But I also think what happened to me in that program is what a lot of women experience, as well as many others who are just getting admitted into this arena of literature. My teachers understood my educational path but still expected me to know a lot more than I did, and they rejected my writing about the life experiences I had actually had. I remember one teacher not only refusing to workshop a story I wrote but announcing to the class that she was doing so. It was a very lightly fictionalized story about one of my cousins. The teacher told the class she found it “violent.” I felt humiliated and I did not understand—I was told to write what I knew, then when I did, that what I knew was not okay. And the fact was that there had been a great deal of violence in my life. One day a fellow student in that class turned in a poem about driving home to her very rich suburb in Connecticut, and wearing furs, and touring Europe for the summer. The teacher loved it. At that point I thought: I guess there is some code behind this writing business, and I don’t have it.
More Watery Still and What I Remember from My Time on Earth
by Patricia Young
For poetry month, I decided to read all the poetry books on my to-read shelf.
The first two are by Patricia Young, and are used finds from The Bookshop in Penticton. Both are signed by the author. More Watery Still (1993) says: “For Sharon / with best / wishes / patricia young” and What I Remember… (1997) says: “For Pati / with best wishes / patricia young.” I wonder if Sharon and/or Pati bought the books or if they were gifts?
PY is from Victoria. She was my creative writing 100 seminar instructor way back in my 1st year at UVic when I was a creative writing major!
The weird thing about her poetry is how familiar it seems, even though I’ve never read a book of hers before, and I’m not even sure if I’ve read any individual poems (it’s possible I have seen some in a lit journal or anthology—I’d have to look). But I think it’s more her sensibility that’s triggering that feeling of recognition. I was struck, reading MWS and WIRFMTOE, how much she influenced my own poetry (back when I was writing poetry). I mean stylistically, not content-wise. It’s weird because after the CW fiasco there was quite a long gap before I started writing again (so you’d think any influence would have been mitigated). But I guess if there was going to be a lasting influence coming out of that class, it makes sense that it would be with respect to poetry (we also did fiction and drama).
Last week The Literary Type posted a recording of her recent reading at the University of Waterloo (um, coincidence?!). Even her voice sounded so familiar—like I’d heard it days or weeks ago instead of years. Strange what sticks with you…
My relationship with that class was fraught. The lecture, taught by three men, remains the biggest disappointment of my undergrad. The seminar I loved—but it was love tinged with melancholy and angst because I knew PY didn’t like my writing. Not that I blame her; it was typical 18yo crap.
One of my most vivid memories of the class is PY gushing over a poem that one of my classmates wrote. It was about tomato soup and grilled cheese.
At the end of year, she had us all over to her house for a party. It was a Craftsman in Fairfield that I was terribly covetous of (and let’s face it, still would be). I think she still lives there.
The poems in MWS seem centered around the theme of family, while those in WIRFMTOE seem more focused on a sort of fantastical history (though there are still lots of family mentions). I think I preferred MWS. It was hard to read many of the poems without seeing parts of Victoria. For example, when I read this part of “The Adulters” (MWS):
on my office door; startled,
I played dead. In the courtyard—
talk and laughter, students gathered round
the fountain, textbooks open
on their laps.
I couldn’t help picturing the fountain in front of the library at UVic:
Photo credit: Rick Scott (philosophergeek)
Photo credit: Lawrence Wong (el dubb)
This bit from “Geese and Girls” (MWS) made me laugh, for reasons some TCers will understand (butter knife!):
And if I said,
ok, but carry this bread knife,
for protection take this small axe?
Also liked this bit from “Beginning of a Terrible Career” (MWS):
are like that, they don’t notice what you’re doing
unless they think you’re going to burn
the house down.
Oh, and this! From “Skipping Song” (MWS):
and is that me
beneath the dogwood, kitchen
scissors shoved inside my cardigan?
Every kid knows—
one cut and the whole tree dies.
I snip off a twig because
it’s forbidden, because it’s against
the law, because it will serve them all right
if I go
Reminded me of my first day of school in Campbell River (also on Vancouver Island) and being lectured by the kids about the illegality of picking dogwoods (it’s the provincial flower). I didn’t know whether to believe them or not, but it was too late! because I’d already picked one (which I promptly hid in my pocket).
In WIRFMTOE, there’s a scotch broom (the invasive pest counterpoint to the indigenous dogwood) poem, “Walk in the Broom Stand”:
Or would you take her hand, walk into the stand
of late summer broom—every wildflower
choked out, nothing alive
but the orchard grass beneath you?
Would you accept as your own
each of her small, selfish acts,
ask her to accept each of yours,
dried pods bursting open like coiled springs?
Oh, and I liked this from “The Dress”:
My daughter is too much like me.
She does not give her love to what lies ahead.
If I saved things
I wold have saved her the dress.
But then I didn’t know, I just didn’t know.
And this, from “In the Museum the Hominid Speaks to Her Lover”:
The experts have determined many things—
that we lived in moss-laden hagenia trees
but when the earth cooled and the forests thinned,
we travelled upright, in small bands, onto the savannah.
What they cannot know: our dreams by firelight,
digging nuts together in the shadow of Rusinga Island.
Memories like the slow vanishing of seeds and berries.
What they cannot know is that you and I
walked onto those sun-drenched plains hand in hand.
I was organizing and ran across the link to the Science Scouts badges that was going around Twitter a while back. While I know a lot of people who would qualify for more awesome badges than I do (gotta love the “I actually grew up AND became a marine biologist” and the “I AM actually a freaking rocket scientist” badges!), they did have the perfect one for me:
The “I left the respectable sciences to pursue humanistic studies of the sciences” badge.
They did not, however, have the “I left creative writing to pursue the study of biology” badge, which I would also qualify for. Get to work on that, will ya? 😉