I’ve been stunned by the recent work by Kate Eichhorn and her collaborators, from the recent Open Letter issue [see my review of such here] to the anthology Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics, eds. Kate Eichhorn and Heather Milne (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2009), each dealing with a number of innovative Canadian women poets whose work hasn’t been dealt with nearly enough, if at all. Showcasing fifteen writers of poetry and/or poetic prose—Nicole Brossard, Susan Holbrook, Nathalie Stephens, Gail Scott, Margaret Christakos, M. Nourbese Philip, Karen Mac Cormack, Rachel Zolf, Erín Moure, Daphne Marlatt, Catriona Strang, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Sina Queyras, Rita Wong and Lisa Robertson—each section includes a lengthy critical interview with each author, as well as examples of their work, making this collection an essential part of any discerning reader’s bookshelf. Why is it so much of this writing gets ignored critically, even from those who spend so much time engaged with the practice as writers? As the editors explain the anthology in their introduction:
Much of the writing in this collection is the product of working in and against systems – linguistic, libidinal, affective, technological, economic and ecological. As with all systems, the import or redaction of elements has profound effects on flow and meaning. Meaning is produced through the processes of circulation, recirculation, recombination and procedure and as such, this work must be understood as enacting a poetics of flux not stasis. Rather than bring the reader to a single or fixed truth claim, this writing asks the reader to become an active agent in making meaning and more importantly, to abandon ‘getting it’ as the only or primary objective of reading. Writing through and across multiple languages with varying degrees of fluency, Erín Moure reminds us that fluency cannot be easily understood as a singular achievement or point of arrival. Her translations and transliterations invite the reader to enter linguistic economies where no degree of fluency is sufficient, but there are still many ways to navigate Moure’s poetic terrain. The ecologies of Rita Wong’s forage demonstrate the grave dangers and rich possibilities of living in systems where the animal elements has become the norm. These ecologies do not always ‘make sense’ but neither to the ‘logics’ of late capitalism, globalization and genetic modification Wong investigates in much of her writing, and as she emphasizes, such material conditions also ‘disrupt syntax,’ necessitating new approaches to writing.
Any work like this should be an opening, a beginning of not just reading but further critical inquiry; will someone else work a follow-up to deal with some other writers that deserve the same kind of critical attention, including Stephen Cain, Christine Stewart, Rob Budde, Anne Stone, Wayde Compton, Phil Hall, Stan Rogal, Judith Fitzgerald, derek beaulieu, as well as innumerable other writers who seem to have done all the required work, but still get the short shrift of critical dealings? What’s happened to criticism in Canada? Where did it all go?
The interview with Margaret Christakos is particularly interesting for her talk of Toronto since the 1980s, being one of the few poets continuing to work in innovative writing to bridge the gap between then and now, talking on the shifts in critical response to writing, both locally and nationally, moving from her first collection in the late 1980 to her current (and spectacular) work through her Influency course.
HM: It occurs to me that there is not as much of a body of criticism around your work as there should be.
MC: And I don’t know if that’s more about the fact that by the time I had published a few books, nobody was really writing criticism. The reception happened in the ‘80s. My first book had only three reviews. I’ve never really known what to attribute that to except that I guess it wasn’t very good and I guess it wasn’t very interesting and I guess it wasn’t doing what people what poetry to do at that point. The benefit of being almost twenty years older at this point is to celebrate the fact that I am still writing despite the lack of reception. It didn’t inhibit my production to such a degree that I stopped writing and I have to really question how it is I maintained a writing practice through the ‘90s. I just had to write. And I know that there is some bizarre thing that keeps all of us writing despite the fact that there is a resounding silence critically. Maybe that is changing though. There are new conversations. And there’s the internet. There’s all this online discourse that didn’t exist in the ‘90s. And I think that audiences are much more savvy in terms of polyphonic narrativity and they’re actually more plugged in to understanding the relationship of history and theory. There are a lot of very smart readers out there.
And anyone able to get not only an interview but new writing out of Vancouver poet Dorothy Trujillo Lusk has to be commended.
KE: You have this line in Redactive – in one of the poems that also appears in this anthology – where you say, ‘from what level could I abstain from inventing.’ I love that line, because it seems to me that it’s a way to sum up your own poetics. There’s no level from which you could abstain from inventing, because it seems that you get easily bored with your own voice.
DL: I agree. I think that’s the closest I’m going to get to making a poetic statement.