Sunday, May 24, 2015

Poetry Monday: A Mother’s Heart

This Saturday, at the Sydney Writers Festival, I had the pleasure of listening to some ten poets (11 if you count the English “heckler” who was invited to join in) reading to the theme of Give Me Back my Mother’s Heart at Wharf Theatre 2. The performers were from across the Aboriginal nations, with the exception of the ring-in, whose British/Caribbean work was in sync with the theme but infused with the pain of diaspora, rather than displacement.  It was so polished and powerful, I knew he wasn’t really a ring-in.


Ali Cobby Eckermann, Director of Aboriginal Writers Retreat, led up the group, whose work was confronting, intense, angry, funny, powerful, and often delivered with the memorable punch of Slam.  Ali’s own opening poem, “I Tell Ya True”, which you can read in it’s entirety on Poetry International Web, presented a moving reminder not to judge others:
you never know
what sorrows we are nursing
Eckermann’s co-collaborator at Aboriginal Writers Retreat was Lionel Fogarty, who, along with Maggie Walsh, Ken Canning, Lorna Munro, Elizabeth Wymarra, and a group of poets from the Redfern Writers Group, presented a varied selection of work, full of stories of loss, love, pain, about losing mothers -- sometimes through having been stolen away during the disastrous Child Removal Policy in 1969, and about finding mother’s heart beating in ones own chest:  “all here without our mothers...”.  I found myself laughing, crying, feeling ashamed and feeling proud throughout this session in various parts, and sometimes all of those things at once.   

What I liked best about the session was how tightly linked the poets were and how the poetry managed to bridge the gap between a deep timelessness and a very modern streetwise sensibility.  Though the work was inherently different: the voices, the ages, the level of experience, and even the backgrounds varied, there was such a powerful camaraderie and connection between the writers and their sense of being part of a single voice gaining collective strength through mutual support.  The audience felt it too: participating with whoops, applause, shout-outs, gasps, tears, and laughter.  It was a great session that left me feeling very excited by what I heard.  I’ll be hunting down Eckermann’s forthcoming book Inside My Mother (it’s Giramondo, who else), and books by other members of the group, as I was left wanting more. I just wish I could find the name of that British fake-heckler “ring-in”, as he was really good.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Poetry Monday: Lucy Dougan

I met Lucy Dougan at a friend’s house nearly 20 years ago.  At that time she was already a published poet, though her first full collection Memory Shell wasn’t yet out.  I might be wrong (memory being what it is), but I recall her having a young child with her at the time. She was introduced to me as someone I should know - a fellow poet, and though I hadn’t yet heard of her, I’ve been following Dougan’s work since then with a great deal of admiration.  Her new book The Guardians just arrived in my letterbox.  As with Dougan’s other books, the themes in this one all resonate with me: genetic inheritance, illness and healing, the fuzzy link between the domestic and the universal, the interstices, absences and spaces that create moments of re-written meaning: “I rewrite my life/in grass-green drizzle round the rim” ("Nettle Soup”).  Reading “Mask,” the first poem in the book, I immediately thought of Hélène Cixous’ écriture féminine - this notion of writing through the female body of sensation - not just joyful, but painful too.  In “Wayside”, which opens with a Cixous epigraph, Dougan writes:
My body wants
the long way back
just to find lost land
rehearsing what it will be -
unexpected flowerings
locked tight in seeds.  (12)
Doug’s work is as tender as it is fierce, and I’m looking forward to exploring it more fully.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Poetry Monday: Beth Spencer’s Vagabondage

A few weeks ago, I purchased a copy of Beth Spencer’s Vagabondage: a verse memoir. I had heard her read a poem from the book at the Newcastle Writer’s Festival this year, and was moved and enchanted at the same time, so I felt a copy of the whole book was in order.  I’ve just started reading it and am finding myself joyfully lost in Spencer’s journey: a poetic travelogue, complete with images, of Spencer’s year on the road.  Thematically, who isn’t just a little tempted to throw aside the shackles of place, mortgage, rates, servitude, and take to the road?  It’s a kind of Aussie dream as pervasive as the dream of home-ownership, rich with the idea of exploration, freedom, and adventure (“because there’s the whole of Australia out there!/and I’m not seeing it").  Sustainable?  Probably not.  Nirvana?  Not always, but Spencer teases out all the nuances of her trip, using poetic language that is deceptively smooth and flowing.  The book reads very quickly and easily, but there are subtleties and deep truths in its white space and Haiku-like brevity:

To be enjoyed,
but not     essential

no important cog in
anyone’s machine

is liberating,
if you can handle the vertigo. (“On Being / Inessential”)

I’m looking forward to finishing the book tonight, and will, of course, do a full review, but for Poetry Monday, my most practical, pragmatic day of the week, I’m sure a few minutes out of the loop, under the radar, with Beth’s song “to the loose, the wandering/and the unattached” won’t hurt anyone.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Guest Post: 10 Most Memorable Moms in New Fiction

A guest post written by Andrea Lochen, author of Imaginary Things (Astor + Blue Editions, 2015)
What better time of year than Mother’s Day to showcase some of the most memorable fictional mothers in some of the best new novels?  From loving, supportive mothers to complex, trailblazing mothers to selfish, vindictive mothers, this list has it all!    

1) The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White (Lake Union, July 2015)
Ella Fitzwilliam, the mom in THE PERFECT SON, quit a successful career in jewelry design to be full-time parent, mental health coach, and advocate for her son, Harry, who has a soup of issues that include Tourette syndrome. She has devoted 17 years of her life to his therapy, to educating teachers, to being Harry’s emotional rock and giving him the confidence he needs to be Harry. Thanks to her, Harry is comfortable in his own skin, even when people stare. After Ella has a major heart attack in the opening chapter, her love for Harry tethers her to life. But as she recovers, she discovers the hardest parenting lesson of all: to let go.
2) Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb (Plume, January 2015)
In RODIN’S LOVER, Camille’s mother, Louise Claudel, is spiteful, jealous, and disapproving of Camille’s pursuit to become a female sculptor in the 1880s. She also shows signs of mental illness. Because of this relationship, Camille struggles with all of her female relationships the rest of her life, and ultimately, to prove to her mother that she’s truly talented. 
3) Imaginary Things by Andrea Lochen (Astor + Blue Editions, April 2015)
In IMAGINARY THINGS, young single mother Anna Jennings has a unique power that most parents only dream of—the ability to see her four-year-old son’s imagination come to life.  But when David’s imaginary friends turn dark and threatening, Anna must learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon, what his friends truly represent, and how best to protect him.
4) The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister (Sourcebooks, January 2015)
In THE MAGICIAN'S LIE, Arden's mother is remarkable both for what she does and what she doesn't do. As a young woman, she bears a child out of wedlock and runs away with her music teacher, never fearing the consequences. But later in life, her nerve fails her—just when her daughter needs her most.
5) Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer (Putnam, 2014)
In FIVE DAYS LEFT, Mara Nichols is, in some ways, a typical mother: she loves her daughter fiercely, thinks about her constantly and goes to great lengths to balance her high-stress legal career with her daughter’s needs. But there are two ways in which Mara isn't typical at all. First, she adopted her daughter from India, making good on a lifelong promise to rescue a baby from the same orphanage where Mara herself lived decades ago. And second, when Mara is diagnosed with a fatal, incurable illness that will render her unable to walk, talk or even feed herself, she has to make the kind of parenting choice none of us wants to consider—would my child be better off if I were no longer alive?
6) House Broken by Sonja Yoerg (Penguin/NAL, January 2015)
In HOUSE BROKEN, Helen Riley has a habit of leaving her grown children to cope with her vodka-fueled disasters. She has her reasons, but they’re buried deep, and stem from secrets too painful to remember and, perhaps, too terrible to forgive.
7) You Were Meant for Me by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Penguin/NAL, 2014)
In YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME, having a baby is the furthest thing from Miranda Berenzweig’s mind.  She’s newly single after a bad break up, and focused on her promotion at work, her friends and getting her life back on track.  Then one frigid March night she finds a newborn infant in a NYC subway and even after taking the baby to the police, can’t get the baby out of her mind.  At the suggestion of the family court judge assigned to the case, Miranda begins adoption proceedings.  But her plans—as well as her hopes and dreams—are derailed when the baby’s biological father surfaces, wanting to claim his child.  The way she handles this unforeseen turn of events is what makes Miranda a truly memorable mother.  
8) The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft (Sourcebooks Landmark, May 2015)
In THE FAR END OF HAPPY, Ronnie has hung in there as long as she can during her husband's decline into depression, spending issues, and alcoholism and he will not accept her attempts to get him professional help. She is not a leaver, but can't bear for her sons to witness the further deterioration of the marriage. She determines to divorce—and on the day he has promised to move out, he instead arms himself, holes up inside a building on the property, and stands off against police. When late in the day the police ask Ronnie if she’ll appeal to him one last time over the bullhorn, she must decide: with the stakes so high, will she try one last time to save her husband’s life? Or will her need to protect her sons and her own growing sense of self win out?
9) Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke (Washington Square Press, 2014)
In YOUR PERFECT LIFE, long-time friends, Rachel and Casey wake up the morning after their twenty year high school reunion to discover they’ve switched bodies. Casey is single with no children before becoming an instant mom to Rachel’s two teenagers and baby. Despite her lack of experience as a parent, and her often comedic missteps with the baby in particular (think: diaper blow outs and sudden sleep deprivation) Casey’s fresh perspective on her new role helps her connect with each of the children in a very different way than Rachel. And when the oldest, Audrey, is almost date raped at her prom, it is Casey’s strength that she draws from an experience in her own past that ultimately pulls Audrey through. Although it is hard for Rachel to watch her best friend take care of Audrey when she so desperately wants to, she realizes that Casey can help her daughter in a way she can’t. And Casey discovers she might have what it takes to be a mom to her own children someday.
10) The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman (Bantam, 2013)
Elizabeth Bohlinger, the mother in THE LIFE LIST, is actually deceased. But she still has a big presence in her daughter's life—some may say too big! With heartfelt letters, Elizabeth guides her daughter, Brett, on a journey to complete the life list of wishes Brett made when she was just a teen. Like many mothers, Elizabeth has an uncanny ability to see into her daughter's heart, exposing buried desires Brett has long forgotten.

Andrea Lochen is a University of Michigan MFA graduate. Her first novel, The Repeat Year (Berkley, 2013), won a Hopwood Award for the Novel prior to its publication. She has served as fiction editor of The Madison Review and taught writing at the University of Michigan. She currently teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, where she was recently awarded UW Colleges Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her second novel, Imaginary Things (Astor + Blue Editions, 2015) is recently released and has garnered wonderful praise. With features on Barnes &Noble, Huffington Post, and Brit + Co., her work is being introduced to thousands of new readers.  Andrea currently lives in Madison with her husband and daughter and is at work on her third novel. For more information visit www.andrealochen.com

Friday, May 1, 2015

Compulsive Reader for May is out

It’s a new month, and that can only mean one thing.  A new Compulsive Reader newsletter. The latest issue has just gone out, with its usual bevy of interviews and reviews, even more literary news from around the world than usual this month, and seven new book giveaways. It should be arriving in your in-box over the next hour or so, but if you can’t wait, you can grab a copy online here:
The Compulsive Reader News

If you aren’t yet a subscriber, just go to The Compulsive Reader and sign up.  Good luck on those giveaways!

photo credit: librarything via photopin (license)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Extreme Reading Part 2

Someone recently asked me what the most extreme place I’ve ever read in was.  I immediately answered that it was at a David Lee Roth concert - where I, not a great fan, pulled out a copy of The Forsyte Saga and read it with a little torch, slinking slightly down my seat.  It didn’t add greatly to my popularity at the time, but I did get the paper I had due done, and an A in that class (and added the perfect frisson of subversiveness to what might otherwise have been a dull read).  I’ve read in all sorts of odd places--on top of a windy sand-dune (see Extreme Reading part 1), in the hospital while in labour (not past transition...in case you were wondering, though I remember each of those books with extra fondness), while cooking, on the back of a motorcycle, while walking my dog, and many times surreptitiously when I was supposed to be doing something else (working, sleeping, cleaning, putting things away, etc).  That probably accounts for my clumsiness as it’s hard to avoid bumping into things if you’re reading while walking.

It may well be just a naughty streak, but I quite like reading in odd and sometimes extreme circumstances.  That isn’t to say that I don’t also like reading in relaxed, comfortable positions.  A window nook or warm bed will do just fine, but I do find that what I read is coloured by the conditions under which I read, and an interesting situation can make for a very powerful addition to the experience, as the reading is impacted upon by hormones (as in the case of labour), bad music (as in the case of DLR),  good music (for example, I’m currently reading Philip Glass’ wonderful memoir Words Without Music and having his music on while reading is perfect).  So what about you?  Have you ever read a book while travelling on the back of an elephant?  Sneaked a peak during a rock concert?  Took your book out when you should have been doing something far more responsible like cleaning the bathroom?  Go on...tell all.  I’d like to know.  It will just be between us.


photo credit: A good read via photopin (license)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Poetry Monday: Judith Beveridge

I’ve just finished reading Devadatta’s Poems by Judith Beveridge.  The book reads like a verse novel, following a period of time in the life of of Devadatta, cousin of Siddhattha Gotama (the Buddha).  Devadatta was initially a devotee of his cousin, and joined his order of monks, but later began to hate him, even going so far as to attempt to kill him several times.  The book reads quickly and because it’s in Devadatta’s voice, it creates an alternative history in which a fictionalised Devadatta is revealed with all sorts of desires and longings.  The result is a compelling and very sensual reading that is rich with the sights, smells, sounds and  sensations of India around 500 BCE.  You can read three full poems from Devadatta’s Poems here: http://www.judithbeveridge.com/books-and-sample-poems/2-devadattas-poems-2014.  Here’s a tiny except from “New Day”, which really picks up the character of Beveridge’s Devadatta:
I will walk into town with my alms bowl. The wind
seems to chant: food, fodder fibre, flowers, fuel.As I walk, there’s the tang of caraway, the grassy
scent of sorrel, the subtle sweetness of thyme. 
Beveridge, who has published eight books of poetry (6 full and 2 chapbooks), is a judge in this year’s Newcastle Poetry Prize, and will be in conversation with Les Murray at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. She has won most major poetry prizes for her work, including the Christopher Brennan Award for lifetime achievement in poetry. She’s also the poetry editor of Meanjin - a very significant literary magazine that will be celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.  I’ll be writing a full review of Devadatta’s Poems shortly, but in the meantime, you can read more samples of Beveridge’s  exquisite poetry here: http://www.judithbeveridge.com/books-and-sample-poems/