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Ariel Gordon -- Night Table Recommendations

Thursday, Jun 03, 2010 at 9:25am

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I recently published my first book - Hump (Palimpsest Press, 2010) - so I'm firmly in rest-and-recover mode, re-visiting beloved books and authors before getting back to work on my (sadly languishing) manuscript of poems on American inventor Thomas Alva Edison.

As such, I thought I'd share some of the plums of this particular crop of reading...

I've recently re-immersed myself in the writing of Calgary-based but Scotland-born SF/fantasy author Dave Duncan.

Duncan's one of those people who waited until they retired to start writing...but since he's nearly 40 books into his second career, I can't quibble. Also, the writing is very good, second career or no. Which is sort of hateful,'s better, I think, that I spent the time I would have otherwise wasted on envy reading his books.

As such, I spent much of my twenties trolling used bookstores for installments of his A Man of His Word / A Handful of Men series and so when I spied the first of his The Great Game trilogy, I picked it up.

I appreciate his re-creation of WWI-era England, of private schools and military hospitals and small villages. I also quite like how he telescopes out to inter/intraplanetary travel between a world at war and another with a pantheon of squabbling all-too-human gods.

I'm also slowly picking up the books I read as a child for my daughter. The most recent acquisition is a box set of Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartette, which, along with Frank Herbert's Dune books and Lloyd Alexander's Pyrdain Chronicles formed much of my adolescent reading.

I think L'Engle's girls-as-scientists/heroes approach to fantasy is spiffy. Nifty. Neato.

To sum, bookish girls could do MUCH worse than to identify with Meg Murry. (I'm hoping my girl thinks so too...)

In terms of my current reading / writing practices, I'm just about to read / re-read the verse memoir of former Winnipegger Robert Kroetsch, entitled Too Bad: Sketches Toward a Self-Portrait (University of Alberta Press, 2010).

The book is worth picking up just for the cover, which I think neatly summarizes Kroetsch's pervy oeuvre.

I have to admit, I have a bit of a lit-crush on Kroetsch, most specifically because of his novels: The Studhorse Man, Alibi, The Puppeteer, Badlands. They're all so very very good. Even mythic. But his poetry is becoming more of an influence, specifically his long poems...

(Kroetsch blurbed my book this spring and my thought process in approaching him ran something like this: Robert. Kroetsch. Reading. My. Poems. Oh. My.)

Finally, I'd like to urge you to read a book by Edmonton poet/non-fiction specialist Shawna Lemay, Calm Things (Palimpsest Press, 2008).

The beauty of this book - the robin's egg blue interior pages! the matte cream-coloured paper of the cover! - is what made me submit my manuscript to Palimpsest.

But the pleasure of holding the book is only one of its graces: it's a nuanced examination of how and why Shawna and her husband, painter Rob Lemay, invite stillness - and a great deal of precariousness, as a result - into their lives through art-making.

Something about these essays on painting and still life (Rob's preferred mode) and shells and bird's nests and poetry touch me very deeply. I suppose I wish for a bit more thing-ness in my life.


Ariel Gordon's first book of poetry, Hump, was published by Ontario's Palimpsest Press in spring 2010. She recently won the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer at the Manitoba Book Awards. When not being bookish, Ariel likes tromping through the woods and taking macro photographs of mushrooms.

Categories: Reviews, Poetry, Discussions, Authors, SciFi & Fantasy

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Calm Things

- Shawna Lemay

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The term still life did not come into being until 1650. The French adopted the term nature morte, dead nature, around 1750. The painter de Chirico was said to have preferred the Italian term vita silente. The Japanese, however, call still life, calm things. Calm Things is the title essay of this collection of meditations on what it is like to live with still life, and to live poetically. Both an insider's glimpse into the precarious world of artist and poet, and a long gaze at objects and the calm and silence they hold, these essays prize the ordinary, radiant gift of common things.