Monday, July 03, 2006

Laura Farina's This Woman Alphabetical & Terry Ann Carter's Transplanted

Until Laura Farina won the 2006 Archibald Lampman Award for Best Book of Poetry in Ottawa for her collection This Woman Alphabetical (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2005), I have to admit I had no idea who she was. Since then, I have discovered a few things, including the fact that she is an Ottawa poet, was born in 1980, attended Canterbury High School, was briefly an associate editor of Arc magazine, and was one of the editors of Under The Poet Tree: A Centauri Anthology (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2004). Is there any particular reason why this is a poet in town that hasn’t been reading in any of the open sets or featured readings that I've seen or heard of? Is there any particular reason why she has been hiding out?
great pan is dead

A pie maker
is a keeper of secrets.

Juice flesh
under flakes
like the snowy months
when neighbours tie scarves
and grow fatter.

A circle eats its own tail
as summer bakes
under a pie plate moon.

This is seasons of forgetfulness.

So hard to think sweat
with goosebumped arms.
So hard to think forest
when only knife branches
and nowhere sky remain.

A pie maker
whispers the promise
of rising to blackbirds
and they have marble in their stomachs.
Cat's eyes peering out
the windpipe of a bird.

Difficult to fly while digesting clocks.

In spring we hear
Pan is dead
and there is
a new cat king.

He cuts through
pale pie maker palms
and blood pours out
like gravy. (pp 11-2)
What I like about these pieces is the deceptive quality; deceptive in its sheer simplicity. It doesn’t work for every piece, but when it does, there is a nice quality of grace to what Farina works in her poems, bouncing idea off idea off idea, even while working the structure of an otherwise-narrative, such as this fragment from the poem "neighbourhood" (pp 41-4) that ends the collection, writing:
Our house is owned
by Karen Elizabeth MacQuarrie
who is a teacher and an editor,
who is my aunt.

I wish the drunks would stop
leaving garbage on my lawn. (p 42)
Farina seems very much to live on that line between writing deceptively simple poems and writing actual simple poems, and in this collection she seems to fall on either side. She even writes a poem for simplicity itself, which is interesting, but not one of the strongest pieces in the collection. I am interested, though, in seeing what else Farina might do, down the road. Perhaps we might not even hear from her again until another book appears…
in praise of simplicity

Today I praise only what is simple.
A white bowl full of white milk.
The weight of a hand full of river stones.
Feet and the creak of hardwood floors.
The last of this summer's ripe tomatoes.

Today I praise only what is simple.
A spill falling like white silk.
The weight of silence broken by the phone.
Suitcase and a slamming door.
An empty room and an open window. (p 18)
I remember being very taken with what Ottawa poet Terry Ann Carter read last year at a TREE Reading Series open set; I've been aware of Carter's work since the early 1990s, and even published some of it in The Free Verse Anthology (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 1993) about a million years ago. Always a capable writer, there was something about the work she read then that went beyond what she had previously accomplished, now in trade form in her collection Transplanted (Ottawa ON: Borealis Press, 2006), a collection I was only able to get my hands on at the recent League of Canadian Poets AGM in Ottawa. A retired high school teacher, Carter has served as The League of Canadian Poets' Education Chair, Vice President of Haiku Canada, and is a member of the Haiku Society of America and the Canadian Authors Association.

Miranda welcomes us to her workshop.
We begin our warm-ups

like butterflies charging jacaranda bushes.
Our legs swinging, flesh tucked

beneath the bony ridge. She explains
chakra, the significance of colour,

how the strong delicate shell
of body rises like music

our shoulder arched
in warmth, in waves.

Here we breathe out of crimson lips
feel love against our skin. (p 36)
The poems that feel the most effective in this collection are the simpler poems, the poems that don’t work to try to retell a story, but instead recreate a series of moments. She works well within these small moments, and holds her poems at their finest when she grasps them; but should a poetry be something more? I am looking forward to when Carter moves beyond these small moments and out into something larger, and beyond herself; reading these pieces in Transplanted make me hopeful for a poetry that can eventually transcend.
Plain Song

God is a technician reading X-ray charts
a mouth shaping words.

An airline pilot
with the voice of a radio announcer

advising us by cell phone not to worry.
The ambulance driver

waiting by the side of the road.
This is thin ice, getting thinner

the blue flame of a match
just struck.

We take it all
on trust. (p 4)

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