Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Daphne Marlatt in Ottawa

I thought, since Vancouver poet & fiction writer Daphne Marlatt is reading at the ottawa international writers festival, and doesn’t have a new title she's launching, it might be an opportunity to reprint (a variation of) this (short) review I did of her previous two poetry collections, originally published in Books in Canada in fall 2001. Wouldn’t it be good if she had something new, soon, too? Then I can write something new…

In two collections, one new and one reissued, Vancouver poet Daphne Marlatt's work exists as a series of small recordings, concerned with sensual things; with the language of the body, and a body of language. "words incessant as rain fall hear what slips / between this tea we bring to our different lips, this space where nouns unfold" (This Tremour Love Is).

With the publication of two impressive spring poetry titles, Marlatt concerns herself with a process of history and looking back, with a third edition of Steveston (Ronsdale Press, 2001), including new work by both author and photographer, and This Tremour Love Is (Talonbooks, 2001), a collection of poems called "a memory book", reworking twenty-five years of love poems.

Originally published by Talonbooks in 1974, and reissued by Longspoon Press in 1984, Steveston is a record of a dying fishing village at the mouth of the Fraser River, and its predominantly Japanese population, by the poet Marlatt, and photographer Robert Minden. For the new edition, both have revisited the work, with a new piece by Marlatt, "generation, generations at the mouth" (p 61-2), and nine new photographs from the same sessions as the originals, as well as four expanded prints, and an afterward by Minden. "what is the mouth of the river now? a toxic O of emptiness? teeming hole of / ever-becoming we create?" (p 62). I've always admired what Marlatt can do with the longer line, and prose that flows liquid down the page, revisiting "the still lake of our muddy and / intermingled present." (p 36).

In This Tremour Love Is, Marlatt again shows herself to be a good listener, to the sweet and gentle cadences of loss, love, longing and small tender joys. "her hands, when i saw her dead, were half curled like those of a child asleep" (p 16, "hands on the table"). Marlatt has always been one of our most powerful postmodern poets, able to say so much quietly, there, or just under the surface, as in the poem "listen" - "but he was reading to her about loss, excited, because someone had named it at / last, was naming even as he read, the shape of what he felt to be his own, / recognized at last in words coming through him from the page" (p 24). The series "small print" (p 53-65) is an exercise in craft, a series of small, carved porcelain figures in print - "as you ascend out of the / limits of love a joy you wished language written / in quick gesture bold stride new reference i / try to deceipher" (p 57, "v").

This isn't the first time Marlatt has gone back into her own work, seeming to make a habit of it, such as the collection Salvage (Red Deer College Press, 1991), going back through Steveston and Vancouver Poems, Selected Writing: Net Work (Talonbooks, 1980), What Matters: Writing 1968-70 (Coach House Press, 1980), which revisted journal entries and other writings made before and during her son's birth. In all these, Marlatt is our poet of the heart, documenting movements and missives like no one else gets close to, the painstaking minutae of process, thought and feeling.

[Daphne Marlatt reads at the ottawa international writers festival as part of the TREE Reading Series night on Tuesday, October 3 at 9pm with Ottawa fiction writers Paul Glennon & Mark Frutkin]

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