Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Licking Stamps: The Adrienne Barrett edition

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It is Friday and it is sunny out and there are patios that demand our presence, which is say it’s time for me to mail it in again!

This week I’ll be spending a few words on The house is still standing, Adrienne Barrett’s first collection of poems. And I even managed to wrangle someone to do some of the stamp-licking for me! Katia Grubisic edited The house is still standing and I asked her to talk a bit about her editorial relationship with Adrienne while working on the book. Here's Katia:

‘It would seem a truism to discuss the transformative aspects of a writer-editor relationship. As the publishing industry strives to reinvent themselves, with gaggles of illiterate eighteen-year-old marketing interns, and interminable webinars on e-things, the cornerstone I fear for is editing, its benefits to the author, the book, the publisher, and the editor. Some poems do come out fully formed. But for most of our work—how do you know what you want to say until you've written in (sometimes in eleventeen drafts)? How do you know whether you've said it until someone has heard it? If a poem falls in the forest and no editor is there to misunderstand it, how will it grow to become so unrecognizable from its first impulse that the poet is able to write it completely, abandon it, feel it is sufficiently itself to let it out into the world?

I'm thinking, for instance, of the "...As children" series in Adrienne Barrett's first collection, The house is still standing, which was published this spring by Icehouse Poetry, the new poetry imprint of Goose Lane Editions. The original versions of most of these interspersed discrete poems were more straightforward biographical explorations. Their growing-up was accordionistic—more of the author, less of the subject, more to the abstract, zooming in, zooming out—and the resulting poems that appear in the book are like the best figurative renderings, holding up a photograph from childhood next to a recent snapshot. Which is the dream-state? Which is the truer reflection? As "The one-two punch, as children" muses, characters and their stories and literary appropriations or extrapolations have a Schrödingerian existence: "as yet unformed / into that elegant whippet / I've met in later photos." '

I have heard Adrienne Barrett read from The house is still standing twice now, and I think accordionistic is also an apt way to describe the poems themselves. They are Slinky-like in their ability to contort without breaking and then suddenly snap back to the way-up-close. By way of example, the second poem in the book is titled "The ferocious list-maker, as children" and it opens “Sunsets got me high while people/ scratched their armpits.” There is also, a few lines later, “I ate/ language, inhaled friends, ran three-legged races/ with God. To write a list/ was rapture.”

Yup, that’ll certainly do. Given the relationship between pudding and proof, I’ll give you a poem from the book so you can see for yourself. Here’s one of my favourites:

As the ice storm flags

Murky skin of a canned plum,
the sea. Six horses in a field, startled

into stillness. White globes cling
to the windshield. Dusty sheen

of a pool slide remembers flesh, heart
steers itself out of my bundled chest.

Only a week before, this road
shot through gold-suffused air.

Now a blackbird flaps its wings and
time is slow.

I have never cared for words. Sky,
what else have you got?

Do yourself a favour and buy a copy of The house is still standing. If you’re staying in the city this weekend, the book has its Toronto launch tomorrow, 2pm, at the Victory Café (I have the pleasure of reading there along with Adrienne). I can think of few better ways to spend an afternoon than grabbing a drink and celebrating a wonderfully deft collection of poems.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Andrew Faulkner

Andrew Faulkner co-curates The Emergency Response Unit, a chapbook press. His first book, Need Machine, was published by Coach House Books in April 2013. He lives in Toronto.

Go to Andrew Faulkner’s Author Page