this is not a review: ‘plainwater’ by anne carson


While each of my Not A Review pieces are distinctly not reviews to varying degrees… this one is REALLY not   a review. I haven’t even finished the book. Which is part of this particular Not a Review’s angle.

It seems I have a sort of love/huh?? affair with Anne Carson’s work, of which  I’m only beginning to know. I’m drawn to it, get angry around it, leave it, then I come back and make tea and snuggle up with it again, blissfully content in my confusion until it all becomes too much. And the cycle continues. The addictive element appears to be the occasional bouts of holycrapletmereadthatpartagain! that come over me. In a good way, I mean. (Because there are plenty of moments when I have almost exactly the same reaction in a bad way, as in holycrapwhatthe#@*#isshesayinghere??? )

Is it just me or is there a certain type of poetry that feels like it comes with a fence and a Keep Out sign? Stupidly you stand there thinking it can’t mean you and so you holler let me in!!  Leaping up and down, you try to see over it, try for even the tiniest glimpse but you’re sweating and your feet hurt and you start to wonder: is it supposed to be this complicated?  Is maybe the fence greased?? So it’s in all seriousness when I ask: is there an actual category of poetry designed to make it seem more pleasant to gnaw off your own hand than to turn one more page?

Not that I’m saying I feel this way about Anne Carson. No no no. True, there is the huh?  part of things, but there is also love. (I’m here aren’t I?)

And what I’m happily not reviewing today is Plainwater, published in 2000, and whose entire first section (called ‘Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings’)
I skipped because of things like this… “Yes lovely one it’s today forever now what’s that shadow/ unzipping/ your every childfingered wherefrom?

I just wasn’t in the mood for all the leaping.

9780375708428What I did instead was zip ahead to the last section, ‘The Anthropology of Water’, which consists of various pieces, essays… to which I’ve been happily returning each morning for the past few days, champing at the bit to pick up where I left off in ‘Kinds of Water: an essay on the Road to Compostela’, wherein Carson and her travelling companion, identified only as My Cid, walk the Camino, musing on what it is to be a pilgrim, to thirst, to question, to live with faith, or not. To live among people. Or not.

“You come to understand travel because of conversations, not vice versa.”

It’s said, she tells us, that a traveller becomes addicted to the horizon. She tells us that she is a pilgrim, not a novelist, “and the only story I have to tell is the road itself.”  She compares this with telling a story through a character, the difference being that a character moves. “He changes according to the company he keeps…”

I’ve read other writing from the Camino. This is different. Less about the experience, more about the questions posed by the experience.

“… it is an endeavour as old as civilization to set out on a road that is supposed to take you to the very end of things… What do you find there?… Who would you be if you knew the answer?”

She’s writing about the Camino. Or is she? The layers are uncountable.

I was sad when the road ended. But then, it doesn’t really. That’s kind of the point.

So, I approached the fence again. I dipped back into that first section and I’m glad I did but thank god for google because I didn’t know Mimnermos was a Greek elegiac poet from 600 something BC and while I normally wouldn’t care, Carson makes me care.

And all the sections in between… The one that contains miniature essays on orchids and rain and Sylvia Plath. On walking backwards and Ovid. And the section that is a long poem, which seems impossible, and the one after that—poems on various kinds of towns.

I care.

Could it be that we come to understand because of caring, not vice versa?

After all, the writer’s job, the poet’s job, is not to clarify, but simply to make us care.

The copy I’m reading is from the library. This won’t do. Where once I thought I might not even read the whole book, it now seems I’ll be calling my bookseller and ordering my own Plainwater. To love and to huh?  my way through as the moods take me. But then this is the way of love and huh?…

Love always wins.

Plainwater is available on-line at Blue Heron Books. Support indies!


this is not a review: ‘toxin, toxout’, by bruce lourie and rick smith

My intention was to skim through this book (subtitled: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World) as I assumed there wouldn’t be tons of new information, i.e. we pretty much know that chemicals + bodies and/or environment = bad. What I was looking for was not confirmation, or more to grumble about, but some clear and realistic ideas as to what can be done about this noxious issue—not what the purveyors of chemical-laced products should do, but what WE can do. Us. The simple folk. The minions with wallets. The ones who say we care.

Turns out this is precisely what Toxin, Toxout  serves up… a do-able plan for the minions. Along with some eye-opening background as to how and why all that chemical ooze exists in the first place. (Bottom line: we are a species of sheep-like beings that too often chooses cheap and convenient and lots of it) Also clarification on things like the importance of ‘organic’, which is not just to put less crud into our own bodies, but to allow agriculture to work in a way that’s beneficial to a whole chain of events, including environment and economy.

Toxin-Toxout-canadian-cover-e1384688557263I especially liked the conversational tone of the book and that it’s not smothered in stats, nor is there any fear-mongering or the drama of doom and gloom. It’s simply well-researched (a bounty of footnotes and source material provided) and straight-forward in its message: yup, there’s a lot of bad stuff out there but we can make a huge difference by what we choose to buy. Of course corporations and government hope we’ll never figure this out, or believe it…

Best of all, Lourie and Smith remind us that it’s actually possible to improve the world. That WE are not necessarily at the mercy of THEM, nor do we have to wait for THEM to smarten themselves up. WE can begin today  to create change by the purchases we make. And the path to doing this is a simple one. Really, REALLY simple… 

So, no, I didn’t skim. I devoured every page in fact, and am happy to say the book’s info-factor is surpassed only by its offer of serious hope to a seriously growing problem.

Three thumbs up.

Here are some excerpts.

Photos are mine. (Wanted to find a mountain of cell phones but apparently they live in China where they’re sent by the boatload to pollute the air, land and water horribly as they’re broken down and re-shaped into toys and other novelties we don’t need and shipped back to us.)

Another image that’s missing is what’s happening in the oceans with all the plastic.


“I like to describe organic agriculture as the hundred-year diet. It’s a system of agriculture that perpetuates itself, that creates a healthy ecosystem that will in turn continue to support plants in the long term, so you’re not in this deathly cycle of creating short-term nutrients—which then can contribute to pest infestations that need to be counteracted by immediate and short-term chemical pesticides, which then kills the life in the soil, which then requires another synthetic input. Just like we need to give our bodies the right tools and conditions to do their detoxifying jobs, organic tries to enable and facilitate the natural predators and the natural nutrition and micro-flora and fauna that should be in the system.”


“A smartphone is replaced, on average, every 18 months, and by 2015 over a billion smartphones will have been sold world-wide. And they don’t just sell themselves: In 2012 Samsung and Apple spent over three-quarters of a billion dollars on advertising campaigns trying to convince us to buy new ones. How much did they spend dealing with the e-waste from the phones they encouraged people to toss out?”


“The big issue isn’t simply what kinds of stuff we should buy; it’s the fact that we need to buy way less stuff, period.”


“We need to be working on all fronts to stem wasteful production  and consumption. And consumers are part of the equation… the big issue isn’t simply what kinds of stuff we should buy; it’s the fact that we need to buy way less stuff, period. Furthermore, that stuff—whether it’s a car, a soft drink or a smartphone—needs to be regulated by governments, not by the companies who have no interest apart from endless growth in sales. These regulations need to cover what the products contain and how they are disposed of.”


“If there is one simple thing that every human can do to improve environmental conditions, it is to stop buying bottled water.”

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“The rules of the game we’re playing now are best defined by the Malcolm Forbes maxim: “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” We need a different game, with different rules—perhaps “Those who use the least stuff win.” And our economic and regulatory systems need to reinforce that motto with another one—such as this: The more you use, wasted, pollute and discard, the more you’ll lose financially.”