October 29th, 2013
October 17th, 2013
I have written before–here and elsewhere–about fear of heights and the sublime, so I won’t go on at too great a length. But, in the spirit of this blog’s origins, I’ll say something about what I’m thinking today. Driving across the bridge over the North Saskatchewan this afternoon on my way to the college where I teach, I felt the precariousness I always feel at any height at all–whether bridge, or mountain peak, or tenth-floor balcony–and thought of a practice I’d developed a few years ago, while at the Writing Studio at The Banff Centre. It emerged while I was hiking solo one day along a precarious little trail. That day, I felt my usual unease at the precipice below me, but then (as most people must usually do) simply considered my sturdy hiking boots in combination with my reasonable experience at choosing where to plant them and decided to think, instead of thinking about falling, about steadiness. So for a few weeks, I practiced steadiness–worked on cultivating a mind that believes in its own steadiness, a body that–even when confronted with a great height–believes in the not-falling, too.
You have to understand that my drive to work across this bridge is uncommonly beautiful. The small campus of the college where I teach is classically charming. From the bridge, the view across is old brick buildings at the top of a steep hill covered in deciduous trees that descend, in every colour an Alberta fall has to offer, to the river. The river is equally beautiful in both directions, but the suggested speed of traffic on the bridge is 80 km/hr. To drive across the bridge is an experiment in balancing traffic safety with one’s own intractable need to ingest certain daily quantities of transfiguring wild beauty.
Today, perhaps because the river valley is slowly turning a dull yellow brown, getting bare with departure, I felt with particular acuity the urgency of attending to the beauty as I passed it. And into my mind returned this word from the mountains, “steadiness.” You’ll have to understand that I am capable, if my wayward imagination is in the ascendant, of feeling genuine alarm crossing bridges. In the brief seconds I had today to contemplate the beauty of the river, the terror of the falling, and the urgency of looking, this word steadiness managed to sweep everything into a single exiting contemplation.
I sped down. Steadiness, yes. But not if it’s achieved by dulling the imagination to the great, sublime precariousness. We need our steadiness most in the presence of what alarms us. To be sure-footed is not to be certain, but to set one’s boot on the path, and to do it again. To live with–to weight equally, and thereby to balance–the possibilities of falling and of not-falling.
October 2nd, 2013
Recently, an interviewer from The Malahat Review asked me this question. He meant to ask about the effect on a writer’s life of being awarded a significant prize, but of course I always take these questions personally. A year ago I could never have predicted the place I’m in now. Life is amazing. Beautiful and turbulent. Sometimes terrifying, true, but so often nourishing, hospitable. I will never stop being interested by this complexity at the core of our embodiment–that being alive keeps us perpetually open to the possibility of grave loss, and we have to live with that (however it manifests itself: as fear, as denial, as compassion, as selfishness), but at the very same time being alive and being vulnerable in this way keeps us aware of the extreme preciousness of our circumstance. Allows us to experience beauty, and love.
Ten years ago I took a walk with the grief of my mom’s death raw in my heart, and brought back, from a path along the river, fistfuls of aspen leaves. I packed them in a mason jar, boiled river water with salt, and poured it into the jar. And preserved the leaves, the walk, that day. They changed immediately, of course. And became, the instant I tried to immortalize them, something radically other than what they had been. The veins in the leaves turned soft and slightly brown. Ten years ago, what I had made was less than what I had wanted it to be.
But a decade later, the jar is a treasured object. The leaves are lovely as they are. They are an ordinary miracle: here instead of not here. And once again, life has taken me in the direction of what is no longer here. I am living with loss. Trying to wrap my head and heart around what’s gone, learning to embrace unsolicited, large-scale change.
Thinking about that jar, the decade it possesses in its squat presence on my desk, gives me something it is difficult to name: perspective, yes, but also courage, and a reminder of the simple fact (or possibility) of endurance.
How would you answer this question, “In what direction has life taken you?” How has your life–your heart, your art, your jar–endured or changed?
If you like, you can read the rest of the interview here.
September 17th, 2013
Today, more than four and a half years after my co-conspirator Jessica Hiemstra and I had our first conversation about making a book like this, How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting: Stories of Pregnancy, Parenthood, and Loss (Touchwood Editions) makes its way into bookstores. This is a necessary book, friends. A book about loss and heartache, hope and love. A book of sorrow and consolation. A book brimming with resilience, beauty, grief, and above all with language that knows precisely what it’s doing.
If your local independent bookstore doesn’t carry it already, you can order a copy from them and in so doing bring some small but tangible good into the world. The book is also available from amazon.ca and, for those of you outside of Canada, from amazon.com.
Making this book has been a labour of love for me and Jessica. We are so proud of the thing we have made. I promise you, the essays in this book are worth every minute you will spend reading and rereading them. Here’s how Kim Jernigan begins her excellent foreword to the anthology: “This book, the one you hold in your hands, this book about loss and longing and the half-life of grief, is a wonderful book, one you will want to read, and read again, and share with someone dear to you. This might be a surprise, at least it was for me, for it’s a book in large part about the greatest of heartaches, the loss of a child. And yet this book is more than that…”
We would really love it if you would help us to get the word out about this book! Tell your friends! Please consider reviewing the book on your blog, or on amazon, or posting about it on social media. This book is medicine. We want to get it into people’s hands.
Keep your eye on the book’s very own Facebook Page for events and updates.
Here is the complete list of our wonderful writers: Chris Arthur, Kim Aubrey, Janet Baker, Yvonne Blomer, Jennifer Bowering Delisle, Kevin Bray, Erika Connor, Sadiqa de Meijer, Jessica Hiemstra, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Lisa Martin-DeMoor, Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Susan Olding, Laura Rock, Gail Marlene Schwartz, Maureen Scott Harris, Carrie Snyder, Cathy Stonehouse, and Chris Tarry.
And, last but not least, one very big thank you to Shawna Lemay, whose beautiful photograph we are so happy to have on the cover of the book. (Check out more of her photography, writing, and curation over at Calm Things and Canadian Poetries).
August 30th, 2013
Saddened to hear this morning of the death of Seamus Heaney. Rest in peace.
“It [the poem] knows that the massacre will happen again on the roadside, that the workers in the minibus are going to be lined up and shot down just after quitting time; but it also credits as a reality the squeeze of the hand, the actuality of sympathy and protectiveness between living creatures. It satisfies the contradictory needs which consciousness experiences at times of extreme crisis, the need on the one hand for a truth-telling that will be hard and retributive, and on the other hand the need not to harden the mind to a point where it denies its own yearnings for sweetness and trust” (from CREDITING POETRY).
June 10th, 2013
I’ve been reading sonnets aloud in the mornings. Listening for the ‘turn’ or volta–that moment when what a poet is saying shifts direction–when the sonnet’s argument expands, or contracts. In one way, or another, the poem’s question resolves itself (formally, this resolution–however provisional–is required). Sometimes, of course, the problem a sonnet raises is more interesting than the solution the poem achieves.
I love the sonnet form: it’s muscular, emotive, capacious. And it lends itself to sharp, intelligible abstraction. In skilled hands, sonnets push toward paradox, nuance: a sudden and sharp gestalt, a renovation of a certain pre-existing architecture of thought. I love the pleasure of a good “turn”–the simultaneous clarity and complication, compression and expansion, the inevitable paradox of the sonnet form.
These days, I’m listening for even the slightest turn. Not only in the sonnets I read each morning, when “circumstances” (read: children) allow. I’m also listening to the unconstructed sonnets of my own thought, the rough drafts and whatever it is they’re banging away at, trying to transform into a structured understanding: an octave and a sestet; three quatrains and a couplet; a turn, however slight, regardless of what precedes it, of what might follow.
Perhaps it’s odd, given my current preoccupation with the “turn,” that the sonnet I want to quote here is one that loses me at the volta. A sonnet, by the English poet J.K. Stephen, which appears in 101 Sonnets from Shakespeare to Heaney, edited by Don Paterson. I quote the octave here, but not the sestet. (The sonnet seems to me to bear out its own distinction: two voices. To my ear, the sestet employs the voice of “an old half-witted sheep.” But the octave is brilliant.)
This is the work, isn’t it? To hear the difference. To let the deeper voice direct the work: to let it carry us–and, if it must, the full freight of our “articulate monotony” as well–toward the precise turn we are hoping for, the one we are listening for, perhaps without knowing it.
The slightest turn I will know when I hear it: the one I am awaiting.
from Two voices are there: one is of the deep by J.K. Stephen
Two voices are there: one is of the deep;
It learns the storm-cloud’s thunderous melody,
Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep:
And one is of an old half-witted sheep
Which bleats articulate monotony,
And indicates that two and one are three,
That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep
May 20th, 2013
“‘Prose’: the word signifies not only a nonversified language; it also signifies the concrete, everyday, corporeal nature of life. So to say that the novel is the art of prose is not to state the obvious; the word defines the deep sense of that art.”
–Milan Kundera, from The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts
May 6th, 2013
“We do literature a real disservice if we reduce it to knowledge or to use, to a problem to be solved. If literature solves problems, it does so by its own inexhaustibility, and by its ultimate refusal to be applied or used, even for moral good. This refusal, indeed, is literature’s most moral act.”
–Marjorie Garber, from The Use and Abuse of Literature (Pantheon Books, 2011).
April 21st, 2013
I’m honoured to be included in the Literary Press Group’s 30-day Coast-to-Coast Poetry Project. They’ve included a poem from my full-length poetry collection, One crow sorrow, and they’ve also posted my answers to a few brief interview questions. Every day for the rest of the month, LPG is posting a new poem and interview with a Canadian poet, so you might want to bookmark this page, and return again soon.
March 19th, 2013
What a day! We have a cover for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting: Stories of Pregnancy, Parenthood and Loss. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to reach this point in the process. Thanks to Shawna Lemay for the beautiful cover image!
To celebrate, I’m posting the list of our fabulous contributors (below):
More details soon!
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