The Ottawa Citizen from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on March 13, 1993 · 17
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The Ottawa Citizen from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada · 17

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Issue Date:
Saturday, March 13, 1993
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The Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, March 13, 1993 B6 POETS' CORNER In a tribute to four Ottawa poets who won . prizes in national poetry contests, the Citizen is printing excerpts from their winning entries. Launching the weekly series, these two poems by Ottawa's Diana Breb-ner are from Eleven Paintings by Mary Pratt, which this year won first prize in CBC's national literary competition. Silver Fish on Crimson Foil Uiis is tlie river of blood, tlie salmon run; so rutliless, in tlieir dark bed, tlie dusk years bring to bear, upon anything, or all things tliat we care to call dreams. You want to believe it will be easy, clear & fluid; life looks you straight in the eye and you flourish. You want to believe: if you swim like crazy everytliing turns out riglit at tlie end, Noio, I ask myself: what bloody river is this? I ., set piy mouth (that wants to gape) stubbornly shut. I carry on, one silver creature on the lie-; raldic field, companion to lions and unicorns, worthy ; of shields, I catry on; and tlie blue heavens will move, reflected in all, and tlie silver fishflash of my joy will shout, and then every good thing will be words in my mouth. Salmon Between Two Sinks Between heaven mid eaitli, this gasping space I leap: free, of your hands, free, even of death's clasping. You never could hold me and now you know: tlie silver, salmon feeling slipping between old times, and new. Now, our life has been gutted. A knife removes every false move, every wish for brigltt things easily come by. O, I sink, deeper in history, and into all the doctrines promising: ascent, eternity, and tlie flashing joy of tlie obvious pleasures. Deep in a pool of stilly liglit everything comes back. Your lumds, cold, and tlie words 1 mouth, mute as a fish, all speckled in its story. Come to me. Be with me. If I leap one last time, let it be, into your open arms, all gory, with birth and love, such messy, bloody glory. PAPERBACKS Storming Babylon: Preston Manning and the Rise of the Reform Party, by Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid; Key Porter; $16.95: Reform Party's Preston Manning is portrayed as a decent, dedicated, modest and honest man. Also explained is Manning's intense belief in a "New Canada" which a sizable majority of Canadians is unlikely to want. James McDonell My Lady Notorious, by Jo Beverley; Avon; $5.50: Ottawa's Jo Beverley comes honestly by the praise bestowed on her lively characters and narrative gift. My Lady Notorious follows eight Regencies and begins a series of Georgian-period romances. Beverley's feminist sensibility proves compatible with her version of the romance form. The genre is changing with the times, as this delicious 18th-century' melodrama demonstrates. Patricia Morley Circles of Power, by James Fleming; Doubleday; $17.50: Financial Times writer James Fleming uses profiles and surveys to show Canada's social, business and political elites. His book is marred by journalistic cliche but still usefully complements John Porter's Vertical Mosaic and Peter C. Newman's Canadian Establishment. Bill Twatio A Serious Widow, by Constance Beresford-Howe; McClelland and Stewart; $12.95: The author seems stuck in the 1950s, in a Toronto where the immigrants are white and the Anglicans are faithful. But she throws us a curve in Rowena, a recer.t widow of 50 who discovers life can be merry without her dreary Edwia Patricia Whitney Rfleinickeini Famed essayist's memoirs reveal My Life as Author and Editor, by H. L. Mencken; edited by Jonathan Yardley; KnopfRandom House; 500 pages; $37.50 By Kenneth Bagnell it we've generally believed. should be judged on its own merit. The beliefs of the artist the painter, the composer, the performer are irrelevant. The work is everything. But a writer is also an artist whether she is a novelist or he is an essayist. Are his or her inner values, deeper beliefs, irrelevant when weighing the merit of the work? Some would say yes. But they'd be wrong. And this book by the late essayist II. L. Mencken is an indication as to why. Mencken was an enormously famous American essayist in the early years of this century until the late '40s. He was also an editor of the influential literary magazines Mercury and Smart Set, which carried the early work of such acclaimed writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Theodore Dreiser. He was also, as this long-awaited publication of his memoir makes clear, an anti-Semite. We suspected it. Now we know. In the fall of 1942, Mencken began writing his autobiography, continuing on and off until the fall of 1948 when a stroke felled him. The unfinished manuscript was sealed and sent to a library with strict provision that it not be opened until 35 years after his death, which took place in 1956. The boxes were opened in 1991, and a man named Jonathan Yardley, a respected book critic with the Washington Post, began the heay work of editing the excessively long manuscript 1,025 pages of typing and appendices running for 717 pages. The abridged outcome begins with Mencken's first publication in 1896 and concludes with thoughts on the Smart Set (a name he hated) in tlie 1920s. The magazine Smart Set carried pieces by writers of coming reputation throughout the world. The conventional opinion on Mencken's anti-Jewish attitude has been that, unfortunate though it was, it was simply a universal attitude of his time and hence must be placed in historical context. This, of course, results in its being radically diminished and, some hope, dismissed. This defence doesn't wash. It is offered by those who, having admired Mencken so enormously, are extremely proprietary toward his place in history. They are unwilling to acknowledge what he was: a diehard racist. Moreover, his anti-Semitism may well have helped to shape his ill-starred support of the evil nationalism that rose in Germany in the first half of this century. After all, this is a man who could actually say that while he admired Jews, they were at the same time "the most unpleasant race ever heard of." Foot-in-mouth A Political Babble: The 1 ,000 Dumbest Things Ever Said by Politicians, by David Olive; John Wiley and Sons; 239 pages; $18.95 By Victor Emerson uick! What is the dumbest thing you ever heard a politician say? The problem in answering this ques mm u ja lion is noi unaing one ciuiiid statement, out select ing tne one mat is most duniD. gold mine of quotations organized in 12 ters, will surely help. If you feel that dumbness is more related to tlie speaker than the topic, the index of speakers is the place to look. Only one chapter is devoted to a single person: former U.S. vice-president Dan Quayle. Collected by David Olive, editor of the Globe and Mail's Report on Business magazine, Political Babble is the follow-up to his previous book on business jargon. Given this pedigree, the reader is entitled to expect more than a quick and dirty collation of stupid quotations presented in isolation, and Olive has carefully provided a context for most entries. Tlie result is a Trojan horse of history lessons masquerading as a vehicle for belly laughs. Some of the entries are truly side-splittingly funny, but many more are simply amusing in the light of subsequent events. Albert Gore, Quayle's successor as vice-president, has an entry in each of these catego , D ries. As the 24th speaker at a fund raiser in 1988, he said. "I feel a little like Zsa Zsa Gabor's fifth husband. I know what I'm supposed to do but I'm not sure how to make it interesting." The same year, he responded to a university student's comment that Gore would make a good vice presi dent by saying, "That was the ultimate heckle." The ugly side of political comments largely appears in the chapter entitled Race Relations. Ranging from George Bush's description of his Mexican-American grandchildren as "The little brown ones," to a Virginia senator who said (in 1978) "The only reason we need ZIP codes is because niggers can't read," these comments typically reflect more yonma : . J .? '.J ' i - ft .- ... i k-i t -i -' -i 1 ; " - ' " ' ' t s t , I ; . ' . - - , . , ; . ' ; ; My margin notes tell me that there are almost 20 racist slurs in the book, ranging from the enigmatic to the disgraceful. How many more were removed? No one ever expected to find a fine human being in II. L. Mencken he has use for the hateful word "nigger" and boasts that he once helped bribe a judge, even here revealing his reservoir of racism by saying he figured the bought judge was an Italian. We now see Mencken in fresh and frank perspective. It's most instructive. More interesting, if less relevant, are his pugnacious references to so many of the writers he met and respected or given his gift for facile and pretentious disdain dismissed. On Fitzgerald, whose future he correctly predicted: "He was drunk four-fifths of the time and Zelda was but little more sober." On Somerset Maugham: "He was re good for belly on the mentality of the speaker than the target of the abuse. The content of the book is largely North American, although Churchill and recent French prime minister Edith Cresson appear frequently, and former British prime minister David Lloyd George has a classic entry in the Invective and Ridicule chapter: "When they circumcised Herbert Samuel they threw away the wrong bit." Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Dan Quayle seem to be over-represented, priming the reader's ear for potential new entries from the recent U.S. campaigns. Some of Richard Nixon's classic statements also appear here. JFK and Margaret Thatcher have several entries, as does New York Political babble, a topic - related chap The 1.000 Dumbest.! hin-s Ever Said l Politicians - t- ;s A V I D OLIVE I'llnllnh-'l In t'xtm Wilt , , If I'd been in Bryce (Mackasey)'s position I'd have been right in there with my nose in the public trough like the rest of them." Readers will be amused, and perhaps saddened, by what these quotations say about the people who govern, or who try' to. One may also question Olive's selection of the quotations, but one thing is certain: with an election just past in the U.S. and one on the horizon in Canada, the second edition of the book will contain many more than 1.000 entries. (Victor Emerson is president of Acuity Research Group inc., an O' tvtsed market research firm ) sked truly nasty man puted in New York to be a homosexual .. . and I was thus somewhat shy of his society." On Sinclair Lewis: "All the while I knew Sinclair Lewis he was either a drunkard or a teetotaler and so my relations with him never became what could be called intimate for I am ill at ease with any man who is either." My Life As Author and Editor is, of course, only the first of the books that should now appear in view of the unsealing of Mencken's autobiography. Perhaps future writers will be able to explain his eccentric character in deeper context. For now, we recognize his towering prodigy. And we also face squarely the fact that he was not just a sour man, but also an unrelenting bigot. (Kenneth Bagnell of Toronto is author of The Little Immigrants and Cawrtese: A Portiait ot the Italian -Canadian.) laughs Governor Mario Cuomo. And. of course. Canada's public figures appear prominently throughout the book. John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau are heavily represented. In 1981. Bob Rae noted that "Being attacked by Joe Clark is like being savaged by a dead sheep." Responding to the call for an end to official bilingualism. Montreal author Mordecai Richler waded in with the comment that, "There's a price to be paid for democracy. There's Dan Quayle in the United States, and then there's Don Getty." However, pride of place goes to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Betraying his underlying principles to a planeload of the press, in a 1984 conversation he tried retroactively to place off the record, he confessed. "Let's face it. there's no whore like an old whore. BURT HEWARD Citizen book editor 1 ML. COVER TO COVER A novelist and her family tree randmotherly Audrey Thomas, 57. stonned hv nromotine her U novel. Graven Images, and told about a visit to a bookstore with two grandsons, ages 5 and 6. Thomas, who if she didn't have fash-s ionably reddish hair and smoky specta- cles could play Mrs. Santa Claus, recalls.' showing Nicholas and William Mathers the children's books. "All riglit, granny, this is all very nice," piped up five-year-old Nicholas, "but where are your books." "He was so proud of me," said Thomas, who began writing her novel about a woman's family history' around the " time her first grandchild was conceived., ' The book, set in Thomas's native Broome County, N.Y., on the Susquehanna River, focuses on the heroine's 91-year-old mother (a combination of Thomas's own mother and a 96-year-old friend of Thomas's on Galiano Is-land, B.C., where she has lived for many years). ; Thomas moved to beautiful B.C. in 1959 after teaching in the slums of Birmingham, England. In 1964, she accompanied her husband to West Africa where he set up a graduate art program for Ghana. (They split after 14 years together and their three children are now grown up.) Thomas is writing a novel set in ; West Africa, recalling the '60s idealism of volunteers from the Peace Corps. CUSO and USO setting out to save the world. McCarthyism had put her off her native America. Gmven Images swirls around a travel writer's trip to England to research her family tree. The novel keeps switching from the travel experiences to the traveller's vicious-tongued old mother's oral history, then to her own research into ' family history. Thomas dismisses a cut- ' ting Toronto review as faulting her for not writing a traditional narrative when that's the last thing she wanted to do. Orphans and use of laudanum (liquid opium) are among historic subjects she found fascinating. "Every farmhouse had laudanum in its cupboard in case the doctor didn't get there, or someone had a toothache." Sometimes, babysitters would tranquillize their charges who, after later getting another dose from their harried mothers, would die of the drug overdose. While much of the family history grew from her own family's, Thomas also threw in fascinating anecdotes about other "intrepid people" she read about in The History of Broome County. Reflecting upon her proud grandsons, Thomas smiled: "It all goes on. Actually, I find that a delight." Much in her novel will delight her many fans. Father and son Former Ottawan Yann Martcl of Montreal won the $10,000 Journey Prize for Canada's best short fiction for the title story' of Vie Facts Behind tlie Helsinki Roccamatios and Oilier Stories. The book, published by Knopf Canada, is to be launched with a volume of French poetic prose by the author's father, Emile Martel, on Wednesday, 5-7 p.m., at Papyrus Books, 111 Albert St. at O'Connor. The father, author of four other poetic-prose books, is External Affairs' senior adviser on Latin America in Ottawa. He waxed enthusiastic in an urbane way about the bilingual, father-son, prose poetry launch at "the only bookstore I know of in Canada that is bilingual." Gamil Sadek, previously of the French bookstore at the National Arts Centre, has operated Papyrus for about 18 months. The Martel and father or Martel-et-fils launch sounds like a good occasion to . celebrate the end of a long winter and. for Canada, a renewal of faith in our esprit. Active authors University of Ottawa English professor Gerald Lynch is to read from his short stories next Saturday. 2 p.m.. at the Rainbow Bistro, upstairs at 76 Murray St. in Byward Market. Great for thirsty, tired shoppers, the Saturday afternoon readings are privately sponsored by the Rainbow, Bell Canada, Food for Thought Books and JetForm Corp. Lynch has published two collections, Kisbey and One's Company, also Stehen Lcacock: Humor and Humanity. Ottawa public servant Roma Quapp is to read from her short stories for Orion on Friday, at 8 p.m.. at Patro D'Ottawa. 40 Cobourg SL Quapp has been active in the Juryroom Workshops and published in literary' magazines. World Peace is to be the theme of poems read on Tuesday, 59 p.m.. at 111 Lisgar St. (Ottawa-Carleton regional headquarters). Reading for the Ottawa-based Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade: Stephen Gill. Brenda Fleet. Asoka Weerasinghe. Jagjit Sharnia. Daniel Nadezhdin. Nirmala Singh. Guy F. Claude Ilamel and Sonia Bouchard. m A - m m m m m m m m m mm , . W r t fIHtt it iHi.Bl Tl Ti I'll l

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