Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Talking Poetics #3 : Amanda Earl

From One Invisible Woman to Another 

I write mostly long poems and poem series. It’s not that I set out to write long poems, it’s just that the work seems unfinished to me. In some cases, an image remains sustained in my mind or I feel a persistence…an urge to continue to explore some aspect of the poem until it works itself out. The impetus for each new poem is rarely the same, but several have been inspired by intelligent women figures from history who have been forgotten. I feel a sense of injustice to see how often women have been/are being erased. My own role in bringing attention to their stories is small, also pretty much non-existent from one invisible woman to another, but I feel it creates a continuity and has at times started a conversation about these and other forgotten women. 

Eleanor, my first long poem published by above/ground press in 2007, was inspired by an Ottawa Citizen article about Eleanor of Aquitaine, a twelfth-century monarch of England and France, rode in the Crusades from France to Persia. Her British husband, King Henry, locked her in the tower. Knights loved her and she is credited with their adoption of courtly love.

In my chapbook, I brought Eleanor to 21st Century Ottawa. I read the newspaper article in the nineties and it percolated for a long time. In 2000, I wrote a song entitled “Eleanor of Aquitatine” and eventually that song ended up being a poem. In my early online chatting days in 2000, I used the name “Eleanor Incognito” to engage with potential lovers. Sometimes it takes years before an inspiration becomes a work.

In the nineties, I watched a CBC documentary series about the Crazy Years, the Roaring Twenties in both the US and Europe. There was a show devoted to Alice Ernestine Prin or Kiki. I was captivated by this bawdy and creative free spirit and the Montparnasse artistic world she not only lived in, but also greatly influenced. My book, Kiki, was published by Chaudiere Books in 2014, more than a decade after I’d first heard about her.

Once upon a time, I got off a bus on Queen and Bank in Ottawa and noticed a woman lugging a buggy full of stuff across the street. She was likely one of the many homeless people of Ottawa. I thought about all the homeless women in Ottawa and the danger and discomfort having no shelter would be. I found myself looking up statistics for homelessness in Ottawa. For many years through Bywords, we held a reading to fundraise for the Cornerstone Women’s Shelter.

The image of this woman stuck with me as did a name: Ursula. At some point, maybe a few weeks later, I looked up the name Ursula and found out about Saint Ursula, the patron saint of schoolgirls who was, according to Catholic lore, travelling by boat to meet her Pagan groom when she was beheaded along with 11,000 virgins. I wondered about the Ursula I’d seen and imagined her as having delusions of being the saint. This was after my own health crisis in 2009 when I went through ICU psychosis on my death bed in ICU and experienced an onslaught of nightmarish delusions. The feeling of not knowing the difference between reality and these delusions made me particularly sympathetic to those who experience delusions on a daily basis.

I wrote a manuscript of several different parts entitled “The Commonplace Book of Saint Ursula,” imagining Ursula living in abandoned cabins in the woods when she could find them, and collecting quotes, flowers, detritus, writing in a journal in between wanders. I self-published the first section, Ursula via AngelHousePress in a limited edition of twenty-six copies. Another section, Book of Miracles, was published as a chapbook with Dusie Press, and a third, Book of Saints, was published by above/ground press. The other sections have yet to be published.

Another mostly unpublished manuscript with women as a theme is “All the Catharines,” which I wrote in 2010 and revisit to revise on occasion. It’s still mostly not ready, but a few pieces have been published in the anthology Release Any Words Stuck Inside of You (Applebeard Editions, 2018) and a few other places. This manuscript started because of my grapheme synaesthesia where numbers, days of the week, months of the year, pain and names evoke colour for me. Catharine evokes emerald green. I wrote one poem about her and she insisted on my continuing to write of her. I infused the manuscript with various greens: limes, ferns, tarnished pennies. She lives in Apartment 5b because 5 and b are both green for me. I ended up including various Catherines in history from Catherine the Great to Catherine of Aragon to Catherine Blake, wife of William, but mine was Catharine with an a. Catharine became a very defined character with specific personality traits. She was angry that anyone would try to write about her. I documented her moods and proclivities. 

Queen Christina, published by Ghost City Press in 2016 as an online chapbook, was inspired by the queen of Sweden, a well learned person who often dressed as a man and fled from the palace on horseback. 

I Owe St. Hildegarde the Light, a chapbook published by unarmed of Minnesota in 2016,  was inspired by the music of Hildegard von Bingen. I became fascinated by her life, her brilliance, her visions and creativity. 

Lady Lazarus Redux (above/ground press, 2018) was a deliberate attempt to engage with the writing of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Gwendolyn MacEwen because all three women’s poetry has haunted me for a long time. I came up with a method of cutting up words from their work and drawing them, like tarot cards, to create my own poetry. The work deals with issues of ageing, menopause, and invisibility.

Increasingly, I write to connect with kindred misfits, particularly women and gender nonconformers. I have begun a new series called “The Seven Fables of Desire,” inspired by the writing of Nathanaël, who has been working in the hybrid form of l’entregenre. I have gotten my hands on as much of Nathanaël’s writing as I can and intend to read and reread it. This project has started with nothing more than the idea of exploring desire, the concept of the fable and the work of a writer I admire. We’ll see where it goes.

Amanda Earl is a long-poem-maker, visual poet, fiction writer, editor, publisher and doodler who wanders incognito through the streets of Ottawa. She’s the managing editor of and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. Her chapbook, Aftermath or Scenes of a Woman Convalescing is forthcoming from above/ground press. Visit or connect with Amanda on Twitter @KikiFolle.

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