Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Carving Out Their Own Artistic Space: In Conversation with Di Brandt, Susan Holbrook and Daphne Marlatt

Previously published in Kaleidoscope Vol. 3.1 (2002)

After an impressive reading by Di Brandt, Susan Holbrook and Daphne Marlatt at MacKensie Hall, Windsor, we search for a quiet room where we can talk undisturbed. We find an empty courtroom, long since abandoned. The walls are covered in dark wood panels and the judge’s bench is an ominous reminder of patriarchal authority. It is the perfect setting for female poets to discuss the gender politics of language and place.

Dawn: How important are cultural politics in your writing? Do you consciously engage with issues such as feminism in your work?

Di: It’s not that I am trying to be political or trying to address certain issues. It’s more that I came to writing with not having a sense of permission. In order to give myself permission I had to encounter all these various obstacles, which became very liberating and transforming. I had to fight very hard in myself and in language for a space that could be mine to play around in. Some people in the other room, just after the reading, were asking why girls in the creative writing seminar are so shy and don’t want to read their poetry and the guys don’t want to stop. I was thinking how girls are still brought up to think that speaking in public in transgressive. This is because physical and symbolic public spaces are owned by men mostly.

Daphne: Just look around. This is the perfect room to demonstrate male authority. [laughter]

Di: Take something like roads. Who makes the roads? Who plans the roads? Who fixes them? And if a woman ever has a flat tire on a road a man will come rushing to her aid because she is not supposed to be there by herself.

Dawn: So then how does a woman carve out her own artistic space in a male-dominated world?

Daphne: She has to speak out first of all. It takes nerve to do that. I remember the first reading I was invited to read in. I said, “no I can’t read my work,” and one of the guys in the group said, “oh come on I’ll read it for you.” It was awful. I hated it. [laughter] I vowed I would never let anyone else read my work again. But it is not just speaking out orally, like at a reading. Writing is also a speaking out because you are making your thought and the way you see the world public. There’s a need to have women support you in doing that. When I was a young writer there weren’t that many women mentors around. In fact, there were none. They were all male. I had a strong sense, even when I was just starting out, that I saw the world differently than they did. I kept trying to see it the way they did, because I kept thinking that that was what made you a poet. But I couldn’t. I knew I saw differently. Certainly one of the biggest differences was when I was having a child. Then it was so clear. Then I was really in my body. I could see that everything about life, as I experienced it — being pregnant, giving birth — was so different than the way things have been separated in the discourse. So having foremothers, recognizing who your literary foremothers are, I think, is a very important step to take. It took me a long time to realize that, but when I did it was fascinating. A whole world opened up for me. You have a sense than of a lineage. You have a sense of continuity. And of course there are women writing now who are your peers, and it is important to have a sense of solidarity with them and to work to bring all of that work forward. I’ve certainly been active in doing that in the past. Not quite so active now, but even the kinds of courses I’ve been teaching — writing by women, mother-daughter relationships, women’s studies — all of that helps.

Dawn: Can you talk a bit about a female writing community, or specifically a lesbian writing community?

Susan: In one model we learn about the anxiety of influence and how we are supposed to hate out literary forefathers, and make our own way in the literary world. Another feminist model is to find out about our literary foremothers, but also to think synchronically so that we can build something here. In terms of a lesbian community, I think it depends on where you are. When I was living in Vancouver that was available to me because it is a bigger city and a bigger gay community. There were readings every two weeks. Those things were built right into the community. Now it has gotten to be more electronic, or through letters or readings. And, of course, we’re lucky to have Daphne here with us for a while. But it’s not the same. We have to really make an effort at keeping in touch.

Daphne: It seems to me that things have changed, that we use to have much more of an in-the-flesh sense of community by being in a specific city. What we use to call a “scene.” It seems much more dispersed now. Lesbian writers are in contact with each other right across the continent, but as you say, through letters and email, through reading each other’s books.

Dawn: Your writing is very centered on the body. How much are you influenced by French feminists?

Di: The idea of writing from the body is such a fascinating thing. When I was starting to write that was the fashionable thing. We were all asking, “what does that mean to write from the body?”

Dawn: Did this facilitate the kind of experimentation found in your work — the technical experimentation?

Di: That’s an interesting question. I’d have to say yes, although it is hard to explain exactly how. Well, one way it happened for me was to pay attention to the breath. When I read my poems out loud they were always way too fast. So I tried specifically to slow them down by using a couplet line — spacing in between, period, space. That was one of the reasons that those poems got flipped over into the opposite. It excavated a lot of knowledge from me about myself and my past experiences, and also my present — who I was. I later asked how did that happen, and realized of yeah, it was the breath. It was slowing down the breath, and trying to really breathe through my body and realizing how it was connected to the mind. It was like a mantra. I was studying yoga at the time, and I kept thinking this is exactly the same as how I’m doing a poem.

Daphne: It has to do with embodied language in the sense that you’re moving through language as a body, the body of language. You’re sounding its sound body; you’re playing with its meaning body. And when you are doing yoga you are aware of your whole body. It is not something that you are doing just intellectually. You are totally in your body. You have to be. You’re aware of your breathing. You’re aware of how all muscles feel. I keep thinking of Cixous’ line about when a woman speaks in public all of her in there. All that aliveness and nervousness is present. Everything is called upon. Somehow I think that is part of it.

Di: Yes, that was part of it. And also, part of it was rediscovering orality. I came from basically an oral culture, and then I went to this English school where we had to learn to be quiet. We were told to be quiet, don’t fidget and don’t say anything because we were writing now, and this kind of silence coincided with me learning this foreign language. I learnt that my culture did not exist in books. It wasn’t seen as real in the official discourse. When I was writing poetry again — well, I always was writing secretly — but when I was in my thirties and I was doing it to show to people I rediscovered the way I learned language, which was not English and was not in a textual frame of reference. It was oral. I started remembering that connection with the body, and I started thinking how everyone learns writing that way — as a silencing of the body. But they don’t do it quite so much now in school. They try to keep a little more sense of sound in writing. There were a couple of years when they tried to teach phonetic spelling.

Daphne: There is that whole sense of what Abram is talking about in his book about once you move to an alphabetic language you have much more of a cutoff from the world, about being part of the body of the world.

Di: He says that, but what a lot of us are discovering is that you can put that body back in. You can put that connection back in, even if you are writing it down. He talks a bit about that in terms of place, about re-inhabiting place, which is another step from re-inhabiting the body.

Dawn: I wanted to ask you about the playfulness of language, the puns and humour evident in your work?

Susan: Well, I’ve listened to Di and Daphne talk about excavating language and about sounding language, and I think that is part of what I am doing. Humour is one way to approach language in an interrogative and exploratory way, because a pun makes you jump into two places at once. I’m not using language as some sort of transparent vehicle or tool to express ideas that I have fully formed. I am working through language, and humour is one of the ways I can make it prismatic. I can explore it and see which way it is going to take me. I think also, sometimes I’m dealing with difficult issues — invisibility, coming out, people’s anger — all of these things that are manifested in and through language are painful and humour is a way to survive while talking about them. Sometimes I wonder if I am sidestepping or not able to be honest about things enough, and humour is a bit of a crutch. But at least it keeps me going.

Daphne: Part of humour is suddenly looking at the other side of something, and your humour does that a lot. It is an opening kind of humour.

Dawn: Can you talk about the sensuousness of the language that you use, and the idea of seducing the reader into the landscape of your poetry.

Daphne: [To Susan] The way you run language together is very sensual. Those little language chants that happen between the narrative, or the antidotal parts, of your title poem are like jazz rifts in language. The same with the poem “Girl Watching.” There is so much there that is bouncing off language in a very sensual way.

Susan: We often talk about the erotics of language, or theories on the pleasures of the text, but we don’t talk about them very specifically and I’m so curious to see if we can. What are the bits of friction between letters or between words? What is the pull and push of the tease specifically? We talk about it in a really vague, nebulous way. We know when something seems erotic or sensuous in terms of sound or in content, but what are the mechanics of that?

Di: It has been theorized, in MotherTongue and other places, about the attraction between words and how they call each other up. How they like each other. [laughter]

Daphne: But they haven’t talked about it in terms of friction. That intrigues me. Say more about friction.

Susan: [To Daphne] When I said that I was thinking about your work with Nicole Brossard. Sometimes there is negative friction between your own language and yourself, or between English and French.

Daphne: The words slide off each other. It is not a transparent translation. That is an interesting way to talk about it — the friction, the rubbing up against and sliding off of. That is what intrigues me about admitting more silence into a piece. You get that friction and that rub and then everything radiates out into silence. I keep wanting to use musical terms, to talk about how it resonates into silence.

Susan: You seem to be talking about distance, and how that distance can be so delicious… and the long pause.

Daphne: Especially if the two bits of discourse before and after the pause are different — different kinds of discourse, different verbal textures.

Susan: There is so much echoing in the unspoken.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Poetry selections from Still Life of a Muse

These poems are about the life of Elizabeth Siddal, wife to the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In 1861 Elizabeth gave birth to a stillborn daughter and in 1862 she died of an overdose of laudanum. In my poems, her pregnancy and consequent stillbirth are treated metaphorically as a symbol for her unrealized creativity. Strangely enough, I wrote the poem “Stillbirth” when I was pregnant.

Earlier versions of these poems were published in Contemporary Verse 2 Volume 26.4 (2004)


You admire your belly big
as Jonah’s whale. A living house
of fleshed-out interiors.
A tender bone architecture
where another hides, tucked inside

cradled darkness.
Rhythmic beatings felt deep
in the flesh.

You have difficulty buttoning dresses.
Corset laces give way under
the stress of unruly flesh.
Your body — expansive, blown large
before your delighted eyes,
spanning out to great distances.

You chart the progress,
measure your belly’s ample swell.
Giggle at the way, when lying down, a teacup
balances on waves of undulating skin.
You trust the current that ripples

just beneath the surface.
Your body a seaside cottage. Walls stripped
of paint, bones bare and stunningly beautiful
in the morning light. A glowing fire warms
interior chambers. Radiates outward,
the tendrils of your hair
alive and flaming.


Shut in,
the walls entomb you. The bed
tucks folds of your skirt into sheets, wraps you
like a cocoon — something soon to be born
or already dead.

Doctors visit often.
Insist your mind is too excited.
Warn that gentle waves of swelling thought
can soon turn tumultuous,

crashing in doors, flooding rooms.
They warn – imagination a danger.
Confine you to bed.

The curtains are drawn shut.
Shadows creep into empty corners.
You no longer trust the darkness.
Keep one eye open, scanning

the invading night.
The walls are advancing.
You hear them whispering strategies, plotting
the deployment of chairs, the hostile
take-over of the window.

You feel the dresser’s encroachment,
slyly advancing
when you are not looking.

You toss,
swaddled in crisp white sheets,
trying to free yourself
from suffocating fabric. Pass through

these troubled waters.
Dream the child inside
wages war, punches blindly
against darkness with tiny clenched fists —
fights to be liberated,
as though light provided shelter.


You push out
dead weight, half expecting a cry.
But there is no declaration of arrival,
no gasp of air and sudden scream
announcing I am born —
only silence. A woman you do not know
washing glistened blood from your thighs.

You desire only to hold her,
cradle her in your body’s warmth one last time.

Place small hands
between yours, rub vigorously as if kindling fire,
force the heat in. Open her mouth, push
in breath, try to inflate lungs
like some god.

Darkness is all you see. The black pits
of her eyes, a lake of your own blood.

A canvas devoid of colour, the world holds no
light for you now. You tunnel underground

with your newly-born dead, bury her
in that dark place where nothing
more will thrive. The center
grown darker still.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Curious Book

This book tells the story of what happens to our bodies when we no longer have them. Yikes! Love the cover though.

Thursday, December 9, 2004

South Africa and Mother-Love: A Review of Norman G. Kester's Liquid love and other longings

by Dawn Marie Kresan
Previously published in Kaleidoscope Journal Volume 3.2 (2002)

In Liquid love and other longings (District Six Press 2002), by Norman G. Kester, private and public worlds collide, bringing the reader to a sometimes beautiful and sometimes unsettling place where issues of power, colonialism and gender blur. Kester, who was born in South Africa and immigrated to Canada in 1969, brings his personal history as a child separated from his mother/ land to the collection. The spirit of Africa pervades his work — she is lost mother, female guide, teacher and lover. Her body bears the scars of a tragic history, and the poet continually seeks her through her many manifestations. It is only through love, by establishing relatedness to an other, that the process of healing can begin.

Throughout the collection, images of Africa are connected with representations of woman. Africa as mother/ land is traditionally conceptualized as the dark, unexplored continent. In “a recent photograph of the artist”, the poet searches for an unknown “she.” He is drawn to her because she fits into “the/ category of ‘other’” (16). In all her mystery, she represents “home and love” (16). It is paradoxical that in her otherness, that is, her difference, he looks for familiarity. In psychoanalytic theory, the child experiences a sense of wholeness with the mother in the pre-oedipal stage and once separation occurs the child will continually seek the mother’s body and all that it represents. For Kester, who left South Africa as a child, the separation between son and mother becomes a powerful framework for his collection. Africa’s distant lands are equated to the mother’s body, which are absent and can never be reclaimed. He must now acknowledge difference between himself and her. It is this difference, this sense of “otherness,” that reminds him of her, and the wholeness he once felt, yet paradoxically ensures their separation.

Kester uses the image of the mother’s absent body as a symbol for Africa’s pain. The mother/ land is unable to nourish her children with her milk. It is not that she has chosen to abandon her children, but that violence and poverty has forced the separation. “Africa mourning” is compared to a “beaten coloured woman at an empty train station/ her son left unnursed” (27). Aids babies “cry blindly and die nightly/ without their mothers, without their mother’s warm milk” (35). Her children were “nursed by her starved body” (47). The maternal breast not only symbolizes nourishment for the body, but also as an emotional bond that strengthens the love between mother and child. Colonization of Africa and the oppression of its people were meant to break this attachment. Her body is metaphorically beaten or starved; her children forced from her breast. By conflating the private act of breast-feeding with a nation’s struggle for survival, Kester politicizes the maternal breast and women’s bodies. The private is made political.

Severed from the mother/ land’s body, he can now experience her only through memory and feelings brought to the surface in moments of heightened intimacy. In this way, then, the female lover’s body becomes a substitute for the absent mother/ land. Her body figuratively becomes the body of Africa. The women are described as anonymous, mysterious, and exotic. She is “both exile and another/ country” (28). Her body is “veiled, unexplored territory” (28). She has “dark eyes” and smells of “wild/ rose petals” (28). These images create parallels between the exotic beauty of the woman’s body and that of the mother/ land. In his quest for the maternal body, he finds in women the warmth and security he has been looking for. Her body is described as a refuge; “you are around me in a/ semi-circle like mother nature — life/ so beautiful, so divine” (60). In “100 kisses at twenty”, the connections between the female lover and mother/ land becomes more political. Kester writes, she has “known men’s hungry/ selfish ways and angry wars” (61). Her body, as Africa, has been exploited by human greed and violence. Her body holds the memory of the nation’s pain, and she is “black with love” (61).

It has been convincingly argued by gender theorists that masculine subjectivity has a strong sense of its ego boundaries, whereas female subjectivity is more fluid. In many of his poems, Kester takes on the identities of others, thereby positioning his subjectivity within the realm of the feminine. In some instances he occupies the female body as in “I am” (20), where the poet metaphorically becomes the mother/ land. He takes on her colours — black, brown and ochre red — in order to feel “my country’s pain/ its dark stories” (20). He links the “rape of women, land and children” (20), thereby asserting that colonial and sexual domination uphold the same exploitive ideological systems. In “the market and its fruit” Kester once again takes on the identities of others. He writes, “I am... the homeless woman who mumbles to herself and asks for pennies” (6). It is not so much his ability to become the females in his poems, as much as the representation of his subjectivity as being unbounded and de-centered. He does not possess a single identity, but rather has the capability to morph into many selves. A self that continually becomes the “other,” erasing difference, is traditionally associated with the feminine.

He extends his empathy not only to women, but to all those marginalized. He is “the one who looks European... the black woman who walks slowly... the eleven-year-old daughter... [the] grey-bearded poet who left America” (6). As someone who fled his homeland due to apartheid, Kester easily identifies and has compassion with those who are marginalized in our society. In “the child cries out the answer” Kester links homophobia and racism, asserting that both arise from the same hatred and fear of difference. Kester writes, “the faggot in me/ finally killed and stomped out by the lynch mob” (30). They want to choke “my dry, flaming and tender throat” (30). Those who commit hate crimes are the same, in their desire to silence all those who are “other” than them.

As a man learning to live “without my mother” (xiii), Kester finds hope in the human potential to establish relatedness. The need for love is a commonality we all share. It is significant that Kester views common histories and stories of exile as the vehicle for deepening love. He writes, “i only want to touch/ your lips, si. to hear the stories of your people” (54). In “the long night” two lovers, both “sons of torn nations” (67), come to a deeper understanding of the other through shared history. His “life was as complex and old as the sea that he crossed perilously” (67). Being able to relate to someone else’s pain is an act of love and reconciliation. It forces us to confront our own pain, and in doing so we can begin to heal. Only then, can we open ourselves completely to another.

Kester asserts that art is a form of love, that “the making of art, is the process of giving in or letting go totally” (ix). What art and love have in common is the nakedness of the self. Both leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed to the world. If we are to break down personal boundaries, to let go of pain, heal, relate to another, find intimacy — first, we must open ourselves to the possibility of love. As Kester writes, “i’m painting love – will you sit for me?” (28).

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Windsor Festival of the Book

Once again I am privileged to be a board member for this year’s Windsor Festival of the Book. This year’s poetry cafĂ© will include the following readers:

October 21st to 24th at the Windsor Theatre and Arts Centre

Sal Alla, Ken Babstock, Di Brandt. Margaret Christakos, George Elliott Clark, David Donnell, Susan Downe, Carla Harstfield, Susan Holbrook, John B. Lee, Tim Lilburn, Thomas Lynch, Dorothy Mahony, Anne Michaels, Rob Mclennan, Susan McMaster, Eugene McNamara, Sue Sinclair, Richard Stevenson and Adam Sol

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Literary Arts Windsor Chapbook Announcement

Congratulations to Dorothy Mahoney and Laurie Smith. They are the first installment of winners for the chapbook reading series.

Dorothy Mahoney will be reading from “the very heart of away” Thursday October 7th at 7:30 at Vivo restaurant in Windsor, and Laurie Smith will be reading from “Menagerie” December 9th.

Please come out to the reading and support our local authors. There will be an open mic for all those interested in sharing their work.

The next deadline for the chapbook competition is December 1st, 2004.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Interview with Dawn Marie Kresan: Local Publisher

This interview was previously published in Room Magazine (2002)

Q: Why do you want to publish? Why this project?

Dawn: I started this project because I always wanted to go into literary publishing. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of opportunity for that in this area. I had recently gotten married and we planned to stay in this area, so I decided to start my own publishing venture. After studying literature for six years, it was, and still is, really important for me to stay connected to the literary scene.

Q: Why did you call the journal Kaleidoscope?

Dawn: I chose “Kaleidoscope” because it captures the elements of diversity and movement. I want Kaleidoscope to bring together a diverse group of authors as well as writing styles. Also, literature, as in all art, is not a static form. Like a kaleidoscope, it is ever-changing.

Q: How do you get submissions? Who sends them to you?

Dawn: As in any new journal, the immediate problem is how to get known in order to generate submissions. One of the first things I did was to send out mass flyers to universities, heads of writing programs and numerous authors. I then created a web page on a free on-line server, which turned out to be a bad idea because they closed down their service and became a casino site. But I have done a lot of advertising on web sites for writers and poetry organizations. Authors mail me their submissions, which I then either accept or reject. I’m not looking for any particular style, but I am looking at the quality of work. For the first issue, features were done on Canadian, American and Japanese authors. I didn’t plan it this way. These were the authors that were interested. In the second issue, the features are all on Canadians, but I have no nationalistic agenda. I’ll publish who ever I find, who’s interested and good enough.

Q: Why did you want to make the journal international?

Dawn: I didn’t want to limit myself by geography. My journal still publishes primarily Canadian authors, and there are many fine Canadian authors, but there are also many fine Irish, American and African authors. The list could go on. In our so-called “global village” I see no reason to exclude people of other countries. Rather, I think a dialogue between different peoples and cultures is beneficial for further understanding. This is why it is important for me to include a translation section. There are a lot of great authors from other countries that unfortunately we don’t get the opportunity to read. Through my journal I intend to give much-needed exposure to non-English writing contemporary authors.

Q: Do you publish local poets?

Dawn: I certainly have no problem with publishing local authors. The first issue had two, and the new issue coming out has three. As I stated, it is the quality of work that matters.

Q: Why only poetry? Why not a mix of poetry and fiction?

Dawn: I chose poetry because it is my own personal passion. And from a marketing perspective, there are already many, many journals that combine fiction, art and poetry. I wanted Kaleidoscope to be more specialized. There has been a resurgence of interest in poetry. One only has to go on-line to find hundreds, possibly thousands of sites where people can post their poems. There still is, however, a large discrepancy between the people who write poetry as opposed to those who buy poetry. I think many people are put off by what could be called “academic poetry.” They’re afraid they won’t get it, that it is too difficult to understand.

Q: Who would like Kaleidoscope? Who makes up the market?

Dawn: Anyone who likes poetry. Kaleidoscope covers poetry from many angles — there is of course original poetry, but also articles on publishing, author interviews, book reviews and translations. I see, then, the target market as being people who like reading or writing poetry, publishers looking for new authors, and probably the biggest market will be libraries.

Q: Why review poetry collections?

Dawn: I think it is something that the literary world really needs. Poetry is already less popular than other forms of writing, and reviews of poetry books are scarce. This is why I give the needed space for one in-depth poetry review in each issue, rather than having the New York Times blurb style, which never does justice to the time and talent put into a book.

Q: How often is Kaleidoscope published and where can it be bought?

Dawn: It is published twice a year (spring and fall). Single issues can be bought at the University of Windsor bookstore for $14, or subscriptions can be bought for $25 through the mail. A subscription is a better deal because the cost is cheaper per issue, but sometimes people are only looking for one particular issue.

Q: Is Kaleidoscope and Palimpsest the same thing? What are you future publishing plans?

Dawn: Palimpsest Press is my publishing company, which was started about a year and a half ago. So far Kaleidoscope is the only book I publish. I didn’t call my publishing business Kaleidoscope because I didn’t want it linked to any one title. I do intend to publish full-length poetry books in the future, possibly in two years time.

Q: What is your background in? Did you have publishing experience going into this venture? Do you write also?

Dawn: I have my Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Windsor. I have had many jobs over the years, some to do with publishing and some not. I worked at Chrysler for six years while I was in University, and I’ve done contract work for the Windsor Review and for Black Moss Press. Currently, I work at a bank and a chiropractic office while doing my business on the side. Publishing poetry doesn’t exactly secure one’s financial future. I do it because I love it and because I believe that it’s valuable, but I still have to make money somehow. I am also a writer, and am working on my own poetry book, which I hope a publisher will pick up. But as of now, I have only been published in literary journals. But it’s a start, and I’m still young and have lots of time.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Photography in Kaleidoscope Journal

The Cowgirl Hall of Fame

Marty Gervais has contributed some excellent black and white photography to Kaleidoscope — Volume 2.1 (2001). There are also some poems published in this feature. To see it in its entirety, you can purchase the issue at www.palimpsestpress.ca.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

On Factories and Ivory Towers

When I was in university a professor of mine asked me what it was like to work in a factory with so many sexist men who were, to say the least, rough around the edges. Her image of factory life was biased by stereotypes of hyper-macho men who equated their tool size to the penises. But to her surprise, I told her that my experience at Chrysler had been a good one, even a rewarding one. Sure, once in awhile I came across a man who thought the worst thing the big three ever did was hire women, or men who comically complained that there were fewer bathrooms for them now. But these were men who had been around long enough to remember a time when only men worked in factories, and perhaps felt nostalgic for their former all boys’ club. I never bothered arguing with men like this, because unlike their younger counterparts, they were socialized to believe women should stay at home and I think they felt a little baffled by it all.

I worked at Chrysler for six years while completing my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, and during that time I heard different versions of the common “female workers are taking jobs away from men who have to support families” complaint. My response was that there are plenty of single women who have to support children, and what about all those single guys without a family not to mention the couple who requires duel-income. Another typical tirade was “women cannot do all the jobs.” This may be true, but frankly men have a hard time doing many jobs that most women find easier. Smaller hands are better when working in tight spaces under the hood, and being shorter helps when a job requires getting in and out of a van regularly. Not all factory jobs require Herculean feats of strength. Then there was the ever popular “women get special treatment from the foremen because they flirt.” Ok, this does happen sometimes. But lets be honest here — I saw just as many men get special treatment because they were drinking buddies with the right person as I have women get more washroom breaks through flirtation.

The thing is, even though I’ve listed three complaints I did hear, comments like these were infrequent. On the whole, I got along with the men I worked with – not any more or less than I got along with the women. There was the occasional sexist comment that unleashed my feminist furry, and if I was in a cantankerous mood I told the old fart that I was content in the knowledge that he would be retiring soon. Usually, however, there was nothing more than a friendly debate if the issue was brought up at all. More often than not, we got into group discussions about the weekend before and coming events for the next. We’d talk about university, families, complaints about the job, gossip about other workers “can you believe HE is wearing those daisy dukes,” and the occasional war over what music should be on the shared CD player.

My professor was under the misconception that problems in a factory would have little to do with verbal assaults and a lot more to do with groping. She was under the belief that men go around intimidating and harassing women all the time, as if constant leering, fondling and a pat on the butt are common occurrences in factories. Of course this does happen, and the frequent practice of handling sexual harassment internally by moving the guilty party to another area is ridiculously unacceptable, but my point is that it also happens in offices. One only has to think of Anita Hill and her charges against a Supreme Court Justice to realize that sexual harassment is not a blue-collar issue. Classism is what is at play here. Some believe that men in suits are more gentleman-like, as opposed to their middle-class cohorts in overalls. This form of prejudice is as bad as sexism in its ignorance. My professor, high in her ivory tower may look down at factory workers with disdain and believe that the lack of mental activity associated with factory work makes men’s brains regress to a Neanderthal state, but that simply is not the case.

My own experience with sexual harassment was not at a factory at all. I was only fifteen years old at the time, when my supervisor, who had an office with computer and post-it notes organized on a wall calendar, propositioned me for a night out. He pulled a bottle of whisky out of his desk drawer and promised a night full of fun, pleasure and sexual adventure. Of course, I am paraphrasing here. His words were much too crude to print. At my young and naive age, I did not have the language to describe what had happened to me. All I knew was that I was afraid and I did not want to be there anymore, so I immediately left his office, got on my bicycle and rode home as fast as my ten speed would take me. When I got home I told my parents I was fired. Somehow, at the time, that seemed better than telling them the truth.

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere, to anyone and by either sex. Nobody should be so quick to judge based on the conditions of the job. Mindless work does not indicate mindless men. Let us remember that the polemics of feminism is about eliminating pre-conceived notions about people. Prejudice is prejudice. If we rightfully argue that a woman can be a good factory worker, or for that matter a good foreman, let us give men the same considerations. A wrench and a penis are not predictable indicators for sexist thought.

Friday, June 4, 2004

Local Chapbook Competition

Literary Arts Windsor Presents
The Quarterly Reading Series Chapbook Competition
519 Ouellette Ave. Windsor, ON. N9A 4J3

Applicants must be at least eighteen years of age and live in Windsor or Essex County. The work submitted must be original and unpublished in book form. Both established and emerging authors are encouraged to submit. People who sit on the LAW executive or on a committee for LAW or the Windsor Festival of the Book are ineligible to apply.

Submission Guidelines
Submit 16-24 pages of poetry, belle-letters or a short story. All submissions must be original and unpublished. Typed submissions should be sent to the address above. Work will not be considered if sent via email. A SASE must be included if you want your work returned to you. The contest will be blind-judged. Do not include your name on the work. Please include a cover letter with your name, phone number, mailing address, a short biography and the title of your work.

July 30th, 2004 for first two readings
December 1st, 2004 for third and fourth readings

Method of Assessment
Each submission will be judged by a panel of writers, publishers and editors. Submissions will be assessed only on the merit of the work. Copyright remains with the author. All decisions are final.

Reading Series
Authors chosen will be featured at one of the quarterly readings and will have a chapbook published by Literary Arts Windsor. The author will be paid in copies of the book and will also receive a reading fee. The dates of the readings are as follows:

September 9th, 2004
December 9th, 2004
January 13th, 2005
March 3rd, 2005

If there are any questions or queries, contact Dan Wells at biblioasis@yahoo.com. Memberships to Literary Arts Windsor are $35 annually. Please make cheques payable to Literary Arts Windsor and mail to the address above.

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Seabed Bound

I am swimming at the bottom of the ocean. The water is cool, only the sound of bubbles coming from my mouth. I can usually breathe under the water in my dreams. It is dark at the bottom, not much around. I am searching the floor for shells, when suddenly an enormous octopus snags me in its tentacles. They wrap around me, suckers everywhere on my skin, thick arms around my waist, legs and neck. It drags me closer to its beak, but I don’t resist. "I wish I could glide through the water like you," it says. "But you’re an octopus, you can swim," I reply. With that it releases me, sucks in a large gulp of water and thrusts itself forward with the release of water. I remember feeling confused. How come this octopus thought it was seabed bound?

I continue to swim and a manta ray glides by, scooping me up on its wing. I see its large eyes and instinctively trust it. I curl myself on its wing, feel the slow rhythmic beating like a heart beat, slow and steady, and yet we are flying fast, colours changing rapidly. It flies right out of the water, straight up into the air. Its glossy, smooth skin changes into feathers. When I look at its head, it is now an eagle. Afraid of falling, I grab its feathers roughly while trying hold on. It screams a piercing noise, rapidly flying through the tops of trees. Branches and leaves smash against my head, nearly knocking me off. I don't trust this bird, its furious wings and piercing noises. It flies into a bright, open sky and circles a few times. The light is everywhere, so bright that I bury my face into its feathers. It cries for the last time, dives straight down. I am falling, wind hitting my face... and then I am in the water again. Still holding onto the bird, I feel its skin change, turn slippery like wet rubber. It is black. I am treading at the surface in water like ink, a storming dark sky. No light anywhere. Serpents or sleek shark-like bodies churn the water. They rub against me, but I am not afraid.

This makes a really bad story, but none-the-less an interesting dream — the water/ sky, dark/light dichotomy. But what does it mean? So I'm in darkness, afraid to fly much in the same way the octopus was afraid to leave its seabed. My dreams tell me when I'm stressed or afraid, but I already know I am anxious. I wish they'd give me advice instead.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The Artistic Struggle: An Interview with Karen Connelly

Excerpts taken from Kaleidoscope Volume 2.2 (2001)

Dawn: In an earlier interview you said that the creative process is about risk. One wrote from a perspective of newness, as if the experience he or she is having has never happened to anybody else before. The freshness of that experience is compromised through the controlled act of writing. I was thinking about Wordsworth, and how for many poets, writing is not a spontaneous overflowing of feelings as he famously wrote, but a time-intensive, precise and controlled act. How do you keep that freshness of experience alive? Is it difficult for you to write with technical precision, yet not make the technical aspects of the poem more present than the lived emotion?

Karen: This is the mystery and I don’t know “how” I do it. I’ve been working on a novel now for five years. Some of it has been rewritten probably more than fifty times, yet in some cases it is fresher than the original, more real, more lived in. I don’t know how I keep the freshness of experience alive. Sometimes things feel over-written, and must be tossed and rewritten from another perspective, a closer place. Perhaps some writing is not spontaneous at all, bit has to be achieved, has to be won over slowly. Certainly that is the case with this novel. For me, though, poems tend to write themselves, following their own rules. Poems are dictated by the powers-that-be; prose is a battle.

DK: How do you go about editing your work?

KC: Slowly, laboriously. I edit everything line by line as I write, so even if it is a huge novel, like my current project, the editing stretches the writing out almost indefinitely.

DK: Do you rely on the opinion of editors or other writers? Is the critique of your work by others essential for your growth as a writer?

KC: Well, I think at the earlier stages, yes, it is utterly crucial. But as a writer matures, I think the mechanism of self-criticism becomes more refined, stronger. Though another objective eye, if it’s a clear one, is always helpful.

DK: As a writing instructor, what are the problems you encounter most with the work of aspiring writers?

KC: In prose, a tendency to tell, rather than taking the time to draw out scenes and show, paint, really go deeply into the character and setting. In poetry, a tendency to be preachy or sentimental. In both, a lack of discipline, a slowness to change the habits which are obviously problematic. A lot of people have some talent but not enough inclination to really develop it. They are lazy.

DK: Is there one particular problem you continually wrestle with in your own work?

KC: Laziness. I laugh, writing that, but it’s true. I must be somewhat disciplined, because I’ve written quite a bit — most of it unpublished, but publishable, in various states of development. But I never do enough, and I always seem to find excuses to not do more. It’s quite awful really. It drives me mad.

DK: In your recent collection of poems, The Border Surrounds Us, your style has changed from a shifting, informal pattern to a more formal structure. There are exceptions to this statement, as in the poems “the border” and the first part of “The Border Surrounds Us”. The majority, however, are more traditional in appearance when compared to the indented margins and shortened lines found in your first collection. Why the change? Has this been a gradual shift?

KC: The change came through line length which came through writing harder, sharper descriptions and harder, sharper metaphors. Some of the poems are still very flowing and sensual. I think all my work is sensual, in a way, but many of them deal with very tough, sharp themes — refugees, war, violence of various kinds. The shorter line length reflects the shock of those themes. Also, there is more and more silence in my work, so more and more space on the page. The silence is the same as mourning I think…

DK: Although your poems tell stories of human suffering, there is also a determination to survive and fight for life. You write of endurance, of continued grace, of digging though the rubble to construct anew. Is there always hope?

KC: Given the state of the world right now and the US bombing of Afghanistan, I frankly do not member where I get that sense of hope. Surely it will come back, but right now I am overwhelmed by a sense of outrage, which has no useful outlet, though it certainly helps me imagine how angry Islamic fundamentalists must be right now.

DK: You discuss borders both real and metaphorical, which are constructed to bar the truth — that we are not so different after all. Did you come to this realization after your many travels? Are these lessons that you learned from first-hand experiences?

KC: Even if you are a very keen traveler, it is easy to shelter yourself. The border is also just a door that you shut, and air conditioner that you turn on, a shower that you take. It is, it has always been, it will always be, much easier to look away. To understand what is happening in the world means you will feel intense sorrow, sorrow that is really unmanageable, and most people, perhaps understandably, are not prepared to experience that.

DK: In North America it is not common to see the poet as a political force, but the truth is that poets are spokespersons for their community, whatever that may be. Do you feel a certain responsibility to give voice to those who are typically unheard? What do you see as your role as a writer?

KC: Such a question has to be answered the whole of a writer’s life, I think, because it is easy to get sidetracked and I think one’s role can change. We do change, after all. I think my role is to voice my own truth about what I see, what I know. I am witness to my own life, to the lives of others, to my time on this earth. I believe in the writer not only as one who interprets history but as one who challenges it. When people tell me their stories and ask me to tell those stories to the world — as in the case in my involvement with Burmese dissidents — then yes, I do feel it’s my responsibility to share those stories in my work. The alchemy of the kind of writing I do insists that at some level those stories become my stories too, become stories about many people, many times. North Americans are profoundly wealthy in a material sense, but poverty-stricken in a collective spiritual sense. I would like to become an interpreter of that too, eventually, which is one of the reasons I came back to live here: to understand better my own country.

Read the entire interview in Kaleidoscope: An International Journal of Poetry Volume 2.2 (2001) available for purchase at www.palimpsestpress.ca.

Saturday, March 20, 2004


Plagued by nightmares again. Sharks and wolves predominantly. My night terrors use to be confined to oceanic predators, but now they have branched out to soft pawed creatures. I have on occasion dreamt of swimming with sharks and it felt very free and peaceful, but as of late it is all teeth and slashing. The wolves are a new fixation. I think because they hunt in packs, it gives a gathering of gruesome images for my damaged id to obsess on.

One dream that has gone against this trend:

I am in a gloomy, deteriorating structure. I cannot see anything around me, and am using my hands to search for doorknobs or a window to the outside. I touch the walls, soft and warm like they are alive. I fall through several floors, and each time I do I am plunged into a new environment, like each room is its own little ecosystem. In one I remember being surprised by my sudden emersion in water. At first I struggle, and then realize I can breathe under the water. My pleasure is brief. Soon there are tentacles all around me, dragging me deeper, and squeezing so tightly that I can no longer breathe. Suddenly in another room and I am standing waist deep in water. The feeling of smooth wet bodies rubbing against me, so many fins and tails. It is still dark, and I cannot tell what the long muscular forms are. At first, I think dolphins. But then I realize the quiet, no clicking noises, just the thrusting cold bodies and splashing water. I feel something warm in the water, pain on my ankle… I realize a shark has bitten me. I burst through another floor and it seems I am in another world altogether. A jungle of vines. Slanted yellow eyes gleaming through the dark. The sound of howler monkeys, and buzzing, flying creatures near my face. I climb a rolling staircase, push open a door to the attic. Bats everywhere, and in the distance a slit of light coming from a window. I can feel leathery wings brushing against every part of my body. They swarm the window, almost carrying me with them. A tunnel and then I am falling.

After reading my description, I am surprised by the sexual imagery. It is strange that something that feels clearly un-sexual can be so informed by sexuality. Houses are traditionally viewed as metaphors for the body or soul. In this case, the soft walls are like the interior chambers of a woman’s body, perhaps a uterus lined with blood. I’m not sure what the tentacled beast represents, but it wanted to drag me further down into the primordial depths. Then there are the long muscular bodies of sharks, which are most decidedly phallic. As I travel to the upper parts of the house, I move from primitive aquatic life to forest canopy and then to the attic, where I obviously need to do some housecleaning. The bats swarm a “slit of light,” and I am pushed out a tunnel and fall, like I am being born. I managed to remember most of the details of this dream, yet I still have no clue what, if anything, it means. There is some element of the safe becoming dangerous. I momentarily felt pleasure at being able to breath in the water, and then the beast wrapped its tentacles around me so I could no longer breathe. The smooth bodies I thought were dolphins either morphed into sharks or were sharks all along, and I did not realize their threat until bitten. The shedding of blood generally symbolizes initiation into womanhood. Strange, I still have no idea where all this fear may be coming from.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004


I recently had my cards read. The woman, who for much of the time remained behind a beaded curtain and chain smoked, told me that my husband and I would separate within the year and that I had a family curse that was passed down through the female bloodlines. She told me that she could lift the curse if I came back and she performed a cleansing ritual. I found myself strangely affected by this, although rationally I told myself she was a charlatan. It was silly of me to go in the first place, but curiosity led me there after someone I know did a reading for free and mentioned something about a female specific plight that ran in my family. Very Brontesque I thought!

I never went back for my ritual cleansing, and about six months later my husband showed me an article in the newspaper stating that her business was shut down and she was convicted for stealing money from several of her clients.

Original line breaks in this poem will not fit - 3 lines to each stanza.

Tarot cards

I stare at the cards: pointed arrows piercing flesh,
a woman hung upside down in a noose, knot drawn tight.
There is talk of a family curse passed down from my mother.

Like a hooded figure in a Bronte novel, I have inherited
a tragic fate, must walk a dark wooded terrain.
I cannot explain why I believe. My rational mind

alleging it is a modern day parlour trick, a perceptional
slight of hand. In weakness, I cry.
She offers me light, tells me I can be saved.

Stars do battle over my soul, but the curse can be lifted
if I return every Tuesday, pay her fifty dollars more.
Her face obscured by a beaded curtain,

the shining crystal balls dangling from the ceiling’s sky,
like so many planets.
Still dressed in a robe, although two in the afternoon,
she asks if I mind that she smokes. I do, but do not say.

Jesus presides over the reading, his arms outstretched.
She pats the head of her ceramic god like a good luck charm,
reaches for me from behind cascading beads, takes my empty

hand, asks me to pray.
This modern-day gypsy asks me to trust her, to cut cards
and imagine a future she has spun. Painted nails click

as our planet orbits the universe, indifferent
to Pisces’ constellations.
A tiny star among other points, too vast to comprehend.
We bend our necks in prayer,

invent worlds and stories to sustain us.
She and I are the same, a poet and a storyteller, believing
in trickery, the ability to beguile. The difference is motive.

There are those who seek profit, and those who ask
to alter perceptions, to look at a beaded curtain,
see the universe suspended on a shimmering string of light.

Friday, March 5, 2004

The Exit Show — Book Review and Author Interview

Anne F. Walker’s The Exit Show was the first trade poetry collection published by Palimpsest Press and I was pleased to see that it was reviewed on www.danforthreview.com. The review, written by Sarah Bonet, is excerpted below. Sarah Bonet is a poet, and award-winning playwright and screenwriter. The entire review can be read at http://www.danforthreview.com/reviews/poetry/walker.htm.

The Exit Show
Reviewed by Sarah Bonet

Sex, in this book, becomes a vehicle for comprehension. Anne F. Walker’s fourth collection of poetry, The Exit Show, draws on multiple sexual and romantic partners as a way to explore and articulate complex social and poetic forms. Walker’s collection flows easily through a variety of formal and not-so-formal constructions (prose poems, emails, individual lyrics, and lyric suites), tied together by a powerful rhythmic sensibility reminiscent of a jazz drummer.

These varied sensibilities, in which form both echoes and transforms content, illustrate a method of poetic sexual comprehension. The multiplicity of forms evokes a world of shifting connections; they move within and around each other like bodies at a party- touching for a brief transformative moment, discovering a personal, private language, and then breaking away and sending out new tendrils in search of another connection.

Walker is an established Canadian author whose previous books (Into the Peculiar Dark, Pregnant Poems, and Six Months Rent) have examined illness, poverty, pregnancy, and birth, all with a strong presence that expresses the breath of the body in a manner that transcends the pages. As she turns her eye to experimenting with sexual norms (much of the poetry is set in the San Francisco Bay Area... need we say more) she continues to present a tangibly embodied sense of language that is truly breathtaking. This collection won several awards in manuscript form, and clearly pushes Walker’s work past previous thematic and aesthetic boundaries.

Walker’s use of rhythm is also worthy of note. Often, with younger poets, there is a struggle to find a cadence both individual and rhythmically fresh, and this effort to break into a kind of improvisational flow strains the poem. Walker’s cadence, on the other hand, is elegant and sure. She is not trying to do—she simply does. Her linguistic drum solos both serve the poem and elevate it.


The Danforth Review also interviewed Anne. Please see below for a selection. To read the entire interview go to http://www.danforthreview.com/features/interviews/walker.htm.

Q: Your latest book is THE EXIT SHOW. The back cover says this is a book "about coming to terms with plurality." Maybe you could explain your project here a little?

Anne: Many levels of pluralities are important within The Exit Show. Both the poetic aesthetic and content thematics explore variation. Rather than link myself with one particular school of poetics I utilize fusion. I see value in a tremendous range of forms and explorations. Some of these I practice in The Exit Show. Sometimes I mix and match, and sometimes let the forms stand cohesively within a particular piece. On the large scale this is to do with the varied styles within the collection as a whole: lyric, prose poetry, short stories, email form, and an integrated linguistic montage piece. On the closer-reading scale, tones switch sometimes within individual pieces.

In The Exit Show I played switch with narrative voices, sometimes narrating my own stories, sometimes others’, all using a mix of third person and first person, playing with directive and tense structures, and filtered through imagination. I stay away from autobiography, or its antithesis, as universal rules. A closer-reading scale example of this is in "Retail Slut," where I had the she-character speak in present tense, and the third person narrator speak predominantly from inside the he-character’s perception, and placed that awareness in past tense. A schism then exists between the time each character works within, even when they are in immediate dialogue. The story was based on a real story, but I switched the characters’ genders.
Social and physical landscapes integrate as both are, in human terms, aspects of consciousness. We understand both via our apparatus for comprehension. That which we see may be more descriptive of our tools for interpretation than anything else. This is what I mean by both being tropes of consciousness. When I can link place with motion, and with sound and overlaps, I feel joyous in my craft. I move that way in "start sequence 8. selling a car":

a glide of space above a boxy red jeep cherokee beneath
a white heron slides through air above freeway next to
(you were a bird. you were) next to the estuary

those constant small motions, of the series of docks
in which your boat is tethered, begin to suggest
how delicately (to me briefly, you were the ocean

I worked to develop a way to describe how the delicacy of motion between water and vehicle describe a personal attachment, and doing so with a rhythm that mimics the small waves, with imagery of repetition, and an endless end. The lyric works with elision of time and space, of narratives that overlap simultaneously via parenthetical interjection. I am very interested in temporal dislocation. When consciousness leaps away and returns I wonder how it connects to pluralities in the flow of time.