alone on a Boreal Stage have received comments with great reading suggestions. I'm grateful to those who have shown such generosity. Other posts have led to vigorous email exchanges. The suggestions and feedback have opened many doors and helped me and my work grow.

C: The blog enriches the creative process in many ways, but would you say that there are any dangers or risks to blogging? Have you ever felt that maybe you revealed too much, or worked with certain elements too early in the creative process?

B: I'm sure a quick google would yield countless articles on the general dangers of blogging and ways to avoid them, but I imagine the risks to the creative process vary a great deal. For me, there's nothing like the joy that accompanies a creative free fall. I've been enjoying that again more often of late. I've also been increasingly protective of my time. I've learned that the creative process needs to be protected as much as possible from outside interference. My blog allows me to both connect and disconnect at the same time. I can put stuff out in the world and walk away if I like. That's incredibly freeing. Normally I don't post new work to my blog unless it was written for blogging purposes. I have posted the odd new poem in the past and once received an email response with excellent editorial suggestions. For the most part, however, I don't post work or discuss my projects in any depth as I prefer to let them sit privately for a long time so they can take on whatever shape they take. And that's not what my blog is about. My blog really is a work-in-progress itself. I want to give it the same space and respect as I would any other project. I want it to grow into whatever it will be. We'll see where it goes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

An Instinct for Confidence in the World

I've talked before about how I came to Bachelard's The Poetics of Space after writing Calm Things. I've since been often drawn back to it, keep finding myself in this book. This past month I've watched a couple of nests, two very different nests, being formed in the utility corridor where I walk the dog. The photo above is a crow's nest. Seems a brilliant place to build. Solid metal tree, out of harm's way, though a bit noisy to be sure, right beside the highway. At first I thought that kids had formed the one below (they've built treehouses in the stand of trees at the other side of the field), and maybe they've had a hand in it. But one morning, earlier than usual, I saw a man arise, and grab his large bag, and walk out. We said hello to each other. I haven't seen him since. The pictures perhaps don't show how carefully trees have been arranged on one side into a lean-to type of affair. All through the strip of trees there, smaller trees have been pushed over and broken, so this was made without any tools of any sort.

What would Bachelard think of this kind of nest, home, abode, intimate space? He might be inspired to feel confidence in the world in examining the crow's nest. And the other?

"And so when we examine a nest, we place ourselves at the origin of confidence in the world, we receive a beginning of confidence, an urge toward cosmic confidence. Would a bird build its nest if it did not have its instinct for confidence in the world?"

Bachelard also says, "The nest is a lyrical bouqet of leaves. It participates in the peace of the vegetable world. It is a point in the atmosphere of happiness that always surrounds large trees."

There's something peaceful in this nest in the small stand of trees in the utility corridor, something lyrical in the arrangement of twigs and branches. I can imagine lying down on the gathered leaves in the corner of this large nest, in its cool and shade, and listening to the birdsong and traffic hum, the wind in the leaves above. To arrive at such a nest must always be a complicated process, though. And there's no doubt about its precariousness, its fragility, this small, ground level nest, so close to a busy highway. Is it abandoned now? Soon it will become overgrown with wild roses, difficult to access, the shopping cart forgotten. Or maybe kids will use it as a hide-out or fort for a while until they're too old for such things. They'll take the wood from it, and build a treehouse nearby, and this interim, make-shift home, will disappear in that way.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Capacious Project - Shawna Lemay

I would love at some point to collect and publish the Capacious Project. And add to it as well! But for now, I thought I'd post my own 'purse piece.' This was first published by The Society, the magazine out of St. Peter's College in Saskatchewan.

Do Not Overdo the Bag
To Pursue and Peruse the Purse

What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace any thing, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. - Virginia Woolf

The diary as a purse, a capacious hold-all. Or as a desk. Deskpurse. Let us not over think, not overdo, let us fling our odds and ends, let’s do it without looking them through, careful and nonchalant. The purse a diary, a place to stuff and zipper, still, those censoring angels. A test and a temptation, not unlike an accident – to spill the bag, to show contents, dwellings, the treasured scattered sprawl and patient sticky grunge of life. If I pour out what’s inside, give it a shake or two, and place the skin of it, the husk, the outwards of my inward, beside it, would you read the innards like a tea-leaf reader would? The guts and gizzards, the disruptive depths and darkness. My flingings and fonds. How to divine the accumulation, detritus, secrets, the stuff of circumstance with which we sally forth?

My pretty portable archive, my unconcealed weapon, my sturdy personal lost and found. Unafraid of theft, I sling my purse, I take it up rather than the sword, I arm myself, it clings to me, it swings from me. The purse, after all, takes flight, alights, is mightier than the sword. It’s in the bag, whether you call it belly, womb, paunch, vessel, gullet, black hole, nest, the heavy burden to the bruised portal of ourselves, our tranquil, intimate and far-off selves, we carry, relentlessly, courageously, absent-mindedly. Or maybe I’ll call it handbag, clutch, reticule, pouch, pocketbook, balantine, sac, postal bag, duffle, rucksack, messenger, grip. Workbag, evening bag, dance bag, saddlebag, Kelly bag, carpetbag. Backpack, chatelaine, baguette, hobo, satchel, petite portmanteau. Bracelet bag, lunchbox, boudoir bag, miser bag.

Is your bag a beauty factory? a shield? a companion? Does it transform, transport? How much power does your purse pack? Is it a status symbol, a fad, a trend? A fake, a copy, a rip-off, a knock-off? Does it clutch and snap and clasp? Does it thump and flap and spend? Does it keep its secrets? Know when to spill? Do you carry it, lug it, tote it, or schlep it? Do you travel light? What does the bag know? It reminds me that I know nothing. The purse provokes lists. What do I carry? Lists. The list of things I carry, stuff, secrete, stash, begins with lists. Grocery lists, eggs, butter, cilantro. Lists of office supplies, notebook, Faber Castell pen – superfine, sepia. Lists of books I hope to acquire, always changing. All these lists of needs, wants.

And then, purse lists. A list of alternate or additional uses: stake out territory such as a table in a bar, seat in a movie theatre. In old movies, spill partial contents at the foot of dreamboat in hopes he will kneel to help pick up. A well-stuffed purse is excellent at bridal showers where that game is played, objects called out and whoever can produce the most from the depths of their handbag, wins. A list of words to describe: beaded, brocaded, embellished, worn, crushed, creased, bruised, embroidered, crocheted, studded, feathered, fringed, bejewelled, sequined, gilded, rhinestoned, mosaiced, modpodged, decoupaged. List of possible materials: velvet, silk, crepe, recycled plastic, newspapers, books, leather (all varieties of hide), plastic, canvas, tortoiseshell, metal mesh, straw, wicker, papier-mâché, lace, mock croc. A list of words used to advertise handbags: vintage, flimsy, fancy, slouchy, ornate, cheap, cheeky, flamboyant, chic, humble, durable, bulky, sleek, chunky, iconic, functional, luxurious, formidable, reliable, handy, strappy, smug, witty, thrifty, monumental, classic, coquettish, modest, elegant, discreet, graceful, clever, coy, natty, extravagant, vital, delicate, glamorous, retro, eccentric, cartoonish, staid. A list of things not to do with your purse: forget it on the roof of the car, leave it in plain view in the car, hold it loosely in the mall, carry large sums of cash, set it on the floor of the restroom (you’ve seen that email going around about purses and germs haven’t you?), leave the zipper open and then pick it up awkwardly dumping all the contents, this common candor, forget to move your wallet from evening bag to everyday bag discovering this only when at the grocery store check-out with a week’s worth of groceries including vast amounts of frozen items. And, as Winnie says, in Beckett’s play, “do not overdo the bag, Winnie, make use of it of course, let it help you...along, when stuck.”

These lists are my secret unreachable, remote, somnolent plot and in amidst the quivering lists, there happen to be things. Useful things, things that comfort, things to mull over, treasures in the depths in which to lose oneself. My hand reaches, reaches in. Finds. Into the trembling breath of the bag, the bag breathes in and out, sighs in silent splendour with each unclasping, unzipping, unsnapping, unfolding, unflapping. And things, things endure, escape me, are elusive and clamorous and fragmentary.

A map of Venice, postcard of the (maybe) Vermeer Girl in the Red Hat, mandala to colour, nautilus shell cup, silence, a nearly ripe pomegranate, bronze skeleton key, catalogue to the Museum of Purses and Handbags in Amsterdam, Norman Bryson’s Looking at the Overlooked, Dahlia Ravikovitch’s The Window, The Stream of Life by Clarice Lispector, a French loaf, squares of Ghirardelli espresso chocolate, Faber-Castell pens, embroidery floss, sequinned Venetian mask, peace prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, photos of Chloe, lozenges suitable for lolling on the tongue while reading poetry, floral perfume, cornflowers, patch of green grass, curl of birch bark, lemon scented candle, beribboned bundle of cinnamon sticks, box of long matches, fragile anguish, patience, an exultation of cinnamon hearts, sheet of beeswax, suspicion, uncertainty, complicated version of hope, imperturbable exuberance, cocoa powder stained recipe for red velvet cake, various definitions of feminism, tubes of paint, manifesto and its multiple revisions, a clear path untrodden, jar of jewel-toned glass tesserae, thrilling ambition, case of champagne, tin of powdered sugar dusted hard candy, a complicated embrace, a crazed vision, escaped thought, the word on the tip of my tongue, miniature statue of Nike of Samothrace, inconsistencies, hummingbird feather, leap of the tiger, chipped teacup, fan, charm, a bit of bramble, a ramble, digital camera, narrow and devastating vial of beads, limoncello, diadem, a juicy oozing pear with an awkwardly elegant stem, Sanditon by Jane Austen to remind me of the unfinished, thread from the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry, a reliquary to hide-display something beautiful I once spit out the glittering sheen of, broken strand of silver pearls, iron dragonfly paperweight, a snapshot fairly close-up of my changeable mismatched eyes superimposed against a snowy backdrop, letraset, one scuffed ruby slipper, graham wafers, white silk scarf and big owlish prescription sunglasses, cool glass of water, various lipsticks chosen because of their names dream for example, a lump of lapis lazuli, another picture this time of the angel wing I once found inhabiting a snowdrift, crumbs(pound cake, cupcake, morning glory muffin, dense bread), a wedge-shaped core of darkness, a muddy bird’s nest, a beehive (humming), a bird cage (door flung open), an exhaustive answer, a Hallelujah.

Agressively Pleated With an Enchanting Clasp

A recent find on the discount shelves - The Handbag: An Illustrated History. Full of wonderful photographs and scads of quotations, like this one from Carol Shields: "My mother's handbag was big and black and aggressively pleated, with an enchanting clasp in the form of two parrots. The bag's richly dark interior held the mingled fragrance of perfume and leather - calfskin probably - and a cotton handkerchief dabbed with "Evening in Paris" wadded in one corner."

The bracelet on the top of the book is one of those perks of working in retail. I'm always interested to learn how other artists/writers support themselves, how they balance the day job with the work of making art, not to mention the rest of life. A good article on the subject here.

Monday, June 1, 2009


I'm rather fond of this photo of a dahlia I took yesterday in the garden. It's reminded me (this is how my mind works these days) to dig a book of poetry out of the teetering pile of books on the coffee table - Hovering at a Low Altitude by Dahlia Ravikovitch. You can read the title poem here.