Review of A Breeze You Whisper in In A Fragile Moment: A Landscape of Canadian Poetry

Whispers and Flames in Kathryn MacDonald. A review of some poems by Kathryn MacDonald in A Breeze You Whisper (Poetry) (2011) Hidden Brook Press. Canada – p. 131-134

Surprises are wonderful, especially when they involve a review of your book in a collection with poets such as Milton Acorn, Margaret Atwood, and Al Purdy among others. I’ve received the publication notice by email and the book is on its way. More about the collection to come. In the meantime, here is a bit of blatant self-promotion of my collection, A Breeze You Whisper.

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First, from the press release:

In a Fragile Moment: A Landscape of Canadian Poetry is an insightful collection of essays and reviews, written from the poetic heart of Professor Olivé. The authors covered in this astute critical study are treated with heart felt respect:

Milton Acorn, Merle Amodeo, Margaret Atwood, Katharine Beeman, Allan Briesmaster, Patrick Connors, James Deahl, Antony Di Nardo, J. Graham Ducker, Kate Marshall Flaherty, Katherine L. Gordon, Kimberley Grove, Richard M. Grove, Don Gutteridge, Lala Heine-Koehn, Keith Inman, Bruce Kauffman, Donna Langevin, John B. Lee, Norma West Linder, Kathryn MacDonald, Lisa Makarchuk, Bruce Meyer, Colin Morton, Marvin Orbach, Deborah Panko, Al Purdy, Sarah Richardson, Linda Rogers, Glen Sorestad, Anna Yin.

The review:

“Whispers and Flames”

My nights are good ones. Besides friends, family, sharing and joy, poetry books flood my bed and my mind before I go to sleep. It is a wealth found nowhere else. Last night it was not The Voice of the Land, or the People´s Poet. Last night it was a whisper in my ears, a dance of words and flames before my eyes: Kathryn MacDonald.

If I had to choose one word for her poetry, I´d say “sensuality.” It overflows the book´s margins shipping fruit and fire that crackles in its pages as I hold my breath caught in the delicacy of her phrases or gaspingly sigh marveled at their attractiveness.

I went through some of her poems. “A Breeze You Whisper” entwines, with simplicity and smoothness, two major themes at the core of poetry: nature and love. Neither the book´s title nor the poem´s has a comma, but its single stanza includes it in the first two lines (“A breeze, you whisper. A bird, you soar and hover”). These pauses are dictated, and intended, by the poet as a mindful pointer of serene procession towards something – provoking, soul-diving, engaging – prompted by the nature-sent, photo-like proposal.

The “You” mentioned in the poem is sensitively attached to nature; but in a quiet association – as if paving the lovers´ way to intimacy – that is set free, no punctuation in lines three and four, to yield the lover to her: “… into the nest hidden within my tossing limbs.” It is a pas de deux from contextual meanings (lines one and two) to figurative meanings (end of line two through three and four). “The nest” strikes a euphemistic chord, which empowers the sentence with sky´s-the-limit interpretations by the reader.

“Blueberry Picking” is play with meanings in cross-contextual insinuations only to be perceived by the mind. Fruit – flavor, colour and look – is the main star in a poem that creates allegories of berry-blue sensuality. The reader climbs – rung by rung – down the poem from “Lake of the Woods, round and placid like the heavy rocks from which the prickly bushes seemed to grow” to “… the sweet berries with my tongue.” Mind-blowing juggling with “I fondled the sweet berries with my tongue” as a prelude to a suggestive “mood.” Situations and characters´ status dribble sensually. The coda modifies the tempo of the poem, its atmosphere.

Kathryn can´t and won´t give up her incursions to nature in “One Woman” for describing/comparing: “Your laughter… geyser filling me with love” or “Exuberant you… deep in life´s river…” She uses metaphors to depict setbacks too: … “welcoming flotsam tossed up in turmoil…,” and optimism again: “glowing like sunrise.” The three lines before the last one (“a surprise hug manifesting joy and rampant passion”) lead to the poem´s essence: “all wrapped up in one woman.” Uncomplicated words, deftly chosen, concise: expressive love and admiration.

“Avatar”  is a proverbial narration of the creative act, its tumultuous process preceding the ultimate phase of artistic conception until the time “to brush across canvas.” It starts explaining somehow the artist-poet strings and the urges/feelings rifling through them, binding them, nurturing them: “her soul tremoring through fingertips / her tears creating rainbows of release.” The image “rainbows of release” confers both painting-related chromatic breadth and cathartic burst to the stanza and the poem.

Stanza two is the vertex pulling in the cosmos and maelstrom of art (“She turns through her nights / courting images / and exaggerations / that revolve / like the moon / through her / seasons and / from the pinnacle of her / rotation / she spirals / like / the dream shattering”), which culminates in “the dream shattering.” This shattering is laden with meanings beyond the notion of shatter that we have, a shattering that creates. Stanza three is the ultimate stage, the artist´s “big bang.” It lays down “across canvas” all of the furnace´s burning embers of the artistic produce.

Read these lines from the poem “Pleasure”: “Your fingers touch the buttons pushing them through each hole creating a V in my white nightgown.” Notably, the poem is homage to the person who has given the poet transcendent moments of pleasure, her companion, her lover: “You pleasure me and more.” The repetition of “and more” as a stylistic device is a key for readers to open divergent doors into their comprehension of the poem: a sensuality bordering eroticism, which is competently molded by the poet. We also feel the defining balance found in the rare gift of companionship, understood as closeness of two beings: the unfailing, necessary presence (“Have done so for half my life and more”).

Finally, “Winter Storm” poses a question to the reader: Why this title? I can only guess. This poem is an erotically wrought piece sublimely elaborated on by the poet. She kneads structure and the way stanzas are set on the page, which contributes to the poem´s mood and atmosphere. It tells of a lover´s subterfuge to win back a woman´s favors (“while he tugs at her memory”). A mind-poking, “blackmailish” foreplay that screens graphic memories: “when motion was joy when their bodies easily skimmed white powder”). The woman “marks distance with care measuring her path” while “he tugs” and she gives “slowly” in.

There is no doubt she has been re-conquered. Now I could explain the title gathering from here and there words, details, under and overtones, and tessitura. One clue is “now she inches slowly downward feeling sleet on her forehead…” Sleet says it all, watery snow, and the fact that it is on her forehead is a sign, for me, of mental “weakening.” A storm is approaching her winter, a storm that spells anticipation, desire, straightforward, concrete come-ons: “She sees his blue eyes his hand reach feels it cup her small breast.” She seems to be awakening from her wintery slumber, defrosted by “his blue eyes.” While the first poem commented here in my review was a breeze and a whisper; this is a latently raging storm of words and love-making. I melted.

Six poems and lots of sparkles in whispers and flames is what I surmised from this tender, sensual author. I am glad her book came to me. Thank you, Kathryn.

 

Miguel Ángel Olivé Iglesias is an Associate Professor at the University of Holguín, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, Major in English, and a Master’s Degree in Pedagogical Sciences. He is also Head of the English Language Discipline and a member of the Canadian Studies Department of the Holguín University in Cuba. Miguel Olivé is also a member of the Mexican Association of Language and Literature Professors, VP of the William Shakespeare Studies Center. Professor Olivé is Editor-in-chief of the Canada Cuba Literary Alliance (CCLA) magazine The Ambassador, also Assistant Editor of The Envoy newsletter, and CCLA President in Cuba.

Professor Olivé has been teaching for over thirty years and writing reviews, poems and stories in Spanish and in English. He has written and published numerous academic papers in Cuba, Mexico, Spain and Canada.

Hidden Brook Press is about to publish his first solo full-length book of poems, in English and Spanish, Forge of Words (2019). SandCrab books will also publish These Voices Beating in our Hearts: Poems from the Valley (Spanish-English) in ebook format, of which he is Editor, but also features poems of his together with other eleven Holguín poets. His themes are about women, people, life, family, love, nature, and human values.

Available from your local bookseller or online: In A Fragile Moment: A Landscape of Canadian Poetry

For more about A Breeze You Whisper, please go to this blog: Three poems: excerpts from A Breeze You Whisper, to purchase visit your local bookseller or online: A Breeze You Whisper (in Canada: A Breeze You Whisper).

Calla & Édourd by Kathryn MacDonald, an excerpt

This novella, set in Eastern Ontario, bubbles with the details of everyday life. The cycle of the season is reflected in the lives of the central characters. It is a hymn/lament for that which is passing and that which is past. (Alistair MacLeod, author of two collections of short stories: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and Island; and the award-winning novel: No Great Mischief, cover copy)

Calla & Édourd cover
Hidden Brook Press (HBP); ISBN 978-1-897475-39-3; 2009

It is a sad day when a book goes out of print. After ten years, this is the fate of my novella, all 23,000+ words, 129 pages.

From readers, Calla & Édourd garnered comments such as, “I was hooked after having read only the preface (as well as the entire book that same evening) [L.S.]. “I could see everything like a movie running through my head” [P.C.]. “I loved the explanation of perfection for Édourd on page 96 and the stories ‘…steeped in the tea of superstition and Catholicism’” [G.M.].

Chapter 1 begins:

Calla moves like a wave, from tree to tree, down the steep incline toward the water’s edge. Her left arm wrapping itself around rough-barked trunks. Her feet, beneath deep snow, searching for secure footing. Downward. Down to a spot where the water bubbles every day of the year from a silent, hidden spring.

Overhead, the sound of squabbling breaks the quiet. Lifting her face to the sky, Calla’s eyes find two black-capped chickadees. They slip from the sky to a tree branch where they hop over each other, reminding Calla of childhood games of leapfrog. The birds move along the branch away from the trunk before flying westward, their voices becoming lost in the distance. The momentary stillness soon fills with the rapid rat-tat-tatting of a downy woodpecker. It circles a birch tree; its head bobbing rhythmically; its black and white feathers blending into the birch. Without the movement, it would seem invisible.

Calla continues carefully downward, testing with her feet for buried rocks and broken branches beneath the snow. Slowly, she moves toward the white-crusted marsh. The red-winged blackbirds, that months ago perched on cattails, had now flown south, leaving the brown expanse of stalks and tails deserted.

The story begins when Calla is in the early throws of dementia. Then the backstory unfolds with innocence and love, the birth of children and their growing up and leaving home. But the unraveling of Calla’s mind cannot be avoided and takes a toll.

If you’re curious about the reference made by G.M. to the “perfection” passage:

Ah, but expectations of perfection was not something that plagued Édourd. He had grown in the shadow of Papa, a man shaped by the realities of the seasons and he knew that perfection came only masked as miracles. Perfection came with dark-bottomed cumulus clouds carrying rain in spring and with a clear dawn during haying season. It presented itself in the shifting colours as goldfinch feathers changed from drab olive to sunshine yellow, also in spring. Similar magic arrived with the return of the mallards, and shortly afterward, the arrival of ducklings in the marsh. Whether a miracle appeared to satisfy survival or to cause his spirit to leap, Édourd welcomed them like he had welcomed Papa’s stories.

In addition to Alistair MacLeod, Evelyn Bowering wrote cover copy: “Drawing their sustenance from past generations, Calla and Édourd’s love endures when traumatic loss gives way to fragmentation of memory, and past, present and future merge into one. MacDonald creates word paintings of nature and domestic life that linger after the last word is read. This is a beautiful story.”

I blush at the praise and thank everyone who bought books and a special thank you to those who sent their thoughts to me.

I am grateful to my publisher, Richard (Tai) Grove, Hidden Brook Press for taking the risk of publishing my first fiction. At that time, Tai was a new publisher and I was largely untried. We’ve both learned a lot in the intervening ten years.

Thank you for indulging my journey down memory lane.

Please share your experiences of publishing your first fiction and your thoughts if your book, like mine, has slipped out of print.

 

 

River of Hidden Dreams by Connie May Fowler: Book Review

This island is far more full of life than I had thought. Animals I cannot name are beginning to make themselves known. I hear twigs snap, and cries filter now and again from woods to sky. I wrap up tighter and try to concentrate on Mama and Mima. I think of that day Mr. Sammy decided he had turned old. His sudden despair and Miss Raison’s drowning weren’t the only life-changing events in the forest hideaway that stormy afternoon. Mima conceived my mother in the middle of all that lightning and rain (186-7).

I often buy used books from volunteers staffing “Friends of the Library” shop at the entrance to Belleville’s library. This is where I found River of Hidden Dreams by Connie May Fowler. (Purchases support our public library and often great finds can be made.)

I picked the book up because of the cover – a photograph that I might have been smitten to take – an egret in long, marshy grasses. The narrative, which identifies as fiction, is dedicated to two women who seem very much like two characters in the story. However, the blurb on the dust jacket almost put me off – romance (the romantic, not the historic variety). Nevertheless, I was drawn in.

Fowler’s book reminds me a little of Everything Under by Daisy Johnson, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize (2018). What the two books share is a boat on a river, water that hides mysteries and danger, and consciousness more surreal than real. Johnson’s story is far more complex and more beautifully executed…and much more surreal and daring. But Fowler’s story was published 24 years earlier. Johnson’s story centres on the intricate relations of a mother and daughter; Fowler’s focuses on a woman’s memories of her mother, grandmother and grandfather who tell their own stories. To my mind, the intervention of Carlos and a mummified baby spoil what might have been a much more interesting tale.

River of Hidden Dreams fought with me (or I with it). I threatened to toss it aside. Then I turned the page again. The orneriness of the grandmother and granddaughter parallel became a bit too much…but then I continued reading. The handsome, perfect, prince-charming Carlos is polar-opposite of his miserable, mean Mamacita/Saidie. Perhaps someone told the author, “you’d better include a love object and sex.” Still, the pages kept turning.

What works: Mr. Sammy, the trawler, the river, the Everglades, and the ancestors speaking their own stories for the eerie, jarring, sensuous impact. Fowler’s descriptions held me enchanted. I slipped into her river-world where time became untethered. The story may have happened last century or last year; it doesn’t matter. I felt its immediacy, its reality in a surreal kind of way.

River of Hidden Dreams by Connie May Fowler has earned my toughest review. Now that it’s written, I’ve checked what others have said…and everyone loved everything about it. Now you might want to read the novel and make up your own mind. Do let me know…please.

71 River of Hidden Dreams

Available through your local bookstore or online: River of Hidden Dreams

(The hardcover is listed for Cdn $248.72 – you may want to visit your library to borrow a copy.)

Three poems: excerpts from A Breeze You Whisper

I read the whole thing all at once…each poem made me want to read the next one, and then, it was over, leaving me wanting more. [] I was totally entranced. MacDonald’s work is sensual, moving. She plays with words….The poet takes us off the page and into her mind and heart, into our own minds and hearts and beyond. (Amazon review)

Book-NSKathrynMacDonald-ABreezeYouWhisper
ISBN 978-1-897475-66-9; Hidden Brook Press (HBP); 2011

The majority of the poems in the collection are in print for the first time, but some were previously published, including these three. The cover was created by the publisher from one of my photographs of a luna moth; the ink-brush drawings are also my creations. The book is divided into six sections: East; South; West; North; Above & Below.

“Earth,” was originally published in Ascent Aspirations Magazine (2007):

EARTH

Worms wiggle through soil
and at the end of the robin’s beak.

Ants build labyrinthine passageways
and a room fit for a queen’s eggs.

Below the raspberries
a brown field mouse curls in her nest.

Away from the garden path
under the evergreen rabbits burrow.

My fingers reach for weedy roots
find mysteries buried deep.

Gravity hold more than loam
to its stony heart.

East section pg 1

“City Hunter” was originally published in Descant (1981; a prestigious literary journal that published from 1970-2015):

CITY HUNTER

I watched the jazz man
reach through his horn
felt his mellow
breath caress my ears.
His dancing fingers
pushed the air
around the
room
rippling waves
of smoke
broke against
my flesh
the current
pulling toward his
plunging
centre.

He soared and
fell
catching his prey
in the quiet
echo
of his rhythm.

Above & Below section pg 107

The third poem that I’m sharing with you from the collection A Breeze You Whisper is titled “Migration.” It was first published in Northward Journal (under a pen name: Deneau; 1981; Penumbra Press).

MIGRATION

He watched fear
enter her eyes
as she bellied
through the prairie grasses.
He imagined
the pressure
against
her fleshy triangle as
the grasses pushed
between her legs.
Snaking forward, she,
initiation offering,
would clamp him
in her hairy, circular
trap
and devour
his hunger until the
fear leaped into
his eyes.
Slowly he watched the
seeds sown in her belly
swell.
His ear upon her naval
listening
to drums and gurgling
streams
to thundering hoof beats and
rustling grasses.
From the fissure sprung
the red waters
as the migrating herds
returned.

I thought perhaps after reading my reviews, you might be curious what kind of poetry I write. I would love to learn what you think of these poems, and if you’ve read the book, what you think of it.

Available online: A Breeze You Whisper.

(The caption is a quote from the book review on Amazon.)

The Wrecking Light by Robin Robertson: Book Review

I find a kind of hope here, in this / homelessness, in this place / where no one knows me – / where I’ll be gone, like some / over-wintering bird, / before they even notice. (Beginning to Green)

The poet searches: for his shadow-self, for grief and guilt, and for life and meaning. In The Wrecking Light, Robin Robertson moves into the past, sheds light onto the present, and shape-shifts between reality and the surreal.

In the first section, Silvered Water, the first poem, “Album,” sets a tone that echoes throughout the collection. It begins:

I am almost never there, in these
old photographs: a hand
or shoulder, out of focus; a figure
in the background,
stepping from the frame.

(…)

A ghost is there; the ghost gets up to go.

The Wrecking Light is full of memories that include memories of others: the girl / with the hare lip / down by Clachan Bridge (“By Clachan Bridge”). And the collection ends with the personal memory of “Hammersmith Winter” when through the drawn curtain / shines the snowlight I remember as a boy, / sitting up at the window watching it fall. Mixed with memories is a sense of grieving, as in “Fall From Grace:”

My life a mix of dull disgraces
and watery acclaim, my daughters know
I cannot look into their clear faces;
what shines back at me is shame.

The theme continues. In “Tinsel,” in the woods: If you’re very quiet, you might pick up loss: or rather / the thin noise that losing makes – perdition. / If you’re absolutely silent. And with loss comes leaving. The very next poem, “Leaving St. Kilda,” takes us on a sea journey brimming with geographic details and clear images cut clean by departure. In this geographical catalogue: sea rhythm; progression.

But don’t get the wrong idea, these poems are neither nostalgic nor maudlin. In the skillful hands of this visionary, we are taken on a raucous ride with unexpected twists and turns.

In the second section called Broken Water, the first poem’s horror and the brutal honesty of rough island life and penance is laid bare. In “Law of the Island” Robertson paints a vivid description of island punishment and the casualness of its deployment. In this section, he gives us a back-and-forth of short poems with punch and longer, exploratory ones where he writes after Ovid, Neruda, Baudelaire, and myth to understand humanity’s weaknesses. Here, “Grave Goods,” is beyond surreal; it enters magic.

In the third section, Unspoken Water, the woods and forests of childhood again dominate. In “The Wood of Lost Things,” the vision is clearer and in its clarity, more haunting. Robertson writes: I have found the place I wasn’t meant to find (…)

Hung on a silver birch, my school cap
and satchel; next to them, the docken suit,
and next to that, pinned to a branch,
my lost comforter –
a piece of blanket worn to the size of my hand.

 You can see how he leads us. Like Narcissus he sees a face I seem to know. But unlike Narcissus, he isn’t struck by his beauty. Of course not. But he does give us a resolution (of sorts).

In The Wrecking Light, there is much of the sea, of woods, of love and loss, of searching. I return to the final poem, “Hammersmith Winter,” and the poet’s final plea: Look at the snow, / I said, to whoever might be near, I’m cold, / would you hold me. Hold me. Let me go.

Robin Robertson has written an intense, lyrical collection with movement as through dreams bordering on nightmare (I dare not use the word haunting again, although that is the effect his writing creates). This is Robertson’s forth book of poetry; I recommend you enter his world.

70 The Wrecking Light

Available through your local bookstore or online: The Wrecking Light

Choreography: a poem

Frigate birds soar skyward / become specks of dust in the blue / before slow spirals…

On September 24, 2019, Amethyst Review published “Choreography.”

Choreography

            by Kathryn MacDonald

Frigate birds soar skyward
become specks of dust in the blue
before slow spirals toward sea
their wingspan increasing
split tails          like swallows gliding
aerial grace          becoming
kites on currents
floating on aqua ripples.
Sunshine warms bare legs
spread for balance on the foredeck
eyes shielded against glare
while becoming other
shedding feathers and scales
until reaching the centre
and all drops away.

 

Sailboats and frigate birds 2018-12-21 #008 sm (1 of 1)
Sailboats and frigate birds (Isla Mujeres, Yucatan, Mexico)

Check out Amethyst Review and the FB page. Please share the links with your friends.

Bone Antler Stone by Tim Miller: Book Review

In every real way, the ring was placed here / the ring of now pock-marked, planetary stone (…) but the landscape was first, the stones only our / attempt at echo and veneration. (The Ring of Brodgar)

Tim Miller collapses 30,000 years of archaeology into a poetry collection that feels the thrill of immediate experience. He stirs a bit of magic, weaving it into the facts of what we know from long-past history.

In “Chauvet, Lascaux, Altamira” (France and Spain, 35,000 – 12,000 BC), Miller writes: Now we come to paint with light and fire. In this seven-part poem, we go beyond the images and enter the process of painting them:

A bison made with his hands, white hands dipped in red
And palms slapped on cold rock again and again,
Smacked hands turned or righted or angles
And his exhausted step back to see
The animal made only of red palms and rock,
Red like bison’s blood, stone vitality,
His awe at a heartbeat behind the wall,
And his hands red as a midwife’s.

The poet does not stand back, merely to look in wonder and awe, although the mystery inherent in that is present. He manages intimacy and time dissolves.

Lines jump off the page, lines like The sun sets into the sea and is doused / and rises with the sound of reborn flame / rolling into another red morning. The title, “The Sun Sets into the Sea” is incantatory, hypnotic. Doing the work of a chant, it carries us to the sea and the sun, which so many peoples worshipped.

The landscape, too, is revealed as it reveals burials of the long dead. In “Long Barrows,” graves become humps…in the landscape, / small rises like murmurs. The collapsing of then and now runs throughout the collection as it does in:

Horses and Cows on Orkney

Horses curled in the flaming spiral of sleep,
The huge immensity of their bodies
Belied by the blankets they wear, or the
Tight scroll they twist themselves into on the ground,
A
n enormity suddenly made small
Or at least passive, compact, the coiled braid
Of body closer to tree or landscape,
The tilted, chiseled head nearer to stone
Or to steel or something pulled from the fire,
Some monument to just how this place works,
That you do not escape the wind, but dream in it.

And this would not be a “prehistory” collection if the goddesses were not brought forth. “Female Figurines” begins with the urgency of poetic catalogue, an incantation:

Hum the words with me and you might understand:
Mammoth ivory, hematite, limestone,
Black jet, soapstone, antler and fired clay –
All of these become our bodies because
Our bodies are the place of becoming.

Tim Miller stirs the imagination. His narrative poems in Bone Antler Stone breathe life into the archeological past of Europe. Now my heart yearns for poetic translation of “New World” prehistory.

69 Bone Antler Stone

Available through your local bookstore or online: Bone Antler Stone

A personal note:
Reading “Female Figurines” (Bone Antler Stone), I walked over to a display table in my sitting area and picked up a cast replica of the Goddess of Willendorf, a gift of my professor of Art and Archeology. In that course, Professor Leonard Kroon insisted we experience art. I did two things: first, I visited the petroglyph site at Rice Lake, lay on the shamanic rock and listened to the earth gurgling through a slanted crack (out of that experience came a poem, “Migration,” which is included in A Breeze You Whisper) and I carved a hawk from a block of soapstone. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the red-tailed hawk would become a motif in later poems. That aside, I cradled the Willendorf figure – both tiny as my palm and monumental – and felt magic through the rotund Lilliputian goddess before returning to Miller’s poems.

For more about my writing, please see “About”

Past Midnight: poem

“The lines cast off / we glide….”

In August, Amethyst Review published “Past Midnight.”

 

PAST MIDNIGHT
by Kathryn MacDonald

The lines cast off
we glide through still water
insistent weeds
and water lily leaves.

We slip past sailboats
held fast to docks
by tendrils of black or white
blue or red          lines like thoughts
tethered to mourning and borders.

We venture into the other world
beyond safe harbour
and sense some things
have changed forever.

 

I’d love to know what you think of Past Midnight (and please “share” the link — Amethyst Review deserves reading).

 

Ducks in mist-PEC-sm (1 of 1)
Leaving safe harbour in heavy mist. (The photograph “Zen Serenity” was selected for a juried show, 2018.)

 

 

 

 

 

“Casting Off” one poem-two passions

Seldom do I write cantatory poems, but last Thanksgiving during a week at a Northern lake, my rhythm changed. The poem “Casting Off” feels to me almost like prayer. Out of awareness comes oneness.

Casting Off

    (for Linda)

When mist hangs thick as cloud
blanketing the dark lake
          in translucent veil
          magical and mysterious
walk the damp path
beyond alizarin maples
glistening birch-bark
and hemlock soaring skyward
          rough bark breathing
          moss and fungi
          shallow roots clinging
          to ancient bedrock
walk out onto the dock
feel the quiver of your weight
settle          breathe wood smoke
as the sun bursts through
in topaz glow.

Kathryn MacDonald
Devour: Art & Lit Canada (page 42)

Before the sun burst through the mist, a fisher-guy broke the quiet and entered the cloaked world:

Morning Mist Wahwashkesh L 2018 sm.jpg (1 of 1)

For poems and photos by others, check out Devour: Art & Lit Canada, just a click away.

And please let me know what you think.

 

 

Ru by Kim Thúy (translated by Sheila Fischman): Book Review & Writing Tips

In French, ru means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge — of tears, of blood, of money. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby, to lull.

In the previous blog, Away, I looked at the journeys of poet Andrea MacPherson who ferreted out people and places of ancestors who had emigrated from Ireland and Scotland a generation or two earlier. In this post — Ru, a poetic fictionalized memoir by Kim Thúy — we experience the harrowing journey of refugees fleeing Vietnam for Canada, escaping Saigon for Montreal. From war to an escape by boat, from a refugee camp in Malaysia to snowy Montreal, Thúy shares both the intimate and the universal realities of escape and renewal.

When NPR interviewed Thúy (“A Refugee’s Multilayered Experience in Ru”), they said that the “novel unfolds in the way a flower casts off its petals: one small scene after another.” On the page, the novel looks like a prose poem or perhaps the concise pages of a journal. Yet the narrative flows smoothly and coherently.

It begins with a ten-year-old girl, but like memory that doesn’t necessarily reveal itself chronologically, the story called Ru flows back and forth in time as one experience triggers another. It does so as the name suggests, as gently as a lullaby. This is extraordinary given the intense and often devastating experiences of the refugees. At the books core, Ru is a story of survival against all odds (Thúy has said the family expected to die) but it is also a beautiful story of a girl who becomes a woman almost in awe of the way lives unfold and people grow and blossom.

Near the middle of the book, Thúy introduces Monsieur Minh who gave me the urge to write. And we can see how writing flings windows wide open, creating space for seeing:

He was saved not by the sky but by writing. He had written a number of books during his time in the re-education camp—always on the one piece of paper he possessed, page by page, chapter by chapter, an unending story. Without writing, he wouldn’t have heard the snow melting or leaves growing or clouds sailing through the sky. Nor would he have seen the dead end of a thought, the remains of a star or the texture of a comma (88).

Later, we meet the grandmother who chose withdrawal into prayer as a way to cope:

Today, my grandmother is a very old woman, but still beautiful, lavishly so, like a queen. When she was in her forties, sitting in her parlour in Saigon, she epitomized a whole era of an extreme kind of beauty, of opulence.…

After the markets had been cleaned out of merchandise and merchants, after her Communist tenants had taken the contents of her safe and her lace scarves, she learned to dress in the long grey kimono worn by the faithful.…

She’d let her two youngest, a boy and a girl, leave with my mother despite the uncertainty. My mother asked my grandmother to choose between the risk of losing her son at sea and that of finding him torn to shreds in a minefield during his military service in Cambodia. She had to choose secretly, without hesitating, without trembling, without perspiring. Perhaps it was to control her fear that she started to pray. Perhaps it was to become intoxicated with the incense smoke that she no longer left the altar (116-117).

Imagine! Yet the story is so sensitively written that the horror fails to leap out and grab us with a scream. Instead, it silently builds and haunts long after we’ve read the last page.

Ru has won a string of prizes, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Grand prix littéraire Archambault,  the Prix du Grand Public Salon du Livre/La Presse, the Grand prix littéraire RTL-Lire (France), and the Mondello Prize for Multiculturalism (Italy). In addition, it was the 2015 winner of “Canada Reads” (CBC Books/Canada Broadcasting Corporation).

Writing tips:

Structure: the lesson here is to not fear innovation. Choose the format that best suits the telling of your story. Think about how different the reading experience would be if the novel had been written in the usual chapter format, all those transitions and unnecessary details.

Consider the power being concise. In an interview or talk (I can’t be sure where), I heard Thúy say that whatever country that she has traveled people have related their unique journey through war and escape. I believe, in large part, that the brevity of her narration opened space wherein readers filled in their reality. You may want to take a longer piece you’ve written and streamline it down to essential; then consider the impact of each style.

68 Ru by Kim Thuy

Available through your local bookstore or online: Ru