CanLit

Room’s Literary Guide to VIFF 2016

With the 35th Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) only ten days away, Room Magazine is handpicking the best literary-inspired films to add to your must-see VIFF list this season. All of these films take serious inspiration from either the written word or the lives of the writers themselves. What's better than a movie that inspires you to read? Check these out for an interdisciplinary approach to literature and the arts.

14 Feminist Books of 2014

From poetry and fiction to essays and memoir, 2014 was a stellar year for chroniclers of the rich tapestry of female experience. These award-winning books touch specifically on issues of gender inequality, identity politics, social injustice, sexual awakening and coming of age, and all resonate with a strong authorial voice.

The White Crow

By 
Christine Smart
Hedgerow Press
Reviewed by 
Christine Lowther

I want to write an intimate
close to the heart of the universe
poem, one that
embraces the simplicity
of a flower and the immensity
of the sea.
–Christine Smart, “The Sounds of the World”

This book about life, death, and grieving, infused with extraordinary observational power, is for sinking one’s teeth into, with plenty to digest in all three sections: Here, There, and Here & Now. In “Messenger” the white crow is “Mute as a clean page / snowy white and cawing.” So many poems are breathtaking, each stanza a gasp. A doe “leads her fawn to taste chocolate lilies,” in “Rooms Outside the House.”

Poems about construction are reminiscent of Kate Braid’s work, not just for subject matter but also for their peaceful, thrumming cadence. Many poems are mosaics of stanzas that could stand alone, moving and gorgeous with or without the rest. There is an obvious haiku feeling to simple, eloquent statements of nature, “A white peony / beside the steaming teapot.” The presence of the poet is never intrusive, but humble and observant, with a deep careful noticing that is quiet even when speaking of sounds.

Christine Smart may have developed her skills of observation while growing up on a farm, the youngest of eight children. No doubt her career as a nurse has helped hone those skills, as has her time at the University of Victoria, where she received a BFA in Writing, in 1997.

Loss and remembering are given the time and tender attention they deserve; there is beauty and hope in desolation. The author’s deceased parents are simultaneously mourned and brought back to life through detailed attention to their characters; we feel as though we know them. Only the phrase “A witty man” tells rather than shows. “My father never touched me or held me / on his lap” says so much more and is an impactful opening to the poem “Nothing Personal.” There is an almost absurd contrast between her mother’s death and the rampant life of a blooming garden. In a longer piece, “Stand Up,” about Smart’s sister, the first in the family with “an Honours degree / weighty as a wool-lined quilt”—aptly put, as their mother was always busy with needles and making—the reader, by its end, is cheering, fist in air:

She stood up for aboriginals, for women’s
rights, for daycare and children, she stood up
for the homeless, for missing women,
and after ten long years, in the late ’sixties
when my mother tried to talk her out of it,
when divorce was a bad word,
she stood up
against her husband
and left.

Poetry’s power lies in showing us how to look for the commonly unnoticed,and experience how the freshly observed profoundly enriches. Christine Smart, in this, her fourth book, powerfully, “plays the harmonica to rustle rain.”

PostApoc

By 
Liz Worth
Now or Never Publishing
Reviewed by 
Whitney Moran

This novel is dedicated to nightmares, and rightly so. The story of Ang, who survives a suicide pact only to find herself at the end of the world, is as dark and lucid as the strangest terrors that befall us behind closed eyelids.

Set in Worth’s hometown of Toronto, the thesis of PostApoc—much like its characters— bursts forth with violent self-awareness, and is best characterized by one of Ang’s internal monologues: “If you fail to die when you’re supposed to, does it destroy the order of the earth?” Replete with guilt following her failure to end her own life, Ang convinces herself that her own choices may have brought upon “The End of Days.”

With the keen eyes and eclectic lexicon of a poet, as demonstrated in her 2011 collection Amphetamine Heart (Guernica Editions), Worth tells her story through Ang, in fragments rife with anxiety and dread: “If I’d died that day would we still have the rhythm of the seasons? [ ... ] We lost the colour green and forgot that branches used to be something more than spiderlong fingers that snap in frail air.” Using drugs made from the ashes of the dead to create the illusion of life in a near-death state is the irony of Ang’s existence; in many ways, this is a novel about barely surviving.

Much like Worth’s other works, particularly Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond (Bongo Beat Books, 2009), the fulcrum here is punk music. The characters covet the ethos of a group of bands that form a musical underground plagued with nihilism, following a jagged, sonorous path into the very depths of darkness. And it is at the end of the world that music becomes both a means to an end, and to survival.

While not entirely new territory for this darling of the macabre, Worth’s novel is a study in discomfort—the reader is held captive by the same undercurrent of disorientation and fear as the characters. And it achieves this through an unfaltering dedication to atmosphere: the setting serves as protagonist, forcing us into the decay, degradation, and detritus of a world left behind. The things Ang and her friends do to survive become a larger philosophical question for all of us: How far would we be willing to go—and would we bother?

 

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