Book Review: In-Between Days

Book Review In-Between Days by Margot Fedoruk

 In- Between Days is part of a trend of graphic memoirs written by women that deal with the topics of disease and how it affects their lives from a very personal level.

When Teva Harrison was first diagnosed with terminal breast cancer at the tender age of 37, she found that writing and drawing helped her deal with many psychological aspects of her prognosis and treatment. This memoir is the result of her therapy. Although this book has received many accolades, it is mainly the unique graphic hybrid format that is its main strength. And of course, who doesn’t want to read a book with a mermaid on the cover?

A quick read, this book is a combination of primitive black ink drawings accompanied with short essay- style musings describing different aspects of living with metastatic cancer. Harrison tells her readers wisely that hope is dangerous but crucial – this sentiment seeps out of the pages. Like the title suggests Harrison has the desire to have a normal life, she wants to exist in the times that are in-between the bad days of cancer.  In the chapter “Seeking” Harrison explains poetically, “I walk the thinnest lines. So thin it cuts into the balls of my feet.”

Harrison touches briefly on an array of subjects like sex and religion with grace and humour.  For instance, in the chapter titled, “Homework,” Harrison explains that after the voluntary removal of her ovaries, early menopause causes her to have difficulties with sex.  She is advised by doctors to masturbate as “homework.”  Her chapter discussing religion is aptly titled “And Then What.” In this essay with accompanying comic strip, Harrison bravely reveals that she is a rare specimen – a stage IV cancer patient that does not believe in God.

Harrison uses the literary device of directly addressing the audience in many of her comic panels. For instance, in one illustration as she is lying, sushi-like, while vacuum sealed to a radiation bed. Harrison appears to look directly at her audience as she asks the technician to take a photo for her husband. In one panel she holds a microphone like she is doing a stand-up comedy routine about cancer.

This book is a mixed bag of ink drawings and small personal essays that is completely open and honest. Many of the chapters of this book feel as though they were written primarily for a magazine-style format; the result is extremely short chapters that scrape the surface of her experiences. I’ll admit I wished for a bit more of the nitty-gritty aspects of her life with cancer.  For instance, in discussing her relationship with her husband there is a feeling of holding back. I wanted to know the details: what sort of ugly fights did they have and if they didn’t fight, then why not? I did feel that some of Harrison’s observances feel cliché: for instance, when describing her time at the mermaid parade in Coney Island she concludes, “dreams can come true if we only make them.”

If Teva Harrison’s intention for writing this book was to start a conversation about a difficult subject, then I believe her job was very successful.

Teva Harrison died at the tender age of 42 on April 27th, 2019 in Toronto.

If you are searching for more of this style of writing on the subject I suggest The Story of my Tits by Jennifer Hayden.

For those who are drawn to this style of memoir read Tangles by Sarah Leavitt. Tangles explores a daughter’s account of her mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

In-Between Days by Teva Harrison

House of Anansi Press Inc. 2016

163 pages $19.95

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Lorna Crozier: Badass Poet with Sweet Words

I was lucky enough to have caught Lorna Crozier’s talk about writing and risk held at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre in Nanaimo on May 3rd. It was part of the four-day event put on by The Federation of BC Writers.

She began her talk by quoting Margaret Atwood who said that in some countries writers and poets are killed for their words. But in Canada, no one hardly bothers to read poetry or to take their words seriously. This was not quite true as the Dodd’s Narrows room had to be opened up to accommodate the multitudes of people who came to hear her speak on a warm Friday afternoon in May.

From her perch on the podium, through hot pink-framed glasses, she read with precision, emotion, and humour. She only wavered for a moment, holding back her tears, giant heart-shaped necklace swaying, as she talked about the work of her late partner Patrick Lane who died only a short time ago, on March 7th of this year.

 She claimed you should not stop creating when you are old, to make room for younger less experienced poets. Why should the old be silenced? Isn’t there more to learn from someone with years of living experience? She also brought up the point, why should an older poet be expected to only write poems that are proper and dull? At least that’s what I got from her one hour talk that was set out in 15 stanzas or parts.

She told of how her poems on penises from years ago had her banned from winning an award ( at the time) and how she got hate mail about it. But since then, of course, she is draped in awards. She explained how she worried about her poem about sex between two old lovers would get more hate mail but people loved it and still do. She read it to the audience peppering it with real-life anecdotes, how Patrick said, we’re not as feeble as your poem claims.

She told the story of writing her truth about her family’s life with a drunk father, thinking that the anthology wouldn’t do very well, but of course, it sold thousands of copies and eventually was read to her mother’s congregation. 

But even so, Crozier explains how important it is to write about what you need to say.

Those are the risks that are important for a writer. Crozier is someone who has taken countless risks and it has only worked in her favour. 

Here is an excerpt from the internet which I noticed is not always accurate with certain words that spell check always seems to want to change.

I am pretty sure Crozier’s words are a skink’s blue tongue but I found that there was a version where it said a shrink’s blue tongue which made me laugh and also didn’t sound so poetic.

What The Soul Wants 2
 
The electric in eel. One rib from any kind
of whale. A moon snail’s thick grey neck.
Garlic Scapes. A dear companion. A skinks
blue tongue. Think of all the blue things
it could say.
What the Soul Doesn’t Want
by Lorna Crozier

Freehand Books, Calgary, c 2017,
ISBN 978-1-988298-12-2, $16.95 paperback
 I can tell you what this soul wants
poetry
by Lorna Crozier.

Here is a saucy note from the bottom of Crozier’s author website:

QUESTION: What does this poem mean? ANSWER: What does a foot mean?—What does a tree mean?—What does a cat mean?

Lorna Crozier’s author website

Link to poetry online

BIO-

An Officer of the Order of Canada, Lorna Crozier has been acknowledged for her contributions to Canadian literature, her teaching and her mentoring with five honourary doctorates, most recently from McGill and Simon Fraser Universities. Her books have received numerous national awards, including the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry. The Globe and Mail declared The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things one of its Top 100 Books of the Year, and Amazon chose her memoir as one of the 100 books you should read in your lifetime. A Professor Emerita at the University of Victoria, she has performed for Queen Elizabeth II and has read her poetry, which has been translated into several languages, on every continent except Antarctica. Her latest book, What the Soul Doesn’t Want, was nominated for the 2017 Governor General’s Award for Poetry. In 2018, Lorna Crozier received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award. She lives on Vancouver Island with two cats who love to garden.

Deaf-Mute in the Pear Tree- Poetry

As many of you know I am back in school, which is why I am a bit behind in my blogging. It just dawned on me this morning after too much coffee, that I have been writing other things of interest in school so why not share it here? Here is my take on a poem by P.K. Page.

How Poems Work: Deaf-Mute in a Pear Tree by P.K. Page

Deaf-Mute in the Pear Tree

BY P. K. PAGE

His clumsy body is a golden fruit
pendulous in the pear tree

Blunt fingers among the multitudinous buds

Adriatic blue the sky above and through
the forking twigs

Sun ruddying tree’s trunk, his trunk
his massive head thick-nobbed with burnished curls
tight-clenched in bud

(Painting by Generalíc. Primitive.)

I watch him prune with silent secateurs

Boots in the crotch of branches shift their weight
heavily as oxen in a stall

Hear small inarticulate mews from his locked mouth
a kitten in a box

Pear clippings fall
soundlessly on the ground
Spring finches sing
soundlessly in the leaves

A stone. A stone in ears and on his tongue

Through palm and fingertip he knows the tree’s
quick springtime pulse

Smells in its sap the sweet incipient pears

Pale sunlight’s choppy water glistens on
his mutely snipping blades

and flags and scraps of blue
above him make regatta of the day

But when he sees his wife’s foreshortened shape
sudden and silent in the grass below
uptilt its face to him

then air is kisses, kisses

stone dissolves

his locked throat finds a little door

and through it feathered joy
flies screaming like a jay

I am a romantic. That is why I am drawn to the lush imagery and the bold sexy language in P.K. Page’s ekphrastic style poem titled, “Deaf-Mute in a Pear Tree,” from The Glass Air: Selected Poems. This poem was written after she lived in Brazil, a time that she stopped writing and became a visual artist. In an essay included in this collection titled “Questions and Images,” Page states that she became interested in “The quiet stories of paintings. The understories of paintings.” I believe “Deaf-Mute in a Pear Tree” is a poem that is claiming that the silence of a painting, just like the outside appearances of an old married couple – can be deceiving.

Silence is one of the underlying themes of this poem; the silent secateurs, the finches’ song and the pear clippings all fall soundlessly. By adding indentations to these sentences, they emphasize the layers of silence. Or these dropped lines could be mimicking the leaves falling off the page. Perhaps if you snip away the leaves, you might find something hidden underneath the foliage; you may discover an older unassuming couple, with clumsy bodies and blunt fingers, who may surprise you.

This poem references the Croatian outsider artist, Generalic; but even though there is no such painting about a deaf-mute, I did find a painting titled, “Under a Pear Tree.” Generalic’s painting depicts an older couple, under a leafless pear tree. The couple appears to be uninterested in each other, looking in opposite directions in a cold barren landscape. Alternately, Page has set her poem in the spring, a time of love and procreation. Page uses many references to sex, she carefully selects words such as crotch, tongue and sweet sap. Even the sounds that are finally released; the screaming of a jay and mews from a kitten – sound orgasmic. In Page’s version of her couple in a painting, the man is not only in the tree, the man is the tree, his body is a golden fruit, pendulous in the pear tree, the words “pendulous, massive head, and thick-nobbed,” are all suggestively phallic.

When Page uses the repetition of the words, “kisses, kisses,” it is to convey a sense of urgency and abounding love. There doesn’t have to be sound to hear the joy in this couples’ relationship. The woman comes alive from the touch of his palm and fingertip. Love can be as silent as the soundless greenery falling to the ground. “What is man devoid of words?” asks Page in her essay, “Where can wordlessness lead?” To love of course! Silence in this poem is eliminated once the woman is seen by the man. This is when the stone dissolves and the silence is completely broken, just as our understanding of the depth of their passion for each other is revealed.

Page has been faulted as a poet that writes with “female whimsy,” but if writing about love in this vibrant way is considered too whimsical and feminine, then bring it on P. K. Page, in all its silent glory. I’m blowing you kisses, kisses because I believe there is nothing more romantic than a woman who is the sap in her husband’s pear tree. This poem cleverly unveils an understory of a painting that burns as bright as the blue of the Adriatic Sea.

Works Cited

Freake, Douglas. The Multiple Self in the Poetry of P.K. Page. Studies in Canadian Literature / Études en littérature canadienne, [S.l.], Jan. 1994. ISSN 1718-7850. Available at: <https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/SCL/article/view/8196/9253>. Date accessed: 15 Oct. 2018.

  1. K. Page, “Deaf-Mute in the Pear Tree” from The Glass Air: Selected Poems. Copyright ©

1985 by P. K. Page.

“Questions and Images” Page P K, Canadian Literature Issue 41 Summer 1969 Tenth anniversary edition, online Canlit Date accessed: 15 Oct. 2018.