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Pickle Me This

April 29, 2010

"Durum wheat" by Lisa Martin-DeMoor

Durum wheat

Memory at its finest lacks corroboration
—no photographs, no diaries—
nothing to pin the past on the present with, to make it stick.
Just because you’ve got this idea
of red fields stretching along the tertiary roads
of Saskatchewan, like blazing, contained fires—
just because somewhere in your memory
there’s a rust-coloured pulse
taking its place among canola yellow
and flax fields the huddled blue of morning azures—
just because you want to
doesn’t mean you can
build a home for that old, peculiar ghost.

Someone tells you you’ve imagined it,
that gash across the ripe belly of summer,
and for a year, maybe two, you believe them.
Maybe you did invent it, maybe as you leaned,
to escape the heat, out the Pontiac’s backseat window—
you just remembered it that way
because you preferred the better version.

Someone tells you this.
But what can they know of faith?
To ask you to leave behind this insignificance.
This innocence that can’t be proved: what the child saw
of the fields as she passed by, expecting nothing.

You have to go there while there’s still time.
Back to the red flag of that field, blazing in wind.
While you’re still young enough to remember
a flame planted along a road. While you’re still
seeing more than there is to see.

–Lisa Martin-DeMoor

April 28, 2010

One Crow Sorrow by Lisa Martin-DeMoor

Lisa Martin-DeMoor’s One Crow Sorrow, poetry winner of the 2009 Alberta Literary Awards, is an intensely personal collection. Each piece seems rooted in experience, focused on immediate details rather than zooming out to capture their wider, more universal implications. There is no place carved out for the reader here, in the intimate address between the poet and who she refers to as just “Mom”, and so the reader is interloper, a position by turns privileged and disquieting.

“I am almost never home, now,/ no matter where I am” writes Martin-DeMoor in “One last time, in our old kitchen.” The collection deals with her mother’s illness and death from cancer, also touching upon her father’s early death many years before, and the cycle and rituals of grief. And other stories, family reference points: “Colleen, I can still hear the stranger at the door…” The tales that bind us.

These poems are prime territory for birdwatching– we get magnificent glimpses of magpies, crows, sparrows, herons, “songbirds are secrets/ substantiated at dawn and knowing”. The wide living world turns around this small story of death and dying– gardens tended and untended, boreal forests and prairie fields: “Admitting the season is over is one way/ of facing up to grief.” The natural references stitch the poems to the earth, but with stitches so loose that some words fly like spirit, and the rest is contained in the space in between.

The poems resonated for me in particular on second reading– first was a bit like wandering in a dimly lit room, but then the shapes became familiar and I could make out the details around me enough to know what I was seeing. To find my away through the spaces in between the poems as well, to consider the white space and line breaks and the weight of these things. To consider the quiet. Because these are delicate poems, I think, to be looked at before they touched, and then their solidity becomes unmistakable.

February 2, 2012

The New Quarterly 120: Love is Abroad

I’m behind on the times because The New Quarterly 121 has just shown up in my mailbox (which was very crowded. Apparently my downstairs neighbour has just taken out a subscription to The New Quarterly). But I still want to write about how fabulous the last issue was.

It featured the winner of the Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest, Lisa Martin-DeMoor, whose poetry I reviewed nearly two years ago. Her essay “A Container of Light” did that brilliant thing that great essays do, which is to take something very personal personal and intimate, and shine a light upon that story in such a way that the story becomes one about something much bigger. It is particularly significant that Martin-DeMoor is writing about a miscarriage, about mourning and loss, because how do you tell a story bigger that that? But she does, and it’s beautiful: “How light is always leaping out of darkness, even when a light goes out.”

Catriona Wright’s essay “You Just Put Your Lips Together and Blow” resonated with me for personal reasons– I find the sound of whistling more grating than any other on earth. Wright addresses her own compulsive whistling (and the negative reviews it has received), and also the history and meaning of of whistling cross-culturally: “In Hawaii it is supposed to bring bad luck because it mimics the language of the Nightmarchers, ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors.” Totally! Also instances of whistling in pop songs, the wolf-whistle and Emmet Till, and the few remaining professional whistlers out there.

Stephen Heighton’s short story “Dialogues of Departure” was wonderful, the story of a Canadian English teacher in Japan who begins to learn Japanese through a language textbook with sinister undertones. (And it got me thinking about books stories about Canadian/Japanese experience– Heighton’s collection Flights Path of the Emperor, Catherine Hanrahan’s Lost Girls and Love Hotels, Sarah Sheard’s Almost Japanese, and even my short story “Georgia Coffee Star”.) Mark Anthony Jarman’s “Adam & Eve Saved from Drowning” was so incredibly good, Jarman’s mastery of language creating an effect that was as rich and sad as it was funny.

I also enjoyed Sara Heinonen’s “Blue Dress”, the story of a woman as lost in her life as she is in Hong Kong (and it was nice to read Heinonen’s fiction, as I enjoy her blog very much). And then “The Fires of Soweto” by Heather Davidson, and we’re told, “This is her first published story”, and I will tell you that this is what small magazines are for. What an amazing discovery. I suspect we’ll be hearing more from her.

And then if that weren’t enough, they publish two poems by one of my most beloved poets, Kerry Ryan. And another  by Susan Telfer, who wrote one of my favourite books of 2010.

Every time I receive The New Quarterly, I have this weird sense that it’s been custom-edited just for my pleasure. It’s one of the great pleasures of my life to be a subscriber.

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