Friday, December 28, 2007

Interview with Diane Tucker

Diane Tucker, author of Bright Scarves of Hours (Palimpsest Press 2007), was interviewed by rob mclennan for his 12 or 20 questions series. Below is an excerpt. The entire interview can be found on his blog. The link is provided below.




Q: Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Diane: By theoretical concerns I assume you mean do I write consciously to serve one literary theory or another? No, I don’t. Though obviously I write in a certain style and have studied certain poetry and not other poetry; I know no one writes in a vacuum. I value clarity, precision, accuracy, honesty. I value these things fanatically, rabidly. Whatever theoretical concerns those represent I leave to the theoreticians.

Questions? Each poem probably does try to ask the right question and/or to answer it, I guess. But honestly I think worrying about the effect of my body of work would be too distracting. Thomas Merton said we have to be detached from the results of our work. I believe this. It’s my job to write the best poems I can and disseminate them as best I can. “The rest,” as Eliot says, “is not our business”.

Frankly I’m not interested in any questions that are merely current (except maybe “Is my bus going to be on time?” and “Do I need another cup of coffee?”, to which the answer is nearly always “Yes!”).



To read the entire interview, go to rob mclennan’s blog
http://12or20questions.blogspot.com/2007/09/12-or-20-questions-with-diane-tucker.html

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Three mischievous squirrels and cutting glass by candlelight


How does one create a glass book?

Like my other chapbook projects, I came to this one with a vague idea of what the finished book should look like but had no clue how to get it from concept to reality. Lots of trial and error was going to be involved. I have taken a stained glass course before and know the basics: cut, grind, foil and solder. However, this project involved backing the glass with paper sheets and making sure the “pages” were not too thick. It is a book after all, and as such, it is meant to be read, handled, and stored on a shelf. If the pages were to be two-sided, the light would not shine through the glass. I had to think of the glass in terms of texture instead of light. And there were other issues as well. What kind of framing material should I use? How should the pages open? What type of hinging options do I have?

It all started with the idea of a themed windowpane called a “triptych,” in which three windows relate to each other in style and content. How could I make the typically religious themed composition work metaphorically in a modern poem? I told Christian about this idea for a book and he said, “you know I have a poem called triptych.” What luck! The poem was suited perfectly for this project. It is organized in three parts, as all good triptychs should, and its theme of love works well with a medium typically reserved for religious imagery. After all, what requires more faith and fervor than love? And there is an ironic resonance of this in the poem. Since the panes must relate to each other, they should be visible simultaneously. The book had to open out on both sides making the complete triptych visible, and then fold shut and store like a book. This decision determined the type of hinges I would use.

The poem uses the metaphor of the window and how it frames a moment, which is particularly suitable for this project. I decided the frame around the pages should be wood, to mimic the look of a bedroom windowpane (the persona’s perspective), thereby stressing the importance of framing in the text. The images in the poem centre on ice/ snow/ crystals. There is also mention of smoke and foliage, things that can blur vision. This dictated my glass selection. I chose glue chip, water glass, artique, baroque and spectrum, all in varying degrees of transparency. In them I see crackling ice, raindrops, frost, swirling snow, ferns and cobwebs. One glass has a thin curved line that reminds me of the etchings on ice formed by a skate blade.

I played with the idea of using red in one of the panes, since there was mention of a flame in the poem. I thought it would enliven the work and create a sense of contrast. Christian, however, saw the work as monochromatic in tone and thought the use of red too bold in relation to the unchanging tone of the speaker. I agreed and nixed the red. As a result, the panes are quite subdued in colour, with ranges and mixtures of grey, blue, black and white. When my husband saw the finished panes he declared them “dull.” This was wholly predictable since most people think of stained glass as those brightly coloured jewels hanging in windows with light streaming through. Next to them, these were rather anemic looking, but how perfectly they fitted the crystalline text. I pressed his fingers on the glass, asking, “have you ever touched such a richly textured page?”


Chaos Ensues

Now that my decisions were made I bought the materials and got to work. In this sort of production, what usually happens is a therapeutic calmness. The concentration needed to build and shape with one’s hands creates self-possession. My usual frenetic thinking is forced to quiet itself while my mind and hands work in unison.

But this tranquility would not last. Not one, but two, mischievous squirrels fell down my chimney and into my studio space (a.k.a. the laundry room). I heard some squeaking noises at the bottom of the flue and knocked lightly against the vent to see if something was inside. It hissed back. Knowing there was a frightened animal inside, I wasted no time closing off the rest of the basement, wedging the outside door open with a shoe, despite the considerable cold, and then opening the vent cover. Out flew two squirrels into the laundry room. They ran manically from wall to wall, jumping over shelves, knocking down the suspended light fixture, while I stupidly tried to direct them to the open door. “No, not over there you dumb… NO! NO! not on the table, MY GLASS… you’re going to knock down my glass!”

Now this in not the first time I’ve had a run-in with these bushy-tailed rodents. Cute as they are in parks and dangling from trees with their high wire trapeze act, I have grown to detest their swishing tails and clicking noises. When my husband and I first bought this house, I planted a perennial garden full of specialty bulbs. A rather indulgent purchase, I had the bulbs imported from Holland — Rembrandt tulips with their colourful and dramatic petals, delicate fountain tulips and double flowering varieties that resemble roses. But I never got to see them. The squirrels made quick work of my specialty imported Dutch bulbs, digging them easily from the newly packed dirt. I chased them away from my garden on a regular basis, trying various “tips” from other gardeners on how to dissuade them, but nothing worked and I could frequently be seen running through my yard yelling obscenities at squirrels, which I should point out is not a good introduction to one’s neighbours.

After that fiasco, I have never trusted another squirrel. We have an on-going feud concerning the garden, and they seem to taunt me from high up in the trees when I walk underneath, hissing and throwing the occasional acorn at my head. But lately, we have come to an understanding, each respecting the other’s space. Or so I thought. I wonder how it happened, can imagine them up on the roof, “you go, I dare you...” says one. “Well I double nut dare you,” goads the other.

Our past encounters have taught me that yelling at a squirrel and calling it names never helps the situation, and yet this situation warranted extreme behaviour. I thought if I could scare them away from the chimney side of the room they would be forced to go in the other direction, towards the open door. This worked for one of them. The other squirrel, to my dismay, did not follow. He remained hiding on top of a ceiling beam. I hit the beam with a broom in the attempt to bully him down. He pushed as far back as he could go and began growling, very low at first, until his growl sounded more like something that would come from a large canine and not a cute and fuzzy character from Bambi. I decided to leave him alone. I opened the window, shut the door and, very annoyed that my work was halted for the evening, I went upstairs.

I figured he would leave first thing in the morning, driven by thirst and hunger, but when I went into the laundry room the next day he was still hiding. He had found his way across the beams and into the ceiling over our basement hallway. I rapped on the ceiling and sure enough the ceiling began hissing back. The squirrel stayed there for two and a half days before I heard some crashing noises and saw the half empty bottle of detergent being knocked down as he made a mad dash for the window.

Finally, I could clean the mess and get back to work, or so I assumed. Later that same day as I was grinding glass I heard a loud thump and then some scratching noises. I tapped against the vent and sure enough it hissed back. What is going on? Did the first one come back looking for his friend? This time I knew better than to let him out. Yes, he was afraid, but I figured he was safer there than running over my glass covered work surfaces. When my husband came home, he tried disconnecting the vent to trap the rodent, but the wily squirrel was quick and nothing worked. So once again, an inanimate object in my basement was hissing at me. First a ceiling vent and now duct tubing.

It seemed a weird parlour trick. I’d rap on the vent and it’d hiss back. If I rapped three times maybe it would tell me a message, like a spirit from another dimension. The vent talked to me. Perhaps I could invite friends over and we’d crowd around it, light some candles, hold hands and ask it questions. “Should I make spaghetti with pomodoro sauce for dinner tonight? Hiss back three times for yes.”

A day and a half later the squirrel finally found its way out. An open window and a peanut butter treat did the trick. I guess I’ll have to cancel my talking vent party. A whole week had passed. The squirrels had hijacked my workspace and now I lost a week of valuable time. Christmas was fast approaching and I had promised Christian I would have the books to him beforehand.


What some people will do for art

The following Friday I arranged for my mother to watch my daughter so I could have the entire day to work, but once again bad luck intervened. It was storming outside, a sleety snow that soon turned to ice and began covering everything in a thick heavy layer.

There was a power outage. This meant no soldering gun, no grinder and no light. I found a kiwi-melon scented candle and some matches. As a side note, I have no idea where these candles come from. Melon scented or not, I had no choice if the books were to be finished on time. Cutting glass by candlelight is not the recommended way. For starters the low light makes it more likely to cut oneself, or impale oneself depending on the situation. I was lucky really. I managed to slice only one finger, which matched both in position and angle the first one I sliced in full light. It probably had more to do with the fact that I was cutting the glass on the top of my washing machine than anything else. The lid of the washer, of course, is convex, and although not ideal, all my other work surfaces were cluttered beyond usability. As I pushed the blade across the surface it gently rocked from side to side, making a straight cut impossible.

Two sliced fingers, a burn on my wrist from the soldering gun, and a shard of glass embedded in my forehead which I dislodged with a pin… to name just a few bodily injuries from my glass book experience. When I tell people this list, I usually get something like “what people will go through for art.” Truth is I’m kind of clumsy and me with anything even remotely dangerous is sure to cause injury. Rushed as I was the frame did not look quite right, and in an attempt to dissemble it one of the glass pages was broken. A new page and frame had to be constructed last minute, very last minute. I finished both books and shipped them UPS to Christian, scheduled to arrive just four days before Christmas. Creating a glass book was a daunting undertaking. Add to that the hijacking of my studio space by ill-tempered squirrels and an electrical blackout due to an ice storm and you have all the misfortune needed to stage a farce. Hopefully those who ordered one think it worth the wait.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Some women can’t wear white without getting a stain, and then there are those who tumble headfirst in a dress on Main Street



As I was walking from my hair appointment today, my long fluffy scarf blowing in the breeze, I made the irreversible mistake of trying to quickly scamper across a busy car-filled street. I was in an unusually good mood. It had been too long since my hair looked and smelled nice, and the sun was out despite the snow still covering the ground. I put on a dress this morning with the intention of “wowing” my husband, also long over due. When I left the house I wavered over my shoe choice. Heels were definitely not practical but my dress would not look as pretty if I were wearing mukluks, so I slipped on my chocolate brown heels. They are not too high, but high enough for someone inexperienced in the skill of balancing on the balls of her feet.

As a hurried across the street I could feel my feet sliding forward at a rate that the rest of my body could not maintain. I fell, make that nosedived, into a curling tumble onto the asphalt. I rolled the rest of the way until I made it to the sidewalk. Embarrassed, I pushed the length of my skirt back down my legs and wrapped the long scarf up around my face attempting to conceal my identity. I hustled myself away from the intersection as fast as my broken heel would take me. Now I am not a coordinated person; in fact, I am quite clumsy in regular shoes on warm summer days, so I certainly had no business running in heels in the middle of winter.

My ungraceful collision with the ground got me thinking about how stubborn people can be, that we refuse to admit we are, at times, incapable. The negative connotations of “not good enough” seem endless. If we are not capable at one thing, then surely that means we are incompetent at many things. When did we all become such over-achievers? Why does it have to take my face smashed against asphalt to remind me that I cannot do all things well?

When I was about twelve years old I was in skating lessons, and I decided I was going to sew a skating dress for an upcoming local competition. I had never sewn before, but that seemed a small matter. I made the entire dress using strips of iron-heated adhesive. What I hadn’t planned on was the cold air in the arena making the adhesive hard and brittle. The dress began falling apart on me as I cross-cut, twirled and spiraled across the ice. By the end of the routine I was holding a sleeve in my hand and the other was holding my skirt from falling down. This was the first of many times that I flashed an unwitting audience.

I have since learned to sew, and the curtains that hang throughout my house are testament to my skill. I have also learned to skate and, although I won’t be doing any double axles, I can glide in a perfectly acceptable fashion. But I’ll never be that woman who can wear white and not get a stain or the woman who has perfectly coifed hair, while selecting a firm but not too firm melon, in the grocery store. Sometimes it takes an embarrassing moment to remind us that we cannot be this woman. In my case the reality of my inadequacy literary threw me to the ground. Next time I should skip the heels and opt for a more practical pair, standing tall for practical women everywhere.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Great Book Covers

Some of my favorite 2007 book covers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Amphora Interview (2007)



Parts of this interview were published in Amphora (no.146, June 2007) entitled Vocational Soul Searching

Q: Your development as a writer coincided with learning some of the book arts - letterpress and binding. What was the connection?

A: As a writer you realize that the words, the way they look on the page, the space that surrounds, all plays a role in how that work is interpreted. Poetry, in particular, cannot be disassociated from its visual context. Listening to someone read a poem is completely different than reading its form on the page. Some lines are longer, extending past typical margins, or extremely short, perhaps only a word. They could be indented at the beginning or enjambed or dropped down at the end. Poets break their lines to create pauses, emphasis, or a distinct visual pattern on the page. The text of a novel flows from page to page without visual distinction until the end of a chapter. Not so with poetry. Poets are very aware of spatial connections on the page. I have always been drawn to poets like Blake who blur boundaries, meld images with letterforms, disrupting easy distinctions. He was someone who did everything himself—the writing, plate-making, printing. I don’t think many people realize how many stages a manuscript goes through once it has been accepted. It really explodes the notion of authorial intent. So many people have a hand in the process that there is something appealing in the idea of a poet/ artist, someone like Blake, who follows through on their own instincts and innovation without interference. Of course, I am no Blake, but one day I’d like to design and produce my own chapbook rather than handing my poems over to someone else.

Q: Why were you interested in learning about the production of books?

A: The production of books does not happen in isolation—there are many cultural, historical, and technological forces at work. I find it fascinating how different printing technologies have affected the production and distribution of texts. Moveable type not only made work available to more people, it also created a stable text. For the first time, a text could be duplicated without the mistakes of a scribe. The internet, once again, is revolutionizing how we read. The linear top to bottom text is being replaced with hyperlinks that create a jumping text that once again is unstable. No two reading experiences are the same. Binding also greatly affects how we read. Most books are left bound codices, but there are so many other options. Books bound at the top so the pages flip up, a segmented book with many binding points, or one that has no binding at all. Binding affects how we turn pages, and how we experience the text. With creative bookbinding, reading becomes more performative and individualized. As a writer, the ways in which design affects interpretation and technologies affect not only distribution but the reading process itself, is of great importance.

Q: How are most PP books printed - all letterpress, combination of offset and letterpress, etc?

A: I have my trade books printed on a commercial offset. My limited edition books are done in combination with letterpress. Currently I have only done letterpress covers, although I would like to start doing letterpress broadsides. The more I get into it, the more I love doing it.

Q: Why letterpress? Why, in addition to PP's trade titles, books printed and made by hand?

A: Letterpress has a beauty about it—the way the paper glistens under the light and the way the slight indentation feels under my hand. I love blind stamping for this reason. There is a simplicity about it. Objects made by hand, whether a table, stained glass window or book, are one-of-a-kind and there is great care taken in the production of them. That means something in this commercial age. And doing everything myself gives me the most creative freedom as a designer. I have the flexibility to explore my wildest ideas, like designing the spine of a book to hold a syringe, as in Marty Gervais’ chapbook Taking My Blood.

Q: The reason d'etre on your home page suggests that for your publishing program, financial viability of a given text (will it sell enough copies?) are eclipsed by your judgment of whether the text should be published - whether it is important, regardless of whether enough readers can be found to make it pay for itself. You wouldn't be the first publisher to take this stance, but you must also therefore subsidize the publishing with other endeavors that do (more than) pay for themselves. What are these?

A: As a publisher of contemporary Canadian poetry, I had to come to terms with the fact that my press would never be a commercial success. So I asked myself, would I be willing to sell cookbooks and self-help manuals so that I could be a financially successful publisher or would I rather publish books that I find meaningful and be willing to subsidize by other means. I chose the later. I began selling design and letterpress services a couple of years ago. The problem is that I get so busy with my publishing that I turn down well-paying jobs because I haven’t the time to do them.

Q: Who do you see as your clients for these services?

A: So far the people who have contacted me for letterpress services are those interested in buying custom invitations. As for design, I have had people contact me who are self-publishing and don’t know how to do the typesetting for a commercial printer. My hope is that other literary presses will ask me to design their books.

Q: How do you respond to people who believe that, if a book cannot be made to (at least) pay for itself, it shouldn't be published?

A: I guess that goes back to the question of what kind of publisher you want to be. It is a personal choice, and of course money is always a factor in what kind of risk people are willing to take. Certainly, many great books did not have a readership until many years after they were originally published. No one knows for sure what books will become required reading in the future, and value in literature has never been determined by publishing success. Putting high ideals aside, publishers have to seriously think about what their goals are before they accept that first manuscript. As a publisher, I go with what I believe in. Early in my publishing career I was very naive and lost a lot of money, and then made the mistake of publishing a book I thought was good enough, but not great, because it would sell well. After, I became so disillusioned that I took some time off to rethink my whole publishing program. I felt like I had lost my focus, that I wasn’t having any fun, and I certainly didn’t want money to be the determining factor in selecting a title. What came out of that vocational soul-searching were my limited editions. I thought why would I want to continue publishing 400 copies of relatively ordinary looking books when I only sell half the print run. I rather print 100 copies and spend more on making beautiful, high quality books that I love, and I know others will appreciate, potentially making less, but valuing the process and the outcome more.

Q: You are working in two parallel publishing veins, trade and limited editions. And while they have many superficial similarities, there are fundamental differences, from modes of production to the kind of person who buys them. Do you find one more interesting, or rewarding than the other?

A: The trade books are the books that are produced with a more general, wider audience, although for poetry the audience is always somewhat limited. I find these books easier and quicker to produce. The limited editions are time intensive, but the rewards are also greater. I am more emotionally invested in the limited editions because they are so hands-on, and I am involved in the process from start to finish. For each book there is a creative vision. I then work with the materials, manipulating and tweaking the vision as I go along.



Q: Can you discuss this in relation to a specific project?

A: With Paper Lanterns, I knew I wanted the chapbook to be travel-inspired, like a personal journal that someone brings along on a trip, but also be reflective of traditional Asian bookbinding. I played with the construction of the cover for quite some time before deciding on one that would wrap around the foredge like an envelope and then secure in the center. The spine edge would be left exposed so that I could stab bind single pages into a text block. The covers are attached with a decorative tortoise shell binding. The top cover has a letterpress title in vertical orientation that resembles the look of a Japanese title bar. When the cover is opened, I added a liner to make it look like the inside of an envelope. The first page is a “postcard”. When I first saw the photograph used on the front of this postcard, I knew it was the perfect image because of the vertical sign behind the woman. All I had to do was remove the sign’s original text and then add my own to mimic the vertical text found on the letterpress cover. What most people probably cannot tell is that the new text on the sign is actually the title of the book in Chinese. This project was definitely a labour of love. There was a lot of time spent on the details—editing and ordering the poems, picking papers that reflected the Asian theme, twisting paper into string for the inner binding, creating cancelled stamps in Photoshop with Japanese stamps I bought off EBay. There were also many gluing dilemmas with the design of the cover and the use of different paper weights, and numerous mixing experiments involved in getting a crisp letterpress impression with metallic ink on textured paper. Being involved to this extent was at times frustrating, but it was also rewarding. There is a sense of accomplishment that one can only get by being involved in the production process.

Q: In the limited editions (e.g. Paper Lanterns), is the internal text offset or digital?

A: The text was done on my Mac with Quark Xpress and then printed on a laser, the postcards were all done on my Mac but I had then commercially printed on an offset.

Q: Who are your exemplars/favorite contemporary publishers of limited editions? What do you collect? Where do you go to see the work of others publishing contemporary poetry in limited editions?

A: I really like Greenboathouse and JackPine. I have work from those two presses, as well as from MotherTongue and Frog Hollow. I primarily buy limited editions on-line. There are small-press fairs, where you sometimes find gems. It is nice to actually look at the books before purchasing, but I've not yet been disappointed with an on-line purchase. I also collect 19th poetry books. I bought a few through used bookstores, but primarily off EBay or from ABE.


Q: How are you distributing/selling PP books? Is it different for the trade books & limited editions? Do these books go to two different types of readers/collectors?

A: I recently joined a distribution service and they will be handling all my trade sales. It was getting to be too much for me, with all the phone calls and shipping to individual stores. It is hard enough to balance all that life requires without having to spend time on tedious things—I was getting increasingly cranky. I am hopeful that this arrangement will work out, and am curious to see if increased sales will compensate for the revenue lost through fees, percentages and additional charges paid to the distributor. As for the limited editions, I do most of my sales through my web site to individual collectors and to book buyers for libraries. A smaller percentage is sold to bookstores where the author is doing a reading. These are not the type of books that I would want shelved and then returned if unsold as with trade books, because they would likely get damaged. Besides, people who go into Chapters are not looking to buy a $65 poetry book. They want something cheap and easily consumed and discarded. It is not surprising that poetry in general doesn’t sell well at large chains. Independent bookstores sell more poetry. The web has been great. Word of mouth between collectors goes a long way, but I know that I have made some sales because people were simply searching on-line for something different.

Q: There's a long tradition of poets becoming interested in printing, sometimes as a means to get their own work published, but less often than people probably think. Why is that? Is it because poems are shorter than prose, and so less daunting to undertake? And why has there been this long-held bias against self-published work, when (for example) in the music world we celebrate people who record and release their own songs?

A: I can’t say that I have ever heard that recording artists avoid this stigma, so I can’t comment on that. As for poets, I know that writers like Margaret Atwood first published their own poetry in a chapbook. I think that slim book sells for over $1000 now. It is unfortunate that people assume if you can’t get someone else to publish your work, then it mustn’t be any good. It will be interesting to see if the advent of print-on-demand services will create a resurgence in people publishing their own work. There is certainly a history there, even for novelists. Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ernest Hemingway, all self-published. I think, though, that since poetry books tend to be fewer pages than novels, it is more economical for a poet to self-publish. I also think that poets, for the reasons I gave earlier, concerning the link been words, interpretation and spatial cues, are more interested in the design and presentation of their work. I suppose experimental writers of any genre would be more likely to go the self-publishing route because of the freedom it affords them.

Q: Given PP's stated goal of publishing "to give voice to the marginalized, to build and support new literary communities," especially for poetry, do you find the limited edition a more effective method of connecting texts and audiences?

A: In general, the people who buy and collect limited editions do so for different reasons than people who buy trade books. For some collectors, content is less of an issue, so I’d have to answer no to that question. The quoted statement applies to my goal as a small press publisher of poetry. Larger publishing houses tend not to publish poetry, unless by a highly recognized and award-winning poet, because not enough copies can be sold to make it worth their time and resources. They simply can’t make money. This is where small presses, I believe, have their unique power and important social function. They are the risk-takers—the ones who publish unknown, marginal or experimental poets and create audiences for them. If it were not for small presses, then these books might never be published. Some, perhaps, should have stayed unpublished, but others will have a great impact on many people.

Q: How do you recognize such text/poems/poetry that fulfills this role? This may come down to simple (& impossible to explain) publisher's instinct, but thought I'd ask.

A: I make decisions relatively quickly, based on if I find the work intriguing. If, after a few pages, I am not intrigued enough to want to read more than it goes in the reject pile. Most end up there. For the few that make it further along, I can’t explain exactly how I decide. Ultimately, I go with what I like.

Q: What are some of your upcoming projects?

A: In 2007, I am publishing two poetry trade books and two limited-edition chapbooks. The limited editions are Valerie Stetson’s The House Poems and Christian Bök’s Triptych. I am very excited about Triptych, which is one poem in three parts. It will have a stained glass overlay, and be built into a hinged wooden frame that folds up and stores in a sleeve. I haven’t quite figured out some of the technical details, but that is part of the challenge and the fun.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Finally Finished?

I have finally finished my manuscript, or at least I think I have. I am, no doubt, the type of writer who could go on revising and editing indefinitely. I simply don’t know when to stop. It has been seven years in the making, and I’m still not convinced it is done, but then, it probably will never be. For me, poems are fluid and their movements never have a permanent shape.

Here are a few of their current shiftings:





Self-Portrait
Self-Portrait, Elizabeth Siddal, 1853-54. Oil on canvas.


Your stiff collar and hair neatly pinned into a chignon
suggest Victorian modesty, yet there is defiance
in your sharply drawn nose, chin slightly raised.

A study in contradictions. You burn slow.
All around you green — a swampy marsh like singed
leaves, sap, wormwood, at once sweet smelling
yet choked with decay. Quickening.

He painted your gaze downcast,
claiming the right to control what your eyes gathered in.
Yet here you are starring back at me, those large, sad eyes
demanding I see you as you are. Confronting me. Boldly.
A viridescent haze around your head like unripe fruit.




Beata Beatrix
Beata Beatrice, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1864-1870. Oil on canvas.


I look at you through his eyes.
The contours of nose and chin brushed onto canvas.
He controls your hair, an ecstatic red, your eyes shut
as if in trance. This last portrait,
completed after your death, paints you
as Dante’s muse. As Beatrice, eternal.

Framed inside a frame, the dove places
a poppy in your hands — already colder
than they once were.

He chose you as his favorite model,
made you his mistress and student.
For hours you sat or stood motionless,
the feeling in your arms gone dead,
while he drew you thin and pale,
with hands and mouth curled shut
like a bud not yet bloomed.

The illness that kept you weak, withdrawn
into darkened rooms with blinds snapped shut,
did not affect your beauty. He told you
you looked most beautiful while sleeping,
painted you languid and heavy-lidded,

as if your eyes had nothing to say,
except when mirroring his own.





Still Life


He does not like to paint bowls
of apples and pears, decaying roses
in a light filled vase. Chiaroscuro.

The bare scarcity of an object
frightens him, the nakedness of a face
alone in saturated light. Clean cut
shadows on cheekbones.

He surrounds his women
with subtext. Crowns of dainty blossoms,
thick furs,
birds in flight.


A face crowded by symbolism. Silenced.
Leaves and flowers, stylized, pushed up
against the flatness of canvas.
Her eyes are open, yet she is closed
to the world.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Epitaphs

In these poems, I have Elizabeth Siddal in conversation with Anne Sexton. Both women have many biographical similarities, like drug addiction, depression and suicide, but differ greatly in their views of artistic creation. I had a lot of fun writing the epitaph series. The circumstances surrounding Siddal’s death and exhumation are so bizarre and macabre that a little humour is required.

(The line breaks and indents are all wrong on this post, but there is nothing I can do to make blogging poetry-friendly).




A Walk Through Highgate Cemetery with Anne Sexton


Anne and I walk through the manicured grass, admire a tombstone, large with angels in carved movement, carrying the spirit of the dead beloved to some heaven or other. We read epitaphs,

Underneath this crust
Lies the mouldering dust
Of Eleanor Batchelor Stoven,
Well versed in the arts
Of pies, custards and tarts,
And the lucrative trade of the oven.

She must have been a good cook, kept her fat husband happy with bread-pudding. Then one day she got greedy with the lamb-shanks, I say, speculating on the cause of death. She wouldn’t share, and as punishment god struck her down. I think her husband missed her awfully, when she was gone. With no one to cook for him, he whittled away to nothing.

And what about this one, Anne says, pointing to a tall grey tablet.

Under this stone doth lie
As much beauty as could die
Which in life did harbor give
To more virtue that doth live

Anne continues, I suppose she was virtuous, as men defined it in those days, sweet and humble, modestly scrubbing dirt off potatoes. Let’s say a wee grey mouse ran across her feet and gave her such a fright that she dropped dead.

I giggle shamelessly, Oh we are bad, quite disrespectful. A second nervous giggle. I’m sure they were happy enough.

Happy, exclaims Anne. What does that have to do with anything? I lived with passion. And what about you? I’m surprised you’re still alive, bloom fading and all. Not even a suicide attempt, and what are you – pushing forty? You have posterity to think about.

I’m not even close to forty, thank you very much! Besides times have changed. You still don’t buy into that death as a creative feminine act bullshit, do you?

She doesn’t answer. Ah ha! Now here’s a woman who took her art seriously. Anne is standing beside the Rossetti family plot. She reads the small, worn tablet on the ground, propped up against the large Rossetti tombstone.

Also to the memory of Elizabeth Eleanor,
Wife of their eldest son DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI,
Who died February 11th, 1862, aged 30 years

I think of the dead young bride married for less than two years who, according to Anne, took her art seriously. Consider the words also, wife of, his name engraved larger than her own.

I suppose I’ll die late in life, be old, fat, and content to be remembered as a minor Canadian poet.





Epitaph Series:
Imagined Engravings on Elizabeth Siddal’s Tombstone


I

Here lies a poet with golden hair
Known to be both beautiful and fair,
There came a prince who swept her away,
Till death do you part was their one-act play.

II

A poet, fool, and lover are undeniably mad,
I’m surprised to that list, Shakespeare did not add
Scorned women who most assuredly are
All of the above, and crazier still, by far.

III

While young and in love, the colours of life were vivid,
The muse possessed my soul and to her work I did bid.
And there came a gentle babe inside this bony frame,
But thoughts of happiness are never the artist’s domain.
Soon fate intervened, art and life a destined still-birth
And now we all live here, under the gentle earth.

IV

Scandal is never proper to discuss,
And yet in this grave are tales of deceit and lust
Forever my chaste mouth shall remain shut,
Unless, like my husband, you dig coffins up.

V

Here I lie in this grave, once more all alone,
And here on this tombstone is yet another poem.
Go on, write of my life like a fading bouquet,
How dawn was gone before the end of day.
Just be honest with yourself, my love,
For how good can it be, buried in mud.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Press Release – Bright Scarves of Hours

Diane Tucker’s new poetry collection, Bright Scarves of Hours, will be launched Thursday, September 27th at 7 pm, at the Cafe Montmartre in Vancouver. A second reading will take place Thursday January 31st at 7 pm, at 32 Books (3185 Edgemont Blvd) in North Vancouver.

A small offering: The cover was designed by myself and I’d like to say thanks to my cousin’s wife and friend, Jenn, who posed in a winter coat and scarf on a warm spring day, and to compliment my daughter for looking so damn cute, as always.



Bright Scarves of Hours is a poetry collection that explores common domestic landscapes — car-pooling with children, walking the dog, vacation snapshots and recipes. These elements weave into one woman’s vibrant inner life, transforming the mundane into a tapestry shimmering with insight and lyricism.

From an elegiac yellow morning to the dark dreams of exhausted sleep, these poems assert that no hour is an ordinary hour, and that there is no such thing, really, as an ‘ordinary’ life. Wrought with the burdens and triumphs of familiar love, the language seeks to connect us while celebrating the sometimes contrary desires and hidden grace found in the everyday.

Diane Tucker was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she received a B.F.A. from the University of B.C. in 1987. Her first book of poems, God on His Haunches, published in 1996, was short listed for the 1997 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her poetry has been published in several anthologies and appears regularly in journals in Canada and abroad. Diane lives in Burnaby, British Columbia.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Press Release - Natural Disasters

If you missed the book launch in August at Whitby’s Bookstore, you have another chance to catch Andrea reading. This time she will be at the UBC Bookstore at Robson Square, September 20th at 7pm.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Curious Book

Sometimes you just have to wonder why.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Modern Book Club, if that’s what you call it?



Ok, I know I’m a snob, but why do people insist that they belong to book clubs, when they don’t actually discuss books. Last week, I unintentionally offended my mother’s friend when I laughed at the term “book club” being applied to their monthly meetings that involve unlimited wine, amazing food spreads, and even more talk, none of it I would term book club discussion. I am focusing on the word “discussion” here. They do, in fact, sometimes talk about books. One woman may give a quick plot summery of a book she has read, but not too much because she doesn’t want to ruin the end for anyone else, and then another may talk about a book she didn’t like, insisting it isn’t worth picking up, and then the final woman may summarize an article she read in Chatelaine about buying organic. Forgive me, please, but I thought book clubs were meant for the discussion of a particular book that everyone attending has pre-read. I may be ignorant here, but how can you discuss a book when no one else has read it.

I have attended my mother’s book club in the past, and been somewhat confused by the whole experience. Each woman briefly talked about a book they’ve read, being coy and giving evasive comments about the book in question. “I don’t want to give anything anyway, just read it”, and then they started whipping out books from their overstuffed purses and began passing them around the table. This lending library quickly digressed into discussions about who made what salad, can you pass the havarti, and isn’t this a divine cheesecake. Then they began passing out recipes on little cards and freely distributing the wine as they gossiped about friends and neighbours.

Now I am all for a group of women coming together for some social talk and a glass of Pinot, but come on, call a spade a spade. This is no book club, so why call it one? My mother suggested that I not be so rigid in my definition and that I needed to think outside the box, or in this case, I guess she meant to think outside the book. I suppose I’m textually fixed, but I just can’t see how this term fits. Maybe “book recommendation club” would be better. But why even focus on books. Clearly the food takes precedence in importance. Why not just make it a monthly event. Have some friends over for no specific reason at all.

So, I ask myself, why does the modern woman, who is in no way a desperate housewife, need to think up an excuse to have a social gathering among her friends? I have a theory — women love theme parties. Ever since the invention of wedding and baby showers, women have come together for conversation and hearsay scandal, all with a neatly wrapped present and the best egg-salad in town. Then there were the ever-popular Tupperware parties and more recently candle and scrapbooking parties. In fact, women’s gatherings have exploded in popularity. There are now goddess parties, where each woman is required to come dressed as the goddess she most identifies with, pregnancy parties, where a woman’s friends cast her belly in clay, and pole dancing parties, where, really I’m not joking, women get in touch with their inner sexuality by learning to spin and gyrate around a pole. The varieties of women-centered parties seem endless. And what do they all have in common — women coming together for friendship and a unique experience, huddled around a buffet of decadent desserts and an abundant supply of wine.

Call it what you want, but it is defined as fun. Cheers ladies!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sexy at Three?


I don’t think I am being nostalgic when I state that dolls today are not promoting the right kind of imaginative play. Yes, Barbie is ridiculous with her extra long legs and D cup breasts, but Bratz dolls put a whole new spin on sexualized toys. There is Barbie, and then there are Bratz Babyz with their glittering half-tops and pinned diapers. These are without a doubt the most bizarre dolls I have ever seen. It is almost funny the way they inexplicably combine infant accessories, like blankies and bottles, with sexuality. This is the world where girls play not with baby tricycles but Harleys, and where bottles hang around necks like “bling” on diamond chains. What kind of messed up “play” do these dolls encourage? There is even a Babyz Night Out package, full of fashion and beauty accessories. And their night out is not to grama’s house – no – these babies are going clubbing! This is a play world where babies wear thongs and have pouty, lip-lined mouths that Angelina would be envious of.

Isaac Larian, CEO of the company, Micro Games, that manufacture these dolls, said on Nightline that they “don't look trashy to me. I think trashy is in the eyes of the adults". Well then, the thing is Mr. Larian, you must be so blinded by the towering stacks of money that you can’t see the leather clad doll in high heels. To suggest that the “trash” is in our own degenerate minds is to ignore the effect culture plays in our development. We live in a sex-driven consumer society, and despite the CEO’s indignant stance that it is all in our heads, when a doll marketed to young children wears fishnets, it is obvious that sex is selling toys as well. And if one needs hard evidence, let’s look back at the popular dolls from previous generations. Raggedy Anne is positively homely compared to these new fashion dolls.

I find Bratz dolls offensive, not only for their trashy outfits and garish makeup but because of the way they are marketed to young girls. Bratz Kidz and Bratz Babyz are an attempt by the makers of Bratz Dolls to branch out into other markets, younger markets, markets that range from ages 2-5. And these dolls, on a subconscious level, are showing young girls, toddlers really, how to be sexy. Can’t we let little girls just be little for a while. All that will come soon enough. It is so sad to me that parents actually buy these dolls for their children. If parents didn’t buy them, then the market would fall out and production of these porn-tots would stop. As consumers, we have the power to change this, yet parents keep buying these tawdry toys for their young daughters.

I get really annoyed when mothers tell other mothers what to do, and take a self-righteous air. And yet in this case, as hypocritical as I am going to sound, I simply can’t help it. Parents who buy these toys seriously need a time-out! Even if you are not alarmed by their appearance, take a moment and think about what kind of imaginative play these dolls are promoting. They can wrap it up in any kind of friendship, fashion fun, girl-power bullshit they want, the truth is these dolls encourage girls to be consumer driven, beauty obsessed, sexually provocative and self-absorbed – basically, life values according to Paris Hilton. So unless we want our daughters to aspire to be nothing more than the next diva or starlet to grace the cover of Maxim, it is time to say “Enough already”.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wasting my time in Margaritaville, otherwise known as facebook

I signed up for facebook because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. People I care about were spending a lot of time on facebook and I kept getting requests to be their friend, although I thought I already was. I worried that they were spending too much time connecting over their computers and not enough time interacting in person. There is something to be said for the now outdated fashion of inviting someone into your home and talking face to face while sharing a glass of wine. It seems fewer people actually have the time or inclination to socialize in this outmoded, quaint style. There are blogs, chat rooms, forums, myspace and now facebook.

People are connecting and networking in new ways, and not all of them seem beneficial. I’m not interested in being poked, spanked, having sheep thrown at me, bitten by a zombie, given virtual cosmopolitans, bought or sold, rated by hotness, or any other immature time wasting debauchery. And then there are the quizzes: what kind of drunk are you, what personality disorder do you have, what colour is your heart, what kind of lover are you, how smart are you, how hot are you, what do men see in you, what 1950’s pin-up model are you, and the list goes on. The worst part of this is that it is your friends who are sending you these annoying requests, because if they took the quiz they have to invite 20 of their friends to install the application to get their results. Very sneaky indeed.

Despite these very real and annoying applications, I have found, much to my initial skepticism, that facebook is fun and even, at times, a great business tool. I even created my own Palimpsest Press facebook group, where I can create discussion threads, post upcoming events, email members about new titles and readings, add links and upload video and audio clips.

The problem is that, for me at least, facebook is problematically addictive. It is far too easy to log on, play some scrabble moves, look at updated profiles, check the status bars, and before I know it an hour or longer has passed and I have done nothing on my to-do list. Facebook promotes a laid-back, unproductive work environment. The trick is discipline, which clearly I lack. I refuse to install any more games on my account because I know I am too easily drawn into playing them and forgetting about what needs to be done. Of course, there is no one to blame for this waste of time except myself. If it weren’t facebook, then it would be something else. I am an accomplished procrastinator.

Wastin’ away in facebook again,
Makin’ my next scrabble assault.
Some people claim that there’s a web site to blame,
But I know it’s my own damn fault.

Still, my main bone of contention with facebook remains. Although meant to connect us, it is really creating a culture of computer savvy people with no real social interaction. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can give an example of this in my own life. My husband and I both have offices in our basement. I keep my door open so we can talk to each other, being only 10 feet or so apart. One evening, we were both on facebook, responding to emails, writing on people’s walls, and playing scrabble. We each remained in our own little internet bubble, when I turned my head to face him and said, “hey, would you hurry up and make your move, I have my next word ready.” I suddenly realized that we were playing scrabble with each other for the past hour and this was the first time either of us had actually looked at or talked to the other person. My husband went out and bought the Scrabble board game that week.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

I’m trying to meditate on Buddha’s principle of non-attachment, but just keep thinking about how cool my new hybrid car is




When it comes to hybrid cars, there are many noble reasons to incur the initial extra cost. The most virtuous being that it is a non-polluting environmentally responsible choice. When our Saturn hybrid stops at a red light, the engine automatically turns off and then restarts when the car shifts gear. As a result, it produces fewer emissions, idles less and gives better mileage.

There are also less than noble reasons to buy a hybrid:

1. Although the out-of-pocket expense is higher, fuel economy, lower insurance rates, and tax incentives will save me money in the long run.

2. Some stores like IKEA are putting green parking spots near the entrance that can only be used with hybrid cars, which means I don’t have to park at the back of the lot when it is raining.

3. I find it entertaining to watch confused pedestrians when I am stopped at a red light or stop sign. The car makes no noise and appears not to be running, and they hesitate before walking out in front of me, sure to catch my eye, as if to say “are you going or not?”

4. I enjoy watching the eco light on the dashboard light up, and will change my speed accordingly just to see it come on. A small pleasure, but a pleasure none-the-less.

5. The Canadian government is thinking about making an Eco-license plate for hybrids that is coloured green, which would give the owner incentives like passing in the car-pool lane with only one driver.

There is one small problem though. The Unites States government is thinking of making a mandatory license plate for all convicted pedophiles. The colour they chose — green. I would not want to go over the border with a green plate! I am imagining us stopping at a restaurant for breakfast. Some thugs will notice the license plate, walk in and see my dark-haired husband eating blueberry waffles with our very cute, blonde daughter. While I am in the bathroom drying my hands, they’ll drag him out to the parking lot and beat the crap out of him.

A downside to a hybrid car, for sure.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Waking Dreams

As a child I was somewhat reclusive, daydreamed much of the time, talked to trees, insects, animals. I had many conversations with my pet goldfish until its untimely demise down the washtub drainpipe. My daydreams led to many accidents, like walking into things or riding my bike into parked cars. I even fell asleep in a snow bank once, because I was so caught up in my fantasy world. My parents had been looking for me for hours and finally found me lying perfectly still amongst all that whiteness.

This is still a problem, or so I am told. I have been accused many times of being too idealistic, naive, enraptured by my own fantasies. I wonder what it means to be “too” of anything. Either one is or one is not, the degree of which hardly seems the point.

Reality is a hard place for me. I have always preferred the solitude of my own landscapes. The issue, as I see it, is that when one lives a life of dreams, the world becomes a frightening place. This cannot be helped, since in fact that is what it is. As a child I kept a garbage bag full of stuffed animal by the window in case of a fire. At night I had vivid nightmares. But during the day my waking dreams kept me grounded, not so much in reality but grounded as in feeling safe, solid, like I wouldn’t be blown away by the direction of the wind.

I worry about my daughter because she seems to have some of my neurosis, picks compulsively at little pieces of thread, fuzz or dirt. She dreams of dinosaurs roaming the night and wolves howling. She worries about me going away from her or someone taking her away. She worries about what happens to bees in the winter, and that we will run out of peanut butter and her sandwich will never taste the same again. She worries all the time. And still she is a happier child than I was, content most of the time. She loves to be with people and talks very well for her age, which only makes sense because she has barely stopped since her first word.

She is sweet, compassionate, and has an imagination that soars. I want her to experience the flight, like a kite released into an immense sky. But how do I ground her? Be her rope tethered to firm ground? I have never been the rock, always the thing in motion.

When she was just two years of age, I was pushing her in her baby swing when she began reaching out her arms.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to touch the sky mommy.”

Your arms are not big enough, child. Use your heart.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

PALIMPSEST BOOKBINDING & DESIGN SERVICES



Fine Bookbinding

Palimpsest is now offering custom bookbinding services for those who want to collect letters, cards, artwork or poetry into hand-bound, beautiful books. Books can be made with soft or hard covers with various binding options available. Prices range from $20 - $50 a book, depending on complexity of design and materials used.

Letterpress Services
Custom letterpress invitations and business cards can be designed and printed using handset type and a platen press. Please email for quote, as price is determined by design and paper used. A minimum of six months is required to design, set and print.

Design & Print Services
Typesetting, cover design and professional print services are available for those who want to self-publish soft or hard cover books. Books will not be published under the Palimpsest name. Price determined by design, paper choice, number of pages and print run. Please email for quote.

Design services are also available for logo development, business cards, letterhead, pamphlets and brochures. Print and paper options available. Price varies — please email for quote.

Editing & Tutoring Services
Manuscript editing can be provided at a rate of $15 per hour. Tutoring services available for high school and university students who need assistance in creative writing or English Literature courses. Editing services are also available for university papers. References can be obtained upon request.

Dawn Kresan has been publishing and doing editorial freelance work for seven years. She studied desktop publishing and design using Quark Xpress and Adobe software from St. Clair College, received training from the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild in bookbinding, learned letterpress from Hollander’s School of Book and Paper Arts, studied creative writing through Humber College, and received her B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from the University of Windsor. Her poetry has been published in a variety of Canadian literary magazines and anthologies.

Email Dawn at info@palimpsestpress.ca for more information.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Books In Canada Review — Steven Heighton’s Paper Lanterns

My first Books in Canada review of a Palimpsest title was not for a trade poetry collection, but for a slim chapbook. Paper Lanterns, by Steven Heighton, is the second chapbook I have produced and I am very proud of it. I am fortunate that an influential paper like BIC was willing to review a chapbook at all. I’m sure the regard for Steven’s work within the literary community weighed heavily in his favour. The short review, written by Matthew J. Trafford is a rave, and I am thrilled that this little chapbook has been so well received. I am confident this will be my first sell-out.


Pan-Asian Fare, as published in BIC Vol. 36.1 (Jan/ Feb 2007)
by Matthew J. Trafford

If this chapbook were a restaurant, it would serve “pan-Asian fare”; China, Japan, Nepal, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Indonesia provide the inspirational backdrop for poems, postcards and journal entries. This is dangerous territory: the threat of appropriation lurking around every corner, whole minefields of cliché to avoid, insidiously exotic renderings of the “Other” to guard against.

Fortunately, in this case, the reader is in the hands of a capable guide. Steven Heighton has the sharpness of mind to ask: “Why do Westerners love to write about Asia?” Even if he never comes up with an answer, the question is enough, especially if it means that he ends up with sentences as memorable as this: “ . . . even now what we want is not to see into the textured density of Asia or to understand its people or learn its tongues, but to carry home a complete box of slides, a fastidious journal, silk jackets emblazoned with dragons, a Sherpa’s wool-hat, a yukata patterned with Japanese blossoms.”

Despite familiar adages about books and their covers, when it comes to chapbooks a description of the physicality of a book is germane. Paper Lanterns is an 100-copy edition, with Lokta end papers in red, St. Armand handmade paper in brown turtle, and attached Japanese Yuzen paper in brown blossoms. It is stunningly beautiful. The book also features six vivid colour photographs by Mary Huggard, four of which have literal “postcards” on the back—a date, a place, a blurry stamp, and prose which starts out grounded in the specifics of a place and wanders into the philosophical: “Disturbing to consider how much of the human brain stands empty, a disused laboratory or studio, a room with a view of mountains: locked.”

This slender chapbook from Palimpsest Press (which adapts material from Heighton’s 1989 collection Foreign Ghosts) is a foreign delicacy to be savoured, the perfect souvenir to be treasured.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

On Becoming a Mother

How can I describe, within a few short lines, what is means to become a mother — the first time I looked in her face, dark eyes seeking, the open mouth fluttering like a birds. Who is this person? This small creature burrowing into me.

What took me by surprise was the sense of loss. No one talks of this, how from the moment of birth separation becomes a painful and continual process. The cord is cut, my body torn and in agony, and still, and still I feel the emptiness. She is leaving, already she is leaving.

By instinct, my arms learn to curve round her body, to fit perfectly. An extension of myself, the borders of our skin blend, and I finger the soft flesh of her earlobe. I do not want this leaving, and she cries as if in protest. I know that one day she will tie her own shoes, attend school, bring home a boyfriend. In time she will understand what those before her have felt. She will gain knowledge of transience, the orange and red dappled brightness of an autumn leaf turning grey. How the years suddenly fall away, so many minutes in a day lost or unaccounted for.

What we all seek is the same — an anchor of skin, the rhythmic sound of a steady beat when tides crash in, the right word to manifest itself when called upon. My hope is that she will find these things. That she’ll learn to value the hidden grace found in the everyday, and when contrary desires threaten to break, she will not be stunned by the paradox, but learn by instinct to bend.

May my love carry her through, as the love of my own parents has held me steadfast. Dear father, dear mother, now I understand, now I understand.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Movie Review - Little Children

In Todd Field’s Little Children (2006), a film adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel by the same name, Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson star as an adulteress couple in an upper-class suburb. It is summer, the temperature unbearably hot, and in the background there is the faint sound of a train siren. The movie meanders at a slow pace, and yet it is hypnotizing. I felt a bit voyeuristic watching these characters, perhaps the way a person feels when slowing down to look at a car wreck at the side of a road.

Winslet plays Sarah Pierce, who is unhappily married and a reluctant stay-at-home mother. She made the decision to give up her academic career because she thought it was expected of her. Her daughter seems a nuisance, and she watches the clock for the time her husband will be home so she can be released from her duties. In a difficult scene to watch, her daughter, who she describes as an “unknowable little person,” knocks on the bathroom door eager to give her mother a gift she has made. Sarah ignores her, savouring a few moments alone while remembering the touch of her lover. Naked in front of the mirror, she seems momentarily happy, her joy reborn. The temporary, if misguided, happiness that emerges in not from the new self that is “mother,” but from reawakening the buried sexual self before motherhood. This film is brutal in its unflinching portrayal of maternal ambivalence.

Sarah’s lover, Brad, nicknamed “the Prom King” by the other mothers, is also dissatisfied in his marriage. He feels emasculated, being a househusband to his intelligent and sexy wife Kate, played by Jennifer Connelly. Kate controls everything from when they have sex to how the money in the household is spent. Brad, a law student, tells his wife he is studying for the bar (which he has failed twice), but instead spends his afternoons with Sarah. They meet at the public pool, using their children’s play dates to further develop their intimacy. It doesn’t take long before they are embroiled in lies. In Little Children, there is no doubt that the children referred to in the title are not the cherubic youngsters that go swimming in the community pool. It is the adults that refuse to grow up, and yet the movie does not preach or judge, but portrays their complexity with sympathy.

This movie is about image — how we perceive ourselves and how we judge others. Sarah is not a good mother, and yet I’m sure most can identify with the feelings of boredom and resentment she sometimes feels. But are we willing to talk honestly about our personal shortcomings, or are we going to uphold the façade of an ideal? Sarah meets many people who attempt to mask their own imperfections through insidious means, usually by shifting attention onto others’ faults. There is the perfect mother who judges her for forgetting to pack snacks, the perfect wife, who schedules sex with her husband and has dinner on the table by six, and the perfect neighbour who looks down on Sarah’s unhappiness and failed marriage as pathetic.

In a rather unusual side plot, Ronnie James McGorvey, played by Jackie Earl Haley, has been recently paroled from jail after exposing himself to a child. He moves in with his mother and the local community reacts by forming a society to keep tabs on him. The themes all converge around this strangely sympathetic yet creepy figure. How do we label people: whore, failure, outcast? How do we judge ourselves? Is forgiveness and redemption possible? The movie builds to a climatic finish, and the crash that has been so heavily foreshadowed throughout the movie comes to its dramatic conclusion. Its gradual buildup accelerates quickly at the end, thrusting their seemingly unrelated lives into focus. No one can escape from society’s bright glare. And the consequences are both disturbing and unexpected.