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Marilyn Bowering Night Table Recommendations

by McNally Robinson - Friday, Mar 19, 2010 at 9:57am

The books I'm reading are piled high on the chest at the end of my bed and are also scattered throughout the house: on the 'telephone' table, the footstool in the living room, in the bathroom. I tend to put books where I'll get to them as I move through my day: there's another small pile where I eat my breakfast-some quick reads-manuscripts to glance at and assess or books I might review. At the moment, because I'm working on many writing projects and in four different genres, what I'm reading has to have a personal valence or nutrient: this is reading as survival, and they are books that have no relationship to anything I *have* to do.

I'm part way through the poet and philosopher, Jan Zwicky's, long essay, Plato As Artist (published by Gaspereau): the book is beautifully printed, and a pleasure to pick up and hold while I follow Jan's thinking about Plato's dialogue 'Meno'. I'm happy to read a few pages and let them sit: my relationship with Plato is simple: some of his images and tales (like the cave in Republic; the androgynous beings in Symposium) are foundational for me and I return to them again and again. More recently, the myth of Atlantis (in Timaeus) has been on my mind as I'm working on a novel which explores women's mythic roots. Reading Jan Zwicky is like eavesdropping while she chats informally with Plato across the centuries: it's brilliant.

I'm also re-reading and thinking about PK Page's last book of poetry, Coal and Roses (The Porcupine's Quill). She was a close friend, and so it is difficult: I don't want to sum her up. (PK died January 14th.) In Coal and Roses, PK returns to the glosa form-it's a way not only to acknowledge other poets, but to pass lines of poetry on to new readers. Curiously, although the glosa is a form, with real(!) rules, the effect of these poems is of intimacy: a glimpse over the shoulder into the heart and mind and cares and gossip of a great poet. Again, the work 'feels' like conversation: commentary, explanation, regrets, messages sent. Page's work is exquisitely beautiful and she chains the reader to a grand poetry chain-no, not a chain, a lifeline.

One more book: I've been reading and re-reading the English non-fiction and travel writer, Norman Lewis. My favourite of his works is Voices of the Old Sea-and I don't know whether or not it's still in print? He lived there, in Spain, after World War II, just before the huge tourist influx. Some of what he writes makes me ache: I lived in Spain in the 1990's and even then you could still touch the sea culture he evokes. Although, when I recently returned to the tiny village I used to visit when my daughter was small, where we'd sit quietly and watch the tuna boats-it was unrecognizable: noisy, astonishingly overbuilt, and crowded with people from the city displaying their toys: boats, cars, helicopters, expensive bodies. My friend, a painter, has a house there, but even still, I won't go back. Just to draw the circle-Lewis's fishermen (when he first arrived) told the story of their day in epic verse-in a cadence and vocabulary that he believed went back a thousand and more years. And, of course, the glosa (of Arabic roots) originated in Spain.

When I write, I listen to music that helps me hold onto the feeling I want and I play it obsessively-- Faure, Gavin Bryars, Arcade Fire at the moment and for different reasons. And when I want to feel crazy (in a good way) I put on Toni Kitanovski and the Cherkezi Orchestra.

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Marilyn Bowering has published a number of award-winning novels and books of poetry, including To All Appearances a Lady, Visible Worlds, and Green. She is a Professor in the Creative Writing and Journalism Department at VIU on Vancouver Island.

Join her at our Grant Park location this Saturday, March 20th as she celebrates World Poetry Day with Prairie Fire and poet Dennis Cooley.
Categories: Reviews, Discussions, Authors

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