Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review of Turning Left to the Ladies by Kate Braid

by Andrea McKenzie Raine

Kate Braid's most recent book of poetry, Turning Left to the Ladies, published by Palimpset Press, is a personal account of being a woman working in the male-dominated construction industry. The poet weathered the daily battery of sexism and prejudice from her co-workers, and built protective walls to hold on to her position. She endured a series of initiations upon entering her profession, and her thorough knowledge of the work, tools and terminology earned her the credentials to write about being on the job, in her own right.
The poems move through the speaker's self-doubt, vulnerability, determination and, finally, acceptance. The poem, "How She Knows", demonstrates the speaker's dogged strength in a weaker position as she creates a wall between herself and her co-workers in the face of inevitable defeat. In the poem, "Spy", Braid attempts to blend in, to shed the female body and name and become a fellow worker; to learn more than the trade. The serious subject matter of the book also resonates through touches of humour and cheek, in the speaker's defiant attempts to transform from woman to construction worker, and to embrace her inner female again. This is evident in the poem, "The Female Form" in the line: Carpenteress--yes. I work hard at it, this look/ of the great outdoors, doing the work of men.
Strangely, the details of construction work in the poems mirror the construction of poetry in its rhythm of procedure, form, logic and demand for precision. The rhythm and cadence echo a swinging arm. Braid also taps into alliteration and personification, and explores an intimacy with building tools and the art of construction. Who knew there was a wealth of poems in the construction trade?
Braid has a sincere love and respect for the work, despite the need to disguise her gender. She re-emerges in her true skin at the end of her shift, as described in the poems "Day's End" and "Post-modern Breasts in the Bath". Slowly, steadily, she abandons her disguise and the poems move into a celebration of woman, amidst the paradox desire to disappear as woman. The poems ease into a place of acceptance and a stronger comfort with handling the tools, the men and herself. The hidden female voice emerges, still wary but with presence.

Book Review of Huge Blue by Patrick Pilarski

by Andrea McKenzie Raine

Patrick Pilarski's small poems, or meditations, in his first collection Huge Blue leave monumental footfalls in recording the various terrains of western Canada. In the tradition of Japanese poetry--haiku, haibun, tanka and senryu--the crisp and condensed images embody a larger experience and draw the reader into a heightened intimate moment. Pilarski uses these forms to capture his relationship with the natural world. The poems are placed like small stepping stones across the varying landscapes, and mark the resting points where the poet reflects on the journey's highlights with his travel companion. In Pilarski's use of the tanka prose and haibun form, there is a sprinkling of humour or surprise in the normalcy of everyday actions or reactions to the unfolding of the speaker's surroundings. For instance, in the poem "Last Load", the speaker comments on the adjustments to a new environment after a long journey and how his partner suddenly remembers 'the box of handmade pottery above the stove'. There is a sense of restlessness in an otherwise state of exhaustion; something random and contrast.
The poems also reflect on the seasons, and how the weather and natural landscapes are parallel to how the poet moves through his emotions in these changing landscapes. Nature is also personified, as witnessed in the lines: two mountains/ cross-legged in the valley/ watching the storm/ one pulls the screen, changes/ into its best white gown. Pilarski focuses on the seemingly small, yet miraculous happenings in the natural world. The use of the Japanese poetic form is appropriate to record these snapshots of time and place, and to share these personal experiences on a global plane. Huge Blue is published by leaf press. For more information, visit

Monday, June 8, 2009

Poetry to prose, and back again

Through unfavourable circumstances, I am now able to concentrate on my writing at home. Unfortunately, I was not able to cope in my day job due to unnecessary stress imposed upon me. I am feeling more motivated now to wrap up one or two writing projects that are near completion, before our little one arrives at the end of the summer.

My two main projects are completing my novel manuscript and finding a home for my 2nd poetry manuscript. I have taken an interest in screenwriting -- especially with my draft novel in mind. Recently I enrolled in a two-day screenwriting workshop, and am feeling inspired to explore this new genre. It seems I am moving away from poetry for the moment, although the poems are always there. There are so many different worlds of writing. Every world of writing also seems daunting and foreign until you learn the rules and the mold. It is a brave case of jumping in to see how deep the waters run.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Writing thoughts

I have been away - busy, in fact, working on another kind of poem that takes nine months to write. In the way of writing, I have been out of the literary loop for a few months, and am slowly emerging back out of my sleep-induced, sickly days. Still, I am continuing to write meditative couplets, creating a small book of poetry dedicated to my unborn. I have also been thankfully receiving my annual copyright entitlement cheques from Access Copyright and the Public Lending Rights Commission, which has been nice recognition for my work and validation as a poet, albeit widely unknown.

My Friday nights of reading poetry have gone to the wayside for the time being, as my work week seems to suck me dry by day five. I will get back into my old footing... just takes a little fire being lit under my butt.

I am struggling with the google books situation, wondering how to approach the fact that nearly my entire book is available for free online, and a measly one-time compensation of $60US from Google to keep it that way. What to do?

I am still working on my novel, Turnstiles, which becomes more and more like a beast that demands feeding. I am thinking of adding the background to another secondary character, but their back story is the length of a novella on its own. I'm still in the thinking, sketching, note-taking stage: I try to remind myself that the words are there, and that this isn't writer's block. It is an irrational fear... like walking into a disgustingly dirty kitchen and knowing it has to be cleaned -- and you are the only one who can clean it.

So, if any of you thought I was dead, I am not... although some days I am a little brain-fried and immobile. I am here, I am writing, and I will come back.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Writing Year!

Like a sleepy bear, I am emerging from my winter hibernation cave once again. I have not blogged for nearly two months and, although it may be a relatively short time, it feels like an eternity. Some of you may have noticed that I have disappeared for a longer stretch - this was because on the advice of a wise friend I chose to limit my viewing access from potential couplet thieves (see morning couplets). With that said, if any of you wish to be removed from my blog list, please let me know.

As with the start of every year, I am full of writing ideas and hoping for the stamina to see them all through. My first goal is to finish my novel manuscript (on draft #3, and counting) and ship it off to a literary agent by summer 2009. This is going to be a year of creation. I have a novel to complete, a novella to work on, poems to polish and send out (I received another rejection letter recently, but the rejection had a surprisingly encouraging tone), and short stories to ponder.

In my wildest of dreams, I am continuously scheming a way to either have a day job that I passionately love (publishing leaps to mind), or set myself up so that I can become a full-time writer at home (years in the making)! In the meantime, I aim to connect and reconnect with writing friends and groups. I know I can't do it all, and life/work balance is always a challenge, but this is my endeavour.

In the midst of the Christmas craziness and, well, work and home life in general, I have neglected my writing lately. I've been stealing away poetic couplets on post-it notes at work and journal when I have the time and energy, but I have to admit that the rest of the time I've been a slave to the great winter past-time: television (or the idiot box, if you prefer). However, I have been reading steadily, with a stack of books awaiting me. I also managed to pull off a few book reviews in the fall that can be viewed in The Pacific Rim Review of Books. The current issue isn't posted online, yet, but you can visit the site at:

In the end of November 2008, I attended my annual poetry retreat at Glenairely with Patrick Lane and a group of both familiar and new writers. We spent a glorious 4-day session wringing poems out of us that we weren't sure would come. They leaped forward with pure magic, along with our new found connections and stories. The space itself lends a certain kind of magic, one that is hard to imitate once we all find ourselves back at home in our own quiet writing spaces.

I intend to make good use of my writing space this year, for as long as I can; to embrace it unabashed and with full force. I am surrounded by shelves filled with imaginative words in this room from the living and dead. If these books can't talk to me, or if I can't find inspiration here... well, that would be the unthinkable.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Beyond Measure - A Book Review

by Andrea McKenzie Raine

Pauline Holdstock's novel, Beyond Measure, takes place in Italy in the 1500s, and spirals around the main characters Paolo, Orazio, his daughter and assistant Sofonisba, Ceccio the land lord, Matteo Tassi, Alessandro and Caterina, the slave girl. Each character has a desire to be appreciated, if not seen.

Paolo, an artist, treats human subjects like objects; he searches for the inanimate flesh to make it come alive once again in his art. He cannot see beyond his own flesh and, therefore, has a compulsive need to capture the beauty of the human form in his paintings. He is calculating, methodical and manipulative in the way he obtains these objects. Paolo attempts to move past the emotional element of his subjects to get to the purpose of his art, as illustrated in the following passage:

"...The skin of a hanged man is as the skin of any other. It is its own miracle, a paragon of suppleness and strength and exquisite sensitivity and, when hairless and smooth as in youth and in the female form, a thing of beauty beyond compare."

When Caterina, the slave girl, is presented to Paolo, he becomes obsessed with the living quality of her female form and her strange markings. Caterina is an unwitting gift or pawn, passed around between the characters for the benefit of monetary, artistic and personal status. Paolo insists on painting her in the nude, as he says "a muse clothed is against Nature. The muse must be naked. She is naked truth. The naked flame of inspiration."

The novel examines the existing classes, and relationships between master and slave. The need each character has to interact with the other characters, in their varying positions, is modeled on hierarchy, obedience, responsibility and human value. Paolo reserves the right to manipulate human beings to dissect and exploit them, for the sake of art. Still, for his livelihood and art, he must answer to his landlord, Ceccio.

The circling relationships between the characters are interconnected and dependent, with different agendas revolving around their individual needs for the slave girl, Caterina. She will win them esteem, power, love, or artistic pursuit. Art and people are for bartering, and a means of ownership. Nothing is sacred in terms of art or human life, as each are subject to revisions.

Art is the central theme, and the characters are tied to it either physically or intrinsically. Holdstock's writing is thorough and painstakingly descriptive. She leaves out no detail of the work involved. For instance:

"Carefully he sticks pins into the anima and, in a process of trial and error, positions it securely in the mould, closing the two halves round it. The protruding pins keep it away from the inner walls; it hangs inside, clear of the shell of the mould, trapped and at the same time free, the way, Maestro Paolo once remarked, the rough unfinished soul hangs inside the body, a disparate element, longing for fire. So the artist's work, said Maestro Paolo, was the mirror of God's creation, Man."

The language used is clinical and instructive, and yet poetic and transcendent. Beyond Measure is, essentially, a commentary on art: how one's work is viewed by outsiders, other artists and critics, and the lengths that artists will go to come close to divinity. As well, the sacrifices people will make to achieve their desires.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Morning Couplets

Create the day, and erase; release the mind’s fallacies,
events holding you, that aren’t otherwise real.

A chair in the corner, a book moved on the bookcase,
evidence of someone paying attention to the outside.

This house holds in the heat, the writing room
cold enough for work.

The dark mornings disorient, stumbling to work down dark roads;
the owl doesn’t know it is daylight – hoots nocturnally in the tree.

I wake up to duty, to feed the cats; I stay awake,
get ready to tread off in my good clothes and stay inside all day.

The left hand has never met the right one,
and doesn’t know it is doing anything.

I question how I spend eight hours of my day –
growing or drowning, learning or head-splitting?

The extroverted world makes me go inwards;
everyone plugged into each other – no space for a silent thought.

A blank wall, blank screen, black night; a bright mind,
a chance for something to happen.Days dying.

They all go with no ticket,
no test, no shiny diploma - they pass through.