Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Open Letter (Fourteenth Series, Number 6, Summer 2011): Remembering Barbara Godard

Next to Barbara Godard's own sharp, scholarly, critique of the gutting of the institutions of Canadian culture, stands my memory of her own power to shape cultural networks. The strongest image I carry from knowing Barbara is that of her Bloor street introductions. Running into Barbara on the street, being swept into her monologue. Within a minute being introduced to someone else who crossed our path. This crafting of networks, as others have noted, was a generous gift that Barbara gave to the world. It also forms a hopeful antithesis to Godard's diagnosis of the encroachment of the market model of culture in Canada. Is it enough? I don't have an answer. I instead have an imagining of another world. Where Godard's Toronto is Woolf's London, where Godard merges with another maker of introductions, Clarissa Dalloway. (Shauna Lancit, “Barbara Godard on Bloor Street”)
Guest-edited by Jennifer Henderson, Eva C. Karpinski, Ian Sowton and Ray Ellenwood, the summer 2011 issue of the critical journal Open Letter is a festshrift to the late writer, translator, teacher and critic Barbara Godard. When she died, in May 2010, I was startled that there wasn't an obituary published in the Globe and Mail (they didn't post one for the poet John Newlove, either), so a volume as such in tribute becomes an overdue relief. As their introduction explains, work on the current volume began before her sudden death, charging and changing the work of editing and compiling:
When we first started collecting contributions to this special issue dedicated to Barbara Godard, she was still among us. Her sudden loss, in May 2010, gave a completely new meaning to the process of honouring her, casting a shadow on what was to be a happy occasion of celebration, and transforming it into a more solemn event. Yet it is still a feast of memory, a symposium albiet upstaged by death. This volume is a collective act of bearing witness to many relationships – of friendship, collaboration, or mentoring – that she invited into her life. It is thus both an act of friendship and a performance of mourning, celebrating her memory through our memories of her. Coming from different academic generations, all four of us have traversed similar trajectories in our relationships with her, either as colleagues becoming collaborators becoming friends, or students becoming collaborators becoming colleagues becoming friends.
As the introduction goes on to describe, the first piece in the collection is by Nicole Brossard, presented as one of two inaugural addresses (the other, by Daphne Marlatt, is “Breaks and Becomings”) “at the Barbara Godard Symposium 'Inspiring Collaborations' that took place in Toronto in December 2008.”
I know what I owe to Barbara who was the first to introduce my poetry and my writing to Coach House Press and to an English audience through her translation of three major feminist books of mine, books written at a crucial moment of my life and reflection : Lovhers, These our Mothers and Picture Theory has been un tour de force. It is because of Barbara's translation of poems from Lovhers that I was able to participate in May 1981 in the event Writers in Dialogue with Adrienne Rich. Part of my English life starts with Barbara's translation of Lovhers. To be given the possibility to exist in another language because of translation is an enormous gift. Barbara has offered me that gift and privilege et je lui en suis profondément reconnaissante. (Nicole Brossard, “Le petite musiqe de Barbara Thompson”)
This issue is divided into four sections, with pieces by Nicole Brossard, Beatriz Hausner, Dunja Baus and Majero Bouman, Shauna Lancit, Sherry Simon and Cheryl Sourkes in “Remembering & Documenting Barbara in the World,” an uncollected essay by Barbara Godard, along with pieces by Michéle Lacome, Susan M. Murphy, Janice Andreae and Darren Wershler in “Cultural Criticism,” pieces by Eva C. Karpinski, Robert Majzels and Kathy Mezei in “Translation,” and pieces by Nadine Boljkovac and Zoë Druick in the final section, “Film.” Each section working to explore the many facets of Godard's ongoing works, and perhaps this issue might exist as a small companion to Godard's expansive collection of essays, Canadian Literature at the Crossroads of Language and Culture, edited by Smaro Kamboureli (Edmonton AB: Writer-as-Critic / NeWest Press, 2008). One can only hope that perhaps a further, more comprehensive volume covering more of Godard's works, and continuing such, will follow.
Revolutions do indeed begin with simple things, with a change in a word or a sensation. They continue, as Himani writes, when “Someone will teach someone who will teach others” (1986 49). As I've attempted to show here, this teaching of readers takes place in language. (Barbara Godard, “Poetics of Resistance: the Work of Himani Bannerji”)

1 comment:

Nadine Boljkovac said...

Thank you for this, Rob.