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?


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....)