questions or answers

 
I like the idea of a survey, asking people what they think when they walk.

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I suppose the answers would depend on the day, the places walked.

The people.
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Do things remind them of other things? Similar things, different? Does the looking cause remembering… of a first date, a mad uncle, the snippet of a story forgotten, with just the snippet remaining?

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Or answers…

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Maybe they look around and see nothing.

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Maybe they only see what they want to see.

Or maybe it’s exactly the opposite.

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**
I wonder how many people in this city
live in furnished rooms.
Late at night when I look out at the buildings
I swear I see a face in every window
looking back at me,
and when I turn away
I wonder how many go back to their desks
and write this down.

‘I Wonder How Many People in This City’, by Leonard Cohen

(at) eleven with tracy hamon: red curls

 
This (at) Eleven series of Q&A’s began as a place to celebrate books written by people I know, or have come to know even in a small way (and usually with a food connection). Very occasionally it includes people I don’t know at all.

Tracy Hamon is such an ‘occasion’. I only recently discovered her work through Brenda Schmidt, who mentioned something about Red Curls  on FB, and I value Ms. Schmidt’s literary taste. Also, I loved the subject matter: an Austrian painter and his mistress living the Bohemian life at the turn of the (last) century.

While a collection of poems is a wonderful thing, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that this is not a collection of poems. Instead, it’s a sort of  ‘discovery’ shared… of the artist, the times he lived in, his inspirations, his work. And his effect on Hamon, who travelled to Austria to gain a deeper perspective of Egon Schiele, on his turf. In poems, yes, but also in narrative pieces from various perspectives, and in voices other than the poet’s.

It’s also a tribute to the muse, an often overlooked element in an artist’s career. And often a woman. In this case the muse was Valerie Neuzil, known as ‘Wally’.

We begin in the washroom of an airport as Hamon arrives in Europe. The piece is called ‘Modernist Movement’ and describes the woman whose job it is to sell squares of toilet paper in a room where “soap hangs like scrotum from a plastic mesh bag”. And with it we’re immediately there with Hamon in the centre of what feels like a strange new dimension, unsettling and yet we recognize something about it, and so begins the journey…

The first section of the book is from Hamon’s perspective. On a train“the seat cripples my back with right angles.”  She looks at buildings, rooftops, landscapes, trying to see through Schiele’s eyes, to find the things he painted, to understand what drove him, inspired him, to imagine the power and mystery of the relationship with his red-headed muse and mistress.

“Egon, I arrive at your door as one/ who watches, one who knocks/ needing to be among the why/ of what you do…”

The second part of the book is from Schiele’s perspective as Hamon takes us back to his childhood and early life, touches on events that shaped him, the loss of his father, his work with Klimt, society’s perception of him as debauched, his marriage to Edith and the end of his affair with Wally.

What might be my favourite piece, ‘Interview with Egon Schiele’, opens with a question: “What were you doing when they came to take you away?” which is then answered in the perfection of simplicity; he was watching a fly, sipping wine, “I was studying the stem of a tulip I had bought at the market.”

The last section of the book, the last word almost, is given so fittingly to Wally. I suspect she would be pleased.

Also worth mentioning is the cover (a painting by Virgilio Neto).

So, with many thanks to Tracy Hamon for taking this time, may I present, the author of Red Curls…

1.   What literary character did you identify with as a kid?

TH—Pippy Longstocking.

2.   Can you recall one of your earliest pieces of writing?

TH—I remember writing something “Poe” like, it was slightly dark, maybe a little mysterious, though I can’t remember much more. I must’ve read the style in one of my mother’s many magazines and emulated it. I seem to have the faint recollection of the piece being chosen for some children’s writing magazine, but then again, my memory is faulty enough (and my ego large enough) these days that maybe I just imagine my first writing would get singled out.

3.   What were you reading at fifteen?

TH—Probably Stephen King.

4.   I’m always curious about process. Where do you work best, do you have a writing routine, an ideal environment? And the all-important question: what about blocks… what’s your remedy for getting around/through them?

TH—I work best in my head. Getting the writing out of there and onto paper is sometimes hard. While I can write anywhere, I need quiet to do so. I can write on paper or on the computer, although if I start on paper, I’ll eventually have to type it in a Word program so that I can play with it. I take a lot of notes and I go back and use these a lot when writing.

I don’t believe in blocks—I either write or I don’t write and if I’m not writing I don’t worry about the not-writing. When I’m ready, I’ll write. I’ve been on a really long dry spell as of late, but I’m not worried. I’m doing more reading, but I’m also just too busy to write.

5.   Are there often themes in your work that surprise you?

TH—Not usually.

6.   How did Schiele enter your life in such an important way—was it the ‘red curls’ that drew you?

TH—My first encounter with Schiele resulted from a postcard sent by a friend. red-curls-cover3After I received the engaging card (Boy in Red Robe), I did some internet research and began thinking about his art work. As I read about Schiele and Neuzil, I grew curious about their relationship, and how and why their social situations and eccentricities (mostly Schiele’s as there isn’t much written about Wally) came to shape their relationship as a couple. The red hair connections were not the source of inspiration, but the bond that kept me writing—if that makes any sense.

6.  The love poem on page 48… for Wally, but for Klimt too? And the poem on the facing page: ‘Black and White Study for Transfiguration’, rising from the painting itself, yet the subject of the text is something else again. Can you talk a little about these two ‘shape’ poems?

TH—Part of the process in writing this book was to explore various ways of writing poems about Schiele’s (and in that one poem, Klimt’s) art, without each poem solely focusing on responding to the artwork. I was exploring perceptions (mainly mine) of how, why, and what I see in both poetry and art. So to do this, I started playing with form, using the shape of various poems such as the two you mention, to reflect the images within the artwork, but then utilizing the content of the poem to create another aspect of the story.

I was exploring the idea that images we perceive are often not necessarily the story behind the painting, and the juxtaposition of image and text can work with the historical drama inasmuch as the prose poems work to “frame” the poet and the model’s story. Klimt’s “The Kiss” frames a picture of Wally and Schiele meeting, and the two Schiele’s arising from the poem (albeit, slightly off kilter because it’s a poem and really hard to recreate those images with the space bar) mimic the paintings, but offer different stories than what is seen.

Of course, when writing about a painter and paintings, I needed to keep the writing fresh and this was also one way.

8.   What would have been different about this Schiele-inspired poetry, what would you not have known/felt/imagined had you not gone to Europe? And was there one moment when you thought: this is what I’ve come for.

TH—Without the trip to Vienna and Cesky Krumlov, the journey aspect into the book would never have been there, and I think the book would’ve simply ended up a collection of poems (not that there’s anything negative in that). The discovery element of research was vital to shaping my imagination to be able to create the poetry. Also it enabled me to write true to the era, and the locations, buildings, culture encompassed in seeing many of these places helped with the historical aspects and details.

I would have to say, it was when I arrived at Cesky Krumlov, I realized this is what I came for—much of that city, at least the old part, is exactly the same as almost 100 years ago. It was easy to spot locations of some of his paintings, the house he wanted to buy, etc. I could stand and stare at the same river he did, the same landscapes, and the same every day scenes. I can’t describe how it felt to walk in the world they lived in and the energy it gave to the writing—it was part surreal, but partly tangible.

9.   In the poem ‘Consent’, on meeting Schiele, we have the sense that Wally was in charge. “I tell him to invite me in.”  Her meagre belongings feel like simplicity, freedom, emblems of the Bohemian life. By ‘Death and the Maiden’ they’ve become tawdry… “I look down at my jagged pink dress, the bottom frayed from washing, my bare feet callused from months of walking the blunt edge of rumour.”  She has become the “pornographer’s muse”. So how does this vibrant, young woman slide from Bohemia to what feels like desperation and Shame? (Is there a touch of Elizabeth Smart about her, in that she was more in love with being in love, than with the man?)

(I notice also, in ‘Portraits of the Artist’s Wife’, that Edith goes from a “multihued, striped dress”  to a “light tinted skirt” . I like how you portray the emotional change in both women through clothing.)

TH—What I wanted to create in Wally was an inherent strength, which at first emanates from innocence in a bold bravado when she arrives at Schiele’s house, to a strength of self that comes from love, and from the experience of the era’s changing social and cultural morality. I wanted her to grow up in the poems, from a young fearless girl to a woman that wasn’t apologetic for her actions. I believed that she understood the consequences of her actions and Schiele’s behaviour enough that she could grow from her shame and come away with a strong sense of self. I felt she had the strength of character that she needed to move past the sense of betrayal she felt after the marriage of Schiele and Edith.

Edith I imagined to be quite the opposite of Wally. I saw her as a young woman with little bravado, yet someone excited by Schiele’s looks and talent, and I thought that being in love with a high energy artist would be electrifying in the beginning, but that somehow all those eccentricities and sexual exploits would begin to overwhelm her, making her more withdrawn after a few years. The hardest part was to write these emotional changes into the poems, and I must say, I’m glad you noticed.

10.  I was initially amused and puzzled, then a little shaken by the opening line in ‘Tourist’: “We were thankful for Starbucks.”  Talk about bringing the reader back to earth! The piece returns to the Schiele story but there’s a sense of requiring this abrupt ‘departure’ also, that to linger or allow sentimentality would be too difficult. The way it is sometimes when leaving a loved one, better to make the goodbye quick, clean and as painless as possible. Is this how you felt on leaving Vienna?

TH—No, not really. The first part of the research trip had been spent in Vienna and the second had been in Cesky Krumlov; however, we returned to Vienna before leaving as it was our departure point. I wasn’t really sentimental about leaving Vienna, although I think I was overstimulated by the end of the trip, and so we were happy for some comforts of home, which is what Starbucks did for us. Those small things that keep us sane!

To me the focus was on the relationship between two people, and my relationship with them. Sentimentality would’ve been over the top at the end of the book. I’m a romantic, but I’m not very sentimental. I wanted a little sanity at the end of the book. A small sip of reality to keep the reader sane.

11.  Choices:

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Summer or winter? Summer

Landscape or portrait? Portrait

Canoe or bike? Canoe

Tulips or Lilac? Lilac

Pen or Keyboard? Pen

Chocolate or Cheese? Cheese

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Because I believe food and books go together, I like to offer my idea of food that the book inspires. The ideal menu for reading…
For Red Curls, I would suggest:

bratwurst and freshly made bread

linzer torte

at least one bottle of red wine

(and tulips on an oil cloth covered table)

 

Tracy-Aug-2013---high-res-(3-of-18)Tracy Hamon was born in Regina, SK and grew up traveling between Regina and her parents’ farm near Edenwold, Saskatchewan. Her first book of poetry This Is Not Eden was released in April 2005 and was a finalist for two Saskatchewan Book Awards. A portion of her second book Interruptions in Glass won the 2005 City of Regina Writing Award and was also shortlisted for two book awards in the 2010 Saskatchewan Book Awards. Red Curls was published by Thistledown Press in fall of 2014.

Shelley Banks photo credit.

My webpage is www.tracyhamon.com.

why are we here?

 
In the parking lot at the beach, I mean.
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Because there are never no cars here.

But not everyone gets out, not everyone walks, not even along the pier. Most people don’t, in fact. They choose, instead, to sit in their cars. Most are alone, some eat, some read, others might be listening to music. (Surprisingly few appear to being staring at devices.) I suppose some talk, on the phone, to themselves. There’s a kind of unwritten code that you don’t look at someone in their car, that they’re here not to be seen, but for some other purpose, something private, if only to contemplate the universe in the shape of a seagull.
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I try to follow the code but notice the man to my left smiles as he stares out his window. It’s a grey day, nowhere near sunrise or sunset and I wonder what he’s watching, thinking.
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I wonder why he’s in this parking lot at almost noon on a Sunday. Is he a widower, a bachelor, recently tiffed and needing to get out of the house to cool off or is there a happy partner at home glazing a ham?

An Asian man walks past toward the pier. Grey hair, slightly stooped; something about the way he grimaces against an only slight and not very cold breeze, pleasure mixed with something else, reminds me of my dad who was at no time Asian.

But then our looks are always the least of things, and yet…

Maybe it’s this: maybe we’re simply here to watch each other, to catch a glimpse of something that’s real, to be reminded.

 

what we talk about when we talk about restaurants

 
Dear Restaurant with a Cute and Unusual Name:

I was thinking of writing you a letter to say what I thought of my experience at lunch but I got side-tracked into wondering what your cute and unusual name might mean…

Perhaps it means… “An attractive establishment with plenty of staff and at least one server who does not know what beans are in the Sweet Italian Soup with Beans but who will check because it’s No Problem and returns with a proud declaration of ‘white’ and when I say ‘navy?’ he says yes even though when the soup comes they are not navy, they are possibly lima…. although, like the server, I am not a connoisseur of all and sundry beans.”

Or could it by chance mean “tepid soup that arrives many many minutes after ordering, with only an asthmatic whisper of cheese (pecorino) and too little Sweet Italian Sausage.” 

Or a reference to this, how when I ask the server if he’s found out about the pizza he forgets to find out and (many many minutes later) tells me he will do so now because until now the kitchen has been too busy but it’s No Problem and perhaps things have slowed down.” 

Maybe it means “a cook that cannot be asked about pizza while s/he is ladelling soup.”

It might  of course be meant to describe “how only after my not-even-close-to-being-warm, indeterminately bean’d soup is eaten, does my server deliver the glass of water I was offered when I  first sat down.”

Or does it mean this: “three water glasses mysteriously left on my table after the hostess cleared the excess cutlery and plates. Or a reference to the hostess herself , a young woman who, on my arrival, said I could sit anywhere I like, and when I said Oh how lovely, a window would be great! she led me to the end of the room and pointed to a tiny table tucked into a windowless corner and which almost touched the table of the only other people in the room and when I made a face she said You don’t like this table? and I said well another would be better and so I chose a table by a window where I would not be touching neighbouring diners and when I asked the hostess if she knew what the soup of the day was she said she did not and reminded me that she was a hostess.”

Then again, perhaps your cute name simply refers to “how when the bill comes, long long minutes (too many long minutes) after I ask for it, and a passing bartender asks if she can help and I say well I’d like to pay my bill and she says No Problem, she says she’ll take care of it and when ten minutes later I am now pacing in front of my table as I have a class starting in mere moments no one can find my server or the bartender and so I explain the situation to the hostess and when the server finally shows up he casually places the change from my twenty-dollar bill on the table and says sorry for the wait.”

On the other hand it wouldn’t surprise me if the name is meant to describe “the tone in which he says this, like he’s been ‘told’ I’m annoyed rather than any kind of sincere apology.”

Also, we shouldn’t discount the possibility that it refers to“the way that I, for the first time in a very very long time, possibly ever, scoop all of the change, bills and coins, into my pocket and leave the bill folder empty and wide open.”

Or “the look on the server’s face when I do it.”

If the restaurant’s cute and unusual name means any of the above, then it is a well suited name indeed. And things are going perfectly to plan.

Sincerely,

The single at the window seat who will bring a sandwich next time she has a class in your vicinity.

Alphabet_soupPhoto by: wikicommons