amongst books

amongst books

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Winnipeg, Ottawa, Edmonton Connection

last night at the Factory Reading Series. The two features, Anne Le Dressay and K.I. Press, have coincidentally both lived in all three of these cities. As they read, it became apparent to me that there was an even deeper connection between the poetry of the two women: both read poems about modest and understated women, all heroines in their way.

LeDressay read from the now out-of-print Woman Dreams (above/ground press, 1998), Sleep is a Country (Harbinger Poetry Series, Carleton University Press, 1997), and new poems about decrying the even state one achieves when on Prozac, the stereotypical attitude some have toward country girls (Ledressay grew up in rural Manitoba), obnoxious politicians in an Ottawa café, and the ambition to be good enough rather than a super model. Le Dressay’s quiet demeanour complemented the tone of her writing. These are poems to listen to with care. Fellow blogger and friend, Pearl Pirie mentioned Sleep Is A Country back in her own blog in July, 2003 and said “Like so much good poetry it carries well over time and bears re-reading.”

For some reason I thought I had the book already, otherwise I would have also purchased it. I look forward to Le Dressay’s poems in Chaudière Books’ upcoming poetry anthology. Perhaps it is only the morning after, that I’m realizing how much her poems affected me…the quiet tone and wit remains with me this morning. Her words were simple and very plain, and yet somehow they conjured up such a lingering mood of peace for me today. Her writing is an excellent example of what makes poetry memorable.

Here’s a poem of hers from Contemporary Verse 2, Volume 27, Issue 4, to give you an idea of her style:

old winter

The snow is tired. It has thawed
and frozen, thawed and frozen, and its edges
have become ice crystal, blank space, and dirt.

When it was fresh, it caught and held
every speck of dust, froze every wandering
bit of trash. Now it releases
one by one a winter’s

The snow is broken, worn, faded grey,
pocked with dirt where the sun
has probed.

Even the new soft white
fresh from last night
cannot cover the scars, cannot disguise
how old this winter is.

At break time, the fun was to wander around the Arts Court where we could enjoy the possibility of walking on ball bearings or have them rain down upon us, or pick up a phone to speak to random strangers.

We were in a different gallery this time, since the Ottawa International Animation Festival seems to be doing stuff in our usual venue. The pieces this time around were from a collection called Degrees of Fantasy, selected from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art. I have to admit I love being surrounded by art for a reading. In this case, the whimsy of the pieces felt opposite to LeDressay’s very realistic work, yet fit entirely well with K.I. Press’s reading of her two-day old poetry collection, “Types of Canadian Women, And of Women Who Are or Have Been Connected with Canada, Volume II” (Gasperau Press, 2006)

It was lovely that this was Press’s first reading of the book in public. I’ve heard Press read before at the Tree Reading Series, and was very much looking forward to hearing her read once more. She didn’t disappoint both in her reading style and the poems she read.

Types is based on an illustrated book about Canadian women from 1903 Press discovered while working as a picture researcher for non-fiction books. While the biographies of these women were sometimes quite mundane, Press felt that much of the story had been left untold.

The book itself is beautifully made and features black and white photographs of women from that era, holding cameras, looking pretty, posed before tree stumps, holding guns, wearing hats, little granny glasses and nurse caps. What is ever so fascinating about the poems is that most of them are written in the first person from the point of view of the woman in the picture. The writing style changes from very informal to quiet formal. The titles are quite fun and humourous too, coming from what Press sees when looking at the photo: “Practices regularly four hours a day,” “Her horse killed under her,” and “Did minor surgery herself.”

Press read the introduction in which she apologized about the lengthy delay between publication of Volume 1 (1903) and Volume 2 (2006). And she read this completely with a straight face, well mostly. The poems themselves, aside from being full of whimsy, were also careful and idiomatic renderings of women in their time, modest yes, in some cases, but very much exotic creatures, for example:

[photo of a woman posed jauntily in a field, and wearing a hat and suit jacket, hands in pockets, roughish looking wrinkled trousers]

Betty’s big black eyes, a stone’s throw,
all them big eyes frozen at me,
all the grasses, kindling-yellow,
and birds bursting with notes
of despondency, the saddest birds
and eyes in worlds and worlds, scared
as sudden lightning struck them statuesque.
I could teach them
wire-walking or vaudeville tunes,
if I wanted, now. My every move.
The wailing birds. A groan.
Betty. Up with my gun.
She’s old and ornery and there’s nothing romantic
about this. I’m full of spite. Blast her
head practically off. The whole lot
will be sour tonight.

Some of these poems can be found on line at 2.0. Press’s other collections are Pale Red Footprints (Pedlar Press, 2001), Flame (above/ground press, 2002), and Spine (Gasperau Press, 2004). Except for the chapbook from above/ground press, Press’s collections tend to focus on one particular theme and follow it through. Pale Red Footprints is loosely based on the memoires of Donat Sylvestre, Spine touches on a love of books from Alice in Wonderland to Jane Eyre.

Hats off once more to rob mclennan, who, in the midst of a very hectic schedule, preparing for the much anticipated launch of Chaudière Books, and doing a whole pile of other things, including his jam packed blog full of everything you ever needed to know about Canadian (and other poetry) but were afraid to ask, still managed to organize yet another wonderful reading. I always come home from one of these evenings with more than a few poems started on the walk home, inspired and invigorated by what I've heard.

For a photo of last night’s reading, go to Charles’ blog.


Anonymous said...

Hi Amanda! K.I. Press here. I just want to point out in reference to your post that the titles of the poems are actually drawn from the 1903 book. The titles were often the starting point of the poems. Nice to see people in Ottawa, and thanks for the comments!

Anonymous said...

And I missed the reading(!) I could kick myself. (there) Just did again.

The Types of Canadian women sounds good.