Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Betsy Struthers and Ronnie R. Brown launch books Oct. 15

Book launch by Black Moss poets Betsy Struthers and Ronnie R. Brown
2 - 4 p.m., Saturday, October 15, National Library, 395 Wellington, Ottawa
(Brown and Struthers will also read from their new books at:
Sasquatch, Royal Oak, 161 Laurier E., 2 p.m., November 13, and at
Sunnyside Library, 1049 Bank Street, 7 p.m., December 15.)

Most of Ottawa's poetry audience is familiar with Ronnie R. Brown, who has been practising her characteristic poetic exhibitionism in Ottawa for over twenty years now. Listeners who have liked her performances will want to check out her new book States of Matter.

Ronnie Brown never flinches from the seamier or the messier side of everyday life, and neither does Peterborough poet Betsy Struthers, who is briefly living in Ottawa this fall.

Struthers’s first book, Censored Letters, (1984) documents an ancestral archetype: the tentative long-distance love affair of two people separated by World War I, conducted through letters subject to the military censor’s eye. Since then (with three mystery novels on the side), Struthers has produced a series of frank, personal books in the post-confessional mode, including her previous books from Windsor's Black Moss Press, Driven (2000) and Still (2003), winner of the Pat Lowther Award last year. Struthers brings her readers revelations of the poetry to be found in the minutiae of daily life, the lived details of love, family, home, as well as the ominous threats that lie, most of the time, just beneath the surface of existence.

Homes, gardens, nature at its most fertile, the lineaments of gratified desire: these are familiar scenes in the poems of Betsy Struthers. If I’m using the word correctly, the post-confessional poet mines these rich seams, less concerned with the narrative of trauma and recovery than with epiphanies that affirm our common humanity, our shared passions and fears.

Her new book, In Her Fifties, offers a new selection of poems from the middle of a domestic life. The themes will resonate for many readers: aging, menopause, grief for lost parents, care for aging ones, worries about children’s safety, the consolations of friendship, the courage at the heart of a lifelong marriage. The new poems are preceded, though, by a substantial collection of prose vignettes, recollections of childhood, called In the 50s. Though written in lapidary prose, these two and three page stories read less like prose poems than novella chapters. Together, they make up a fictionalized memoir of a lost age, recapturing the sensations, the fears and confusions of childhood with the feel of direct memory, though mixed, as the author acknowledges with an equal part "fabulation."

In the poem "The Jungles of Borneo: Just So" Struthers reflects on her approach to writing and on the importance of storytelling in the shaping of human communities.

"We all want a story, to be
told, to be part of, to be taken into, shared
language bringing us together."

For Betsy Struthers, as for Ronnie R. Brown, poetry is direct speech, fully engaged with everything life places in the way. Their accessible poems lead us readers to reflect more deeply on the familiar surrounding of our own lives. Not bad for a Saturday afternoon outing. And you can catch the launch at the National Library on the way to or from the Small Press Book Fair.

- Colin Morton

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