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Archive for July, 2017

The first time I met Merilyn Simonds was at the Sage Hill Writing Experience in Lumsden, Saskatchewan, in the heat of July 2014. There were fields of canola and flax, and the threat of too many ticks. I was in a poetry colloquium with Ken Babstock, but writers gathered together at meals, as well as in the evening hours, and this meant that we met one another. Some of my most amazing friends have come from those ten days in the prairies.  We are geographically scattered across the country, but stay in close touch. You can bond in ten days, when it comes to writers who like to speak to other writers. I think this is because writers are intelligent, witty, creative, and fairly excellent conversationalists. It’s kind of magical when you make these soul connections, if you’re open to them.

We first spoke one night near the end of the ten days.  This was after seeing Merilyn dancing with her partner, Wayne, late one night, in the lounge that looks out over the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley. (In the day time, you can see the fields and the sky seems alive with weather.  At night, the stars and the moon are bigger than anywhere else.  They hang in the sky like glass Christmas ornaments.)  I still remember that Merilyn was wearing a polka dot dress and that the two of them were obviously in love, swirling around the space gracefully, and lighting it up so that we were all in awe. I also remember thinking, “Wow. Now that’s the kind of love I’d like.” If you know the two of them, you’ll already know what I mean. It’s a grand partnership.  They radiate friendship, intellect, spontaneity, generosity of spirit, and love.  As writing mentors, well, their reputation is a bright one.  Find any writer in Canada who has encountered one of the two, or both, in a workshop setting, in some shape or another, and you’ll find someone who has learned something important about their own work.

After they were done dancing, we somehow spoke. Afterwards, we kept in touch, but I didn’t see Merilyn again until last May, when I was on Pelee Island for a writing retreat. She and Wayne were there at Spring Song, supporting Margaret Atwood’s work for the Pelee Island Bird Observatory (PIBO). Then, last June when I went to the Alice Munro Festival in Wingham with two friends, we met again and I sat in on her historical fiction workshop because I was working on my first novel at the time.  I was also on the organizing committee for Wordstock, Sudbury’s literary festival, so I rather boldly asked if she and Wayne would consider coming up to Sudbury in November 2017.  She agreed. Since we first met, I’ve read her books, and have fallen in love with her writing. (My favourite is “The Holding,” in case anyone cares! 🙂 )

The first time I heard about Hugh Barclay was when my friend, Toronto performance poet, Tanya Neumeyer, gave me the gift of a tiny little book of poems and told me about her friend, Hugh. She spoke glowingly of him, of how much he loved the process of making books, from his consideration of choosing paper, or type of ink, or even how books should be bound or (in Tanya’s case!) folded. Here is the tiniest book of haiku poems I’ve ever seen.  Hugh’s name hovered in my mind for a few years, and then rose up again when I read Merilyn’s brilliant book, Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Lasting Impression of Books.FullSizeRender (1).jpg

I’ve been thinking about the shape of books a lot lately.  This is partly because I’ve recently read Diane Schoemperlen’s beautiful little chapbook from Woodbridge Farm Books.  There, again, I was sent to thinking about the texture of paper, and the care and thought it takes to choose font, and how people choose to bind handmade books.  Here’s an image of that lovely little essay, titled “One Thing Leads to Another: An Essay on Collage.”  My favourite part about this little book from Kingsville (outside the content of the brilliant essay, of course!) is the sweet, thoughtfully placed red string that ties itself with a perfect knot in the middle of the collection.  On a heart level of memory and experience, that little red thread and tiny knot reminds me of how my grandmother used to make me put my finger on a piece of ribbon, while I was helping her to wrap a box at Christmas when I was little, so that she could make a bow.  (She likely knew I was horrid at wrapping, so sticking my finger there couldn’t really mess up her work, which was always lovely, and she made me feel useful and slightly talented, so she didn’t crush my spirit!)

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These two little(r) books make me think of how beautiful things are not often in big fancy packages or wrappings.  They remind me to look for the tiny ripples of beauty in daily life.  I guess that’s why I’ve always been fond of small chapbooks of poetry, or even handmade paper journals.  They make me think of daisies (my favourite flower next to thistles) and not tulips or roses, which seem too waxy and perfect sometimes.  They make me think of taking one’s time, of knowing that crafting something carefully is worthwhile, especially in a world that doesn’t always think so…

Merilyn’s book is a love letter to book making.  Not only that, it is an honouring of the process and art of how a writer’s work becomes a final, physical product.  She writes about the history of paper, printing presses, and how inks have been made through history, and all through my reading of it, I can hear her voice in my head.  (I know.  It’s probably not good when you read and write about a work written by someone you know.  I can hear her voice as I read and that’s sort of lovely.  It’s conversational, inviting, and shows me how an excellent writer is almost always a stellar storyteller.  🙂 )

There is a discussion of how things have evolved, from print to e-readers like Kindle and Kobo.  I will say, right now, that I consider myself to be a bit of an anachronism.  I like old things.  Very old things.  I love antiques.  I love old books.  I love history and art.  If you put me in an art gallery, you have to mind me in case I lean in too closely to a piece of art.  I often feel like they magnetize me.  The same thing happens if you ask me to your house because I will go around touching walls, or bits of old doorways and windowsills.  I have often said, when I come across an old house I fancy, “Oh, I could marry this house.”  At first, people snicker, but then they realize I’m fairly serious.  Then they think, I’m sure, “Oh, God.  Who’s this woman, then?!  How quickly can we get her out?”  My favourite thing to do, though, when I go into a person’s house for the first time, is to look at the books in their bookcases.  I’m nosy.  Collected books will serve as a mirror to a person’s soul, I often think, so then I’ll be bent over and peering at what’s on the lowest shelf.  It’s usually the most interesting one!

Gutenberg’s Fingerprint doesn’t say that old is better than new, that print is better than pixels.  Instead, Simonds herself admits: “I suffer the anxiety of a culture in flux” and says that we are “caught in a paradigm shift.  Words are the constant, with paper on one shore, pixels on the other.”  I get the flux thing.  I had an e-reader on my iPad, and it was grand when I was traveling by plane, but it (too often) fell on my face or shoulder when I fell asleep reading in bed.  Books will, in my experience, cause less of a concussion when I’m reading at night.  🙂  I also have the worst eyesight known to humankind, so my eyes get too tired when I read on a screen.

Last year, when I was at Banff for Lawrence Hill’s session on historical fiction, I met two writers from Calgary who also love the art of book making with a passion.  One is Monica Kidd, a writer who loves to experiment with typeface and letter presses.  The other is Sandra McIntyre, who is intrigued by Baskerville’s font, and his life.  There were nights of conversations about fonts out in Banff, too, that intrigued me, and I learned more about letter presses in those ten days than I had known in my entire life.  It’s funny to me, now, that I’ve had pieces of the book making process swirling around me in the last year or two.  And then I came to Gutenberg’s Fingerprint.  

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I love this book deeply.  It’s kept me reading rather steadily for the past few days, and with a number of things pressing down on me, including emergency vet visits and a bit of worry about trying to finish a manuscript of essays in the next two and a half weeks, it’s offered me respite and distraction.   This book, this week, has offered me a place where I can find some solace, delving headfirst into stories about how many kids first encounter printing with halves of raw potatoes that are etched out with designs and then dipped into primary colours of paint, or to stories around the history of the Gutenberg Bible, or to the history of parchment and how it’s linked to a “a narrative of conquest and invention.”

The thing I love most about it, though, is that it documents a dear friendship.  As someone who really doesn’t have much of a family anymore, my friends are that to me.  What Simonds does, throughout the narrative about making her book, The Paradise Project, is weave in a story of how people meet, and how both can share in the teaching and learning process, and how interconnected we can be on a soul level.  I love that.  It’s about depth—of friendship, of craft, of artistry.  (I know, too, that my friend Tanya feels the same way about Hugh, especially when I recall how her face lit up when she spoke to me about him, and how their friendship is so dear to her.)

This book is about making books, yes, but it’s about so much more.  Anyone who just sees the ‘parts’ of the process, really, is missing the beauty of Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, in my opinion.  It’s a love letter to books, to words, to paper, to the Muse, to taking time to revise, to craft things with care, but it’s even more so a love letter to how interconnected we all are…if we are open enough to see it…if we let our hearts go first, so that our heads just follow a little bit behind.  There’s the magic of it all.

peace,

k.

 

 

 

 

 

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This is a tiny blog post, just large enough to house a link to the interview I had with Markus Schwabe on CBC Sudbury’s Morning North today.  The Raining Poetry Project is happening now, and the deadline is July 31st.

http://www.cbc.ca/1.4208363

Sudbury poets are asked to submit poems 140-characters or less (including spaces!) so that the pieces can be tweeted out on the Poet Laureate Twitter account (@SudburyPoet).  Between 5-10 poems will be chosen and placed around the downtown core in late August.  The poems will be on the sidewalks downtown through the fall rainy season (from late August until early November).

Don’t worry; everything is environmental and biodegradable.  The words will spring up from the pavement when it rains…and if it doesn’t rain, well, we’ll have a poetry hike in the fall and the poets can throw water balloons at their own poems!

Please consider submitting to this if you’re living in Greater Sudbury!

Thanks,

kim

🙂

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My dad loved to garden.  He had a huge garden behind our big back yard.  Each year, he would till it, dressed in horrible beige work pants that ended up eternally stained by dirt.  As a child and teenager, it was my job (along with my sister’s) to bring him ice water (“Lots of ice, Kim!”) in a big Labatt’s glass beer tankard. He used to work for Labatt’s as a summer beer rep when I was a teenager and I recall going with him into the bush in Northern Ontario, visiting fishing camps to drop off ‘free stuff’ in a weirdly decorated Budweiser Jeep.  So, we had plenty of glass beer tankards at home.  Too many.

Anyway, I digress.  The garden.  He loved it.  We lived next to his parents, my really-quite-scary German grandfather and my nearly-erased-Irish/Scottish/English grandmother.  (They were terrifying, but that’s just not for this blog.  No point.  They’ll likely show up as twisted characters in a future novel or play, and I’ll likely go to hell afterwards, in true Irish Catholic fashion.)  My grandfather had the same sized garden as my dad’s.  Living at our house was like living at a commune or something, in terms of the vegetables that both Dad and Gramps grew.

Sometimes, I felt like an indentured servant, being forced to weed in the sun, plucking beans for blanching and freezing in late summer,  and later digging up potato hills and carrying too-big-bushel-baskets of creepy looking potatoes down into the fruit cellar in early fall.  I used to hate the smell of pickling, too, every fall, and I never fancied pickled relish on pork at Thanksgiving.  So horrid…but now I wonder if that’s because I associated the whole thing with the process of having been forced to weed all the time.  It may be, too, if I’m honest, that some of it had to do with my parents not having loads of money at the time.  I think now, when I look back, so much of the gathering of food, and preserving it, or freezing it, was about making it through the winter in an economical manner.

One year, I remember local kids stole vegetables from Gramp’s garden.  So, being an old school Southwestern Ontario German guy, he used to sit on a worn concrete compost bin late at night, waiting for the kids…with a rifle sitting across his lap.  Yeah.  He wasn’t a normal grandfather.  That’s clear enough, even in my memory now.

So, for Dad, I often think he made his garden to try and impress his own father, which was sort of sad, but sort of beautiful at the same time. Bittersweet, I suppose. They never struck me as being close, and I never saw a stitch of affection exchanged between them.  Old German men aren’t very kind, in my familial experience.  As I grew up, gardening held mixed messages.  My Dad, I think, may have started his grand experiment in horticulture to impress his own father, but it soon became a passion and deep love for him on a personal level.  He would light up with pride when he brought in a big bunch of Swiss Chard for supper.  The carrots he grew, well, I haven’t tasted carrots like those since I was a girl…and I miss that.

As kids, Stacy and I had to weed.  It was just expected.  No monetary allowances or bribery.  Just “you’re going to help weed tomorrow,” and I would go to bed thinking, as a fat girl with a staple in one hip, “Christ.  This is hell.”  I have always been pale skinned, too, so I hated weeding.  I would beg to go and weed near the fence, where there were trees.  I had shade there, and then, if I needed a break, I would daydream while looking up at the leaves in the tree.  I liked the way the sun moved through them, all gold-green and shadows rippling.

I don’t think I ever really impressed my father as a gardener, to be honest, because I wasn’t effective as a weeder.  Stacy was, but she was methodical and practical about it.  She was good at ‘wheeling and dealing,’ as Dad used to say.  I think she even, at some point, did strike up a business deal with Dad, for weeding purposes.  They both knew how to ‘do business.’  They had a close relationship, in my memory.  I was just too much in my head, I think, daydreaming or wishing I was Anne of Green Gables, wishing that I could have had a Matthew and Marilla of my own.  I don’t think either of my parents ever really ‘got me.’

Weeding:  I remember feeling like my skin was always on fire and I hated the sweat that would pour over the burn.  Back then, sunscreen wasn’t a thing.  I remember my mum and aunts always putting on baby oil, to get a tan, when we were at camp or at the lake.  Yeah.  That wasn’t clever.  I learned to just avoid the sun, tucking myself under a tree to read, or hiding in my room with a fan.  (I was a quiet girl, so sometimes I could make them forget I was even there…for a little while.)  The best you could hope for, if you were pale, ghostly, alabaster skinned me, is that there was a bottle of no-name aloe gel in the kitchen closet with the broken folding door.  Then the cheap summer lawn fabric of my Zeller’s nightgown would rub on my back and shoulders and I would just want to cry in pain at night.  Good times.  Not.

This was one side of gardening.

The other was what I saw at my great-aunts’ house, at 160 Kingsmount.  My great-grandfather had built the most beautiful garden.  On Canada Day, we all used to gather in that lush back yard and set off fireworks and sparklers.  Whenever I went to visit my great-aunts, I felt like they lived in a magical, sort of posh world.  You could step down into that grand garden and wander through shaded areas, or go to the very end, near the white picket fence, and pick the raspberries that hid next to the willow tree.  I loved that willow tree.  I used to go under there and think, “I wish I could just stay here and disappear.  Maybe no one will find me.”  I don’t really know what I was thinking as a girl.  Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m thinking as a woman.

I never knew my maternal great-grandparents.  They died almost twenty-five years before I was born, so I can only look at the photos of them now and wonder what they might have been like.  They’ve kind of become ghostlike characters in my first novel, completely fabricated in my mind.  My great-uncle, Tom Kelly, though, was in charge, as I was growing up, of the most amazing rock garden I’ve ever seen.  The land at the back of the house on Kingsmount dropped off sharply, so you went down flights of steps into the garden.  Tom built and maintained the most beautiful rock garden.  Through my childhood and teens, and early twenties, at parties there, all of my cousins would clamber over that thing, and then he would come out and give us all shit, so that we had to scramble down again, scolded and chastened.  It was, though, the best back yard to play hide and seek in…it really was.

I thought of Tom today when I was out in my back garden.  Last week, I did my front window boxes with my artist friend, Trish Stenabaugh.  We went to a nursery and spent time talking about, and choosing plants.  (I groped too many leaves and flowers that day.) Today, I went back to Southview and bought a whole slew of ground cover plants.  I especially loved buying the hens and chickens.  Tom stuffed those little suckers into every crevice possible in that old rock garden at 160 and I was always amazed by how they spread and seemed ancient.  They had come from Creighton, someone old in the family told me once.  They seemed to make the rock wall disappear, in a magical sort of way.

So.  Today, I spent a couple of hours pulling apart a section of my yard, the hill that leads up to my good neighbour’s fence.  I yanked out bits of maple trees sprouting, and stray bits of grass.  I found tiny bulbs of garlic plants, which someone must have planted years ago.  I left the moss and lichen, though.  For some inane sensory reason, I love to touch moss and lichen on rocky surfaces.  Have since I was a kid.  I love the way the rock feels so hot, and the moss or lichen feels warm, but almost cool in contrast to the rock.  I like that contrast, of how things up here in Sudbury’s northern landscape can seem harsh, but also just so beautiful and vulnerable at the same time.

Clambering over that rocky hill this afternoon, covered in sunscreen and glad for the tree shade, I kept thinking of what I’ve been doing over the last sixteen months or so.  It’s been a year of no fear, and an extension of that in the six and a half months of this year.  I’ve fallen in love with canoeing again, after many years of absence and a poor experience in my past.  I’ve taken up gardening, finding great solace in shoving my hands in the dirt and then having vegetables to gather.  I’ve lost enough weight that I feel comfortable enough in my body to swim again, to feel fluid, graceful, and strong in a northern lake.  I thought, today, stepping onto a rock, and then losing my footing, “So what, Kim?  So what?  You try something new.  You lose your footing, and you stumble, and you find your feet again.”  My whole philosophy of life has shifted in the last year and a half.  It’s a chrysalis making and breaking time.  It’s magical, and it’s terrifying, and it’s empowering to push through fear to find yourself in a new way.

After years of being too cerebral, I think, it’s like everything is whole now.  I’ve learned that you can be more than content with yourself, and your life, if you are grateful for the little things that show up every day.  I used to have to look for my tiny notes of thanks to the universe, but now they seem to swarm me on a daily basis. Gratitude glows…somehow.  So lovely.

Taking that rock hill apart today, and seeing what was underneath, served as a metaphor for my own physical and spiritual transformation.  Sometimes, I think, you need to go to very dark spaces to be able to see the light.  Some old dead Italian painters like da Vinci and Caravaggio used to call it ‘chiaroscuro,’ how light and dark work on canvas…and in a life.  I’m glad, now, that I’ve had such darkness in my life.  I wouldn’t be able to see the light if I hadn’t walked through the darkness.  It makes the light that much more beautiful.  The risks I take now, as a soul in a human body, wanting human experiences to grow my soul, I think, might seem small to other people, but to me they are the most massive risks I could ever take.  Hard to explain.

So.  The metaphor of the garden.  You pull apart something that has been covered over, made silent and hidden for too long, and then you see what’s underneath it all.  You think, “oh, that’s there, then. Such a surprise!” Then, you rebuild.  You create.  You blossom.

It’s not just about the shitty weeding chore anymore, for me.  It’s about coming into myself and recognizing the beauty of being so organic and holistic and raw inside.  It’s evolutionary.  It’s brilliant.  It’s like the lotus flower that you see somewhere in almost every yoga studio on the planet.

That little lotus flower had to rise up from the mud and muck, pushing up through the water to bloom.  It blooms out of darkness, reaching up to find the light.  It reminds me of my journey.  It reminds me of my canoe trip last Monday with my friend Jen, and how we went by a series of beautiful water lilies and I kept thinking of how beautiful they were, how mystical, how vulnerable, how ephemeral.

There’s something I’m learning about the mirage of certainty, about the illusion of ‘safety.’  It doesn’t exist. That lotus, or that water lily, needs to be open.  It needs to be vulnerable, and, in that action, of making itself vulnerable, it blooms.  As Anais Nin said, “…the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  I always liked that quotation.  Now, though, it rings true in my heart.

Being vulnerable isn’t easy, being open is the absolute most hardest thing, especially if you’ve only ever been taught to hide and pull inside yourself, to make yourself smaller than you are,  to “turtle,” but when you risk being vulnerable…your heart…blooms…and then the landscape, the universe, the Creator, whatever it is…that force of energy…rushes in to let you know all risks, to be vulnerable, to pull down your own walls, are met with rewards we can’t even yet imagine.  How cool is that?

I think my grandfather would think I was mad, a heathen woman with bits of leaves stuck in her curly hair on a windy day.  I think my dad would smile, shake his head, and say, “Oh, Kimber…” and let the words drift off because I likely confused, frustrated, mystified, and delighted him all at once.  I think my uncle, Tom, would gather me into a hug and tell me that he’s proud of me.  For risking, for pulling down my own walls with blood on my hands and tears in my eyes, and for blooming…like a lotus out of muck, or like a little bit of Irish moss stuffed into a rocky crevice.  Survival is the first step, and then there’s the blooming…

peace,

k.

 

 

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Here’s a link to the newest essay I’ve written.  It’s a reflective and personal narrative, I suppose you could say, which speaks about the role Mary Oliver’s work–both prose and poetry–plays in my life as a writer.

I think my deep love of landscape and the rhythms of the natural world, a love which is usually found outside of cities in my experience–down a gravel bush road, or on some island or another, or hiking, or canoeing, or sitting under a big tree–makes me feel comfortable with Oliver’s writings.

Anyway, if you’d like to read it, you can do so by clicking on this link and paying the many gendered mothers a visit.  🙂

Thanks to rob mclennan for his enthusiasm and kindness in publishing this piece.

peace,

k.

http://themanygenderedmothers.blogspot.ca/

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