The Pitfalls and Pleasures of Summer Reading. books reviewed by Gordon Phinn

GordonPhinnPhoto

The Pitfalls and Pleasures of Summer Reading

Books considered:

No Escape, Nury Turkel (Hanover Square Press 2022)
Bad Trips, Slava Pastuk (Dundurn 2022)
Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mandel (HarperCollins 2022)
Pure Colour, Shelia Heti (Anansi, 2022)
The Book of Smaller, Rob McClennan (University of Calgary Press 2022)
My Grief, the Sun, Sanna Wani (Anansi 2022)
Arborophobia, Nancy Holmes (University of Alberta Press 2022)
Beast At Every Threshold, Natalie Wee (Arsenal Pulp Press 2022)
The Butterfly Cemetery, Franca Mancinelli (Bitter Oleander Press 2022)

 

     One of the reasons we regularly indulge in our literary pleasures is escape from the harsh realities of the world, those situations that oppress our sense of the sanctity and dignity of the individual citizen and their freedom from the unlawful activity of criminals or malign state apparatus.  Obviously, the pleasures of the text itself cannot be denied or ignored, yet the escape mechanism is all too real.  And it is daring, fearless reportage that often brings that harsh reality to our ken.

     Nury Turkel’s memoir No Escape, published by Toronto’s Hanover Square Press I am proud to say, certainly fulfils that function.  Many of you will have read articles or seen reports on the tragic situation of the Uyghurs in China these past few years and been as disturbed as I by the implementation of all the slimy apparatus of the authoritarian state to the cultural and political repression of that minority.  The book is replete with personal reports of eyewitnesses and escapees, testimonies to the surveillance state, complete with omnipresent cameras, tracking apps and barbed wire that enables the ‘re-education camps’ for tens of thousands, and some estimate millions, of this Muslim community, who are basically imprisoned while the process of denying the existence of ‘god’ and worshipping the state works its oppressive ideological trauma.  Not to mention the timid response of many countries tied to profitable trade with China.  The comparisons to concentration camps are not overblown, believe me.  Starvation, torture and forced sterilization for starters.  The double talk and Orwell Speak of the official response.  The taming of potential terrorists. The demented thrill of domination and humiliation.

    It seems to go back to 1949 when the ancient Uyghur homeland was handed over by Stalin to Mao in some handy geopolitical horse trading of the day, although one suspects that a detailed historical survey would bleed into centuries of ethnic tension and conflict.  The resultant contemporary tragic drama, a bitter rivalry between Han Chinese and Muslim Uyghurs, took decades to unfold, and wouldn’t you know it, was eventually overseen by the same Communist Party climber who devised and oversaw the decimation of Tibetan culture in the 70/80/90’s, a detail rarely mentioned.  The repressive majority and the repressed minority: history, ancient and modern, reveals many tawdry and gruesome examples.  Here is the latest.

*

 

    Bad Trips, Slava Pastuk’s memoir of his slide from wage slave at Vice to drug runner and jail time, is not just for those folks who pass their time by downloading the app and searching frantically for how to be super cool this month, those tragically underused millennials who will soon have to compete with robots for their rent money, it is sufficiently honest about that generation’s struggle to find some meaning in their existence beyond leaving the homestead and doing their own laundry that a compassionate understanding of their plight can be gained even by a boomer cynic like myself.

     I thoroughly enjoyed following the trajectory of Pastuk’s personal narrative from childhood through adolescence, having arrived in the GTA with his mother from Ukraine at age four, his adolescence in the outer suburbs, in which, like every teenager, he was desperate to leave and launch himself into an adulthood orbiting through the downtown Toronto artsy enclaves, making connections, couch surfing, ricocheting on recreational drugs and checking the hits on his dating site profiles.  The bargain basement version of what one sees on Netflix docs.

     For a decade or more I followed, as much as one can in this burgeoning circus of websites and podcasts, the presence and influence of portals like Vice, chatting with baristas when I heard them mention it and watching their videos for insights into that new generation rising.  This was alongside tapping into sites like Democracy Now, Russia Today and Al Jazeera.  So Pastuk’s deconstruction of the Vice myth, that of the rebel hipster cool, into just another mini-corporation seducing idealistic youth with up-to-the-minute trendy temptations, using their energy to boost their audience and orbit until the inevitable merge with a big buck mega outlet, in this case Rogers, and winding up with fancier offices and facilities and all the corporate bullshit that fences it off from further innovation.

     In the early days Pastuk felt forced into dope dealing just to buck up his weekly and make his rent.  But of course, it was worth it, seeing as many hip-hop and rap acts as he could handle in any one week, punching up copy, partying till dawn, and making the grade with as many women as could be had on the circuit.  Later, with promotions and something you could actually call a salary and a steady girlfriend, he was able to maintain the exciting night life and add restaurants with tablecloths and cocktails, memberships in private clubs, weekend jaunts to here and trendy there.  All this is conveyed in prose so smooth, sophisticated and sharp with pithy observation, I was leery of the notion that music journalism had built this accomplishment.  Bad Trips was one of the smartest first books I had come across in years.

     When I noticed, in small print on the title page, that a ghost writer had participated my enthusiasm dulled somewhat.  But an email resolved the issue quickly when he confirmed the info on his website that Slava Pastuk had indeed hand written the memoir while incarcerated for his drug running between Brazil and Australia and he had only slightly polished it up.  Good to know.  Pastuk’s own local dealing and athletic consumption of the entire pharmacopea, washed down with endless beers and gin in all its varieties, was an endless astonishment to me.  I wondered how he survived until the fabled drug bust, headline material around 2015/6, presented itself as the risk-free ride to instant wealth.  Which it was, for the customary few months before mules as stupid as their tag used their own cells instead of throw away burners as advised, instantly flagging themselves and the cartel for whom they were distant apparatus.

     If I mention that Pastuk’s girlfriend turned her interest in artfully altered Instagram images of her ethnic background into a large and eager set of followers, gallery shows and a book contract in New York, and that Pastuk himself, on the edge of getting wrapped up with the dummies who couldn’t follow the simple instructions they were given and got nabbed in Sidney, the Oz5 as they became known, legally changed his name, moved to Montreal, subleased a condo and started a new business designing software in but a few weeks, spinning out a year without suspicion, perhaps you’ll envision the subculture we are dealing with here.   Fraternising with the criminal element indeed, at least until the pot got legalised and the long arm of the law traced him and took him to trial.

     Discovering what goes on in these stranger-than-fiction subterranean cultural bubbles is more than half the fun in this witty, acerbic and entertaining memoir from a first-time author and one I hope to hear from again.

 

*

       Intriguing but not involving is how I would describe Emily St. John Mandel’s sixth novel, two of which The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven, are reckoned to be bestsellers.  I had initially felt intrigued after coming across a recommendation in a glossy magazine, likely not much more than some PR favor, but what the heck, that’s how books get their names abroad. Mandel is a writer of no inconsiderable talent who has discovered that a certain quota of literary style can serve as a patina on plotlines as rehashed as episodes of the Twilight Zone and Doctor Who.

      Time travel has obsessed book and film creators on and off through the decades, most particularly those in the sci-fi and fantasy genres.  Mandel has moved the game into the faux literary category with sufficient style to assure the doubtful that they are transcending the genre for something a little more elevated.  But as with all narratives fetishizing technological innovation over ethical, social or spiritual concerns, the reader is left with a dizzying ride through the centuries, with a carnival of characters endlessly swapping identities and genders as they ponder whether a lifetime is anything more than a simulation and accidents anything other than a corrupted file.

     Investigators from 2401, employed by a shadowy corporate/government entity, Time Institute, employing thousands in a bureaucracy not unlike those now engaged in the operation of the surveillance society many of us currently enjoy the benefits of, are permitted to roam through time seeking wrinkles and anomalies that apparently need to be noted and filed but not altered.  Disobedience, of course, is remorselessly punished, yet often undercut by rebels and whistleblowers secretly working for, you know, the other guys.  All very Orwellian indeed.  Sea of Tranquility falls victim to the usual tropes of dystopian fiction, failing to answer any of the metaphysical quandaries humans have confronted since Ancient Egypt and likely before.

    Back then slaves could be rebellious, feckless and lazy, now we have cars that break down just when we need them and in the future robots always need to go in for repairs and those moon colonies can really stink when the power goes down.  The anomalies of supernatural events and enigma of the afterlife seem just as distant despite all that clever stuff going on in labs.  Novelists like Mandel need to come to their senses.  Caring about their characters is as important to our well being as citizens caring about each other.  Sadly, the genre seems to forbid it.

     Let me allow Mandel to have the witty last word: “This is what the Time Institute never understood, if definite proof emerges that we’re living in a simulation, the correct response to that news will be, So What?   A life lived in simulation is still a life.”

*

 

     It has become a given over the last century that the novel is the most flexible and malleable literary form, partaking at its ease of almost any cultural or historical construct that suits its conceits.  The self-regarding vanity of its creators seem to know no bounds.  Toronto based writer Sheila Heti, a somehow still young-ish veteran of several much-praised titles, seems well able to snug herself into that modern niche.  The conventions of narrative fiction, – characters, plots and sub-texts – all feel like party balloons she’s playing with while she figures out what it is she’s actually writing.  That she has carefully developed a style of understated eloquence and genially subtle reference helps to advance her somewhat mysterious cause, which may turn out to be little more than a wordsmith of singular talents trying to find her way among the luminaries of English literature.  That’s a tough haul for any writer at any stage of the continuum.

      The Middle Stories, (Anansi 2001) announced her arrival on the scene.  Impish and enigmatic in a world of drearily traditional short fiction, it caught the eye and ear, not the least due to Anansi’s rather handsome hardback edition.  She seemed, even then, to be drawing from the deep wells of myth, legend and fairy tale to construct an insulated world while artfully abandoning the flesh and blood society of striving, desire and relationship.  Characters more caricatures, situations to be subtly avoided rather than confronted.  Ideas of life rather than life itself, the all-too-clever post-modern rehash, the smug denial of character and development, psychological and emotional realism ditched for game playing connivance.  The novella Ticknor continued in this vein, with Anansi’s smart design suggesting boundaries crossed and revelations abounding in some low-key desert of repressed emotion.

One waited in vain, I now sense, for the break-out:  a different song, a new arrangement, a melody sung with passion rather than restraint.  Motherhood, ostensibly a memoir disguised as a novel, looked promising, but its stylish and opaque recitation of the post-feminist thirty-something pondering, desiring and fearing the filling of her womb with a life that might be as annoying as it was fulfilling, seemed only to add to the already groaning cartload of career girl fretting from all corners of the first world’s chattering classes.  As she writes: “What is the main activity of a woman’s life, if not motherhood?”  And: “I always felt jealous of gay men I knew who spoke of having come out.  I felt like I would like to come out, too – but as what?  I could never put my finger on it.”  Certainly there is no denying, all genres are overloaded with contenders: that’s the way major publishing works: keep piling on those popular categories, and surely something will stick.  With enough somethings in one season you’re back in the black.  Not so many and maybe you’ll get bought out. 

     How Should A Person Be?, her next, rang some warning bells.  A title like that?  More tortured introspection and metaphysical meandering?  I braced for the inevitable.  The New York Times settled her into a posse, The New Vanguard, of fifteen women writers who are ‘shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st Century’.  I remained unconvinced.  The post-modern posturing that she indulges her readers in is something less than an artistic or spiritual vision and more the footnotes of failing to attain any vision.  Yeah, those footnotes are intriguing to a reader unfamiliar with their heritage but ultimately not much more than an echo in the canyon.  And yes, echoes have their own intrinsic music, as do birdsong and main street traffic.

     She starts out etching in the contemporary cliché of the young female seeking an identity to still the storms of confusion.  She asks “everyone she meets” how should a person be, she watches what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too” and is attentive to answers so they could “make them her answers too.”   So far, so high school.  Then, about four paragraphs in, it morphs, without any preamble, into “We live in an age of some really good blow jobs.  Every era has its art form.  I just do what I can not to gag too much…I just try to breathe through my nose and not throw up on their cock.  I did vomit a little the other day, but I kept right on sucking.”  The shock value did not have me reeling but I did feel, if only for a moment, like someone’s maiden aunt rudely interrupted while serving earl grey tea and scones.  Surely that much rumored publisher’s advice about having a decapitation or violent sex act on page one and ‘you’re away to the races’ was not true?  Perhaps my default setting need a rejig, I thought as I persevered for some pages of inner city artists partying and squabbling until a jealous partner sneaks some rancid text onto her document file, ending with some scene where she’s sexing it up with some Nazi, submitting to yet another blow job while begging for commitment, and having his  hand “cruelly sticking her nose in his hairy ass” and, wait for it, shitting.   I thought, Thanks but no thanks Sheila and sipped on my lukewarm tea.

      Pure Colour, also masquerading as a novel, involves its audience in much metaphysical questing and mystical rambling, which thankfully dressed up the cardboard characters and threadbare plot.  Oh, there’s a narrative alright but it barely goes around the block in search of development, briefly stopping in at the protagonist’s place of employment, a lighting store selling old fashioned lamps, some art college chatter and profs with opinions, a lady friend who we sense is the emblem of that love which dares not speak its name not until much later with tender kiss and polite rejection.  But a daughter’s obsession with a father seems to be the crux of the mystery, with fond recalls of child time interactions and the like.  Dad, of course, passes on, as he has to in such constructs, whether based in biography or built from make believe, then magically morphs into a new existence as a leaf on a tree, in which the daughter eventually joins him for some pages of blissful peace and spicy hints of incestuous desire.  Lessons learned, she rejoins life, sort of, unsuccessfully chases her old girlfriend to a new town and makes some resolutions.

     All of this is conveyed in such supple, smoothly referential prose, paragraphs of a sensitive and touching beauty, one continually hopes for more, but is left with four unreal characters in a soup of metaphysics, failing to connect in any way familiar to those of us living a life.  There is much talk about ‘the gods’, ‘god’, ‘the soul’, ‘consciousness’, their desires, betrayals and attributes.  The kaleidescope of viewpoints is spun and shuffled about then dealt to the reader: –

“The gods sometimes take the form of a bacteria or virus, and often that’s what an illness is – just a swarm of invading gods”. 

“The gods sometimes kill the bodies of the people they enter.  They tell themselves they make people sick to dying to judge those who gather around the dying one, to see how they behave in such a critical situation.  But really it’s because they haven’t figured out a reliable way of exiting someone’s body without inadvertently killing them.” 

“She hadn’t known that plants were the grateful recipients of all consciousness – not only of people, but of snails and squirrels and the sun and the rain; that is was their generosity that made them so lush and green, the very colour of welcome.” 

“In the cosmic landscape, plants have front row seats.  God is thrilled to have the audience of creation made up mostly of plant life: trees and bushes, flowers and berries, sitting down to enjoy the show, and saying at intermission, What a romp!”

    In the chorus of praise and applause for this book and writer I find myself as something of a dissenter.  In the Atlantic’s Smutty Mystic article by Judith Shulevitz she’s not just a feminist, an avant-garde feminist, but a Jewish avant-garde feminist.  But wait, she’s also a metaphysical vaudevillian, droll, earnest and potty mouthed, and hey, Motherhood is almost Talmudic.  For me, the party-pooper, it’s more like throwing a bundle of biblical references against the wall of unknowing, hoping that some of them might stick amidst the faux nature mysticism and quantum entanglement riffs.  “Like the bible itself, she insists, “It’s a mashup of fairy tale and myth, with a Broadway musical tossed in for good measure.”  I’ll agree, it’s a mashup alright, but a messy one.

     At the end of my research and almost my tether I came across a 2020 stand alone edition of Virginia Woolf’s essay How Should One Read A Book, with an introduction and afterword by Ms. Heti, both blessedly clear about their intentions and concise in their expression.  A felt like a stranger in a strange land.  In the afterword she writes of the importance of critics and readers, particularly readers who are already friends.  But she can “fume with rage when she reads something by someone online who didn’t like my book because I feel they haven’t read the book fairly and I can’t be sure of they ever read books with the sort of openness with which I think books should be read.  But I have never been angry at someone I care about if they dislike something I’ve written.”  She then recounts an incident where someone she loves did not care for some draft and asked if maybe she’d just thrown up the pages and let them fall where they may.  Apparently, she felt “complete despair” for two days and could not continue composition for an entire two months.

     How should a person be?  How should one read a book?  Exactly as one feels in the moment, without justification or apology.  And the creator should be, as Joyce noted, somewhere in the background calmly paring their fingernails.  While undoubtedly a writer of great talent, Heti is a not a particularly ‘original thinker’, her books are not ‘radically different’ from one another and her take on the soul’s problems are not any kind of ‘radical attention’, as some maintain.  Will she remain an eternal seeker, savouring the ghosts of bliss, a charmingly confused overturner of rocks sniffing for the insipid?  One hopes not.

*

 

     Sanna Wani’s My Grief, the Sun, is a strong debut, and one that our Muslim readers in particular should be aware of.  A poet who manages to live in both the Toronto suburb of Mississauga and Srinagar, Kashmir, prompting my bungalow dweller admiration, she often concerns herself with personal and family issues, unsurprising in one so young, but acquits herself with honour, staying well above the romantic bleatings of her generation on Instagram, so be assured on that.   This woman knows her lyric and devotional poetry and perhaps spurred on by Rumi’s example, seems quite willing to go the distance.  Her stanzas are particularly resonant when read aloud, as I discovered one quiet afternoon this spring, in the dining room with the afternoon sun bravely shining in.  In her reflections and meditations, she repeatedly returns to her quest for individual identity in the presence or absence of ‘god’.  Who am I?  Who are you?  What is god?  And how are these related?  It is not a concern unknown to me, and perhaps not to you, regardless of religious affiliation.  There are not many poets who would employ the title Why I Pray.  Or We Look in Vain for God’s Footprint.  Or God Is the Exalted and Absolute Other.  In at least two sections out of four, she explores these tendrils of divinity, tugging for roots behind the branches.  It is a brave and unapologetic quest, and I applaud her dedication.

 

From Distances:

Manahil, in the word surrender, there is a love poem.  It says, I have been looking for you in the grass.  The grass is a place I call my hands.  Memory is a city of moss, a circle of dew.  My hands are heavy, soaked in time.  Any question lights up my body with sound.  Time is a place that bends.  I have so many questions.  Let’s start with – What do you know about the moon?  Is the moon another word for my god?  What about all my gods behind it?  My god is a lineage of light.  A longing.  My God says, I want to hold your hand.  I want to feel small in front of an ocean with you.

*

 

     All books, prose, fiction or poetry, are about something or somethings.   Sometimes those somethings are apparent and obvious and sometimes they are elusive, mysterious at their core, if indeed there is a core, and not some nebulous neighborhood of ancillary detail.   Poets often find themselves in such mysterious neighborhoods, looking for a way in or a way out and sometimes both simultaneously.  Rob Mclennan, longtime poet, publisher and editor, the small press icon of Ottawa now on his twenty-fifth book of verse, remains firmly established in the mysterious and enigmatic, showing no signs of discomfort or boredom.  Indeed, he seems to revel in the ever-shifting atmospheres and textures as words worry over spaces and punctuation in their effort to admire the invisible.  He calls it The Book of Smaller, but be assured, it’s a small that that does not cease from wanton expansion.

     Here’s how he goes about his divinations:  etched descriptions of what appears not to be there; the decorous absence of subject and object; the verbal elaboration of perceptions; the emphasis on enigmas and their repeated appearance in the obsessive detailing of the ongoing incursions of thoughts, events and other so-called things that thrill the writer out of calm acquiescence into reactive registration of categories of containment, those corridors lined with doors, all refusing the emblems of that which allows easy escape of any gaseous essence refusing the burden of analysis or even evocation.

     What are moments anyway but the bitten-off chunks of that much desired life, sucking us helplessly into its sentience, showing us what we cannot really grasp but only let go, as the parade marches by with its  costumes and music, and we are entrained by the entertainment, majestic and mad as a fish on a bike, barking the song of the ages, as that history of culture and its endless expressions settles into a second, a radiant one at that, a soap bubble reflecting all and everything?  That’s a question, albeit a long one.

     But that’s poetry for you, especially the impish post-modern: realize everything, resolve nothing, relish the unrealizable.  Read on for all is write.

 

The ends of the earth

 

Unscripted, circular.  The most basic elements.  Seek out: a blackened leaf, cartographically afraid.  How to read the stars, the lyric, the classical elegy.  A biography of maps.  How do we direct ourselves?  I park my common sense.  The theory of one breath.  We’ve lost so many ships.  This story is mine.  Sail stand close. Untethered.  There be dragons, monsters what-not.  A refusal to know.  If the earth is flat, where does all the water go?  How does it replenish?

 

*

 

     Nancy Holmes,  a professor at UBC, is a poet so far unknown to me, but her recent book Arborophobia has impressed with its depth and reach.  As a reader I often require a long-term residence in the long flow of stanzas to feel out where the poet is coming from and going to.  As one sifts through the pages at that magical random flip that often seems to be the most revealing, one enters the forest of their concerns and obsessions, exploring this and that avenue of repression and expression.  Let’s face it: when a lid is held tightly on a boiling pot for years, the resulting meal of expression can be rich beyond convention.  Such is the case with the section A Cloth in the Wind, or Being With Julian of Norwich, an extended meditation on personal grief within the aura of that medieval mystic, apparently the author of the earliest surviving theological treatise written by a woman, (and I thought it was Hildegard Von Bingen).  As with section II, Arborophobia, the fear and hatred of trees, apparently employed by architects, developers and ‘western society in general’ to transform ecosystems by destroying trees and native plants, ostensibly in the name of aesthetics and culture’.  A deep dive here that transcends the tropes of environmentalism.  The sequence Ponderosa Pine is especially recommended in this regard.  And for a lighter, more amusing turn there is the sequence The Time Being, a cheery ramble through the mysteries of that elusive, and often desirably disposable, dimension.  Several poems are well worth quoting, but let me settle on this:

 

Early Spring Elegy

 

A green blur tangled in winter branches.

Maples braiding both black and nimble limbs.

Could we live so knitted with our dead?

Must they be buried deep or fed to the flames?

 

At dawn, frosted hills are round and rosy

Like strawberries, until daylight moulds them grey.

Over the wrists of trees, daylight drops

The golden shackles, eternal chains of change.

 

I hide the clock in the basement next to a stone

But spring returns, a beloved, exhausting guest.

An uprooted crocus laid in her coffin makes two

Living wonders gone, ground to ash.

 

*

 

     Much the same can be said of the youthful Natalie Wee, whose Beast at Every Threshold has kept me charmed diverted and amused these past few weeks.  Despite the cover page endorsers repeated mentions of ‘queering the reader’s expectations with gravity and delight’ and ‘queer desire abiding by loss’ and the by now almost inevitable praise of Billy Ray Belcourt, I did not feel sidelined by any category of gender, ethnicity or utterance, the conventional straight that I am, I felt plunged into a mature and resonant vision, ably supported by a polished vocabulary, lovingly laced into the tradition as much as the veering from it.  Couplets such as

Every sentence I start about a man who hurts me ends

With the sentence about the men who hurt my grandmother.

are balanced by

The dead rise between our teeth in the aftermath

Of another feast, phantom ruminants marching

Through the underworld with wine-dark hooves.

 

Natalie investigates her cultures and personas with a scalpel like care, eviscerating her illusions and celebrating her loves in a bubbling stew of metaphor and reference.  Just like poets are supposed to do.

Allow me to illustrate:

 

Future Proof

 

On the windowsill, the monstera launches skyward.  In soil

annexed by the glazed flowerpot, a cocktail of eggshells

wink up like fallen petals, & what appears at first glance

to be some caterpillar orgy reveals a tapestry of finely

fudged vegetable peels.  Salvaged from compost, survivors

practise refuse of a different sort.  Where they touch, the end

is not the end.  There is no rush.  For weeks this precious rot

softens with stores of minerals, the stink of nitrogen

& sulphur a celebration of decay that nourishes the living.

A shoulder’s length away, basil and rosemary overlook the

garbage truck which culls abandoned brethern, delivers

rancid takeout to an unforgiving plant of steel and acid.  In this

home, where the veil between the mortal and underworld

is porous, the monstera drinks.  You’ve done your work,

say the clefted leaves that brush the earth.  Now let me

do mine.

 

*

 

     Franca Mancinelli’s Butterfly Cemetery is a collection of her selected prose from 2008 to 2021, featuring both the originals in Italian and the John Taylor’s English translations, close enough for careful comparison if one is so educated, which I am, sadly, not.  Her prose, at least in translation, is reassuringly poetic in its narrative meander around mood and memory, spinning the reader around its spells, seductive in its textures and references, with narratives so nuanced the very order of events is subsumed in the music of their expression.  Delight in sophistication of expression repeatedly tore me from the page to the haunting spells of psychic renewal.  All praise to the translations of John Taylor. In fact, all praise to all translators willing to risk that rocky traverse from one culture to another, repairing the cracks along the way.  Unacknowledged saviours as we rope our disparate literatures together in that breathing encyclopedia of the word.

 

From A Bed of Stones:

 

Then you massage my neck.  Here, where small cats are lifted by their mothers.  You’ve seen how they bend their backs and entrust themselves, their paws dangling in the void. A bridge standing on nothing, an arch borne along.  The weight concentrated in the mindful eyes while the whole body is lightweight. This is what you must learn.  Look at me well.  Something is carrying me from one place to another. And you cannot be there.

 

And later,

 

     Things you cannot do alone, such as folding sheets. Give two corners to my fingers.  And in the air our sky will be pulled tight, a curtain raised and lowered again over our faces.  Now we have to flex our arms together, abruptly, with a wave remove the folds.  Several times, letting our sail swell and slacken in the wind.  And to navigate like this, from the distance that creates and moves everything.

     And again I will take an edge, move off, then return to give it back.  Until everything is folded up into the size decided upon, into the shape required by the drawer.

Return to Journal

Gordon Phinn has been writing and publishing in a number of genres and formats since 1975, and through a great deal of change and growth in CanLit.  Canada’s literary field has gone from the nationalist birth pangs of ’65 – ’75 to its full blooming of the 80s and 90s, and it is currently coping as well as it can with the immediacy and proliferation of digital exposure and all the financial trials that come with it. Phinn’s own reactions was to open himself to the practices of blogging and videoblogging, and he now considers himself something of an old hand. His Youtube podcast, GordsPoetryShow, has just reached its 78th edition, and his my blog “anotherwordofgord” at WordPress continues to attract subscribers.

Phinn’s book output is split between literary titles, most recently, The Poet Stuart, Bowering and McFadden, and It’s All About Me. His metaphysical expression includes You Are History, The Word of Gord On The Meaning Of Life.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie is now completing her first novel where, for a family with a Seventh-day Adventist father and a Mennonite mother, the End Times are just around the corner. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

2 thoughts on “The Pitfalls and Pleasures of Summer Reading. books reviewed by Gordon Phinn

  1. Thanks for the excellent reviews! — I’d be happy to make a donation, but please by cheque (I’ve had Identity-theft 5 times already). Is there a postal address, that I can send a cheque to (and to whom should a cheque be made out to)?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: