Monday, July 21, 2008

The Capilano Review 3.5: The Sharon Thesen Issue

One of the better-kept secrets the past few months has been the "Sharon Thesen" [see my 12 or 20 questions with her here] issue of The Capilano Review, out recently. Produced as a tribute to the Canadian poet and editor (as well as, not once but twice, as part of the editorial board of the journal), issue 3.5 joins various issues of the journal over the years that have paid tribute to Canadian authors, including issue-length tributes to George Bowering, Robin Blaser and Roy Kiyooka. Given the amount of writers produced in the country over the years, it seems almost amazing how few tribute issues have happened, including West Coast Line's tribute to Phyllis Webb, The Fiddlehead on John Metcalf, or Descant on Dennis Lee. Is there any particular reason we can't seem to get it together more often? There was even more, a while back, in The Chicago Review in their 100+ page feature on Lisa Robertson, far more than she's ever had here in Canada.

The Gambling Table

I discarded the five of hearts
He replied with the seven of wands

My clubs were black and heavy
They fit the palm of my hand

In no particular order
They were laid out like a princess in a coma

The sums and the odds were reckoned
Towers of plastic disks shoved here & there

Like history, i.e. bloodlines and factions
Riding horses and trying for a boy

After which gunfire and revised treaties
Eventually follow. But here

In the big casino, in exurbia, in the lurch of cosmos
Nothing means nothing. (Sharon Thesen)

Thesen has always been one of those writers just as content to be part of the backstage of activity, often more than centre-stage, including editing two editions of The New Long Poem Anthology, Phyllis Webb's selected poems, The Vision Tree, and, with Ralph Maud, co-edited the correspondence between Charles Olson and Frances Boldereff (Wesleyan UP, 1999), as well as manage to produce eleven poetry collections, from Artemis Hates Romance (Coach House, 1980), Holding the Pose (Coach House, 1983), The Beginning of the Long Dash (Coach House, 1984), the selected poems Pangs of Sunday (McClelland & Stewart, 1990), Aurora (Coach House, 1995), a further selected poems, News & Smoke (Talonbooks, 1999), A Pair of Scissors (Anansi, 2000), Weeping Willow (Nomados, 2005) and The Good Bacteria (Anansi, 2006).
Daphne Marlatt: In your process of writing, how do you approach revision? Do you have moments of, as Adrienne Rich termed it, re-seeing what you have on the page, or do you lean more towards the "first thought is best thought" pole?

Sharon Thesen: Sometimes, you know how it is, you get into a flow of writing, and a poem is pretty much there in the first draft, which is really heavenly. But the older I get, the less and less often that happens. A poem will usually go through three to six revisions after I first write it down on paper or directly onto the computer. I can write the most appalling bad first draft, but if I don’t give up too soon, sometimes something can "catch"—a word, a rhythm. The poem can start once I get the sound of it. I revise for speed, rhythm, melody (both sonic and cognitive), and general absence of b.s. and bog. Then I let sit for a few weeks and revise again. Then maybe I read it at a reading—more revisions! And sometimes I continue revising for subsequent readings of the poem. Sometimes it just hasn’t been a very good from the get-go, or, in the end, I return to the earliest draft, realizing the revisions are what have ruined the poem! I'm finding it more and more difficult to write a single, individual poem. It has something to do with energy, or lack of it. Plus, it's really difficult to write a lyric poem that works, that isn’t embarrassing. No wonder everybody gave up on lyric poems back in the 80's. I have yet to work with procedural techniques or whole-book subjects, and fiction is completely beyond me, so about all I can do is make space for whatever new thing to unfurl that needs to.
Part of what makes this issue impressive is the sheer amount and range of critical material on Thesen, from the interview conducted by Daphne Marlatt, to pieces by Jenny Penberthy, Meredith Quartermain, Christine Anne Stewart, Pete Smith, Kent Lewis, Andrew Klobucar, Nancy Holmes, Thea Bowering and Colin Browne. Still one of the more memorable (and odder) tributes has to be from Toronto writer and first husband Brian Fawcett, in his "Why Sharon Thesen Doesn’t Win Poetry Prizes," that includes:
I'm tempted to think she doesn’t win poetry prizes for the same reason I married her: she's a smart-alec, a woman without an earnest bone in her body, a poet whose poems spend no energy at all sanctifying this or that parcel of sentimental nonsense because they are too busy executing the many prisoners they take. Thesen herself is also intelligent, sensitive, well-read within the trade, can read her poems aloud without having to interject a "you-know" or a not-really-interrogative "eh" every 3-5 words, etc. But so are at least 200 other prize-sniffing poets across the land, not a goddamned one of whom I'd have married even if I were dead-drunk and they were proffering certified cheques for $100 grand. She's unique, and her grasp on the ironies of human life are sublime.

you smell wet dirt
in the morning shade
along the foundation

and the window won't open
enough for the horizon
to slide in across the sill

an old woman's drunk
lurching through a funeral
of a sly river in july

grasshoppers and gophers
in the wheat and dust
a dead car in the slough

and she doesn’t belong
no one's seen her before
nor her sky-blue shawl (Patrick Friesen)

Or as Montreal poet Erín Moure writes in her short tribute, "When Thesen walks into your poem in mid-composition you just let her dance there, / you do."

A Lovely Day

It's a perfect summer day. Blue, blue sky; some plump
white clouds; a breeze. Not a scorcher, not one you'd
mind in any way. I found a near-new softball at the park
this morning behind the dugout & holding its white weight
remembered long-ago
days on the diamond for the Cosmic League—
and before that watching my dad pitch for the Royalite team
summer nights at Riverview Park--
the clapping at the home run,
the guy on third base
taking his time trotting in, the talk
on the diamond, my happiness when Dad struck out player
after player as the light in the hills began to
remove itself from the scoreboard and the willows
filled with the night breeze from the river. (Sharon Thesen)

related notes: on a previous issue; on another; on another;

No comments: