amongst books

amongst books

Friday, May 11, 2007

Kate Greenstreet and Rhonda Douglas

last night at the Factory Reading Series may possibly be the best reading of the year, at least it was so far for me. I ate two of Pearl’s so thoughtfully and whimsically provided fortune cookies in which she stuffed alternative fortunes of her own creation: “Say Yes even to that bit of life?” A state of yes is the right condition to be in for a reading, isn’t it.

Kate Greenstreet is an American writer who I haven’t had the pleasure of reading or meeting before. She read with an intensity and intimacy that made me feel like she was speaking directly to me. She read from “case sensitive” (Ahsata Press, 2006-[and isn’t that a lovely name for a press!?) and from the freshly published "Rushes" (above/ground press, 2007).

The poems she read from “case sensitive” were so powerful and beautiful that I found myself wanting to slow things down just to be given the luxury of dwelling on one line. the book is a series of long poems, so Greenstreet explained that she would read bits and that they wouldn’t necessarily have titles. Listening to her read was like being plunged headlong into the middle of things, the part where it gets interesting.

Normally I just extract little lines that hit me and I did have lines that affected me strongly but I don’t feel I would at all doing justice to this book by extracting, so instead I will send you to read my very favourite poem from the ones she read, to appreciate natural and quiet rhythms, the thoughtful language like a prayer and the precision of the imagery; here’s a poem from the section entitled “Where’s The Body?”:

dusting for prints

Also see rob's review of "case sensitive."

You can listen to Greenstreet on her site. She’s got poems recorded there!

We were also treated to a reading of the chapbook in its entirety. The cover is a beautiful black and white offset photograph of rushes, those thick blades of leaves from bullrushes. The photo was taken by Toronto-based designer David Risk.

“Rushes” starts with the brilliant quote “I don’t follow the news. I have to follow something else.” and then with the reassurance “You look worried. Don’t be.”

What Rushes and case sensitive have in common are what I would refer to as small movement insights. They aren’t the big answers to questions and who would want that, but they are kind of short form reassurances and observations. Some of these observations are very profound and others are disturbing, while others are humourous. The ending still leaves us wanting more. “I’m enjoying this. I could stop now.”

I could have heard more and wanted to from this talented writer. There’s a photo of a baby on Greenstreet’s blog of a baby (who must be related to her) and Greenstreet captions the photo with “She sees into your heart.” I’d say the same thing for Greenstreet. You have to go to her amazing blog, which rob described as the best literary blog since the 1850s or something like that. She interviews writers about their first books and it’s a fascinating read.

Our second reader for the evening was Rhonda Douglas, director of the Tree Reading Series and recent winner of the Diana Brebner Prize. Douglas read from her very first chapbook, “Time, If It Exists, The Cassandra Poems, just published by above/ground press. rob writes about her poetry here.

If you’ve been to Tree, you’ve likely heard a number of these poems or variations of them when Rhonda has read at the open mic. It was satisfying to hear these poems in a sequence this time. The chapbook is part of a larger manuscript about Cassandra, one of the women in the Iliad, which Dougals read on a dare. The main thing that struck her about the Iliad was that the women’s stories were not told. She decided to tell Cassandra’s story or at least her imagined version of it. This reminded me very much of Lorna Crozier’s concept for Apocrypha of Light, a book of poems which tells the stories of women from the Bible, which didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on its female characters either.

What I liked best about the poems were the way Douglas brings Cassandra into modern times and into the speaker’s own life. The opening poem for instance, "Imagining Cassandra” which ends with: “When she knocks on your door at 3 a.m.,/asks in a clear small voice if you can talk,/I’m just saying you might want/to think about it before you open the door.”

There are some beautiful lines in these poems. Hecuba, which won the Brebner Prize, for example: “All this – water falls from fingertips, makes a sound like small bells –“

There’s a joyful yet wry irreverance to Douglas’ poems as I discovered when listening to her read, “Negotiating with Apollo” which is written from the point of view of Cassandra who Apollo tries to seduce, promising her the gift of prophesy. It is written in very colloquial language. It was satisfying to see a god addressed in this fashion.

I also enjoyed the quiet and subtle eroticism in the above poem and many of the others.
“as though I would give up/caresses of nipples for nouns;” ... “Touch me again and let me think about it./It’s hard to walk away from the promise of heat.”

I think my favourite poem of the ones Douglas read was “After Agamemnon: Advice for Married Men” with its very mesmerizing imagery: “You were a boy who captured/bees in a jar, their rounded bodies/beating against your palms through/glass...” There’s a passion in this poem which is very alluring: “...where has this gotten/you except into the heat of my lap?/It’s time to go home, where a woman/pulls you inside for the evening. Time/to set the old bees free.”

It was a lovely reading, one I will remember for a long time. Such amazing writers. This is what it is all about for me.

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