Monday, February 22, 2016

Review of Watermarks by Eric Greenway





Watermarks
by Laura Burkhart
Published by Wild Sage Press
Reviewed by Eric Greenway
ISBN 978-0-9881229-3-2


Watermarks, Laura Burkhart’s second book of poetry, will make you laugh. You can hear the poet’s glee in many of these poems—and you wonder how she maintains such fine control of language while giving herself over to all-out play.

The levity begins with the first poem, “Advice from Noah’s Wife”, who can “hardly breathe halfway through, let alone tell Noah he should have hired a female ark-tech who knows the ins-and-outs of cleaning.”

It’s fitting that a poet who achieves a high level of playfulness with language should include a poem about strategically placing the word “Envy” on a (somewhat altered) Scrabble board, then topping that move with an even better score—“well let’s just say/your fellow players will turn/a not-unpleasant shade of green/when you also use all seven/letters for the 50-point bonus.”

In “Writing the Old Frogs Home” the amphibious narrator admits that “Maybe this frog/hospital doesn’t even exist/outside our own lily-/livered minds. Maybe this/is really a frog-leg emporium/and that’s why there are so many/wheel chairs down by the pond.” And, from the same poem, have you heard the one about Mr. Weber, the tenth-grade chemistry teacher? We watch him “roll mercury around the palm/of his hand while the class recited/the periodic table boron, boron,/boron…”.

Of course, Watermarks is not all fun and games—and even at its funniest moments, we apprehend something darker under the surface. Mercury is lethal after all, and Noah’s wife is well-placed to make a comment or two about male privilege.

To start with, Watermarks is a subversive title for any paper-and-ink book. After all, a watermark is not there to be noticed—unless you have a specialist’s interest in the lineage of paper or the authenticity of postage stamps and banknotes. The title suggests that what’s most worthy of your attention is what is normally overlooked, something in a realm that is beyond the veil of text and the page.

Offering glimpses of the ineffable may be a poet’s stock-in-trade—but it’s not often achieved as breathtakingly as in some of these poems. Burkhart navigates the knife edge between technical mastery of language and the courage to surrender control, to give in to the “strange animal” that “steals my thoughts”.

The poet’s voice in “Anniversary” is spare, refuses to call attention to itself. Marking the year that has passed since an ex-husband’s accidental death, the poem’s opening lines (“Early morning gap between/birdsong quiet as death./I open red curtains.…”), direct our focus, not to the words of the poem, but to the silence that the words gesture towards. The uncurtained window is like the poem itself, almost transparent, an opening for the reality-beyond-the-poem.

In a similar vein, “Dream of the Dead” steers clear of poetic effects, employing language that is stripped-down and conversational: “My father is still dead./I’ve seldom thought of him/these last five years, and then, usually/with an arrogant kind of pity”. Later in the poem: “When he was dying he asked me: is this/all there is? You’re born, you live, you die?” The power of the poem flows from simple, unadorned details, closely observed—“…a shadow/silent in the hallway when I pass,/sitting with Reader’s Digest at the kitchen table….”

Beyond the geographies of  love and death and sexual politics, landscapes are woven throughout Watermarks, exotic and not-so-exotic —a Southeast Asian market, Regina in winter, a summer morning in Vermont, a textiles shop in Egypt.

But the landscape most present in these poems is the Big Island of Hawaii, the writer’s home. It’s a place of contradictions, temperate and fruitful, with mangoes “…poised/On the branch like a word of wisdom.” But it’s also an island with a long-active volcano, where the earth beneath your feet may prove anything but firm. “Where will you be when the earth trembles/like an enraged lover?” is the question posed by “In Both Languages”. “How will you translate into meaning/what you grab to take along?” Where the land may prove volatile, “Sound of Water” suggests that it is better to learn to trust the ocean that “holds me drop/by drop when I plunge/off rocks. I can no/longer see the spray—/beneath the waves is silence.”

The language of Watermarks is finely-crafted—intelligent, witty, impeccably cadenced, a sensual pleasure to read aloud. But the genius of this exceptional collection is that it invites us beneath the surface, to a place beyond language, to silence and mystery.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Now available: Watermarks, second edition

The limited edition hand-bound first run has sold out. A second edition is now available! For information contact me or Wild Sage Press.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Inspiration, Imagination, Intuition Writing Workshop




This seven-week email workshop will be of interest to anyone who wants to explore the creative process through writing. It will benefit both beginning and established writers in all genres from fiction and poetry to technical writing to memoir. Participants will: 
*      make the space to write – physical, mental, emotional
*      practice easy and effective writing guidelines to move through creative blocks
*      hush those internal nay-saying voices that result in partly-finished – or never started – writing projects
*      enjoy writing opportunities that invite the muse to play
*      bring mindful awareness to the creative process

How the workshop will work:

*      Each week the facilitator will email a short discussion of an aspect of the writing/creative process, along with an opportunity to practice through specific writing exercises.
*      If they choose to, participants will email back their responses: short excerpts from what they have written in response to the assignments; and/or insights that arose while writing.
*      With participants’ permission, a selection of these responses will be sent anonymously as encouragement to all workshop participants.

The seven-week workshop will begin April 3, 2012. Cost is $95.00. Payment by check or Paypal. Registration deadline: April 1.

What previous participants have said:

I enjoyed every session immensely and came away knowing that I can just sit down and write on any subject, anytime I want, for any reason, which is liberating. – DB

I have spent many more hours reading and writing and rewriting in the past weeks than I had in the previous months.  That alone is extremely satisfying.  My soul is happy!  The muse knows my name again! – JK

…clear, imaginative and supportive – KM  

It was fun to open an e-mail and see what was in store for me that week. This is a wonderful and gentle way to start coming out as a writer – JZ

About the facilitator: Laura Burkhart is an award-winning poet and fiction writer who has two books of poetry to her credit: Venus Rising (Hagios Press), and Watermarks (Wild Sage Press). She has also published fiction, non-fiction, and has had a one-act play performed by Regina’s Globe Theatre. Her background includes psychology, adult education, and community development. She has offered creativity workshops in Canada and the US over the past two decades. Laura’s writing workshops cultivate imagination, invite inspiration and nurture intuition within a safe and supportive setting.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Inspiration, Imagination, Intuition: Email Writing Workshop



This seven-week email workshop will be of interest to anyone who wants to explore the creative process through writing. It will benefit both beginning and established writers in all genres from fiction and poetry to technical writing and memoir. Participants will: 

  •  make the space to write – physical, mental, emotional  
  • practice easy and effective writing guidelines to move through creative blocks     
  • hush those internal nay-saying voices that lead to abandoned writing projects
  • enjoy writing opportunities that invite the muse to play
  • bring mindful awareness to the creative process

How the workshop will work:

-      Each week the facilitator will email a short discussion of an aspect of the writing/creative  process, along with an opportunity to practice through a specific writing exercise.
-      If they choose to, participants will email back their responses: short excerpts from what they have written in response to the assignment; and/or insights that arose from completing the assignment.
-      With participants’ permission, a selection of these responses will be sent anonymously as encouragement to all workshop participants.

The seven-week workshop will begin January 8. Cost is $85.00. Payment by check, cheque or Paypal. Registration deadline: January 4. 

I will donate 30% of tuition to the Zen Monastery Peace Center

What previous participants in the workshop have said:

clear, imaginative and supportive
- KM, British Columbia 

It was fun to open an e-mail and see what was in store for me that week. This is a wonderful and gentle way to start coming out as a writer.
JZ, Alberta

Your questions for us regarding the ideal writing space had me traveling ...emotionally....physically...historically...habitually...returning to my own home place.
CW, Saskatchewan

To register, contact: laura@lauraburkhart.com 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pages and Patches: Review of Watermarks

Pages and Patches: Watermarks - Laura Burkhart:
Watermarks Author: Laura Burkhart
Publisher: Wild Sage Press Web: http://www.wildsagepress.biz/books/watermarks

You might suppose creative licence means you can do whatever you like as an artist, but much like any licence, say for driving, hunting, or practicing medicine, there are rules to follow. Creative licence isn’t a hall pass into anarchy – artists have an obligation to their craft to make it worth our attention and time. Some art might teach, while other art might simply teach the lesson of beauty.
                Laura Burkhart’s Watermarks is a collection of Carpe Diem poetry, the purpose of which is to teach us to seize the day, and by extension, our lives. To find fulfilling personal experiences, Burkhart’s poems seem to say, is a pursuit of transcendence above our egos. After all, the final piece, a sonnet titled “Time”, ends with the phrase, “Time is of the essence. Who said that?” Burkhart’s question perhaps points to our desire to find answers at the risk of missing the point.
                We are finite; one day even our legacies will be watermarks on stone. Why not leave a beautiful mark?
                I don’t mean to turn this review into an epistemology discussion – because truly, Burkheart’s Watermarks is a tour of gaping wonder. While asking the big questions about life, her command of sound alone lifts us to that higher plane of the sublime. Note the lilting line in “Household Effects”:
                                An accessory to beautify, frou-frou embellishment, gimcrack knickknack, maybe one
                             they chose together on a rare outing to the country on one Sunday afternoon touring
                                antique shops.
The speaker in this poem discusses her curiosity regarding a news story about a woman who murders her husband with a “household ornament.” The poem is both an absurd seize-the-day story and, simply, is a lot of fun to read.
                Many of Burkhart’s works are playful, such as the opening “Advice from Noah’s Wife”, in which the prophet’s marital partner questions the logistics of the biblical journey and her husband, who needs looking after just as much as the animals. Gender is a prominent theme of Watermarks, as many of the female voices are empathizing tourists journeying through Hawaii, the Middle East, and Asia. Their surroundings are mystical, and the people in them are curiosities, sometimes tragically so.
                The transition from ecstasy to tragedy is stark in Watermarks. “Feed Me”, an example of ecstasy, is a call to worldly delights:
                                Start with that strawberry, the crimson one,
                                plump drops of moisture on its skin. Then move on
                                to praise a poet, Rumi say, or sing a psalm
                                of David to Bathsheba. Next on the menu
                                a belly laugh so deep and pure it attaches
                                to my wit and holds me tight
                                as you do in the night.
Several poems later, we are brought to “Burdened As We Are”. Here, “Headstones grow from our spines.” The transition from “Feed Me,” where the body is built for pleasure becomes a thing that will ultimately pass. Burkhart teaches us to pass on to the next life, without passing up this one.

Devin Pacholik is a book reviewer with Global News Regina, an Editor with Fine Lifestyles, Business Regina, and Business Saskatoon magazines, a humourist, and author.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hawaiian Launch a Success!

The room  was filled to overflowing. Members of the
Inkwells read from their work, and selected poems
from Watermarks made their Hawaiian debuts.



Food, fun, and visiting until the library closed.Lauren Lobowocki, talented local caterer, augmented the food and mulled cider with excerpts from the poems. Yes, the fruit on the platter is all locally-grown.

More photos to follow (photo of me by Elena Graham; food photos by me). I'm also figuring out how to upload an audio file (MP3) of one of the poems.

Inkwell readers were Michael Foley, Julia Rooney and Lynn Mallard - watch for more from them!
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Friday, November 23, 2012

Interview with Alice Munro

by Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of the New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/11/on-dear-life-an-interview-with-alice-munro.html

My favorite quote: "I have never kept diaries. I just remember a lot and am more self-centered than most people."