I didn’t win this new prize for emerging writers–I am far from an emerging writer–but I am glad thinking so caused someone to read and enjoy my latest poetry book Love Will Burst Into a Thousand Shapes and All Lit Up to report on it.
I didn’t win this new prize for emerging writers–I am far from an emerging writer–but I am glad thinking so caused someone to read and enjoy my latest poetry book Love Will Burst Into a Thousand Shapes and All Lit Up to report on it.
Will You Ossuary Me?
Jane Eaton Hamilton
She wanted to kiss me in bones. Death, much? Spiraling down 19 meters. She pulled the ends of my scarf and I moved closer because hers were Parisian lips, the top lip thin, the bottom lip full, and I felt her deeply inside where my nerves snapped and I was decomposible. There were tibias all around us in the damp light, and scapulas from the plague, phalanges and fibulas and metatarsals. Infant bones. People dead of polio. People collapsed of childbirth and famine. Of war. Cries and tears and screams. The bones of six million Parisians dug up from cemeteries to make room, shovels of bones, wagon-loads of bones pulled by sway-backed nags for a full two years—carted down into these old mine tunnels, then arranged. We stood in puddles. The air was heavy with the motes of people’s lives—more broken dreams, I guessed, than dreams come true. It was quiet, but the past echoed. Ghost-din. Someone had written, Pour moi, mort est un gain. Pour moi, pour moi, pour moi, she whispered, rumbling her voice. Exhumations and exhalations all around us, the breath of death, bone-stacks, bone-crosses, bone-chips in heaps, my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, maybe, resting in pieces. My lips were swollen and sore, cut and scabbed over from all that had already happened. Skulls placed in the shape of a heart, eye sockets staring, and behind those eye sockets more eye sockets. Shadows moved across us; her nipples hardened. She pressed me up against a white cross against a black tombstone. I will leave you, she said as she bit my throat, but not yet.
This terrific essay by Caroline Leavitt on Susan Henderson’s LitPark: The Sticky Subject of Success
“I wasn’t successful. I knew it. My friends were getting prizes and important reviews and bookstores so filled that people had to wait outside. When people asked me what I did, I said, “I’m a writer?” with a questioning lilt to my voice because I wasn’t so sure, since success seemed so scarce.
I roamed the bookstores and looked at books and I couldn’t figure out, why was this bestseller better than my book? Why did friends of mine get the things I yearned for—and get them so easily? Was I doing something wrong?” -Caroline Leavitt
At the wonderful Lit Hub, Emma Smith-Stevens writes about the shock of illness, and how losing physical capacity threw everything else in her life into question.
Should we publish at women-only presses? “…female literary magazines and collectives are organizations and communities that have been born out of a need, they are voices that deserve to be heard, a necessary force in an ongoing resistance, but also a symbol of how much more work has yet to be done for the literary world to ever solve its gender problem. These women are not only challenging the literary canon with all-female spaces; they’re rewriting it.”–Thea Hawlin
photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton
I always look at publishing a book as throwing it down a well. Maybe you will hear echoes, and maybe they will be strong enough to hurt your eardrums, or perhaps as faint as whispers. Maybe, eventually, you will hear a splash when that book hits hard (bellyflops?). But mostly you will just peer down a very dark hole and watch your book careening through the air before drowning. You will see this even with reasonably successful books; even those have their season, and attention moves on. The pages become waterlogged, and sink, and tear. The glue loosens. Things sinking can be very beautiful. Things disintegrating can be magical. Think of fabric waving in water, of seaweed, of things barely glimpsed under surfaces. Of underwater dance. Of the grace and flow that you’ve been given back now the project is done. All that beauty of the finished book–sinking out of sight. This is exactly what leaves you alive and full and tarnished and battered and happy and excited for what’s coming next: the pause, the making.
Here is a piece I once wrote about failing to write a novel and giving it another try:
A while back, the electrifying Lidia Yuknavitch talked to Anna March at Bustle. Two more recent of her books (The Small Backs of Children, The Book of Joan) weren’t published when this interview took place, but the article remains a wonderful piece to guide the working writer back to sanity, and I recommend it.
the new book
Over at Vulture,
The world opened for Matthew Klam, and his list of early awards and honours was daunting. He had it all except for a second book. As the years passed, he still didn’t have a second book. He wrote continually, he tossed continually, he taught instead for its anonymity.
I didn’t have an MFA program to weed out weaknesses. I learned slowly. Sometimes folks went mad for one story or essay, but when they wanted more, the more was always so different they didn’t like it. This is a problem with range and writing across genres (and letting my heart have its way).
I needed an imprimatur I didn’t have. A Menaker imprimatur, maybe. Once Ellen Seligman at M+S spent six months telling me yes, telling me no, telling me I don’t know, I go one way, I flop the other way, and I wonder what would have happened if she had said yes eventually, whether that profound novel about child rape in the world of wild mustangs I was then working on would have come to fruition. All these years later, I’m still curious about what would have broken out of me if by chance I had just been valued and nurtured, and really had to work to an editor’s expectations. I would have risen, I know, because I am like that, but in what way, to what end?
What literature did I not produce because I:
a) wasn’t quite good enough?
b) wasn’t repetitive enough?
c) there was discrimination (even inborne and unacknowledged) against certain categories of writers (disabled/queer/feminist)?
d) wasn’t from the US?
What would those stories and books have been?
I was low-income and a sole-support parent a lot of those years. And of course I asked the same questions Matthew Klam asked himself: What does this matter? Who needs another story? Another novel? To what purpose? To win a prize and still be unable to pay the bills? I certainly never cared about a postmortem reputation–that and $5 I’d get a plastic glass of latte at Starbucks to set on my gravestone.
I won the CBC contest a couple times. I published in the NY Times, the Sun and other strong periodicals (back then and again this year). But no successes ever built, no one ever tucked me under her mentor wing. I still write in my self-propelled bubble without much response. I certainly write now without any hopes at all for the marketplace–really, only to please myself.
I had my perfect form and lost it. I quit writing stories and nobody noticed. I quit writing stories and only a friable piece of my heart noticed. I struggle to write novels, but I am no novelist. I am no novelist.
Maybe Matthew Klam is. I look forward to reading Who Is Rich?
When I was sorting through my archives, I discovered two reviews of my 2003 short story collection Hunger, one from Event Magazine and one from The Fiddlehead. I thought folks might like to read them. I’d forgotten they existed, and I so loathed the cover the publisher gave that book that I immediately orphaned it. Don’t get me wrong. I am a sizable fan of the artist Egon Shiele, but I didn’t think the chosen image evinced hunger, and the book design was, frankly, pug ugly. I was stunned by the back cover, or lack of back cover, which wasn’t even designed. I know I could have checked the typical stylistic quirks out when the press asked me to publish with them, but I didn’t. At the time, I was on a Gulf Island, and there were none of that press’s books I could find in the library, and it was before the internet was really going. I didn’t see the mess of that book until the press had gone to print (probably on purpose … some presses respect their writers and some don’t) and when I got my author copies, a signature fell out of the first one I picked up, proving that the production values sucked. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. After that, I just–refused it. I always knew it contained great stories, since most of them had won pretty major awards, and it went on to be shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley, earning it a lovely quote from Emma Donoghue, but I hated its look, so I orphaned it.
Anyway, what a difference 14 years makes–and doesn’t make. I still loathe that cover and the production values (you’ll note the cover is not included in this blog post, and it doesn’t appear on Amazon either) but I now imagine I might like the book if I read it again, because in tearing apart litmags and anthologies to make tear sheets for the archives, I found these:
If Mandy Len Catron recommended my novel “Weekend” and Khloé Kardashian recommended Mandy’s “How To Fall In Love With Anyone,” does that mean I should figure out who Kholé Kardashian is? Or does that just mean you should read Mandy’s book?
This week How To Fall In Love With Anyone” has been released. Mandy is the author who set the NY Times’ Modern Love column on fire with her essay about “36 Questions” to make a couple fall in love with each other, a column viewed millions of times. And now there’s a whole book of her writing!
CBC wanted to know what revs Mandy’s romance engine, and “Weekend” made the cut, with a nod to its dealing with disability issues.
Hopefully Mandy will be here on the blog with a Q+A soon!
I got home from a trip, picked up my mail and found my contributor copies of the July 2017 issue of The Sun Magazine (along with the welcome cheque). A couple of weeks ago, I went to add The Sun to my list of places I’ve published, and it was already there. I was puzzled; I didn’t remember having already added it. But then I explored a little further, realized I’d published there a long time ago, and sought out the issue, the cover of which is above. I was bemused to find that the subject matter was quite similar to the recent essay since I haven’t written about my childhood in ages.
Here’s that original and second-person story, which was still on my desktop: Hearts
My piece this time around is called Skinning the Rabbit. I explored my relationship with my father through our collision about animal welfare, and through the bullying I experienced when I got alopecia totalis at six. I hope you like it. Tell me if you do, k? It’s not online, but you can find The Sun almost anywhere that carries literate magazines, even in Canada.
I am proud to have had essays in the NY Times and The Sun this year.
The Sun November 1993
1. Weekend by Jane Eaton Hamilton. Do you remember what it feels like to read a novel that has lesbian lives, lesbian bodies, lesbian minds thoughtfully and carefully rendered by a writer of extraordinary talent? If you feel like it has been a long time since you read a novel like that, pick up Jane Eaton Hamilton’s Weekend (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016). Examining two lesbian couples, their romances, their conflicts, and their lives, Weekend reminds me how lesbian writers render lesbian characters with extraordinary grace, humanity, and insight.
Jane Eaton Hamilton and Naiya Hamilton, June, 2017
I am fond of Salt Spring Island, where I used to live and raise my kiddos, and where my eldest and granchildren currently reside. I read at the beautiful Duthie Gallery on Saturday night from the Mother Tongue anthology The Summer Book. Mona Fertig, editor, had to kick me more than once to get me to put pen to paper, but I finally did for the piece I called “Bull Shark Summer.” Any reading my kids attend is a fond one for me, but this reading was my favourite of my life because Naiya, the two-year-old, saw me at the front and shouted, “Nana! Nana!” Oh-oh, I thought, imagining her parents carrying her out yowling because she wasn’t allowed. I scooped her up and sat her atop the podium and continued the reading apace, if distracted. The essay, after all, is in part about teaching her to swim. In the photo above, she is pointing at scored text I removed for timing’s sake, saying, “Nana, you did this!” Yes, child, I did scrawl all over printed text, just the way we always tell you not to. Later she asked what I had read, and I had to admit it had no pictures. At one point, she asked to be set down and opened my change holder so my change spilled out over the floor. I ignored it, but Naiya carefully picked it up, shouting, “Monies, Nana!” She slid it carefully back up onto the podium.
It was wonderful listening to the talented readers who came after me and I know the audience enjoyed themselves.
Here is Mother Tongue’s press release for the book:
THE SUMMER BOOK
A new collection of creative non-fiction
In this satisfying collection of new personal essays, humour and meditations on nature, 24 BC writers capture the joys, memories and spirit of summer. Dip in and relax in the warmth of The Summer Book, anytime of year. It’s perfect for backpack, bus, boat, beach or bed. A small positive treasure in this complex crazy century.
Authors: Luanne Armstrong, Kate Braid, Brian Brett, Anne Cameron, Trevor Carolan, Claudia Cornwall, Sarah de Leeuw, Daniela Elza, Carla Funk, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Eve Joseph, Des Kennedy, Theresa Kishkan, Chelene Knight, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Grant Lawrence, JJ Lee, Peter Levitt, Christine Lowther, Pearl Luke, Susan McCaslin, Briony Penn, DC Reid, Harold Rhenisch.
232 pages, includes drawings, linocuts, watercolours, etchings by Gary Sim, Briony Penn and Peter Haase
978-1-896949-61-1 | paperback | $24.95
Kai Cheng Thom, right, with Amber Dawn (ed. of A Place Called No Homeland).
Leah Horlick, host
Carellin Brooks standing in for Eva Crocker
Big congrats to the shortlisted authors for the 2017 Dayne Ogilvie Award: Ali Blythe, Eva Crocker and Kai Cheng Thom. Reading your books was an honour and a pleasure, and awarding this year’s prize to Kai Cheng Thom on behalf of prize founder Robin Pacific, the Writer’s Trust, and my co-jurors Elio Iannacci and Trish Salah, was a wonderful celebration of queer writing.
Here is the jury citation:
“Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is a delicious and fabulist refashioning of a trans memoir as fiction. It is a cacophonous coming-of-age story and a genre-breaking refusal of the idea that the only stories trans people have to tell are their autobiographies. Her poems in A Place Called No Homeland are jelly-tender, tough as knives. They ride the borderland into and through trauma, relationships, love, and power, and carry us out deepened and changed over to the other side. Her work is sheer joyful exuberance, creativity, and talent.”
Edie and Thea, a movie still
A lot of you know I was one of the litigants who sued Canada’s federal government in 2000 for the right to marry my queer, long-term partner. I’m not a big booster of marriage in general, given its roots in female ownership, and some of its current reflections of same, but I found it offensive that a group of people had been systematically excluded from a civic right available to the rest of the population. I worked with lawyers barb findlay and Kathleen Lahey toward our ultimate success June 8, 2003 and was fortunate to be sitting in the Supreme Court of Canada when Beverly McLaughlin’s court changed our constitution to reflect the new, inclusive law.
Until 2003, you didn’t have the right in Canada, if you were queer, to decide whether or not to marry. We’ve had the right to make up our own minds about marriage for 14 years less a week now.
Heterosexuals changed their minds about us, recognizing our humanity because they recognized the similarity of our vows. Hets spoke marriage and so we began to have a dialogue toward reconciliation and safety.
Why that matters, still, is that we can’t be entirely safe without allies. We can’t fight the battles ahead, which I fear may start grim and devolve, without having each other’s strength and courage to lean on. There are a lot of incidents mentioned in the news now where a straight person stopped an attack we couldn’t stop.
While recognizing that marriage is a flawed institution that evolves in contemporary but still flawed ways, I believe that, all in all, marriage has nevertheless been a great plus for my community. Yes, we got corporatized and gawd knows our Pride marches got taken over by big business and the various arms of the military. But we can stop participating in where that’s gone. We can make our own community Pride again, particularly in support of BLM. We can wrest Pride away from the forces which overtook it and say, again goddammit, This is ours.
People in the community still diss the litigants for ruining queer culture (many of the people who lobbed this charge at us then took advantage of equality to get married themselves). But I watched the magic of visibility unfold as I attended a rash of friends’ weddings, then witnessed for couples from Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, the US, New Zealand, the UK, France, countries in Africa and more.
One of the couples who availed themselves of Canada’s changing marriage laws was Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, a longterm couple from the US, memorialized in an eponymous movie. I wanted to mention them not because their love was long, or solemnized at its end by marriage, but actually because Thea, one of the two, was from her forties disabled, using various canes and then a wheelchair, and the movie was filmed entirely from this later vantage point, making it a study of love and disability, valuable for people with disabilities and the people who love/care for them.
People may know that I am in and out of wheelchairs, and utilize scooters and walkers. I have thought a lot about whether my disability is a burden (my wife left our marriage declaring that life with disabled me was “1/4 of a life”) and I have decided that no, it isn’t. That the part of me that believes it is is the shamed part that the able-bodied seek to disempower, who finds different to be lesser. I am not lesser. I am not less intelligent. I am not less kick-ass. I am not less talented and skilled as a writer.
I am just not always able to get to the podium, is all, because you able-bodied people insist on repeatedly making that a hard thing for we disabled people. Even today this happened again, for readers and audience in Toronto, though replacing the inaccessible venue only took two hours in the end. (But does the new choice have a safe enough ramp? “Nothing without us,” is part of CripCanLit’s pledge. Please invite us into the discussion before you choose your venues.) Read Nine Phrases Allies Can Say When Called Out Instead of Getting Defensive.
But not to get distracted. My point here is that the person who gave my ex-wife 1/4 of a marriage–if indeed that’s what I had–was not me, but in fact the woman who perceived it as such. Witness how Edie handled it instead.
The movie Edie and Thea shows how to love completely and endearingly while loving someone seriously disabled. And I admired it, and the two of them and the filmmakers, for giving all of us a template on how to do this.
photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2017
A friend and I spend the warm, sunny day on Crescent Beach. I once housesat a block from the beach so I could do a concentrated writing stint—a retreat for one. For months, shine or rain, every wintry morning I circled the town, trodding past tossing ocean headed for the mud flats with my binoculars, DSLR camera and my ubiquitous umbrella. Work was not going well. This riparian area beside the Nicomeki River, Mud Bay on Blackie Spit, was balm. Known for birdwatching because it’s on a migratory path called the Pacific Flyway, it’s also the only place nearby where Purple Martins nest. The swallows looped above while I strolled through demarcated paths beside the eelgrass, able to pull from my photography belt lenses of different focal lengths. I discovered seed pod decay was as beautiful through a macro as a blooming flower. I took photo after photo of rotting pylons, cormorants drying their wings atop. Later, when I became an art student at Emily Carr, I made a painting of one of the bleached white morning pylons. One day I walked late, and rounded the corner to town just as the sky lit up pure radiant orange from top to bottom, north to south; I shot the silhouettes of people as they stood watching. The photos were gaudy, like seventies’ paintings.
Today, I’m older, and for the same stroll I’ve brought a walker. I sit on our blanket, pulling my gear out to photograph great blue herons—I don’t count; are there ten? Fifteen?—fishing along the low tide banks, but I understand it would be chancy for me to hoist this heavy, long-lensed equipment while standing up. We eat our overheated picnic lunch while I feed a crow egg salad from my hand, hoping some nestlings will be the healthier for it. Kayakers paddle past. Behind us, a woman reads in a purple outdoor inflatable. We turn up our pants’ legs and make our way down to the water while mud oozes through our toes. The water pulls the sand from under our feet. It’s hard going indeed for my arthritic body, rife with pain the way uneven surfaces always are, but I love it—my body’s screams of objection at least have the courtesy of silence. A bay has formed a sand shoal and in the intermediate strip of water, as I slosh through it, I notice a creature leaping and flailing. I head for it, but I am slower than everyone, so have lagged behind when a father picks up a flounder to show his kids. I see the milky under-body, which looks like sole in the frying pan. I don’t know my flounders, but I enjoy pointing and saying, “Look there. A flounder is floundering.” It may be a gulf, summer, southern or winter flounder. It may be a sole or (just for the halibut), a halibut. It thrashes. It has two eyes on the top side of its body, jumbled close, which I later learn are ordinarily placed at birth then metamorphose to the top of the fish’s flat head. The child carries it across the spit to the deeper ocean on the other side, but it just lies there looking quite dead, exhausted from its ordeal, far too visible. It’s heron bait, if you ask me.
It’s low tide in my love life too. Epitonium sawinae seashells, dead mollusks picked over by crows, crusty seaweed. Brackish water, poor circulation. The water makes alligator patterns on the surface. My feet keep sinking. My hips keep hurting. My feet are in agony.
Sad, I think of that flounder all evening. I think how it needed a world, a circumstance, it was helpless to create. In the survival of the fittest game, it lost. It’s a bird eat fish world out there.
I am not strong, either, after multitudes of surgeries. I think of sanctuary, where to find it, what it means to the various creatures of the world. I’m lucky that for me, sometimes, sanctuary is as simple as the arms of a beloved wrapped tightly around me, the simplest of homes.
Mud Bay, Crescent Beach, Jane Eaton Hamilton, acrylic on loose canvas 2013