The title of this week’s post is a pair of lines from Jennifer Bowering Delisle’s fantastic new book, “Deriving.”. Published by the University of Alberta Press, “Deriving” is Delisle’s second book of poetry. Her first book, “The Bosun Chair,” which is described as a lyric memoir, is also fantastic and well worth your attention.
“Deriving” contains five sections of various lengths with poems of varying lengths on ostensibly varying broad subjects. However, there are a number of themes, recurring images, sonic similarities and other resonances that reward a slow and careful reading and re-reading. This is a very carefully crafted and meticulously edited volume. While you may be tempted to fly through them, I encourage you to read them slowly, and aloud, like all poetry 😉
Of the 5 sections, it is the short middle section of just 5 poems called “Shoebox Photos” that is really driving my creativity this week. Of course writing poems based on photographs or paintings is a trope nearly as old as poetry itself. There are a few things here that stand out for me though. First is the title of the section. The image of photos kept in a shoebox is very tactile both physically and emotionally.
Can you hear the lid coming off, making that sound as you put it on the table or linoleum beside you? Can you smell the paper? The time that these curving memories have steeped in? The older ones square and black and white, crinkle-cut edges. The newer ones glossy but bending under the lamination as it dries out. The weight of paper in your hands. The care with which you need to pull another handful out of the box. The sharp poke of a corner slipping under a fingernail. Do you remember when shoeboxes themselves were things we kept?
There is also the way the poems are laid out: short, italicized descriptions, labels really, of each photo. Then two voices, in short stanzas, justified left and right describing, supporting each other, correcting each other, expanding, contracting, breathing, and not.
There are some elegant lines in here “Her face is grey and her dress / may or may not be grey.” and “Is that a moose pulling a tractor?,” and of course the title of this post.
Yes, this is well-done, inspiring and it is giving me ideas for my own writing. I admire this book. So your call to action this week is to, d’uh, buy this book: https://www.uap.ualberta.ca/titles/991-9781772125474-deriving
But also, think about the physical photos you have. Are they in albums? envelopes? Shoeboxes? What does a container say about its contents? What do we keep contained inside?