Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Am Here and Not Not-There



Some time ago, I blogged about one of my very favorite books, Mary Oppen's Meaning. I'm just now reading another book that reminds me of it in many ways, Margaret Avison's autobiography, I Am Here and Not Not-There, published on absolutely beautiful paper by The Porcupine's Quill.

The title comes from something that happened at the famous Vancouver Poetry Conference, 1963: “This question was put by a registrant: ‘What makes a poet’s language distinctive?’ We all fell silent, trying to pin it down, then tried to answer. Not just affection for words, which is common to all good writers; not necessarily a matter of cadence, formal structures, rhythm. The answer that came to me, forced out of minutes of dismissing options, was new to me too: ‘It is saying ‘I am here and not not-there.’”

The book opens with a poem, which “occurred” to her while sleeping – at the age of 88! The poem, she says, citing Tennyson’s “I am a part of all that I have met,” is not actually autobiographical, though it’s drawn from nine decades of living:


A Novel in Miniature


My aunts are robust. I
still have all
four. Do
yours come vividly
to mind at mention of
a comment at first
glimpse of the
no longer new baby?

'Look at the X nose
on the wee face!' (Or
any kinship-logo-feature they
spot, or think they do).

That may be why
the X family keeps
a keepsake portrait of great-
grandfather Jock in the
dark or a
wall near
the front stairs landing but
not near enough for you
to stand and view it.

The prose part of the book, her story, begins with a memory of being in church, "spitting up into Mother's dainty, lavender-scented church handkerchief during the service, and its soft damp silky touch on my chin."

How can you not want to read this and find out the rest?

2 comments:

the unreliable narrator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the unreliable narrator said...

I can't not want! That is, I do! Even just for "kinship-logo-feature"—thank God for interlibrary loan. (I love how Jock is kept at a safe, dim distance....)