this is not a review: ‘in this house are many women’, by sheree fitch


When you hear the name Sheree Fitch, you may think children’s books, Mable Murple’s creator or simply one of CanLit’s most beloved player of words.

You’d be right, of course, on all counts, but there is also her adult fiction and poetry and if you’ve missed that, you’re missing a lot.

In This House are Many Women  came to me in a most magical way (what I call the Sheree Fitch effect) and I’ve been reading and re-reading it for months so that it’s pretty much found a permanent spot on my coffee table and sometimes bedside table. Poetry combined with story in poetic form, about and from the perspective of women in both difficult and joy-filled situations… motherhood as a homeless woman, daily rituals, escaping domestic violence, finding connection in friendship, and learning to trust oneself. There aren’t enough books from these perspectives, that of women in shelters, and women ultimately helping women.

It’s the kind of thing, thankfully, most women will never know first hand, but … if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to leave your house in the dead of night while someone is threatening to kill you if you leave and you keep leaving anyway, keep running out the door because it’s become apparent to you that your chances of living are much slimmer if you stay (chances of living happily are nil), so you keep running, not sure to where or to what, all you know for now is why...

… if you’ve ever wondered what happens next, then this is the book to read.

It’s Milk and Honey  for grown ups. Only better, and in a league of its own.

First published in 1993 and reissued in 2004 by Goose Lane, In This House are Many Women is a collection of poems that read like prose, a journey through the life of women. Women in peril. Women as community. Women as resilient survivors. While there is plenty of gritty reality, there is much humour, love, hope and, ultimately, the message that women helping women is how it’s always been, and that  is no small potatoes.

In other words, it’s a gem of a book and I’m stunned that I haven’t come across it before. Since discovering it I’ve made a list of people I want to give it to, not the least of which are women staying in shelters.

The first of four sections opens with a suite of poems following the journey of escape, beginning with ‘The Runner’—

She runs:
past women with drawstring mouths
women with wombs puckered out
from plum to grape to raisin
women who have never known
what wetness means

In ‘What Rhonda Remembers About the First Five Minutes’ there is arrival at the shelter, the sound of a buzzer, strangers, lights, attention, the imagined chorus of:

someone new is coming
someone new is coming
someone new is coming

— giving the sense of entering a prison. That this house of many women is safe and nourishing takes time to discover. At first it’s only not home. The windows are bullet proof, there are security cameras everywhere. The doors are locked, everyone is a stranger, the police are on speed dial. At first there is the matter of safety, then how to simply function, how to deal with the impossibility of emotions running through you while, at the same time, you are numb to all feeling.

In ‘Edna’, the narrator looks at her swollen face in a mirror “wishing I could see the wrinkles”.

Each poem is another woman’s story. You can almost imagine the conversations as women feed their children or sit in communal areas, drinking coffee, smoking, biting their nails as they listen to one another.

In ‘Valerie Listens to Gwendolyn’, the narrator explains how the leaving went for her:

I did not leave because of his violence
I left because of mine
I got another phone call
from another woman
I went in and watched him sleeping
saliva like dried chalk
made a rim around his open
a perfect target

I had a gun
I placed it on his pillow
then I left.

There are poems about the NIMBYness toward shelters, revelations about the homeless, the roles women play when they share a space, who mothers the others, who is most in need of what and who will provide the whats. Unsurprisingly, from a writer who understands the child mind, there are meditations and revelations from a child’s perspective too (as in god wears flannel shirts).

One of my favourites is ‘Advice’, which is a list of exactly that, beginning with:

Read everything Gloria Steinem ever wrote
her last book first

and ending with:

The best answers will always be questions
You can always call your aunt.

Another, ‘Grand LaPierre, Newfoundland’ tells in pure Fitchean style, the essentials of writing a poem as if one’s life depended on it: doesn’t have to rhyme
but it must always have a beat
a finger-snap
a toe-tap

Fitch is writing here from the inside and the outside. One has the feeling she is both part of this world and an observer at the same time.

The thread running through the book is that words are a lifeline, the writing of our lives, the sharing of our stories, that through kindness and connection with others (including Peter Gzowski’s voice), all kinds of hurdles can be overcome, that we are not alone. It’s not only about women in dire straits, but about women being strong in the way of women…

So you can understand why I can’t bear to shelve it. When a book like this crosses your path it’s good to keep it close, to open it often.


On any given night in Canada, 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters because it isn’t safe at home.
On any given night, about 300 women and children are turned away because shelters are already full.
‘Why She Stays’

this is not a review: ‘what milly did’, by elise moser

Milly Zantow falls into the category of People You’ve Never Heard of Who Have Changed the World. In this case, the world of recycling. Because Milly Zantow is the person who created a tiny thing called the global recycling standard for plastic,  more commonly known as the-numbers-inside-those-little-triangles-on-your-water-bottles-and-stuff.

It’s what made plastic recycling possible.

But it’s the HOW this all came about that’s jaw dropping. What Milly Did  (a childrens’ book for all ages, including adults in my opinion) by Elise Moser, is an extraordinary story about a woman who, at age sixty or so, decides to do something about the growing problem of plastic in landfills.

9781554988938_1024x1024Turns out that plastic wasn’t recycled because no one thought it could be done.

Enter Milly, an ordinary woman, raised on a farm, who has no experience in anything even remotely related to anything to do with recycling but who just really believes that something can be done.

So she says pfffft  to the naysayers and starts reading about plastic; she studies it, takes courses, learns everything she can then cashes in her life insurance policy, buys a gigantic grinding machine and opens a company called E-Z Recycling where she and a few others do much of the grunt work by hand, seven days a week.

“She called the Borden Dairy Company in Milwaukee and asked them how they manufactured their plastic milk jugs. What did they do when they made a mistake? she asked. They told her they just melted the deformed jug down and reblew it. That was an ‘Aha!’ moment for Milly.”

Moser captures Milly’s spirit as a woman who is in no way ego driven. Nor is becoming rich her motivation; she simply wants to make sense of trash and to that end she does whatever she can to help people recycle, including establishing programs in nearby towns.

Eventually her vision catches on. Various community groups form, tipping fees for landfill sites are established and in 1988 her system for grading plastic is adopted by the Society of Plastics Industry, which means a standardized recycling practice across North America.

The story, of course, isn’t quite that simple. There are many hurdles along the way, people who laugh, who say that what she’s proposing is impossible, and then there are the times themselves, the 1970’s and early 80’s, which aren’t overly receptive, or even friendly, to the idea of recycling. Moser has done an excellent job of telling Milly’s story against this back drop of time and place.

A clever addition to the story are sidebars throughout the book, telling about bridges and boats made of plastic bottles, stats on current plastic usage and where it all goes, yo-yo trivia!, the ABCs of modern recycling, innovations in biodegradable plastic… all bite-sized, very readable for any age, and all to the accompaniment of sweet b&w illustrations by Scott Ritchie.

That this is such an unknown story is mind-boggling. I’m grateful to Elise Moser for telling it. It needs to be shared. I hope the book will find its ways to schools and to homes, not only as an eye-opener to an important piece of history, but to open at least two kinds of conversation… One,  about the problem of a planet full of garbage and, two, the power we have as individuals  to make the world better.

Finally, what maybe I love most about this story is what Milly didn’t  do… she didn’t complain, blame, whinge or whine or suggest that this problem to solve was someone else’s job… 

Or that the difficulties she faced were someone else’s fault.

She just got on with it.

The world could use more Milly.

(at) eleven with ariel gordon: ‘stowaways’

I was introduced to Ariel Gordon’s work through her essay in Kerry Clare’s anthology of motherhood, The M Word. Strange, perhaps, to discover a poet via an essay but I think, very often, if you like someone’s work in one genre, you’ll also like it in another.

Ariel_Gordon-Stowaways_origIn any case, that’s what happened here. And happily so.

Turns out Gordon writes about some of my favourite things—the natural world and its intersection with the urban world is a big one. This is especially the case in Stowaways, which, in the chat below, she says was written while cheating on a Thomas Edison inspired manuscript. I love that kind of backstory.

It was my absolute pleasure to have the chance for this back and forth recently with Gordon while she was on retreat in The Pas, Manitoba, and to discuss not only her work, but a few general thoughts on books and writing and the mystery of why poetry isn’t more widely embraced.

As with all (at) Eleven pieces (and for no other reason than I like both food and books and like nothing more than when they find each other) there is a suggested-by-me menu at the end of the Q&A, tailor made for this book.

A million thanks to Ariel Gordon for her generosity in this exchange.

I sincerely hope no retreat writing time was harmed in the process.

And with that, here we go…


What literary character did you want to be as a child? 

AG—The first novel I read through on my own was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, followed by Frank Herbert’s Dune. I don’t think I wanted to be any of the characters. I was just so thrilled to be myself, plowing through books like it reading-on-my-own was a new technology or a dormant superpower. The character I probably identified with most strongly with was Valancy Stirling in L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle. But that was mostly mopey-teenager wish-fulfillment: “No one understands me! I am not beautiful! I will go live in a romantical cabin in the woods all by myself!”

Also, it gave me my first example of a working nature writer. Though Barney Snaith was pretty immature/mopey, come to think of it…


I’m interested in how people come to various forms. How did poetry find you? Also, do you have any memory of one your earliest pieces?

AG—I don’t recall the poem so much as the experience of writing it. In junior high, my Language Arts/Computer Science teacher, Ron Lamoureux, used what I now know is a fairly standard CW exercise to get us writing. But back then, it was incredible. He turned off the lights! And played boisterous classical music! And told us to write!

It was great fun. Not being able to see the page meant that my handwriting was big and loopy and ran everywhere on the page. All I had to do was follow the images the music presented me with and write them down, even if I might not be able to read my handwriting later.

After a few months of similar prompts, he compiled a booklet of poems and we launched them in the school gym. I think I even read my poem! Out loud!

During that time, I was also working on a fantasy novel I started when I was 13, on the computer my father’s employers gave him for home use. He never used it that I could tell, but I immediately started working on my book. Of course, every year I had to spend a lot of time revising the previous year’s writing, but it was immensely satisfying. I filled notebooks with drawings of my characters and pictures I ripped from magazines that resembled what I thought the world I was creating looked like. I even tried to come up with my own language…

I kept writing that book until I was 19 and in my second year of university. At the same time, I started working for the student newspaper and taking creative writing classes. So I started writing short stories that were the same length as the articles I was writing, about a page and a quarter in Word.

Eventually, these became more compact and started to look more like poems. And then I started calling myself a poet.


Do you still enjoy the revision part of the process?

AG—Writing is re-writing. I like the rush of first draft, but I’m under no illusion (most of the time) that the finished poem (or article or essay) will look anything like it.

You might say that I’m in a long-term relationship with revision. Which is to say: it’s hard work but it’s work that I love, that I’ve chosen.


Are there books you like to go back and re-read? 

AG—Thanks to the home-reading program at my daughter’s school I’ve been actively rereading Asterix et Obelix  and Barbapapa  comics. Luckily, her teachers are also sentimental former French-Immersion kids! I also recently re-read some of the slim fantasy novels of my youth, including Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong. (More angsty-teenager wish-fulfilment, as it turns out, except in this case it involved massive talent going to waste because of misogyny…)

I re-read Robert Kroetsch’s early novels—The Studhorse Man and Badlands  in particular—every few years.

But other than that, there’s so much to read out there that I don’t often deliberately go back, especially over the last couple of years where I focused my reading on non-fiction as my writing practice expanded to include non-fiction. Which means that I’m the worst-read person in a variety of genres, given that I read fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Oh and comics.


I was speaking with a friend recently, someone who doesn’t read a lot of (any) poetry, but she’s a voracious reader in other forms. We talked about The Why of ‘poetry fear’, which she admits to having … and schools came into things, as in the way most of us are introduced to it… and the poems we’re introduced to. That feeling of dread rather than pleasure sticks in some way. We’re talking another generation of course; maybe things are different now. I’ve heard of excellent programs at the college and university levels but I wonder what kids are being taught in high school, poetry-wise.

AG—I had an English teacher in grades 9 & 10 who was at the very end of her career. And she made us pin down & analyze poems. Although it was obvious that she had great passion for poetry, she had decided what the correct meaning was of each poem and wouldn’t accept any other interpretations. She also didn’t teach any contemporary Canadian poetry.

More fatally, I gave her one of my stories to look at and she not only covered it in red ink, she gave me a lecture on the fact that none of her students, in thirty years of teaching, had ever become a writer. How the school system wasn’t designed to create writers.

Now this wasn’t much of a discouragement; I kept writing and found other teachers to share my work with.

But in first year university, when I was sitting in my 20th Century Lit class and we were starting our poetry unit, I put my hand up and said: “Deborah, I just want to say that I don’t like poetry.” Deborah being Deborah Schnitzer, who has published several books of poetry and experimental fiction.

She just said, “Oh, Ariel, you don’t,” in her amused, musical voice, and as it turns out, I was writing poems by the end of the year.

And later, when my first book of poems came out, my old English teacher showed up at the bookstore where I was working and very pointedly bought a copy of the book. It was like it was her penance…

My daughter is in grade four now and she’s already read and written poetry in her classes, so I’m not worried…


What about themes… are you ever surprised by a recurring theme in your work? Is there something you find yourself drawn to writing about without even realizing it until after you read the work? 

AG—I’ll answer this, but first, I want to get you to answer a theme question:

“What do you think are the themes at work in Stowaways? Were they on the surface or did they creep up on you, like the references to sound?”

(The reason I ask is that you have no idea how hard it is to talk about themes. They’re largely subconscious during the writing, unless the poet is working on a highly conceptual project from the get-go, but then the poet has to be prepared to sharpen them, acknowledge them, in the editing and, also, the promotion of the book.)


Yes, I get the difficulty of theme talk/identification, but mostly from a fiction pov, which is where most of my work lives. A friend of mine once said she only knows what her books are about when she reads the reviews. Haha!
I wonder how this is the same or different with poetry. In what way it might be harder to discuss themes, which I assume it is because poetry is just that much more bare naked. I’m thinking of the difference between, for example, a collection of short stories vs a collection of poetry… insofar as how they’re put together thematically. I suspect there are similarities, in that they are rarely ‘written’ that way at all. It just happens, or doesn’t, or there’s some (even tangential) similarity between pieces that readers and critics can feast on. And once arranged, there’s an alchemy sometimes…

AG—Part of the reason I asked too, was that I know what I think Stowaways  is about. I wrote the catalogue copy, for instance. But I’m always curious to see what other people think it’s about. Because part of publishing writing is about being in dialogue with the people reading it.

For me, the themes in ‘Stowaways’  are 1) the foibles of human nature and the way we butt up against nature, our own and the other kind, and 2) nature, the marvel of it, the way it’s there, no matter what we do; life, death, cycles, the real deal of it. The ‘How To’ section, for instance, is gorgeous in the honesty of its ‘human natureness’. 

AG—Thank you for that. (Sucking on your descriptions like they were small candies…)

The majority of the poems in Stowaways were written when I was cheating on what was supposed to be my ‘next’ book, a collection of poems on Thomas Edison. I conceived of it while editing Hump, my first book, but didn’t realize how much of a leap it would be from the first-person, experiential poems I had written to poems written from the point of view of a variety of characters that drew heavily on the technology and language of Edison’s era. I also had to set the ms. down for almost a year while promoting Hump, which may have starved it. TO DEATH.

So, as I attempted to revive the Edison ms, as I butted heads with what I knew and didn’t know and what I would have to accomplish in the poems, I would sneak off and write poems about my day-to-day. More mothering poems. Urban nature poems. How-to poems, which I based on wikiHows and were a way to force myself to write when I wasn’t feeling inspired. I also did an image/text collaboration with Darryl Joel Berger, a writer and visual artist based in Kingston.

The whole time I felt bad for not being able to force my way back into the Edison ms. I literally felt like I was cheating on my arts practice.

Then my publisher came to me and asked if I had my next book ready. Which was an enormous relief, even a compliment, but I was NOT ready for that question.

But it was asked, so I looked at the poorly-lit rooms of the Edison ms. and realized it wasn’t even CLOSE to being finished. But instead of confessing all of this to my publisher, I said, “Yes, I should have something. When would you need it for?”

And then I got to work. I admitted (to myself at least) that I couldn’t make the Edison ms. work with my current skill set and resources. And then I started collecting all my cheating poems, every dinky little poem I’d written when not putting my head down and running at the Edison ms. like a goat. Or a bison, because I like them better.

And holy shit, I had three-quarters of a book that seemed to hang together, thematically, even though the poems weren’t written with any larger project in mind. And I had six months before this new manuscript was due.

So I wrote more poems. I wrote every poem I could think of. And I was terrified they wouldn’t be good enough, because they were so very new, but my editor thought they hung together too…

To me, Stowaways is about living in cities and trying to figure out how to be both an animal and a human. Figuring out how to connect to the people around me AND the flora/fauna. They’re about how life and death our every day is, from rescuing the adolescent merlin that lived in the tree next to my house after he crashed-landed to figuring out how to be in a long-term relationship.

(Are those themes? I told you I was bad at knowing my own themes…)


Oh, I love this background. You could have called the book ‘Cheating on Edison’. Of course I’m going to re-read the poems now with this in mind and see if I can find the influences…

It’s strange how we do this, how we (think we) are focussed on one thing but really, our minds are building a whole ‘other’. (We could call it the Edison Syndrome!) It applies to any form, I think. The way someone spends five years writing a novel about the relationship between character A and B and then in year six realizes it’s actually about character D and K.  Fortunately, you trusted your instinct and ‘cheated’. Smart move. It wasn’t the Edison book’s time.

What didn’t the Edison project allow you to explore that brought your thinking to what became ‘Stowaways’?

AG—Trusted/distrusted, more like. But that’s completely par for the course in my writing life: I’m the most patient impatient person you’ll ever meet.

In some ways, Stowaways  seems like a natural bridge between Hump and the Edison ms. (though I STILL haven’t gotten it up and running again…): voice poems, long poems, poems that borrow and steal from instruction manuals. “How to Learn Morse Code” is obviously a remnant of the Edison ms., but I think I would have been attracted to it even if I hadn’t been Edison-obsessed. Just like I was attracted to “How to Survive Flooding.” They’re meaty subjects. I think “Apparent Magnitude: The Finlay 15P,” a long poem about comets, barn swallows, and the death/disappointment of one’s parents towards the end of Stowaways  is my formal apology to the Edison ms.

Maybe I’ll finish the Edison ms. some day. Maybe not. Maybe it’ll be my star-crossed ms.

The more I write, the more I realize that writing is about discarding writing. Not so much killing your darlings so much as leaving them behind.  (“I’ll think about you every time I turn on a light, dear one…”) The infuriating thing about the Edison ms., why I fought it for so long, is that I still felt that the poems I’d written had a lot of juice. It was like a weak battery: it would jolt me every so often.

What about you? What are you working on? Have you ever had a ms. go limp?


I see what you mean about the bridge between Hump and the Edison idea.
I haven’t read Hump, but one description calls it “a mash-up of pregnancy-and-mothering poems and urban/nature/love poems that functions as an anti-sentiment manifesto”. Which pretty much tells me a niece of mine will love it. I’ll include the poem ‘Primipara’ from Stowaways, which feels like a wonderfully twisted paean, brave in how it honours the work of mothering so honestly. (My niece is a ‘hood-dwelling, tough nosed, soft hearted boxer who is devoted to her twin 16 year old boys.) Can you tell me about ‘Primipara’… its origins. And why isn’t this word in common usage, given how many women are ‘it’? And I wonder if there’s a word for women who have ‘borne just two children’.

AG–I wrote that description. And given that one of my favourite expressions is “I like my tea as black as my heart,”  your niece and I would probably hit it off. (Or hate each other…)

“Primipara” came out of a co-worker announcing that what they thought was going to be their oops-third-child was actually going to be their oops-third-AND-fourth-child, three weeks before they were due. My daughter was two or three at this point. I instantly felt the tickle of an imminent poem. All I had to do, when sitting down to write, was try to imagine that happening to me, as someone who hadn’t necessarily wanted ANY children, and then go straight to best worst-case scenario I could think of. And then, because I’m sort of a jerk, I gave the finished poem to my co-worker to share with his wife.

But I wasn’t finished with the poem. I wrote an essay of the same name for Kerry Clare’s The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood anthology. (Which you may recall, as I believe you reviewed it for your blog…) The essay called “Primipara” also included the poem “Primipara”. The essay was about only wanting one child, about trading a larger family for my writing practice, about siblings and cousins and nieces and how my daughter would have none of them. Compared to the poem, it wasn’t at ALL fun to write. But it got me re-started writing non-fiction, which I’m grateful for.

I stole the title from a medical dictionary, which is what I do when I don’t immediately have a title for poems: I troll dictionaries. (I like RhymeZone and OneLook). And I’ve had to re-look it up, but I believe the term is “secundipara” for two. Also, the term “primipara” is apparently more complex than I’d first thought:

“A woman who has had one pregnancy that resulted in a fetus that attained a weight of 500g or a gestational age of 20 weeks, regardless of whether the infant was living at birth or whether it was a single or multiple birth.”

So it has more to do with the number of pregnancies a woman has had, not how many children she’s wound up with. So my co-worker’s wife would theoretically only be a tertipara. But then, I have no idea how many pregnancies she’s had…what an odd way to categorize someone, eh? I’m not sure why it would be at all relevant, medically.

Which is why I had to poem it.


To answer your question about mss that go limp… what I find happens more often is that great chunks are sliced out for the sin of pointless distraction and clutter. But of course that causes a domino effect, things need to be rebuilt with fewer sticks and sometimes it becomes obvious there are not enough sticks. I’m thinking limp is something different. It implies a sense that resuscitation is possible…  

AG—For me is more about the energy of a work. You can trim a dead poem as much as you want. It’s still dead.

The poems (or mss.) that still have a breath of life in them are the most frustrating, because they tantalize you for years. And you think, “Maybe if I try this. Or that.” And it still lies there, it’s mostly-dead eyes glinting at you.


Apart from the ‘commentary’ of the birds that runs through the first section of the book (although ‘apart’ isn’t quite right given how ‘part of’ the whole these voices are) the collection is wonderfully rife with sound. A thud, a purr, a daughter’s chirp; twilight screams, pipes clang and “trains clatter by & fat horses delicately cross tracks, hooves striking steel: Thump”. There are hums, roars, radios blaring, soft snores, sympathetic howls, “the river’s thousand tinkling chandeliers”, a click of shutters, sirens at Portage and Main, yodelling, squealing, noisy suckling, the clacking of chopsticks. All of which is presented so subtly that I was well into the book before it occurred to me that I was hearing (the soundtrack) as well as reading the poems.

In one of my favourite pieces, ‘How to See Deer’ you present what feels like the perfect balance of human and nature: “Boots on snow. Boots on snow. Birdsong.”  The heartbeat of it! So, the question is this: Is sound an element of your work that surprises you when you realize it’s there, or is it a more conscious effort to capture it? (And please tell me about the bird voices!)

AG—My work tends to be very visual and based in the urban-natural world. So: lots of movement, lots of colour, a fair amount of narrative. But I want to make the work as complete as possible, so I try to bring in the other senses. How things feel and how they sound are easiest for me, as I have almost no sense of smell.

I included the birdsong because it made me happy.

I included the birdsong because I realized that I had birds in the poems that weren’t making any sound. And they make immense amounts of noise. (I’m sitting here with the window open, writing these responses and I can hear probably 10-15 different bird calls. I can’t identify any of them, of course, but they’re part of the ambient noise, like trucks on the road, like wind moving through the trees, like the hum of the fridge.)

The inclusion of the phonetic spellings of the birdsong came from the bits of research I’d do on the creatures I was writing about. I really liked that people had figured out how to describe birdcall in words, which seemed to be similar work to what I was doing as a poet, describing things-in-the-world using words, using words to create images, textures, moods. I tend to use a fair bit of internal rhyme as well, so I’m always aware of vowel and consonant sounds and how they’re arrayed in the poems.

So I wanted to include the birdsong SOMEHOW. The reason they’re not in the poems themselves is that I didn’t want to be hooting and cawing at readings. I’m performative, but not THAT performative. I was worried I’d giggle instead of cooing properly, you know? (Although Yvonne Blomer, who did a book largely focused on birds called As If a Raven, published in the same season as me, managed it. It became my favourite part of our joint readings…)


One of the things I’d love to talk about more, generally, with poets is the fear readers have of poetry. The worry of not ‘getting’ something. I think it keeps it at arm’s length in a way that other forms of writing aren’t kept. 

AG—That fear is why I do so many readings, because I want to convince people that they shouldn’t be afraid of poetry. That It’s all just human conversation, that much of it is playful and fun. That they don’t have to worry about knowing terminology to “get it,” the way that you don’t have to know anything about music to listen to music or to appreciate it.

I think you convert people to poetry it one person at a time. One poem at a time, even. So I’m always glad when someone comes up to me after an event and says something like “Well, I’ve never been to a reading before, but that was great…” or “I came for X fiction writer, but I really enjoyed your poetry.”


You’ve been on retreat throughout this Q&A. How important is retreat to your writing practice?

AG—Essential. I tend to get more writing done, in terms of overall volume, in my everyday than while on retreat, but those weeks to myself are essential for shifting my thinking, for rebooting my tired brain. Also, I get to catch up on sleep…

For instance, this trip was three weeks and featured two weeks of writing. By the end of the third week, I looked in the mirror and realized that I hadn’t thought about lip gloss or bundling up the recycling or whether or not Anna needed a new pair of sneakers—all those points of contact we have with the world, all those daily tasks we wear like neckties—for quite a while.

Also, because I’m a poet I’ll probably never make a million dollars from my writing. So borrowing someone’s house in north/central Manitoba for three weeks or going to an ‘official’ retreat somewhere is my low-cost way of seeing the world.


Okay. My favourite question (and please forgive me if you hate it): What question would you like to be asked about the book that you’re never asked? And your answer.

AG—“Why are you SO brilliant and yet still SO unknown?”

More seriously, I have a hard time answering this question, because part of the delight in being interviewed is getting to see the work through the interviewer’s eyes, at least briefly. I also like noticing patterns in what people ask about, out of all the things they could ask about, you know?

I suppose I’d like to have more conversations about urban nature, about place, and how I’m sneaking up on eco-poetry in Stowaways. About making lowercase “p” political art. About humour as a defence mechanism.



Pen or keyboard?  Both.

Cake or cheese?  I like cake—deep dark chocolate in particular—but eat way more cheese.

Heat wave or deep freeze?  Deep freeze. You can always put on another sweater but you can’t take off your skin.

Chanterelles or truffles?  Neither: stinkhorns and lobster mushrooms and dead man’s fingers…

Haiku or Ghazal?  For most of my writing life, I’ve resisted forms, but lately I’ve been writing glosas. (Here’s one of them:

Stage or Film?  Film, though mostly because film is more available to me…

Ocean or lake?  Grew up swimming in lakes. Still very intrigued by oceans, though the salt just kills me…

andre-kertesz_the_fork_1928_500pxMatilda’s Menu for Stowaways:

Open-face tomato sandwich on crusty (toasted) Italian bread
Black Iced Tea
Yellow Pears drizzled with honey

(with a centrepiece of peonies)

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer. Her second collection of poetry, Stowaways  (Palimpsest Press, 2014), won the 2015 Lansdowne Prize for ariel2Poetry. Current projects include creative non-fiction about Winnipeg’s urban forest, which is slated for publication in 2018 with Wolsak & Wynn and an anthology of texts about menstruation, co-edited with Rosanna Deerchild and Tanis MacDonald.

She can be found at





this is not a review: ‘the adventures of miss petitfour’, by anne michaels

The Adventures of Miss Petitfour  does pretty much what I like a book to do, it makes me hungry for cake and tea and cheese and adventures with a tablecloth; for another cat or two. (She has sixteen and no complaints at her end.) In fact the cats play a huge role in this gorgeous collection of sweet but not in any way saccharine stories. On the contrary, there’s much authorly humour, of the kind that allow two levels of reading: adult and child. Both will be amused but at different things.

We begin with an introduction to the lovely Miss Petitfour by way of an illustration “…just to be sure you recognize her”.  (And is it just me or does she look a little like the also-clever-but-in-a-very-different-line-of-work, Tabatha Southey?) By the way, Emma Block’s colour illustrations throughout are a pleasure to contemplate all on their own and, in fact, the whole book feels a little like a kind of petitfour… beautifully made with tea and pastry endpapers, a fixed ribbon marker, the kind of smooth semi-gloss pages your hands happily glide over and over and the whole thing just the right size for holding comfortably with one hand, leaving the other available for tea drinking, cake noshing or petting of resident kitty. Because after reading this you may have to get at least one.

The opening story takes Miss P. and her sixteen cats on an outing to find marmalade. This naturally includes a visit to a bookshop, which is cleverly divided, as all book shops should be, into two sides, marked ‘ho-hum’, and ‘hum’… that is, one side for people who prefer “books where nothing ever happens”  and the other for people who feel the need to “visit another planet, or to run away to sea to meet pirates, or to fall down holes, or to be blasted by a volcano, and that sort of thing.”

Wind plays a role, as wind ought. (Miss P. has a good command of air currents generally, a characteristic missing in most protagonists.)“It is often the case that the wind is not blowing in the right direction. This is just another petifour_hitiresome fact of life, like the fact that your feet grow too big for your favorite shoes, or that your favorite crayon gets shorter and shorter the more you use it.”

In the story ‘Birthday Cheddar’, my personal favourite, we go in search of Minky’s gift (she’s a “snow-pawed cat,” who fancies cheese). Correction, not merely fancies… “… she adored cheese, flirted with it, danced with it and brought it lovely presents, like pebbles from the garden, before devouring it with her little Minky teeth.”  There follows a description of how Parmesan affects the leaves of a salad and how, on cheese toast, the “cheddar melted into every little crevice and crater…”  And that’s just for starters. The whole passage is delicious. And then, because we aren’t happy/hungry enough, Michaels lists ten or so varieties of cheese. Minky of course has a cheese calendar that she sleeps with on which “Each month there was a big picture of a different kind of cheese in a mouthwatering pose: blue cheese cavorting with pears, cheddar laughing with apples, Gruyere lounging with grapes, Edam joking with parsley.” (Oh how I covet this calendar!)

Lessons on the art of storytelling are a brilliant thread throughout in highlighted, upper-case or bold type. Michaels points to words and phrases such as ‘unbelievably’, ‘by great good fortune’ and ‘by chance’, etc., revealing them as the devices they are to change the course of the story. And then she uses them to do just that. And then she might digress, telling us (in parenthesis) that this is a digression. It’s all so beautifully, tongue-in-cheekily done, like the ways of a favourite eccentric teacher.

So, yes, this is one seriously charming, creative and really quite perfect kid book (recently and somewhat reluctantly passed on to my niece) that any adult will easily love. Impossible to meet Miss Petifour, to travel with her in this tablecloth riding, tea drinking, food-filled land where you are encouraged (by Miss Petitfour herself) to hear only the parts of sentences you like the sound of… and not come away feeling just a bit lighter for it.

“Some adventures are so small, you hardly know they’ve happened. Like the adventure of sharpening your pencil to a perfect point, just before it breaks and that little bit gets stuck in the sharpener.”

One flaw, and that’s the unfortunate and (always) annoying use of U.S. spelling. Flavor. Color. Etc. Boo to that.

Three thumbs up to everything else.

the (anti) shopping list


Here is my not-quite-but-almost annual list for them wot don’t especially like ‘stuff’… Also, coincidentally, it’s a list of my favourite things to both give and receive… (note for those intent on giving:  the asterisked books? got ’em.
But I’m wide open for all the food items… leave baskets on the porch).

1.   Food. Any form. You can’t go wrong with cheese. If you live in the vicinity of Country Cheese… fill my stocking with the goat brie (coated in ash). It’s absolutely heaven sent, this stuff. Appropriate for the time of year, no?

2.   A book about  food. I’m mad for anything Laurie Colwin, also *The CanLit Foodbook  and most recently, *a Taste of Haida Gwaii,  by Susan Musgrave. And… Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus.  I can’t believe I don’t own this.

3.   Music by Laura Smith.

4.   Gift certificate to a garden centre. My choice would be Richter’s Herbs for the following reasons: the staff know things and are pleasant (this is no longer the case at all garden centres). The selection is amazing and mostly edible. They play classical music to the seedlings. (Also, and not insignificant, the route home goes right by my favourite place for pizza.)

5.   Gift certificate to my favourite place for pizza. (This is an excellent gift and comes with a good chance of being invited to share a slice.)

6.   If you have made anything pickled, I would welcome a jar. (FYI, I’m not much for jam.)

7.  Honey. Unpasteurized of course. Local please. Or a kombucha mother. And who would say no to a bag of Atlantic dulse???

8.  And because we can’t ever have enough… books, books and more books from across this literary land. One from each province/territory — mostly published this year:

YUKON — Ivan Coyote’s *Gender Failure (Arsenal Pulp Press) actually came out in 2014. So sue me.

NWT — Ramshackle: a Yellowknife Story,  by Alison McCreesh (Conundrum Press)  (this review by John Mutford sold me)

NUNAVUT — Made in Nunavut,  by Jack Hicks and Graham White (UBCPress) Because we could stand to know more about this part of the country.

BC — Please don’t think Amber Dawn’s *Where the Words End and My Body Begins  (Arsenal Pulp Press) is only for those in love with poetry. It’s for anyone who loves words. Trust me.

ALBERTA — Rumi and the Red Handbag  (Palimset Press), by Shawna Lemay.

SASKATCHEWAN — *The Education of Augie Merasty  (University of Regina Press), by Augie Merasty and David Carpenter.

MANITOBA — A writer new to me, Katherena Vermette. I want very much to read her North End Love SongsAlso the more recent The Seven Teachings  (Portage & Main Press, 2014/15).

ONTARIO — A Rewording Life,  a fabulous project by Sheryl Gordon to raise funds for the Alzheimers Society of Canada. 1,000 writers from across the country were each given a ‘word’, which they then returned in a sentence. Essentially, it’s an anthology of a thousand sentences. I’m proud to have been invited to join the fun. My word was ‘nettles’.

QUEBEC — Okay. This came out in 2013, not 2105, but I haven’t read it and have always meant to and now it’s long listed for Canada Reads. So it’s time. Bread and Bone  (House of Anansi), by Saleema Nawaz.

NEW BRUNSWICK — *Beatitudes  (Goose Lane Editions),  by Hermenegilde Chiasson. This was published years ago (2007) but I include it because it’s truly one of my favourite books ever and I don’t get to talk about it enough.

NOVA SCOTIA — *These Good Hands  (Cormorant), by Carol Bruneau.

PEI — *Our Lady of Steerage  (Nimbus Publishing), by Steven Mayoff.

NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR — Ditto the Canada Reads argument for Michael Crummey’s 2014 *Sweetland   from Doubleday.

9.  Donations to any number of good causes. And a few more ideas (some repetition, but also not). And this, recently discovered: The Native Women’s Association of Canada.

10.  The gift of art.

11.  The gift of lunch, or a walk, a phone call, an hour to really listen to someone who needs to be heard. A visit to a nursing home. A poem tucked into a card. An invitation, a freshly baked pie for the neighbour who could do with some cheering. The gift of letting someone give to us too. Margaret Visser wrote a wonderful book on that… The Gift of Thanks.

12. The gift of a promise kept.

13.  And never to be overlooked or forgotten: the gift of massage.

You’re welcome.

And thank you.

this is not a review: ‘fishbowl’, by bradley somer

I can’t always say how it is that a book comes to my attention but with Fishbowl  I do remember that ‘must read!’ moment. Mind you, I use the word ‘remember’ loosely… it’s more like I have this vague idea that someone whose book sense I value posted somewhere how she was giving this book to everyone she knows for xmas… I could list a few possibles of who that might have been but then everyone’s friends would be living in hope of receiving a copy.9781250057808

Because to get Fishbowl  as a gift would indeed be a happy day.

What we have here is an exceedingly readable, well-written book whose story takes place over the course of thirty minutes. We begin with the knowledge that Ian (resident of the fishbowl) will (only at the end of the book) fall off the balcony of his twenty-seventh floor apartment and will pass all twenty-seven floors in the process.

Not only an interesting set-up but in just a few pages Somer has managed to make Ian the goldfish someone we care about… with aquatic information such as the length of a goldfish’s memory (what memory?) and bits of fishbowl zen: “Less thinking, more doing” is the goldfish’s philosophy. “Having a plan is the first step toward failure,” he would say if he could speak.

After we learn that Ian *will* fall… the book, essentially, is our introduction to a few people living in the apartments that Ian will pass on the way down.

By the time he falls, we’re hooked. We want to know about Petunia Delilah and her impending baby, her future; about Herman, home schooled, weird, wonderfully naive and easy to swoon; Connor the bastard who dates far too many women (and on whose balcony Ian lives so that he doesn’t stare at the doings in Connor’s bedroom); a construction worker who likes to dress up; a lonely building superintendent; an agoraphobic phone sex worker.

The characters, despite their tics, are represented as fairly ordinary. It’s not about the tics. The point, instead, is that we all have peculiar elements to our lives. Their stories, not their quirks, are what keep us reading… (that and the dry humour, and sentences that consistently offer up happy surprises…)

“The elderly couple, with no pressing engagements after the funeral service, even visited her in the hospital. They brought her flowers and chatted with her for an hour, their manners as impeccable as any hero’s in an old science fiction book.”

The bigger story is how we feel at the end of the book and how we might understand the wider world just a titch better. For a moment anyway.

A credit to the author that a single fish could do so much.

And even if our vision of the whole wider world isn’t altered, then maybe this:
I dare you to look at an apartment building quite the same way again.

Peixe010eue(my vision of Ian; courtesy of wikicommons)


(at) eleven with laurie lewis: little comrades

I don’t know of (m)any other memoirs about growing up in a Communist family, in Canada or elsewhere, or why such an account might be scarce. The habit of secrecy perhaps, not wanting to name names? Whatever the case, in Little Comrades, Laurie Lewis has chosen to leap where few have leapt.

And I’m pretty sure the result is not what 9780889843424you think.

There is a strong-willed mother, a departure from the west to Toronto, another to New York City, an abortion in the 50’s, alcoholism, The Great Depression (and how to survive with style; the lost art of great style is everywhere…), the war, few women’s rights (women could be ‘legally bedded’ at age eighteen). There is Kill a Commie for Christ, racism, sexism. And secrets. Always secrets.

There is also Mulberry Street and her love of NYC. In fact, despite all the ‘isms’ of the era, it’s love that comes out strongest. For her mother, for freedom, for the people who helped them, for Sol whose loud, robust family, culture and food she craved after a fairly white-bread upbringing that didn’t encourage independence, creativity or opinions outside party lines.

“My father had written a letter to the Communist Party Central Committee… so they’d know that he had given his wife permission to leave him.”

While describing the larger issues of the day, the unorthodox turbulence of her home life and the difficulties of being a little comrade in general, Lewis manages to maintain a voice appropriate to her youth and still-innocence. Describing a visit to an avant garde cinema as a young teen, Lewis writes: “The theatre showed ‘foreign’ movies. Sometimes British, sometimes European, with sub-titles, so you’d know what people were saying.”

Her writing is beautifully precise, often tactile, so that the reading at times feels a little like wandering about with the author as she confidently points things out that, pretty soon, we can also see just as plainly.

I’m delighted to have read this book (which ends in 1952) and have already purchased the sequel: Love and All that Jazz.

So without further blather, and with enormous thanks to the author, here is (at) eleven with Laurie Lewis:

1.   The first question I always ask in this series is what literary character did you relate to as a child. Given your unusual childhood, I’ve never been more curious to know the answer.

LL—I’m afraid I can’t tell you the answer to this. Perhaps something will come to me as I get further along into this process.

2.   What were you reading at fifteen?

LL—Oh, that I do remember clearly… two very different things: In my early teens I was very interested in math and science, and one of the books I received (from my father, a great surprise) was Mathematics for the Millions, by… how good is my memory? Yes, Lancelot Hogben, or a name very much like that. I could probably ask Mr. Google right now and get the right answer!! [Yes!! He’s there, and the book is there, still in print! Amazing!] The other thing I was reading was Dorothy Parker, who had a new collection of short stories out just then, 1945. I remember reading them to my mother when she was ill. She was a smart sassy woman speaking her mind. Very avant-garde. What a role model! And Robert Benchley, Ogden Nash, James Thurber. The New Yorker writers of the period… my mother’s choices, of course. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And I remember my very first Virginia Woolf story, although I don’t know how old I was, perhaps younger than 15, I believe. “Flush”.

(I should say here that my mother didn’t believe in “children’s books” as such. She grew up in a working-class home of a skilled carpenter from England, with a room full of Dickens, which she regarded as books for children, since that’s what she had read.) To my own daughter, I read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, of course, and Mary Poppins. The Mary Poppins movie came out shortly after she and I moved to Toronto, when Amanda was 8 years old. I vividly remember that when a school friend asked her if she had seen the movie, she told her, “No, but I’ve read the book.”)

Pre-teen poetry: Vachel Lindsay (a sort of pre-beat poet. Sort of “tribal” as I recall.) Emily Dickinson, of course. Robert Burns from the Scottish side of the family.

3.   Did it ever occur to you that it wasn’t the norm for children to be as aware politically as you were? Looking back on it, how did this awareness, this lifestyle, affect friendships? Did you feel different from other children; did you see the difference in your family?

LL—I think you are perhaps not correct in thinking it was not the norm. Those were intensely political times in the history of the world, both during the Depression and World War II. During the “Great” Depression politics were part of people’s lives, I think. Not only mine. (In the way that the Vietnam war was a part of the lives of Americans during that difficult time. And everyone had an opinion.) Extreme, extreme(!) poverty creates its own awareness. Yes, I was generally aware of how it might have affected friendships… One of the pieces I wrote about, called “Lumpen”, was about a potential friendship that was out of bounds because the parents were “lumpen” (i.e. non-political working class – non-politically aware). And I remember being invited somewhere by a little girl of about my own age, a girl who put on a pretty dress every Sunday and went to some sort of party. Sunday School. I asked my mother if I could go, and she dressed me up in my best dress, my school dress. (Perhaps you know that a poor girl in those times might have two dresses. One for school and one for play. No jeans, or anything like that, of course.) I’m sorry to report that I was asked to leave when I, at about six years old, questioned the story of Adam and Eve (since I knew about Darwin).

Also, I became very aware of a class divide. We were definitely not “middle class” in either our economic circumstances or our outlook on life. I think the children we now call “disadvantaged” (not “poor”… we never say that anyone is “poor”!) are very aware of a class divide, regardless of what it is called. I assume it affects their friendship patterns. To some extent I think economic disparity affects our friendships at any age.

4.   In the New York City chapters, while you were often worried, knowing that you or your mother might at any time be questioned, or worse, for communist connections, and despite the many moves and difficult encounters, I sense that the city offered you a new kind of happiness and freedom. Was this a turning point in your life? Would you say your mother experienced something similar?

LL—Yes, certainly there was a kind of freedom. The important thing, especially for my mother as a newly-separated intelligent and creative woman, was that the city was wide open for anyone who had talent and drive, and she had both. That’s not quite the same thing as “happiness”, but I’m not sure what that word means. I was a young teenager. Certainly I had more opportunities than I would have had in a small town, or in a “provincial” city like Vancouver. There was freedom from the coercion of the domestic politics of power, and a more cosmopolitan, more diverse “ethnic” environment. More people from more places, not the homogeneity that was Canada at the time. (A tad more financial security would have helped both of us, of course.!) Yes, certainly it was a turning point. When I got my first job, as an usher in the movies (they had them then!), I was terribly proud of myself. I could earn a living!

5.   Also, those chapters so beautifully and vividly describe a city that it’s said no longer exists. What was it like to revisit in the writing? And what are some of the more regrettable losses?

LL—Yes, we revisit places and “social environments” when we remember. I don’t think I have ever tried to compare the old and the new… Well, yes, I suppose I have, but what can I say? The buildings have changed, the people have changed, the way of life has changed. And I have changed. Especially now, in my old age, I am more aware of the vast spaces where people I knew, people I loved, do not exist any more. That is the most regrettable loss, the loss of those we loved, cared for. The rest is just history, just “stuff”. Beat was beat; hip was hip; hippy was hippy. So vastly different! And what is cool today will be passé tomorrow.

6.   Despite being surrounded by writers in your family, and in your publishing career, you didn’t begin writing seriously until your sixties. This rather late start not only makes you an inspiration to many late starters, it also gives you a rare perspective, i.e. how differently, if at all, might the story of Little Comrades have been presented had you written it at, say, age 35 or 40?

LL—A very tricky question. I’m not sure how different the story would have been, but if I had written it then, when communism and therefore anti-communism were still very powerful and antagonistic forces in the world, the reception would undoubtedly have been different. Communism, these days, is looked back on almost with nostalgia. (Not the specifics of Russia, of Stalin, but the economic principles.) As far as I, personally, am concerned I think it’s important to say that age gives me a kind of power, through the freedom to say whatever I damned please. This is a power that perhaps young people with young careers rarely really have. And I certainly felt the freedom to present my story with – well, of all things! – the dignity it deserved. I think I was aiming for something like social history, told through the mind of a child.

7.   While still in high school, you had an affair with a man that resulted in your getting an abortion. The affair ended and a few years later you were surprised to see “a new and handsome face” appear in Hollywood movies. “That same face with the high Greek cheekbones, the dark eyes, artfully dishevelled black hair. His name? Yes, it could be a good Anglicization of the one I remembered but never spoke.” You tell us that he eventually became a director and married a ‘10’… all wonderful clues for what is a wonderful parlour game… Was this a promise to the man or a promise to yourself, not to reveal his name?

LL—I am merely being cautious. Two things: First, I can’t be absolutely sure that’s who it was. When I asked Mr. Google about him, the early bio made me a bit unsure. And if I had ever done more than hint, I could have been open to a suit for libel or slander. Probably because of my childhood experiences, I think I tend to be careful about keeping my activities legal. I’m a trifle paranoid, perhaps.

8.   Your memory for detail is extraordinary, adding rich layers to the story, tapping various senses. That you recall people, how they looked, what they wore, what they did for a living, a pawnshop window… What was your process in getting ‘back there’—was it photographs, conversations, general research, letters, all of the above?

LL—I wish I had had letters, photographs, etc, but I didn’t. But I think memory is quite wonderful. My “chicken soup” theory of memory says: The first time I ask my memory about something, there’s almost nothing in there. There’s just sort of a weak chicken broth, warm and salty. The next time I go looking into that memory, there are a couple of peas, maybe a piece of carrot. And so it goes. Every time I look, there is more in that memory-space. [I think recent research shows that the soup in which the synapses operate between the dendrites must be sort of re-assembled, reconstituted, into the memory.] And some of it is pure deductive invention: for example, in a story about my aunt getting married I have said she wore a blue dress. Well, what do I really know? I don’t remember, but the dress wouldn’t have been either black or white. Nor red or pink or purple. Because they were Scots, it would have been unlikely to be green. Given the years of the forties, the colours were apt to be muted and “feminine.” All of that, for me, equalled a light blue.

And just because it’s a memoir doesn’t mean you can’t make things up! I mean, I am a writer! How much do I actually recall of what was in the window of the pawn shop? Two out of five things? One thing? But once I have written it, it becomes true for me, and I can see the window very clearly.

9.   You had a close relationship with your mother, who comes across as a very independent woman for her time. She lived an unconventional life in many ways, not the least of which was leaving your father and giving you the choice of staying or coming with her. Also her work with the Communist party, the risks that involved and the lifestyle it required. Yet at some point it became clear to you that you had different values and ideas about lifestyle. How difficult was it to admit this to yourself and to become independent in your own way?

LL—She was a very independent woman for any time. Most of that was, I think, an independence formed by the combination of pride and desperation. She had some pride in herself, some idea that she had a mind, that what she thought mattered, and she was desperate to get out of a bad personal situation even if that put her into a desperate economic situation. In my mother’s time, if women were desperate to leave their husbands, they usually had another man to help them out… to help them get out, I mean. So then just, a few years later, we were two more-or-less young-ish women living together… when I was 18 and she was 38, for example. We really needed our own spaces. Perhaps the differences you mention – values and lifestyle ­ might have had more to do with the simple matter of generational differences. And the number of years between the generations was much smaller than it is now, thanks to the easy availability of birth control in North America. All young people, male or female, have different outlooks on life than their parents have. I know that some may make choices to stay closer to the zeitgeist of their parents, for whatever reason. In the 1960s, rebellion was in the air, change was in the air. I was just a few years ahead of my time, as Ellen (my mother) was a few years ahead of hers, always.

10.  It feels like a life of many secrets. You say that even today there are names you “won’t name”… people who were once involved in the Communist party. Did you have to think twice about writing this book?

LL—In the beginning I didn’t know I was writing it. I was just writing stories about what I thought I knew. When I began to write some of the early family stories, my mother said, “It wasn’t like that”. We each have our own truths, the things that we believe to be the truth of our lives. And we can’t let anyone else decide for us what it’s okay to reveal. My mother’s memoir, “Always and After” is much more cautious politically. I don’t think mine is a broad tell-all memoir, full of scuttlebutt. I was focussed on specific areas of our lives: politics, gender, personal growth, insight. By the time I had finished writing Little Comrades my mother had died, and so there was no one to tell me I had done it wrong. (And I didn’t name names, as you know from question 7.) Also, I probably still have lingering fears, some paranoia, from the McCarthy era, and so, even with my general “mouthiness” I have some caution in me. I don’t feel that I have said anything truly dangerous, either to myself or to anyone else. (And everyone’s dead now.)


I will go back now to the first question, which literary character I related to:

At the end of this, I have come back to the beginning, and what has come to me is Heidi: homeless and hungry. What a surprise that is to me!! Thank you for asking. I think this is the secret of my childhood, Heidi. I could cry, even now, for that poor little girl. But I think I will go out to dinner instead.

11.  Choices:

Coffee or tea?    Tea in Canada, coffee in Mexico.

Poetry or song?   Poetry   

Sweet or savoury?      Savoury

Dessert or Appetizer?      Appetizer

Winter or Summer?     Summer

Pen or Keyboard?  Keyboard, although as a graphic designer I flirted with calligraphy.*

Bicycle or Canoe?  Bicycle… it’s in the garage right now with a flat tire.  

Ocean or Lake?    Lake

Morning or Night?     Morning

Film or theatre?      Theatre

The Ten Commandments or Exodus?      ha ha ha… Exodus.

* Here’s another note about Pen or Keyboard: Keyboard, although as a graphic designer I flirted with calligraphy, and so the “pen” has artistic value rather than any writerly presence. Whereas, I learned to touch type when I was 17, and so I firmly believe that my fingers know stories that they are eager to tell me. My fingers do their work, and then I read what they have said. There is a direct line from a part of my brain into my fingertips.


Matilda’s Menu for Little Comrades:

Bacon Sandwich

Alymer Soup



As is customary with the (at) eleven series, a meal of my choosing—appropriate to the book—follows the Q&A, because… “Eating is our earliest metaphor, preceding our consciousness of gender difference, race, nationality, and language. We eat before we talk.”  ~Margaret Atwood from The Can Lit Food Book

Happy Reading, and bon appetit


laurieLaurie Lewis is a Fellow of Graphic Designers of Canada and is editor emerita of  Vista, the publication of the Seniors Association in Kingston, Ontario.

She began writing in 1991 after retirement. Her written work has been on CBC and has been published in Contemporary Verse 2, Queen’s Feminist Review, Kingston Poets’ Gallery, Queen’s Quarterly, and  The Toronto Quarterly. Her memoir, Little Comrades, was published by Porcupine’s Quill in 2011 and was named by the Globe and Mail among the Top 100 Books of the Year. A second memoir, Love, and all that jazz, was published in 2013 by Porcupine’s Quill. She is currently working on a collection of essays and stories about age, but is not persuaded that the title “Mouthy Old Broad” will have much commercial appeal.