Back Through the Looking-Glass
The flaws in Mary di Michele's review of White Stone: The Alice Poems by Stephanie Bolster (Feb. 1999) are self-evident to any intelligent reader. Mary di Michele writes "Bolster is `age nine' when she encounters a man twice her age... If this is meant to suggest the poet was sexually abused then, it seems coyly presented." The "man" to whom Mary di Michele refers is actually the image of the celebrity Shaun Cassidy. It is impossible to be sexually abused by the picture of a media star worn on a t-shirt. Mary di Michele in her reading of the poem has turned Bolster's "he" into a predatory man. The actual poem reads:
Age nine, I crawl
through a yellow rabbit hole
at the Enchanted Forest theme park in Oregon.
I am wearing my Shaun Cassidy t-shirt.
He is twice my age. I am not a child.
Before sleep I dream of growing
older, kissing him.
I am one of Charlie's Angels,
my hair feathered, black.
Particularly upsetting is the abuse assumption Mary di Michele makes based on her own misreading of the text. She should be more cautious about placing false labels on a poet's, a person's life. Sexual abuse is horrific and a broad-spectrum societal concern but Mary di Michele should allow those who have been fortunate enough to have escaped harm remain unharmed. There are many authors writing in brilliant, insightful and courageous ways about their own abuse. The shroud of abuse does not and should not hang over every writer's life. Reviews should be written about the writing and should not incorrectly analyze the poet's life.
There are 42 poems listed in the table of contents to White Stone. Mary di Michele writes 11 paragraphs and 2 of these she devotes to "Portrait of Alice as Missing Person". Mary di Michele writes, "Alice stands in for every victim of the violent pedophile. This casts a very lurid light on Dodgson. Do you suppose this is justified?" I question whether Mary di Michele's interpretations are justified. She works hard at pulling thematic threads from some of these poems based on her own reading and misreading of the book.
For more accurate insight and reflections I suggest readers turn to "Down the Rabbit Hole", Sue Sinclair's review of White Stone in Fiddlehead (Winter 1998).
Ketch Harbour, N. S.
In a book that examines the lives of the author, Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll, and the "character", Alice/Liddell, it seems not fair game to accuse the reviewer of reviewing the author. Bolster uses personal, indeed private connections, her family tree, the "recurrence of Alice" there. She pushes what often seem very thin lines of correspondence. This puzzled me and I looked to the images to speak perhaps what couldn't be spoken. The reader may have private knowledge of Ms. Bolster and so judge my interpretation wrong. But it is a thoughtful attempt, one that probes beyond mere surfaces in the text, as any thinking reader does.
Clearly I am not reading 42-odd poems as individual works without reference to each other. I am trying to read the collection as a book; moreover, it presents itself as a book. The flaw in my review is based on the fact that I don't know who Shaun Cassidy is and that I've never seen an episode of Charlie's Angels. But even with a command of such allusions, a contextual reading can reveal the ambiguity of this passage. The quoted section in "The Poet As Nine Portraits of Alice" follows stanzas like: "He doesn't know/that at this moment I'm not coy/ or afraid enough to be Alice." And other parts of this poem include the humiliation of "her dress all wet" in school, the dream of the basement where "On the walls hang blue-eyed dolls." In "iv" of the cited poem, the nine-year-old poet has entered a rabbit hole in a park; yes she's wearing a Shaun Cassidy t-shirt, but it's not clear to me, not knowing S.C. or his age, that the "he" in the next line also refers to him. This phrase is followed by "I am not a child." Two lines later, as a Charlie's angel, she's "kissing him". Is this S.C. again? Was S.C. on that show? Or is this another man?
I was looking for something deeper than what Bolster offers on the surface to account for what seems to me more than identification, to account for this obsession with Alice. I'm sure that mine is only one of many possible readings of this book, but it is a sincere one. Poetry is much more than the "story" it tells; its power, its resonance is in the truth told in the way Emily Dickinson called it, "slant".
Mary di Michele
I read with great interest Kevin O'Keeffe's review of hockey books, "Stewards of the Ice", in the latest issue (March 1999). As someone who teaches a course on hockey and Canadian popular culture, I'm always delighted to see a representation of the growing hockey-lit genre grace the pages of Books in Canada.
While the selection of the books reviewed covered a wide variety of topics, from the small towns dedicated to the sport to the men in stripes, probably the best hockey book of this season-and the best hockey book I've read since Gross Misconduct-was unfortunately missed. I am referring to Pete McCormack's delightful and inspiring novel, Understanding Ken. What makes this omission even more disturbing is that, like the reviewer, McCormack is a Vancouver writer.
If, by some chance, this book was covered in another issue that I somehow missed, you have my humblest apologies; if not, let me know for I would be happy to remedy this situation.
The editor takes full responsibility for the oversight....
AND TO REMEDY THE OMISSION:
Pete McCormack's latest novel, Understanding Ken (Douglas & McIntyre, 242 pages, $18.95 paper) is a delightful story about a life in hockey in Trail, B.C., seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy consumed by the sport. While it would be customary to tell you the boy's name, I can't; the only names used in the novel belong to hockey players. The boy's father is "Dad" or "Doc", his mother is "Mom", his coach is "Coach", his best friend is "my Negro friend", and so on. It is a little frustrating at first, but then you realize that this is the exclamation point for the importance of hockey in this boy's life.
Trail-the single-industry town most famous for the legendary Trail Smoke Eaters, the last Canadian team to win a world championship-is the perfect backdrop. This is not a Cinderella story, not even close. Instead, it chronicles the boy's life, his broken home, his relationship with his certifiable "Dad" (interestingly enough, a doctor), his mother, his teammates, his friends, and, most importantly, his coach. All of this revolves around the boy's disbelief that the best goalie in the world, Ken Dryden (the Ken in the title), could call it quits to go back to law school-to a boy whose life is hockey, this is an unconscionable act!
Last week, when I received my copy of the March edition of Books in Canada, I was delighted to read the review article, "Hidden Border Crossings", by Norman Ravvin, not because it included a review of the re-issue of Mary A. Shadd's A Plea for Emigration, but because it, in itself, was an interesting article.
South Surrey, B.C