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

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

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