Tag Archives: collage

Recipes from the Red Planet: Meredith Quartermain’s Martian Feast

Recipes from the Red Planet by Meredith Quartermain
Susan Bee, illustrator
(Toronto: Book Thug, 2010)
order from Small Press Distribution
order from Book Thug

cover collage: Susan Bee


            Meredith Quartermain’s Recipes from the Red Planet pays homage in its title and inspiration to Jack Spicer’s notion of the poet as a conduit of language that seems to come from a source other than a consciously creating self, Martian signals being his memorable metaphor for this otherness of the poetic voice. But voice it is nonetheless, and whatever metaphor serves to describe the source of the poetic energy (Martians, radio signals, parasites, or invaders), the voices in Quartermain’s prose poems take center stage as they rant, apostrophize, soliloquize, surreal-ize, tell tall tales. Her stage is populated by a host of selves and others engaged in playful—often seriously playful—dialogue, and fittingly illustrated by six wonderfully quirky and surreal collages by Susan Bee.
            Book Thug appropriately placed this collection in its Department of Narrative Studies series: even when the speaking voices and time dimension of the stories seem most fractured, thing happen and voices talk about them. The narratives’ layered effect gives the illusion of alien languages and customs from different planets colliding to form new alien cultures that come into being in the act of reading. And the overlapping narratives create meaning that is in its own mysterious way decipherable yet also porous to allow variations of understanding and delight.
            Perhaps it’s apropos that poetry claiming, tongue in cheek, alien provenance doesn’t come across as traditional lyrical, meditative poetry. In Recipes from the Red Planet, there’s a wildness, often breathlessness, to the voices that broadcast dramatic and narrative speech celebrating the free, unfettered riffing of imagination.
            Unfettered isn’t synonymous, however, with disengaged. Although some poems in the collection revel in linguistic play for its own sake (not to say that such play isn’t politically engaged, at least not overtly), the playful stream of words more often than not swarms around and explores something of concern to her—a memory, a place, or social injustice, for example. Such concerns are what Spicer called the poet’s personal “furniture,” which the “Martians” work with, arrange, and invest with clues. For Spicer, the furniture—the poet’s language, memory, knowledge, idiosyncrasies as a human being—are not as relevant as his or her ability to clear the room of personal desire (“this is what I want the poem to say”) and allow the Martians to inhabit the furnished space and their voices to stream, as if through a neutral conduit, into the typing fingers.
            But the furniture is there nonetheless—Spicer never claimed that poetic dictation involved becoming a tabula rasa and letting go of one’s beliefs, but that in allowing an otherness to flow through, those beliefs might not come across the way one expected. If a poet wants to write about Vietnam, Spicer says, the Martians might end up talking about about ice-skating in Vermont (as Norman Mailer did when he exposed the horrors of the Vietnam War by telling the tale of an unsportsman-like bear hunt in Alaska).
            Quartermain’s perspectives on feminism, corporate misconduct, and the rescue of voices lost to the shadows of history come through clearly, and true to Spicer’s ideas about poetic dictation, these ideas are voiced by her “Martians” in wild tangents, unexpected flights, and strange juxtapositions. Personal opinion has not left the room, but a chorus of voices (and here the invasion metaphor seems apt) swarm into the room, rearranging the furniture as they please, creating surreal parables and buildings haunted with swirling voices. Agenda may seem secondary to the thrill of linguistic play, yet that ludic impulse is also intimately intertwined with the political. In the tradition of dystopian science fiction’s tactic of cognitive estrangement1, Quartermain’s Martians defamiliarize the inhumanity that is too often taken for granted, providing fresh perspectives on the troubled history of Earthlings.
            One poem that exemplifies such defamiliarization while also invoking Spicer’s Martian metaphor is the delightfully comical “A Disagreement over Lunch.” A woman asserts to a man over lunch that architecture is not only a human activity but a phenomenon of living beings—ants, for instance—that manipulate their environment under biological pressure: a decidedly anti-heroic point of view. But the man, firmly in the Ayn Rand camp, prefers to see the architecture of humans as heroically creative and uniquely above animal constructions.
            As they debate, however, a surreal drama unfolds: an eggplant-cum-football enters the room, hovers over a fruit bowl, lays eggs, and releases tiny creatures that roll their caravans and wagons over the peaches. The voice that narrates the surreal vision of the eggplant-blimp is ambiguous about the creatures and seems to debate itself: did the eggplant release ants or tiny humans? Thus the poem moves from the debate between the diners to a debate of the narrating voice at odds with itself, or at least unable to decide.
            This refusal of the narrating voice to take a position, to reason politically, and side with one or the other, is part of the subtle brilliance of Quartermain’s approach. The trope of the Martian’s bird’s-eye view allows the consideration of human behaviour from an alien perspective: a Martian anthropologist, presumably unfamiliar with the imposed hierarchy of life that humans often assume in their anthropocentric hubris, would likely have a broader perspective on the commonalities of living creatures. But the narrating voice, instead of simply siding with the woman (which is apparent, in any case), embraces the rhetoric of debate (ants? humans?) and ends on a note of undecidability, thus bringing ants and humans into the same realm, parading in lines and shaping their world.
            Like Spicer, Quartermain (or should I say, her Martians?) uses and rearranges the “furniture” of mythology, in her case to offer a feminist spin on patriarchal Greek myths. In “Sewing,” the aptly-named Mrs. Shears of Home-Ec is an unlikely but nonetheless quietly heroic feminist as she teaches her students to sew, all the while spinning yarns (so to speak) and debunking the partriarchal assumptions of ancient myths: it’s the women who kept home safe for the men, not the other way around; Andromeda was saved by a Minoan queen, not her future husband, Perseus. Thus Mrs. Shears teaches her students to stitch together their own stories without relying on prejudicial myths, and plants the idea that it is they who “piece reality together.”
            Quartermain’s collection revels in imaginative wordplay, and some poems, such as “Snow” just seem linguistically to shimmer for the pure joy of it:

“down steady down fall flake down by flake down round cloud-whirl tree by roof by frolicsome milk-wing flight-of-steps runaway runway quick lattice icicle faceted minikin clusters wittily mimical silica ventriloquy down by down by down doors porches by churches banks frosty postage to rustle and bluster downtown towers flour the tree-bark fringe the stones the hedges the wires the trellises tickle crystal thickety particle curriculum [. . .]”

I can add nothing that wouldn’t spoil the fun of the poem.
            And I could wax on about some of my favourites in Quartermain’s collection, such as “My City,” “Future Past,” “Fabulous Moderne,” “She would,” “The Plackener,” “Hotel Narrative.” But before I outstay the Martians’ welcome, I’ll end by briefly alluding to “The Sonic Boom” and returning to the idea, so important to Spicer’s poetics: sidestepping one’s own desires about the poem being written and allowing something else much stranger to speak through the poem and perhaps “say just exactly the opposite of what he wants himself, per se poet, to say” (Spicer 6). Quartermain’s “The Sonic Boom Catcher” hits the bull’s eye of the poet’s dilemma in implementing Spicer’s idea of writing as dictation. The paradox of the title beautifully sums up Spicer’s advice, quoted by Quartermain in her index: “You have to not really want not what you don’t want to say.” The trickiness of untangling that triple negative is like the trickiness of writing—you can’t fool the “Martians”; all you can do, says Spicer, is prepare the room and get rid of the personal.
            “The Sonic Boom Catcher” could also be read as a parable of the slipperiness of desire: once you have what you want, it ceases to be the object of desire, because the object of desire is desire itself. Readiness, patience, and a quieting of desire lure the Martians to the poet’s antennae.
            Recipes from the Red Planet is a paean to the imagination, sometimes madcap, sometimes pensive, but always generously liberating. Her description of the tree the speaker has given birth to in “Dear Mom,” is an apt mantra for the spirit of the book: “Merrythought. Willy nilly bodacious. Willy nilly lexiludic.” And imagination is just as often a celebration of its own play as an exploration of social and political engagement.
            It’s impossible to summarize the wealth of themes and the explosion of wordplay in this collection, and my review cannot do it justice. How to describe being a guest at Quartermain’s Martian banquet? You just have to be there.

collage: Susan Bee



1 See Darko Suvin’s work on science fiction.

Work Cited
Spicer, Jack. The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer. Ed. Peter Gizzi. Hanover, New Hampshire: University of New England, 1998.



Camille Martin
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New upcoming events – poetry and collage

Just uploaded some new information into my Upcoming Events page:


COLLAGE EXHIBIT

Sunday, December 12 – Thursday, December 23, 2010
Toronto: Arta Gallery at The Distillery / 55 Mill Street
Three limited-edition collage prints on exhibit and available for purchase, such as this one:

The Birth of Newton


POETRY WORKSHOP

Five Tuesdays: March 15 – April 12, 2011, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Toronto New School of Writing
click here for details & registration


POETRY READING

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Toronto: The Pivot at The Press Club / 850 Dundas Street West


COLLAGE EXHIBIT

June 2011
Toronto Public Library, Woodside Square Branch
Twelve limited-edition collage prints on exhibit and available for purchase

death’s head redux

bounty from the sea


I posted a collage for the anthropomorphic category in Poemicstrip. Check out the fantastic work there!

Continuing a recent post about my breast cancer, this collage is another of the death’s heads that started popping up in my collages and some of the poems in Sonnets following my diagnosis four years ago. I didn’t think until after the collage was finished about the significance of the two masks under the wings: breasts, either cleansed of the disease or drained of life.

Thanks to Piotr Szreniawski for sharing Poemicstrip.
“bounty from the sea” first appeared on the cover of Fell Swoop 86.

 


 

Camille Martin

on the anniversary of my healing from breast cancer


In September 2006, a little less than a year after I moved to Toronto from New Orleans, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This month marks the four-year anniversary of the beginning of my healing: surgery followed by several months of chemo and radiation therapy.

During that time, I was haunted by thoughts of mortality. Sometimes collage and poetry gave me a way to explore my feelings as I was confronted with the possibility that I might not survive. Death’s heads crept into several of my collages, such as the sinister stone frieze in the background of the collage above. And I can see that haunting in the dark tone of some of the poems in Sonnets.

I’ve never written publicly about my breast cancer, and though I don’t often delve into personal matters in this blog, I wanted to finally be open about it. Maybe someday I’ll write more about the experience. But for now I just want to say that I’m grateful to my caring doctors and nurses at St. Micheal’s and Princess Margaret Hospitals in Toronto (without whom I’d no doubt not be alive today), my loving partner, Jiri, and my amazing family and friends who rallied to help me through that difficult time.

Every year reduces the likelihood of recurrence. And every day of life is a blessing.

Camille

* “R” was first published by experiment-o, an online poetry and visual arts magazine published by Amanda Earl’s AngelHousePress in Ottawa.

shell bud (for Hanna)


 
 
Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca

two collages

a double exposure remembers



full circle



Camille Martin
http://www.shearsman.com/pages/books/catalog/2010/martin.html

Jiří Kolář

My partner, Jiri, just arrived back from Czechoslovakia and Paris and brought home some gifts from Jan Sekal, a friend in Paris who is a professional photographer: for Jiri, a black rabbit felt fedora that suits him to a T (without making him look orthodox). For me, a signed, original collage by Jiří Kolář:

The collage consists of two postcards, one of La Place des Vosges with the central grounds torn out, and the other of Portrait des trois hommes by Vincent François André showing through the gap. It’s fairly simple in its execution, but deceptively simple in what it evokes. The gap looks alternately like a reflecting pond in a small-scale model of the Place des Vosges, in which two giants are reflected (the third giant is out of sight, just to the right of the gap), and a window into the fantastical depths of the earth. It also looks like what it is, its process. The materials are found, as in so many collages: two superimposed postcards in dialogue with each other through the torn hole.

I was holding an original collage by one of my most admired artists, and felt a visceral connection with the past that has inspired some of my collages. I felt a little giddy.

Jan also gave us both some of his own photographs, which I will post in the next couple of days.

Thanks, Jan.

Camille Martin
Sonnets