Tag Archives: Wolsak & Wynn

Carefully Pondering Crafted Words Over Time | Review of “Kids In Triage” by Kilby Smith-McGregor (2016) Buckrider Press

kids

There are books that sit on beside my bed or on my shelves that I leave for a while in the middle of reading. They perplex me. Their words are deep and introspective and I am not certain if they are good or bad. I have a hard time when I first start reading them that I decide I need to put them away for a while and review them again when I have a quiet moment. And when those quiet moments do finally come, I pull them out and read them and read them again. Then, in some cases, I find they are worthy of my time. And Kilby Smith-McGregor’s collection of poetry in Kids In Triage is just such a book.

Morphogensis (for Alan Turing) (excerpt) page 50-51

***

Yet every Cambridge, every set of oxfords raises a fresh god;

everything that is the case against you, the world broken

down to word between wars between words between man

and his mirror, the master. Anti-realist vet vs. Government Code

& Cypher School; Guys vs. Bletchley; dick-measuring sequence:

those high gilt zeroes and one run through to the hilt with logic’s

 

sharp. These days it’s seamlessness; embedded logic

of razor-blade apples, pills, chips slipped beneath skin to out-god

even the notional autonomic gnomic gnostic mimic – sequenced:

an evolutionary narrative’s lithe tail, forked and broken

over a war’s chair’s back, chained to pipes, to pixel-ratio, time-code

plus today’s paper evidenced in the frame-by-frame of X man

 

though known (or lost).

***

I admire writers that can make me think or question something in our society. The craft of sitting down and turning a careful phrase must take time to create. And the time to sit down and read that phrase and ponder it takes time as well. No doubt, Smith-McGregor must have taken time to reflect and write these phrases for her poetry. They are deep, sharp and introspective. And I feel guilty taking my time reading this book, but I wanted to give each phrase careful consideration and reflection. So for the past 5 months, I have read and re-read this book several times when I found myself a few moments solitude. And I found the experience worthwhile.

Chapter II: The Pool of Tears (Excerpt) Page 52

I wish I hadn’t cried so much . . . I shall be punished for it now,

I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears.

-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The river of my childhood is the Speed River. Starting near Orton, Ontario, it flows south through the city of Guelph.

Archivists have described it as wide, shallow, rapid, unnavigable – also: a source of power. That seems about right.

The river that runs just beyond the view of my window.The one where I have caught crayfish and cast sticks to watch them whisked away. Living on Rural Route Five

in the lower half of a large split-level which had once been a school, I sit at my small desk by this window drawing a series of trap doors in a green Hilroy notebook.

It is an illustration for the kind of Alice story that consumes a certain span of youth encompassing coming into the world, and is later returned to, looking for a way out.

I wish I hadn’t cried so much.

There is introspection and reflection here, and there is also some ponderings about the human condition. Smith-McGregor notes  small items of society and enlarges them for us readers to see. Again, it must have taken time to think about these details and create the perfect phrase to describe her thoughts. But the result is what many readers crave in a good piece of literature.

Red (Excerpt) Page 27

Red glares

Red is a reflection, a fetish, transgression. Red dresses

     a theme of sharp points.

Red eyes: bruised wells, betrayal of the photographer’s flash

I’m sorry but it’s anger.

Red crosses. Even in love.

It is history and injury. The history of injury

Masculine attention

I will not go on about wounds, scars protracting the red-white

          continuum through time.

This is not a productive conception of time (toward white) –

     it is a concession.

Someone else’s idea of healing.

Yes, the apple.

It was a Red Delicious. Even the flesh was red,

     blood apple. They write that out of the Bible.

White is an invention of History.

Kilby Smith-McGregor collection of poetry called Kids In Triage is deeply introspection and reflective but is unique and enlightening. Although I felt badly for taking so long to read this book, I am glad I took the time to savour it. It is a read that should not be raced through.

*****

Link to my Q&A with Kilby Smith-McGregor -“I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends.”

Link to Kilby-Smith McGregor’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s webpage for Kids In Triage

 

“I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends.” | Q&A with Poet Kilby Smith-McGregor

Kilby Smith-McGregor has had a busy time since her book Kids In Triage came out last May. But being busy for her may not be a bad thing for somebody as insightful and talented as her. In the Q&A listed below, she talks about the book, other projects and her upcoming schedule. No doubt we will be hearing a lot more about her soon.

kids

 

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Kids In Triage? Was there something specific that occurred that made you want to write the book?

Late last winter I was visiting my uncle’s family farm near Fordwich, Ontario; he knew I had a book coming out and asked me what it was called. I said Kids In Triage and he took a moment’s pause and replied, “I guess that’s…a whole generation…more than one.” He’s a brilliant guy, a geologist, but not a ‘lit-culture’ guy. I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends. The most amazing part of publishing a book so far has been hearing from readers, real people, who bring their own context and perspective to the work.

 

The word triage is a medical and military term for classifying and prioritizing injuries in a mass casualty situation. In this collection of poems, I wanted to explore how we identify and deal with emergencies, both public and private. The contemporary world is a mess; the 24-hour news feed is on fire; so, where do we put our energy, where will our care and intervention make a difference? The book is also very much meditation on the body, on gender, violence, and the dynamics of families. These are abiding personal and philosophical obsessions for me, so it doesn’t completely surprise me that the material I eventually shaped into my first book circles around these questions.

2) Your website lists you as both a writer and a graphic artist. Is there one occupation you prefer over the other or are they both compatible in enjoyment for you?

Writing can be a near-transcendent vocation, but it is an absolutely terrible profession. I can think of maybe two or three writers in this country who make a living from literary writing alone. Many teach or work as editors and copywriters, and that can siphon off a lot of your literary juice, depending on your temperament. What I love about being a commercial graphic artist is that it’s creative, but in a completely different way. Even when I act as my own art director, my graphic design projects are in service of someone else’s vision or message, and I like collaborating with clients on that, using my skills and experience to help them represent themselves aesthetically.

 3) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

The major touchstone writers of my literary coming-of-age—for different reasons—are likely JM Coetzee, David Foster Wallace, Marilynne Robinson, and Canadian novelist Michael Helm. Until recently, even my work in poetry has been primarily influenced by prose writers. These are amazing writers, but also not culturally or linguistically representative of the full scope of brilliant stuff that’s available out there. I’ve been diving into the work of contemporary Canadian writers who are relatively new to me this summer: Cherie Dimaline’s story collection, A Gentle Habit (Kegedonce, 2015), and Vivek Shraya’s novel She of the Mountains (Arsenal Pulp, 2014); in addition to Madhur Anand’s Index for Predicting Catastrophes (M&S, 2015), and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar, 2015), on the poetry front. Then there are recent works by American poets Ocean Vuong, and Jericho Brown, as well as the stunning lyric memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place (Graywolf, 2011), by Binyawanga Wainaina. Wainaina’s book follows his coming-of-age in Kenya, and I had the chance to read it while travelling in Kenya in August—a real treat. I have a lot to learn and discover as a reader and I’m always eager for recommendations.

4) Is there much of a book/reading tour being planned for Kids In Triage? If yes, are there any specific events that you are looking forward?

I’m thrilled to be reading with poet Roxanna Bennet at knife | fork | book, a new Toronto series, on November 3rd [event link: https://knifeforkbook.com/2016/09/11/poets-meet-november-3rd/]. k|f|b is hosted by ever-dynamic reader and curator Jeff Kirby, who has launched a poetry-and-small-press-only bookshop at Rick’s Cafe in Kensington market. You can check out his amazing blog, pictures of the shop, and info about in-store readings on his blog [link: https://knifeforkbook.com/]. I’ll also be in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Lit Live Reading Series [link: http://litlive.blogspot.ca] on December 4th, with friend and fellow Wolsak & Wynn poet, James Lindsay, as well as some other interesting writers across genres.

In the new year I’ll be visiting the Queen’s University undergraduate creative writing program, run by poet Carolyn Smart, and then Carolyn and I will travel from Kingston to Montreal to read together at the Resonance Reading Series [series link: http://www.resonancereadingseries.com] on February 7th. I’m thrilled to be touring with Carolyn; she’s a remarkable poet for her unflinching treatment of violence—as exemplified the brilliant, dark monologues of Hooked, and her new collection Careen, which undercuts the Hollywood treatment of Bonnie & Clyde. The trip is also significant to me because she’s the founder of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, which I received in 2010, and has continued to be a kind supporter of my work from afar. I’m looking forward to the chance to spend some time together talking about poetry, prose, and Bronwen.

New events are updated regularly on my website: kilbysm.com

 5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m a spectacularly slow prose writer, but in the wake of publishing the poetry collection, I’ve doggedly returned to work on my short story manuscript, All Swimmers. I’m hoping to finish a full draft in the spring. The story collection shares many points of intersection with the poetry, so I hope it will be of interest to readers of Kids in Triage when it eventually comes out.

6) You seem to be an active participant on Twitter. How do you feel about the use of social media in relation to promoting your work? Will you be expanding your presence onto Facebook and other social media platforms?

I joined Twitter in the fall of 2015 and I thought I would hate it. But the access to interesting links and current conversations in the community won me over. I’m not sure it’s a very reliable way to promote your own work if you’re not engaged with it at a professional level (i.e. curating regular ‘branded’ content and using platforms like Hootsuite to manage your activity)—but I do think it’s nice to have a record of things you’re interested in, if people want to know more about you. It’s also a quick, friendly way to give a shout out of support and amplify the voices of others. I have no plans to join Facebook, though the pressure from my family is unrelenting.

7) Your bios have you listed as spending a lot of time in the Guelph-Toronto area? Is that where you currently reside? And is there a lot in the way of cultural activities in that area that keep you engaged?

I lived in Guelph for some of my childhood, and I also taught fiction at the University there as part of the Open Learning Program, but Toronto is my home these days. Toronto offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of cultural and literary events. Not-going-out can prove more difficult than going out, but I find it’s important to take time to curl up with my dog and just read or watch TV some evenings. Some of my favourite ongoing lit events happen here, though. I’m a huge fan of the HIJ House Reading Series [link: http://bookthug.ca/hij-house-reading-series/ ] graciously hosted by BookThug publishers Jay and Hazel Millar in their family home. Hazel bakes homemade pie for each installment, which is a pretty amazing feat—so come for the readings and stay for the pie! I also love the Pivot Reading Series [link: https://pivotreadings.ca], which has been run by Sachiko Murakami, and most recently Jake McArthur Mooney, and will be transitioning to a new host in the coming months; it has a great legacy and has showcased writers of all different stripes from across Canada and beyond.

*****

Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s website for Kids In Triage

 

Is There a Guy in All of Us? | Review of “Guy” by Jowita Bydlowska (2016) Wolsak & Wynn

I purchased a copy of this book at the 2016 Toronto Word on the Street festival

Guy

How we interact with people – how we talked to them, how we think about them, whom we consider friends, etc.  – is always an important element for us to consider. Do we ever reflect on our actions and our thoughts anymore in this fast-paced age? Or do we just go from one personal gratification to another without giving a second thought of the people around us. Jowita Bydlowska has written a novel giving us a perspective of a narcissistic male whose only concern is his next sexual encounter. And she has documented that guy well in her book Guy. (And appropriately named him Guy.)

Page 9

The beach is full. It is almost always full this time of day. There are cars parked on the sand, some with their hatchbacks open, sudden buffets of beige and while food – the food of the people who come this beach. The food of people who grow large and soft: children with apathetic eyes, women with chafed thighs, men with rolls of flesh over their hips.

There are Fours and Fives everywhere. Their eyes flick over my face, flick away. Flick back again. I love them for it, but the nerve. It’s the media, the music videos. Every wannabe Britney Spears thinks she is Britney Spears. But if you were to stick the actual Britney Spears on this beach with no handlers? After a few hours she’d be violently pink from the sun, and her thighs would be as chafed as every other girl’s here. Unhandled, she’d be burping up yellow Cheetos. She’d deteriorate from a Seven to a Four just like that.

A Four walks by, looks up from her phone. Small lips, big nose. Small breasts, a belly.

Bydlowska has captured a element of the human condition here. I kept flashing back to the plot of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and while Bydlowska’s Guy is not as ultra violent as Patrick Bateman, he is indeed as vile at times. There is a conceit about him that we all somehow can relate to – we know somebody like that – and in doing so a reader takes time out to pause to consider their realities.

Page 82-83

For my part, I’ve given Dolores a printout with numbers and email addresses that are missing on crucial letter or have the number one instead of a seven and so on.

I know that it’s almost impossible to hide in the world anymore, and that young women like Dolores make online stalking their pastime, but it’s relatively hard to find me out there. Besides, even plain girls who meet princes get distracted – by math, by a boy with a guitar, by becoming passionate about saving pets, etcetera.

I make a nice memory, but my silence makes it quickly obvious that they were right about their instincts that it was too good to be true. And the the fake numbers and so on prove it. There was no mistake.

It would be well enough alone if Guy was just a conceited jerk in his personal affairs but Bydlowdska has given another element of his life for us to consider our realities in. Guy is a talent agent and his attitudes towards women spread to his success in the popular music scene. Are our tastes in popular culture caused by the likes of Guy. Perhaps. And it is frightening to think so.

Page 113

My idea for making the tumour $isi’s thing turns out to be brilliant. Post-tumour, there are TV appearances: morning shows, afternoon shows, even a few evening show appearances. There are a couple of magazine articles. We get interview requests – too many, so we have to start turning them down. $isi has been asked to give advice on everything from how to be at parties to healthy eating to fashion in the bedroom. For the latest release, we rejig the lyrics so that the song has the word grey in it. The ribbon colour for brain tumour is grey. With a nod toward Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” the writer comes up with a title: “Black to Grey.”

Although $isi is on the way to recovery, it’s important to continue with our Thing, to keep giving it a positive spin. Everyone works hard to keep the tumour issue in the public eye.

I have many ideas.

Jowita Bydlowska has truly documented an element of the human condition with her novel Guy. She has given readers pause in their own actions and thoughts about their attitudes towards other people. It is a darkly funny read at times but one that is reflective as well.

*****

Link to Wolsak And Wynn’s webpage for Guy

Link to Jowita Bydlowska’s website

Link to my Q&A with Jowita Bydlowska -“A non-fiction writer reports (creatively or otherwise) from reality, and a fiction writer observes, filters, and interprets the same reality and reports from imagination.”

 

“A non-fiction writer reports (creatively or otherwise) from reality, and a fiction writer observes, filters, and interprets the same reality and reports from imagination.” | Q&A with author Jowita Bydlowska

Guy

For many for us book fans, reading is not only a means of entertainment but a way to enlighten ourselves about the world and the way people interact in it. As the Autumn 2016 new releases come around, there is a promise of such reads for us. One such book is Jowita Bydlowska’s Guy: Or Why Women Love Me. No doubt this book sounds like it should be both funny and give us something to ponder. Bydlowska answered a few questions for me here about her new book.

*****

A) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “Guy: Or Why Women Love Me?”

 Hope it’s okay to use our official write-up (it sums it up well): Guy is a successful talent agent who dates models, pop stars and women he meets on the beach. He’s a narcissistic, judgmental snob who rates women’s looks from one to ten; a racist, homophobic megalomaniac who makes fun of people’s weight; a cheating, lying, manipulative jerk who sees his older girlfriend as nothing more than an adornment. His only real friend, besides his dog, is a loser who belongs to a pick-up artist group. Guy is completely oblivious to his own lack of empathy, and his greatest talent is hiding it all…until he meets someone who challenges him in a way he’s never been challenged before.

B) What inspired you to write “Guy?” How long did it take to write it? Was there any research involved in the book?

One summer day in 2011, I was walking on the beach, in a bikini, and this guy walking by checked me out. Unlike most guys’ his glance wasn’t furtive – he seemed very confident and there was something about the way he looked at me that made me think he thought I should be honoured that he bothered to look at me. But perhaps I’m wrong about that interpretation; perhaps my fiction-writing part of the brain was already writing a story… Anyway. I had this thought about what it would be like to be a very good-looking dude who is a narcissist and who believes he could get any woman he’d wanted.

In terms of research, I talked to men about what it’s like to be a straight guy. Also, I have this attractive male friend who’s very popular with women and I’ve asked him his pick-up techniques. Also, I spent some time hanging out on Pick-up Artist Internet forums. Filthy, fascinating stuff.

C) Your online biographies have you listed as both a journalist and a fiction writer. Do you find much differences between the two styles of writing? If yes, explain.

A non-fiction writer reports (creatively or otherwise) from reality, and a fiction writer observes, filters, and interprets the same reality and reports from imagination.

D) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

Michel Houellebecq, Bret Easton Ellis, Elana Ferrante, Laura Albert, Sheila Heti, Miranda July, Barbara Gowdy, Joseph Boyden, Lena Andersson, Jessica Knoll, Jim Shepard, Otetessa Moshfegh, Karolina Walclawiak, Douglas Glover, Herman Koch, Leonard Michaels, Lena Dunham, John Fowles, and many more. 

I’m reading apartment listings right now as I’m in the midst of looking for a place.

E)   No doubt you will be working on new items for your journalistic career but are you working on any new books right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

My agent just sent out my latest novel, Wolves Evolve, to a few publishers here and in the US. The novel is about complicated marriage, adultery, mental illness, aquariums and self discovery. Next, I plan to write a novel about Warsaw Uprising.

F) Your biographies have you listed as living in Toronto? How do you like living there? Are there any cultural institutions that Toronto has that inspire your writing at all?

I’m not a huge fan of Toronto right now – being single and living here (and taking care of a kid) is ridiculously expensive.  I’d like to move to the country. Or Europe. In terms of cultural institutions, I do love International Festival of Authors that happens here ever fall. One of the themes in my newly submitted novel Wolves Evolve is comparison/ contrast between Toronto and a West-coast city like Seattle.

*****

Link to Jowita Bydlowska’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s webpage for Guy

“The Hobo’s Crowbar was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them”| Q&A with Poet JonArno Lawson

Hobo

JonArno Lawson’s works has been endeared by both adults and children for it’s wit and whimsy. He has been a winner of numerous awards – including the Governor General’s award in 2015 for the illustrated children’s book Sidewalk Flowers. It was exciting for me to see that Lawson will be release a new collection called The Hobo’s Crowbar in October, 2016 and he answered a few questions about his new work here.

*****

1) The Porcupine’s Quill’s website  is calling The Hobo’s Crowbar a “collection of poems brimming with whimsical wordplay.” How would you describe it? What inspired you (if any) to write it?

The Hobo’s Crowbar  was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them, and then explore or fill out later. There was no central idea, just a pile of poems that seemed large enough to make a book from after a few years! Someone told me years ago that bpNichol worked on many of his projects in a similar way – he had files for different manuscripts where he sorted his ideas and poems, and at a certain point he’d realize something was full enough, or finished enough, to make a book out of (if he was aiming for a book – in his case, it wasn’t always a book!). I liked that model of working, and I’ve tried to use the same method, though I think Nichol was probably more organized than I am.

2) The Hobo’s Crowbar is illustrated with woodcuts by Alec Dempster. (Click here for a link to his website) Was there much planning between the two of you for the book? How long did it take to create the book?

 
The oldest poems in the collection go back twenty years. But most were written after 2013. Alec showed me his work after he was done – he’s an amazing artist – I had no input as far as his images went. He came for dinner a few months ago, and brought the woodcut for the cover image to show me the actual size – they’re less than half the size of the images you see in the book. Very small. Which is funny, because the paper cuts he did for Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box were larger than the images you see in that book. He’s full of surprises.

3) Will you be planning any sort of book/reading tour for The Hobo’s Crowbar? (Or even a public launch for the book?) If yes, are there events you are excited to be attending?

 
 I’m going to be reading from The Hobo’s Crowbar at the Fog Lit festival in Saint John’s, New Brunswick, at the end of September. I don’t have anything else lined up, but it would be great to have some kind of launch in Toronto. Porcupine’s Quill is pretty wonderful about promoting their titles, so I’m pretty sure we’ll do something here.

4) You still seem to be keeping busy with Sidewalk Flowers. Do you have many public events upcoming for it? How do you feel about the success of it so far?

 
Sidewalk Flowers has had a great run. (Click for a link to my review) And it does still seem to be running, in part because the foreign editions are still coming out a few at a time. Right now it seems to be doing well in Germany – I was delighted when someone mentioned the fact I was half-named for German writer Arno Schirokauer in a radio review (on Radio Bremen). Sydney Smith (the illustrator) and I will be going to Ireland in mid-September to take part in the Children’s Books Ireland festival – we’re supposed to talk about our collaborative process at a session there. It seems every time I think nothing else could happen with the book, something else happens! At first it was wonderful, then I started to find it distracting from other work I was trying to do, now I’m just going with the flow – it’s all good. Time passes quickly and it’s silly not to enjoy the good things as they happen. I’m not great with the unexpected – my nature is more to enjoy watching than to enjoy being watched. But we all need some of both.

5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m working on a few different things. Mostly I’m working very hard to finish up a book about playing cross-culturally with children. It’s a non-fiction book. I have to have it finished enough for the publisher to start editing it by the end of July, so it’s pretty close now. I’ve been working on this book for ten years! So many interruptions. . .mostly my own. It will come out in 2017 with Wolsak & Wynn (a Hamilton-based publisher). It’s tentatively called “Around the World by TTC”.  I’m also working on a children’s picture book with Montreal artist Nahid Kazemi.  Later in the summer I’m starting on an Arabian Nights sort of story cycle – this is a big project, I have a lot of work (and reading) to do for it, completely different from anything else I’ve done, so it’s making me a little nervous (but exciting to think about too).

6) In the last Q&A (Link to “I like that kids have fewer filters, and they really don’t care about your reputation”) you listed a quite a few of your favourite writers. Have you discovered any new writers since then that you admire?

 
 Writers I’ve discovered since last time! That’s a good question. . . I’ve become a very big fan of Alison Gopnik. Her books about babies and children are fascinating. She has a book that came out just now called “The Gardener and the Carpenter” – well worth reading. Mark Winston’s “Bee Time” is a great read. “On the Move”, by Oliver Sacks. I’m part way through Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book “The Gene: An Intimate History” – very entertaining. He’s a fine writer.
*****

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The Emotions of the Past | Review of “The Fishers of Paradise” by Rachael Preston (2016) James Street North Books – Wolsak & Wynn

Fishers

It is very easy these days to drive over a bridge, walk along a sidewalk or even relax in a park and not realize that there were once people who once lived in that spot. These people  once toiled, anguished and lived their lives in that very area we rush over and barely consider.  But Rachael Preston has given us a narrative to consider about one such area in her novel The Fishers of Paradise.

Page 1-2

The sledgehammers fall silent and the house shifts forward with a wooden groan. Like an aged swimmer anticipating the starter’s pistol, it wavers a moment in the wind, knees creaking with the newly uneven weight, and then, in a slow choreography, the stilts fold under themselves and the house slides into the marsh. Water and birds explode into flight, squirrels leap from bare trees. The sound, magnified by the geography of this enclave of lake and forest, by the stillness of the grey morning preceding it, ricochets a warning. The surface churns, and muskrats and beaver dive to the muddy bottom where carp and pike and bass huddle in the reeds. Water rushes over the porch of the two-storey home, washing against the door and window as the house lurches drunkenly in it own wake.

No sooner has the lake settled than the thrum of an engine, expensive, throaty, cuts through the silence that has claimed the small crowd gathered on their docks and porches to say goodbye. A gleaming mahogany powerboat noses out from between a set of weathered boathouse stilts like some exotic, temperamental animal and guns into the marsh, leaving behind the heady scent of gasoline. The boat alone, a Grew recently confiscated from bootleggers who ran contraband liquor across Lake Ontario, is worth standing outside in the November cold to see. Its current owner claims he can still smell the cordite along the three grooves carved portside by glancing bullets.

The driver circles the floating house, making it bob again, then eases back on the throttle and slows to an idle. His passenger turns in his seat to face the front door.

Everyone watches and waits.

Five minutes pass. Six.

Egypt Fisher stands at the shoreline, thinking her eyes might dry out from the wind if the door doesn’t open soon.

I always get grumped at if I don’t post a review for a while which usually means that I am savouring a book. And this book is worth savouring. Preston has truly crafted an engrossing story around a section of Hamilton, Canada that most people may not be aware that existed. Set in the hardships that occurred in the 1930s, teenage Egypt Fisher must deal with the gentrification plans that the city has planned for her boathouse community along the Dundas Marsh. And while that is going on, she starts out being thrilled that her estranged father has returned to the family fold, but it is soon apparent that events will soon rip her life completely apart.

Page 84-85

Egypt sits with her knees hugged to her chest, shins pressed against the table edge, and watches her mother from behind the veil of her hair. Blurred. Slamming cupboard doors, banging pots and dishes. Laura marches back to the wash basin and repeats her earlier scrabble through the mess of Russian dolls, lipstick tubes, envelopes, hair clips and pencils that sits on the odds-and-ends shelf below the mirror. Aidan watches Egypt pushing the cooling lumps of porridge around her bowl. She throws him a warning glance and then gathers a spoonful and dangles it beneath the table. George pads over to investigate, sniffs and flops down again by her feet. When Aidan giggles, she glares at him. Then at her mother’s back.

“So did you kick him out or did he leave again?” Her words part the air and free-fall slowly, landing with such a force that she stares at the kitchen floor, expecting to see a small crater. Her mother leans across the table and pulls Egypt’s hair back from her face.

“Your father has always marched to his own drummer.” Egypt recoils from her sour breath, her ragged, chewed-on lips. “And if you believe anything I have ever done or said has any influence on whether he comes or goes, then you haven’t been paying proper attention.”

“I heard everything you said last night.”

“No, you just think you heard everything. Aidan, go back upstairs while I talk to your sister.”

“But -”

“But nothing. Go.”

“But I can hear everything you’re saying from upstairs anyway,” he mumbles, dragging his feet towards the stairs.

“Now both my children talk back to me,” she says when Aidan has finished thudding up the stairs. “I suppose I have you to thank for that?” She’s back to searching drawers, inside the tea caddy, the pockets of jackets hanging by the door.

“And who do we thank for our absent father?”

Preston has mixed the right combination of historical and coming-of-age novel together here. Her words are vivid – not only in describing scenes but also in expressing emotions of her characters. There is at times a clear feeling between what a character is feeling and the reader experiencing it themselves. This is a book that should be read at leisure – not to be raced through- in order to appreciate the carefully chosen words and phrases that Preston has used.

Page 128-129

As far as home goes, she doesn’t trust herself not to snap around Laura. She even mention your grandparents? Not a word. Quite the feat when you think about it, keeping your parents from your daughter, your daughter from her grandparents. A virtuoso performance. Bravo, Mother. Egypt swallows a needle or rage. Ray presents another set of problems: years of pining over her father’s absence, of remembering and reconstructing her childhood in obsessive detail, and now that he’s here, in the flesh, Egypt finds herself chafing at the invasion of her home. He swings between a tetchy abrasiveness and protracted bouts of grim silence. Impossible to ignore, his moods, like tainted water, affect everyone who comes into contact with him, bar the bleary-eyed and leering friends he collects like stray dogs, and whom Egypt often finds (or hears) snoring on their couch in the morning. He can dismantle a room  – and its occupants – just by standing in the doorway. A blue pall of cigarette smoke hangs in the air even when he isn’t around. It’s as if half a dozen people have moved in with them. And he’s beginning to scare her. Having woken at the crack of dawn yesterday, she was first downstairs. Ray was sitting at the kitchen table, red-eyed and muttering to himself. His cot hadn’t been slept in. He looked hunted, cadaverous. The flesh had shrunk from his face in the night.

And yet, like the pricking wax and wane of nausea, Egypt senses the devastation she would feel if he left again. Ray Fisher is her dad, her family and though he wielded the news as a weapon – to hurt her or to make her stay and listen, she can’t decide which –  he has brought more family in his wake. A month ago, Egypt’s family numbered three. Now it stands at six.

The Fishers of Paradise by Rachael Preston is a read worthy to savour. It is vividly description and emotional and in a subtle way enlightening. In short, a pleasure to read.

*****

“I would say having lived in a lot of places affects what I write about, and the kinds of stories I’m drawn to: displaced people, the marginalized, those who don’t quite fit it” | Q&A with author Rachael Preston

Link to Rachael Preston’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s website for The Fishers of Paradise

 

 

 

The Beauty of the Cycles between Grief and Joy | Review of “Cantos From A Small Room” by Robert Hilles (1993) Wolsak and Wynn

Cantos

Thank you to Wolsak and Wynn for making this book available to me at the 2014 Toronto Word on the Street festival

We tend to think of life as a linear construct. We laugh, we cry, we sleep, continue. But do we take the time to seriously look at the cycle that is life? One work of beautifully crafted poetry has me carefully considering life in general and that is Cantos From A Small Room by Robert Hilles.

Canto 7: There Are No Accidents Between Lovers (Excerpt -Page 26)

I turned away and did not speak but

listened to your voice waver as

your mother’s final breath passed.

We waited all day knowing that it would be

soon tomorrow or the day after but soon

and still it was too quick as if suddenly

a switch had been thrown somewhere.

Both of us wanted her to stand up to walk over

to where we were sitting and put her

arms around us as she has often done

in the past. But we knew that the past

is a fragrance that could not reach into her room.

Looking at her closed eyes I wondered if

where she dreamed there was

a bird singing outside her window.

After she died, I gripped your hand and

saw that in death even music falters.

There are some well-crafted thoughts here. Hilles has pondered some serious moments of his life and – in turn – listed some important elements of the human condition. It was a pleasure to read this and consider moments out of my own life.

Canto 10: Canto For The Dead (Except Page 36)

Does it matter that you are not strong that even

as a child you could not look at death without

being caught in its delicate stare? Does it matter

that your thighs sing in the morning and do not move

but rest beneath the covers?

Your fist is strong but shatters nothing lands

on your own knee. Crazy, you are listening to the world

hiss in the throat of a lover. Listen to the kindness

you have left behind its long dress hanging in a

window down the street. A bird laughs by your window,

as illogical and true as that may sound, you laugh too

walk across the street and tear a daffodil out of the ground.

Softly you begin to tear the skin from your eyes

begin to peel the scales from your tongue.

You are prepared to enter any graveyard and listen.

Death the act of hearing a bird laugh at your window

the blinds hiding its face a tanager or a swallow

it’s not important as you look at your hands and smile.

It is important to carefully read and re-read passages in this book. This is one of these works that needs to be pondered and considered. A quiet corner with a few hours to spare makes reading these words worthwhile.

Combs (Excerpt -page 60)

You comb your hair and

this dark room is filled

with splashes of static.

My body is shaped

by your hair and I listen

as you sigh into the mirror

and escape in it to another room

one larger than this where

the moonlight strips the sheets

from the bed and children whisper

their fears at the door.

My hands tremble as

they reach across to you

feeling your soft tongue moisten

them. Our bodies continue

to praise each other even as we

sleep our lives equipped with

different dreams and it is dangerous

to anticipate another’s plummet

into the world alone.

Cantos From A Small Room by Robert Hilles is a well-crafted work which gave me pause to reconsider the human condition.  His thoughts are profound and carefully considered. A pleasure to read and re-read.

*****

Link to Robert Hilles WordPress site

Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s page for Cantos From A Small Room

The Beauty of Faith and Nature | Review of “this Orchard Sound” by John Terpstra (2014) Wolsak & Wynn

orchard

Thank you to Wolsak & Wynn for making this book available to me at the 2014 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

We take nature for granted, there is no doubt in that. It takes a few carefully considered phrases to awaken us on our ignorance. And that is what John Terpstra has done in this Orchard Sound.

1 (excerpt)

I come to the garden alone, garden,

of fruit, fruit of the tree: apple, pear,

peach, plum, cherry. The March earth

is a mulch of last autumn, a half-frozen

mass of leaves and produce that’s yet

attracting birds, if that’s

what the birds are after-

there are so many! lifting off,

landing, chatting like crazy,

making this orchard sound

like a major event

                                 Lent

and in a little while,

leaves: blossomtime.

                                               Do these

damned trees still believe

                                                               everything

is possible? the power of prayer,

that the same old story

bears repeating, adding to

the two-grand anno domini

of borrowed time

                             we already have?

While this is a small book, Terpstra has spoken volumes here. He attention here is focussed on an orchard that is about to be destroyed by human development. He has crafted phrases here that clearly show his feelings to our  mind’s eye.

6 (excerpt)

And at the orchard’s heart

the ear is hounded by inhuman sound

a six-lane highway bass, breathing out

its monotone continuo of HNHNHNHNAAAAAAAAAA

while at the nearer lights, cars kneel

and throb their mocking yukyukyukyukyukyuk

as from the rooftops, heating units,

air conditioners, snicker the ozone

and the glazed eyes of office buildings

coldly smirk

                     what bright sun?

One can feel the anguish and pain in Terpstra’s thoughts. He describes each image with clarity that we can empathize with him.

14 (Excerpt)

I come by a tree, recently mauled, mangled

by cut and tear, and the familiar bramble

of  loped branches, so fresh

it seems the buds might still unfold,

that what little life remains

is enough to blossom.

                          But after these

events, this past

six weeks, I burst

             Who hath wounded thee?

Tell me, that I may take my blade,

its sharp teeth. . .

             And the riled stillness

breaks, for once, and from all around birds

unfurl their wings, come flying in,

gather and land on the crazy busted branches,

talking it up;

          and for once

I actually begin to make out

what they say; they say

             but  Nay, sir,

While it is a small book, this Orchard Sound by John Terpstra is a volume that speaks volumes. His phrases are powerful and illuminating. A pleasure to read.

Link to John Terpstra’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s page for this Orchard Sound