Monday, March 27, 2017

Jennifer LoveGrove on Libby Scheier


The morning is dead and the leaves do not move.
My tongue is a pink bird under the ground
in an early grave of talking.

I grew up in a small town in Ontario, a Jehovah’s Witness until I was fourteen, and I hated it. It was isolated, the internet hadn’t been invented yet, the town was populated with a significant percentage of what we called rednecks, and my friends and I – with our black clothing, weird music, colourful hair, Malcolm X/Alien Sex Fiend/Siouxsie and the Banshees t-shirts, disdain for sports - did not fit in. After midnight, when one friend would finish a night shift at the local pickle factory and ride his bike home, the cops would stop and intimidate him in an alley for no reason, other than to ask him, “Do you know what I could do to you back here?” Another friend was refused a job at the local department store, the word “Oriental” scrawled across the top of her resume. Another friend, taunted daily for being gay.

I came to bear being routinely called a freak as a badge of honour. Being constantly harassed with “Hey, nice tits,” and worse, not so much. There was a hallway at school called The Jock Hall, and walking through it was a gauntlet of bellowed opinions and ratings of one’s various body parts. Escaping the town (the teachers, the JW elders, the parents) was an obsession, and before I was old enough to move away, that escape was through books.

As a kid and later as a teenager, I read constantly. When I was five, I won a children’s reading competition and the Head Librarian said “Someday Jenny will be running this place!” On the way home from the party, I threw up the cake I’d just eaten.

so I sprinkle the carpets
with nutmeg and cinnamon
I decorate the walls
with fish heads and mice
then I eat the carpets
and I eat the walls

For four years through high school, I worked in that public library, shelving books in the Children’s Department and listening to kids tell me about the books they’d read for their reading contests. I would nod and zone out and let them talk. After school, I often worked alone, and would sit between the stacks reading, educating myself about subjects that had been taboo in my religious upbringing: sex, the occult, ghosts, birth control, and sex. Sometimes boyfriends would visit and drive me home. It was the best job in town. It was that or the pickle factory.

We’re irritated with penises.
The psychiatrists
have shoved them down our throats for too long.

I wrote and wrote and read poetry and plays. Every week, I’d scour the adult section of the library, searching the small poetry shelf: Shakespeare, Keats, Yeats, maybe Dickinson. Nothing contemporary. Outside of high school, I wasn’t sure if people even wrote poetry anymore.

Then one day there was a new book on the poetry shelf. New. New as in published within the last five years. New as in it had only been checked out once before. The description and blurbs on the back used words like “gender identity”, “surrealist”, and “these are tough poems.” I was elated. I took home Second Nature by Libby Scheier (The Coach House Press, 1986). It was Dunnville, Ontario, 1990.

How can I explain rape to someone
who does not worry about who gets on
the streetcar, who looks at you,
who gets off when you do.

I devoured Second Nature. These poems were unlike anything I’d yet read. They were weird, they were opinionated, they were about real life, they were about other worlds. This Libby Scheier poet used the f-word! She wrote about sex! She wrote about violence! Her poems made me laugh, they made me cry, they made me think. They made me write. That book changed what I thought was possible in writing. Poetry suddenly split wide open and became infinite for me. It became real. It became possible.

He is the redness of
her mind in vaginal disorder

Reading Second Nature helped me realize that I could write about contemporary concerns, about feminism, about sex, about issues that mattered to me. Writing could be funny, heartbreaking, colloquial, strange, chatty, taboo, existential, physical, raw, bloody, and feminist. So, I did what any self-respecting teenage aspiring writer would do: I promptly stole her book.

I read it and re-read it relentlessly. I read it aloud to friends. I read it in the cafeteria at school. I read it again. I still read it.

I am touched by your little gift
of lies, how you built
them out of love,
how there was nothing else to do.

I read it during my first acid trip with my best friend. We sat on her bed for sixteen hours, as I adjusted to my visual and olfactory hallucinations (I really did smell colours. I really did wear a polyester housecoat covered in swirls of every colour that didn’t stop moving for about a day and a half) and we read out our favourite poems from Second Nature. We wrote down our favourite lines on small pieces of paper – the most profound, the funniest, the most beautiful – and put them into a small box. We called them Hail Libbys. We added to the box phrases and lines that we ourselves uttered that we found endlessly hilarious or profound (it was LSD, there were many). I’m embarrassed to say we called it the Thought Box. Over years and other altered states, it grew full. I still have that box.

love has much more to do with the imagination
of the lover than the qualities of the loved one

The following summer, I poured over the course catalogue for the English department at York University, where I would apply to the Creative Writing Program. Remember, this was pre-internet and courses were outlined in a big thick book and you had to register for them by phone, punching in a code on a touch tone phone, if you had a touch tone phone, and if you could get your thirteen-year-old sister off the extension during your allotted twenty-minute window in which to register. As I read over the descriptions for the creative writing workshops, I discovered a second-year poetry and fiction class that I absolutely had to get into. I shook with excitement in my new wave band-postered, small town bedroom. The instructor was Libby Scheier. I think I was in tears of joy. She would be my prof. The universe was aligning in portentous and shocking ways. I didn’t believe in fate, but clearly it was fate.

What makes me mad about these poems
is I am drawn into them by their beauty
and then every third page or so
am pushed out of the poem.

Throughout my semester in Libby’s class, I wanted to tell her about how much her book had meant to me in the small town that I’d longed to—and finally did—escape. How her book was escape. How she gave me hope and courage. How I read and reread her book. How at that time, I’d read nothing like it. How I wanted her to sign it. How she would see the barcode on the cover. How it would be obvious to her that I stole her book from the library. Would she admire the tenacity or disprove of my selfishness, depriving others of her talent and insights?

I put it off. I was shy. I was insecure. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what to say. I thought it might be weird for her. Then I thought I was being pathetic. So I waited until the last day of class.

I showed her the book and I told her I’d stolen it from my local public library when I was in high school. She asked me where I was from.

“You’re from that town?!” Libby was aghast. “Thank God you got out!”

I wanted to weep or hug her, she got it, she got me, my saviour, but I did neither. She said she’d been writer-in-residence at that same public library years ago (when I would have been in seventh grade) and that she definitely did not enjoy it.

“I don’t think they’d ever seen a feminist, let alone a Jew before!”

I laughed. I nodded. 

“I’m so glad you stole my book; I thought they were going to burn it.”





Jennifer LoveGrove is the author of the Giller Prize–longlisted novel Watch How We Walk, as well as two poetry collections: I Should Never Have Fired the Sentinel and The Dagger Between Her Teeth. In 2010, LoveGrove was nominated for the K.M. Hunter Artist Award for Literature and in 2015, her poetry was shortlisted for the Lit POP Awards. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications across North America. She divides her time between downtown Toronto and rural Ontario. Her latest book is Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes (BookThug, 2017).

Monday, March 20, 2017

Jane Eaton Hamilton on Ntozake Shange

Booth Theatre. A January 1977 matinee when I was attending plays like a fiend because I was leaving NY, moving myself out to San Francisco. I saw all the shows, getting tickets in the way New Yorkers got tickets, by osmosis. My dance teacher, who was appearing in Pippin, knew this guy, Kevin, who’d broken up with his boyfriend, Sam, and had a singleton. You want it, Tuesday matinee? Or my prof—the one I’d always talked to about the white rats we lured through mazes, the rats with the coloured marker on their tails so we could tell them apart—she had a ticket because a friend of hers was an understudy. If all my connections failed, I’d go down to the half-price ticket booth in Times Square—when Times Square was the Times Square from Taxi Driver—right before the show.

I could smell pretzels on me that day, still had the paper from one stuffed in my jeans pocket, was licking salt and grease off my fingers. I had a blister on the back of my right foot because I’d hoofed from the upper west side to 45th Street instead of grabbing the train. I could still feel the vibration of the wolf whistles and the leering honeys and baby girls. What men said clung to my skin, a hundred men kissing their fingertips, rubbing their crotches, damn, girl, you’re so hot, the way the occasional one slunk along behind me like I just had to be leading him to my room. Smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, they said. You want your face to freeze like that? The relief of the theatre, the safety, the anonymity, the darkness. I shrugged out of my coat, my mittens, my hat. But I could smell my own sweat, my period, and also what I was doing in order that men would leave me alone: sanitizing with FDS—Feminine Deodorant Spray, spraying it in the general vicinity of my twat, naked, and a second time outside my clothes for good measure.
           
You know how few times in life there’s a before and an after? That day was one of mine.

The curtain went up on Ntozake Shange’s ‘for colored girls who have considered suicide but the rainbow was enuf.’

On stage inside the most minimal set were women in tights and leotards, each character only identified by colour, such as “lady in red” or “lady in yellow.” Red orange yellow green blue purple brown. The characters wove in and out of each other’s poems and stories, swaying or dancing on the stage as each stepped forward to recite one of Shange’s choreopoems. It was simple—I had never seen such a simple set before—but it was electrifying.

These were not easy poems. These were poetries forged out of the sizzling, eclipsing pains of love and music, battering and racism, rape and motherhood and abortion. Some of these things had nothing to do with my life, and some of them had everything to do with things that had happened to me. But that was irrelevant. But what happened on that stage proclaimed that the personal was political. Ntozake’s poems coiled in me like veins, leading  me to the social justice issues I’d be fighting the rest of my life.

When I walked into the Booth Theatre, I was one hundred and six pounds and I joked I had thunder thighs. I thought that needing to spray FDS was a condition of my womanhood, and my only hope that I wouldn’t be found offensive, because I believed I was essentially wrong and ugly in a way that could never, never, never be fixed, no matter my mascara or my ironed shirts, no matter how carefully I shaved my legs. Just by who I was, I called down all the violence the world has for a woman. Yes, I had absorbed all the lessons from a lifetime of lessons in how to behave, how to carve off bits of myself so I could become agreeable and so stupid that I wouldn’t notice. I did not question insults and assaults, the anti-women messages of ads and the billboards, the messages that told me I was less worthy than a man, that I was not even worthy of the space that I took up, that I took it up only by the dint of a man’s assent. Go smaller, said life. No. Smaller, said life.

Be less and less. And still less.

Here’s the remarkable thing about Ntozake Shange’s writing. It gave me back my brain, the brain that had been turned out as a Stepford Wife, mashed into a pea-size pellet that could only receive instructions and obey them.

She gave me feminism. She gave me resistance.

Shange, a black feminist, won an Obie for “for colored girls.” She has continued writing and publishing even as illness claimed much of her energy. “for colored girls” was made into a movie and remounted many times.

I lived in NY in the 70s. I went to school in the Village. I walked out of “for colored girls…” a thinker and a writer, passionately engaged with the particular world that is the world for women, and I never looked back. I threw out my NY clothes. I stopped spraying myself with anti-stink products. I stopped shaving my legs and armpits. I didn’t move to San Francisco to reunite with a man I didn’t want to be with. I was a lesbian. I was a woman roaring with power and words, and now I knew it.




Jane Eaton Hamilton is the author of 9 books of cnf, fiction and poetry, including the 2016 novel WEEKEND. The Vancouver Sun called WEEKEND a “tour de force. Remarkable.” Publishers Weekly called it “propulsive.”

Jane’s books have been shortlisted for the MIND Book Award, the BC Book Prize, the VanCity Award, the Pat Lowther Award and the Ferro-Grumley Award. Her memoir was one of the UK Guardian’s Best Books of the Year and a Sunday Times bestseller. She is the two-time winner of Canada’s CBC Literary Award for fiction (2003/2014). She’s had a notable in BASS and BAE (2016) and has appeared in The Journey Prize, Best Canadian Short Stories and Best Canadian Poetry. Her work has also appeared in publications such as Salon, The Rumpus, The Missouri Review and was published this week at the NY Times. She has been the recipient of numerous Canada Council grants.


Jane edits for Many Gendered Mothers and is a frequent jury member for literature awards. She is working on her second novel SNOW with the help of BC Arts Council and Canada Council grants.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Elee Kraljii Gardiner on Betsy Warland

When I talk about Betsy Warland as a poetrymother I am talking about how Betsy taught me to listen. She is an exquisite listener. In writing, Betsy tunes in to what the text needs and thinks about how to create space for that. She demonstrates how to attend to the body of work on the page while taking care with the body of the community. Everything is connected, everything is in flux. In following her holistic model of how to write, how to be a writer, how to live a life of writing, I try to listen, too.

I met Betsy in 2006 when I called The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University (TWS) for info. Betsy, the founder and director from 2001 to 2012, had created a community at TWS that was irresistible: it gave new writers training on and off the page for the panoramic situation of being a writer while inculcating the importance of mutual support.

And then I read Betsy’s work. Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss (Second Story Press, 2000) zoinked me awake with what a memoir could be. The text shifts and wiggles across the page. In it she writes things that are unsayable, with tenderness even when she is angry, heartbroken. The book is intimate, and respectful and devastating. It’s one of 12 books she created over a long and ongoing feminist, queer, creative life of plunging in. Critical attention has been a slow boil but while that has been accumulating Betsy has been in constant motion. Aside from her dozens of collaborations and projects she has nourished at least eight different alternative writing instruction programs, including Thursdays Writing Collective, which I founded in 2008.

Through conversations, classes, margin comments, coffee dates and family dinners she taught me a problem should be written into rather than ignored. This piece of advice – to write into the problem – is one I have engrained in my writing reflex. I repeat it to any friend who is stuck or frustrated. In essence, Betsy is talking about using a judo flip on the text so its own momentum takes it to the mat. Use the problem against itself – if the text is too dense make it denser, write about the density itself, or reverse: cut the words into confetti. If the character is stuck, tackle that head on via an impossible impasse or metaphor. Turning the writing in upon itself turns writing into effortless effort, where creativity flows.

That tactic was at work when Betsy grappled with telling a family story of abuse in The Bat Had Blue Eyes (Women's Press, 1993). She turned that crux into a mechanism for sending the words slanting and sliding across the page, destabilizing the narrative centre and its traditional alignment.

This ability to score the page, a term Betsy uses to describe “how we shape or place a line or sentence on the page” (Breathing the Page, Cormorant Books, 2010) comes, perhaps, from Betsy’s visual arts training, another hint at the borderlessness of her creativity. She attended to an early draft of my book of poems, serpentine loop, with a suggestion I thin the blocks of text on the page, change the pace, allow instead of compress. In Breathing the Page she writes explicitly about leaving the page free, rolling a word or two in abundant space. Her page is a field where she mixes genres, elides forms so the subject matter slips into its own shape.

When Betsy wrote Oscar of Between (Caitlin Press, 2016), a memoir of betweeness of gender/genre, she didn’t imagine it would find an easy home with a publisher. She knew the memoir (shot through with a fictive element) needed community and conversation so she allowed needs to dictate form. She made a permeable and conversational online salon for Oscar of Between, where she engaged guest writers to respond to segments of the text and asked readers to connect, too. She brought me inside, literally called me by name into the text, and then invited me into the Salon, too. I was lucky to witness its gestation and think about these ideas of moveableness as I need them in my own work.

Reading her books and seeing how they take up what space they need confirmed my troubles with an early non-fiction book-length project while it illuminated possibilities. A year after I finished the non-fiction program Betsy called me urging – almost insisting- I work with Rachel Rose, the new TWS poetry mentor. Though I hadn’t written a poem before, I was curious and trusted Betsy. Her insight about my writing had always been accurate –she’s the fairy godmother I trust even if I don’t recognize the logic yet. Sure enough, Rachel became another crucial poetrymotherfriend and poetry became home base for me.

As a poetrymother Betsy provides these vital connections, these considerations based on her care for writing. I listen to Betsy when she talks about self-care and word-care – how to best support the thoughts’ transition to the document. Aren’t the two (self- and word- care) intertwined? I witness Betsy let herself and her words be just as they must, without facile and restrictive categorization. This care, this acceptance.

This slow down and take care of what the writing needs even when the ideas are coming fast.

The pinkie-length pencil she stashes behind her ear when it isn’t tucked into a palm-sized notebook. The lesson to be ready to catch the words on the page and to let them grow into every form they choose.




Elee Kraljii Gardiner is the author of the book of poems serpentine loop (Anvil Press, 2016) now in a second edition. She is the co-editor with John Asfour of V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012), which was shortlisted for the 2012 City of Vancouver Book Award. Elee founded Thursdays Writing Collective, a non-profit organization of more than 150 writers in Vancouver and she is the editor and publisher of eight anthologies. Her second book of poems is forthcoming in 2018. www.eleekg.com


Monday, March 6, 2017

Robin Richardson on Anne Frank

I didn’t begin reading until seventh grade; having battled a dyslexia so severe even Dr. Seuss was out of the question. So, at twelve-years-old, The Diary of a Young Girl was the second book I ever read, after Jack London’s Call of the Wild.
I remember sitting in the courtyard outside the little special school I attended, devouring this girl’s deepest, most intimate thoughts. She was, like myself (yes, in spite of my dyslexia), an aspiring author. In a world where, it seemed to me at the time, interactions remained relatively on the surface, in which conversations skirted the weather, or the complications of one course of action or another, Anne Frank’s unabashed sharing was revelatory, drug-like even. I couldn’t get enough of it, sat devouring each page, reveling both in the fact that I could now read on my own, and that I could, in private, share in the most explicate details of another girl’s psyche. Anne Frank was vulnerable, brash, contemplative, passionate, and extraordinarily devoted to the written word.
The brave, blatant manner in which she was able to both face herself, and offer that self up to the page was an instant, and lasting influence. I was in that attic with her, learning from her, fearing with her, lusting with her. I didn’t know, until then, that others thought and felt as deeply as I did. No one had shared so much. No one had risked some idealized self image in order to cross the space between humans with something true, vulnerable, unflattering even, no one, that is, until Anne Frank.
Not only was she a literary influence, but she was a guide of sorts, for surviving. If this little girl could so gracefully face her own mortality, the loss of her worldly comforts, and of most of her friends and relatives, than any small setback I was to face in life would be more than manageable. Nothing should stop me from feeling, from longing, and most importantly, from writing.
I began keeping a diary that year, reading for an hour or so, then writing for several. The girls at school made fun of me for wanting to be like a holocaust casualty, said I was only keeping a diary because Anne Frank had kept a diary. They were right, of course. And there was nothing wrong with that.
Anne Frank taught me that writing could be a revelatory act, that through it one could share the things day-to-day conversation made no room for. One could ruminate, confess, pine, whine, and be as petty as one is deep. I loved her for this, and I loathed the world that let her die.
When I write now I imagine myself as an extension of Anne Frank. I am the “what if?” to the question of her survival. I aim to write with the same candidness, the same reverence for mortality, for sacrifice, for the necessity of sharing what’s too warm, too real, to be kept, for propriety’s sake, inside.




Robin Richardson is the author of two collections of poetry, and is Editor-in-Chief at Minola Review. Her work has appeared in Salon, Poetry Magazine, Hazlitt, Tin House, Partisan, Joyland, and The North American Review, among others. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and has been shortlisted for the CBC, Walrus, and Lemon Hound Poetry Prizes, among others. Richardson’s latest collection, Sit How You Want, is forthcoming with Véhicule Press. Poems from the collection have been adapted to song by composer Andrew Staniland for The Brooklyn Art Song Society. Richardson’s memoir Like Father is forthcoming.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Laura Mars on Daphne Marlatt

Reading her long poems

Reading her poems begins in 2006. I am a girl of thirteen at a garage sale in the city of North Vancouver. There are stacks of books on the table in front of me. The woman who owns the house approaches and explains that she is a retired English teacher. I have been reading the Beats so I tell her I can recite the first part of “Howl” by heart and she smiles. Within minutes there is a shoebox in my hands full of Shakespeare’s plays and a book titled The New Long Poem Anthology, edited by Sharon Thesen. I tuck the shoebox under my right arm and extend a $5 bill with my left. She doesn’t accept the money.

Later that day I open the anthology to Daphne Marlatt’s Touch to My Tongue, a series of prose poems written in 1982. An epigraph by the writer H.D. from her Notes on Thought and Vision reads, “The brain and the womb are both centres of consciousness, equally important.” The dedication reads “For Betsy.” I read the poems out of order. My favourite is about eating a kiwi in bed at 4am. It seems like every third word of this poem is ‘flesh’ or ‘tongue’ or ‘wet.’ I know that these are probably erotic poems but I do not linger on their meanings, more interested in their phrases: in the way they look on the page, and their sounds. I read the annotations, noting the allusions to Sappho, Demeter, Kolaba, etc. I am bored by these definitions and by this style of readership. Without understanding their intended meanings I read the poems aloud to myself and cry in earnest. They make me feel like I know beauty I try to write my own poems in mimicry.

I re-read Touch To My Tongue as a student of English literature and Women’s Studies at university. My reading style at this point is heavy and labourious; I am bent on understanding everything. How they have trained me! I annotate, research, and dissect every allusion and symbol. At this point I am captivated by the politics and sexiness of these poems. They are lesbian poems and I think I might be a lesbian. I decide that one day I am going to write lesbian poems myself. I lend the book to the first lesbian I meet in real life and I never get it back and have to order another copy for myself on eBay. It arrives bare and open to me and I read it over and over throughout my time at university, to myself and to the women I fall in love with.

Years later I am moving across the world and can take a maximum of 40 books. Daphne Marlatt makes the cut; I pack Two Women in a Birth and The New Long Poems. Both contain Touch To My Tongue. In my apartment in Belgrade I read the poems again. I think of the other books of her poetry, 9000km away in a box at my parent’s house, the same house I read her in when I was thirteen. I am in my mid-twenties and I understand the allusions and the politics but do not obsess over either. I am writing poetry of my own, focusing heavily on form.

In the present I am heavily buried in the project of writing. This is a state of perpetually surrendering to movement, a lustful pursuit of stimuli, affect, thought, and memory. Readership is its condition. On the shelf of my thinking Daphne Marlatt sits alongside Rich, Lorde, O’Hara, Plath, Borges, Robertson, and others. Touch To My Tongue represents a relic of readership’s potential. I will always hold this close, this most sacred and secretive of pleasures. The words in these poems have been influencing my writing for a decade. What becomes clear from this pattern is the inseparability of writing and reading – they are dialectical, constituting and reforming each other endlessly. I want readership to be known this way more widely, as a form of art in itself.



Laura Mars is a writer interested in the between of readership and cultural production. She lives in Belgrade, Serbia and catalogues the banal at twitter.com/sucmurasto.

Photo of Daphne Marlatt in Kitsilano by Kit Marlatt, provided by D. Marlatt,

Monday, February 20, 2017

Evelyn Deshane on Angela Carter

Gender Negotiation

During the last year of my undergrad, I didn't think I could be surprised. I was completing the last requirements for an English Literature and Gender Studies degree, and enrolled in the one course I'd been waiting for since I picked these majors: Gender in Literature.

I was mostly disappointed. Not that the books we read weren't good—how can anyone argue with Virginia Woolf and Kate Chopin?—but I'd already discovered them. I'd already consumed Woolf's entire oeuvre and dozens of critical essays on each author's groundbreaking books. The professor was wonderful, but even she wasn't wowing me with knowledge that I hadn't already found on my own time. As the class dragged on, I figured I would quit academia altogether (I'd been preparing my application for grad school, but tossed it aside come February) and take the manager position at a used book store someone had offered me in my hometown.

Then we read Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve. I devoured the entire novel in one sitting, completely captivated. The story is the stuff of B-movies (warning, spoilers ahead): Evelyn, a male professor in an American Wasteland, is captured by a gang of militant feminists, given a forced operation to change his sex, and becomes the "New Eve" who's going to save them. Eve escapes, is taken prisoner by a nihilist called Zero, and then escapes once again to find a movie star named Tristessa. Eve (now using she/her pronouns) soon discovers that Tristessa is also trans. The two fall in love, but Tristessa dies, and Eve decides to accept her fate in her new gender role as she floats into the sea. 

So yes—the story is trashy and horribly problematic in all the trope-y ways for trans people. The use of a forced feminization surgery as a major conflict point (and implied punishment) should have been enough for me to stop reading. But at the time, I had no conscious awareness of the trans community. All I knew was that I'd never read anything so poetic and earth-shattering about the dimensions of gender. Gender was mutable, it was changeable, and there was some negotiation about the body that every single person in the book had to go through. That's all gender was for Carter: a negotiation. Evelyn, the English Professor, took his gender for granted, but then it was changed, and the New Eve had to negotiate a way to be in the world after the fact. To me, the book was perfect—and what I'd needed to hear at the time.

The theory with which the professor paired the reading was Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto—something I'd never read before, either. I sped through that text and patiently waited for my lecture so I could hear more. And when that wasn't enough, I googled Angela Carter and fell in love with her work on my own time.

I had already missed the deadline to apply for graduate school that year, but I decided the year off in a book store would do me some good by allowing me to explore Carter all on my own. I read every book she ever wrote, including her kid's title Sea-Cat and Dragon King and her collected journalism Shaking a Leg. From these, I pieced together snippets of her biography, each time realizing I loved her more. When she won a prize for her first literary work, she used the money to leave her husband and went to live in Japan. Her time in Japan clarified her gender to herself, she wrote in a subsequent essay, and so did her time writing The Passion of New Eve. After her first husband, she never remarried—but eventually had her first child when she was in her 40s with her second husband, a man she met while he mended a roof across the street. After years of literary and academic achievement, she had a family—but only after her successes, never apologizing for living according to her own rules. She wrote about the topics I'd always wanted to write about—gender, sexuality, and the private sphere—and seeing her career trajectory as I waited to start my own in academia was wonderful.

When it came time to start my Master's Degree, I thought I was going to be an Angela Carter scholar. Not so much. During my gap year of exploring Carter and her world of gender, I also discovered the trans community. The real one, not the mixed up version in Carter's dystopian California. And I realized, deep down, why Evelyn the male professor who was forced to be female, suddenly meant so much to me at twenty-one.

I was trans. I never wanted to be a woman in academia, or a man for that fact, but something else all together. I wanted to negotiate my gender, render it poetically, and move on from there. Carter allowed me to see, for the first time, that negotiation was an option. Even if the world she attempted to create in The Passion of New Eve has its problems—the forced feminization surgery being one of them—it was still my first glimpse that a world beyond my birth gender was even possible. She gave me the tools to question and re-establish my desires, and not apologize for them.

Now, I'm a PhD candidate in trans studies, doing just that.




Evelyn Deshane has appeared in Plenitude Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Lackington's Magazine. Their chapbook, Mythology, was released in 2015 with The Steel Chisel. Evelyn (pron. Eve-a-lyn) received an MA from Trent University and currently studying for PhD at Waterloo University. Visit them at: evedeshane.wordpress.com

Monday, February 13, 2017

Emily Izsak on Mina Loy


The first time I met Victor Coleman, poet and founding editor of Coach House Press (who would later become my mentor, editor, and friend), he asked me which female poets I was reading. I was sort of taken aback. We were at a pub in the Annex (in Toronto) at a big table full of male poets and at the time, I wasn’t sure why he didn’t ask me which poets in general I was reading— why I, the only woman at the table, should be the recipient of that gender specific question. After I named the usual suspects (Plath, Stein), he recommended some women I hadn’t heard of before, among them, Mina Loy.

Later, Victor would lend me his copy of The Lost Lunar Baedeker. I would flip through the pages haphazardly until I got to:

Spawn   of    Fantasies
Silting the appraisable
Pig Cupid     his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage

I stopped— because she had done it. Everything I was trying to do with words she had done already nearly a hundred years earlier. I finished reading “Songs To Joannes” and thought, all I want to do is write like Mina Loy. From then on, whenever I sat down to write a poem, I would open one by Loy in a browser tab on my computer. I would check my own work against hers; if I didn’t want to read my own poem as much as I wanted to read hers, it wasn’t good enough. I am still reaching for “erotic garbage.”

Loy’s surreal and unusual images spill over each line, accumulating sparkle and strangeness with momentum. In her poems, multisyllabic Latinate words stand alongside moments of simplicity in protest against the unpoetic. When her work becomes difficult to navigate, sound takes over, makes you forget why you ever tried to make sense of anything when you could just sit back and enjoy the music. My boyfriend once told me that “Mina Loy” sounds like something that Doodle Bob would say— and I like to think that she would appreciate her sonic resemblance to composition come alive. 

I now run a series on my website called “New Recruits” in which I invite poetry “newbs” (people who don’t typically read poetry) to read a poem by a contemporary poet and answer some questions about it. The readers are mostly my family and friends, people I know pretty well, and I try to choose poems that fit each reader’s tastes and personality. I want new readers to enjoy the experience of reading contemporary poetry and I want that experience to be different than being forced to read poems in high school. As curator of the series, I’m very aware of expectations to maintain a gender balance, and to feature a diverse lineup of contemporary poets. I have noticed, however, that I typically match female readers with female poets—and I think this is because there aren’t as many of them—us (being published in book form anyway) and if we only get a few and if I’m not planning on featuring a poet more than once, I’m going to give an excellent poem by a female poet to a reader who can not only appreciate her use of language but also share in the gendered experience of the world that her language falls out of. That is not to say that male or non-binary readers can’t appreciate work from a female poet. Of course they can, and they do. But ladies, let’s get our fix where we can. Which female poets are you reading? Not because you should or because you owe it to your sex, but because you’ll like it. I promise you’ll like it.



Emily Izsak is in her second year of U of T’s MA in English and Creative Writing program. Her work has been published in Arc Poetry Magazine, The Puritan, House Organ, Cough, The Steel Chisel, The Doris, and The Hart House Review. In 2014 she was selected as PEN Canada’s New Voices Award nominee. Her chapbook, Stickup, is available on woodennickels.org and her first full-length collection, Whistle Stops, will be out in April 2017 from Signature Editions.