Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Where Sadness is Not Mute: A Review of Pablo Valdivia’s, ‘Breathing Underwater’

Pablo Valdivia, Breathing Underwater
translated from the Spanish by Ross Woods
Guernica Editions, Fall 2014
102 pages
Trade Paperback
ISBN13: 9781550718799
ISBN10: 1550718797>
Translated from the Spanish
$20.00 Canada, $20.00 US

Where Sadness is Not Mute: A Review of Pablo Valdivia’s, ‘Breathing Underwater’
by Brenda Clews

A stranger. What does the stranger feel? In this book, Valdivia writes from what it feels like. A nomad writing about the alienated self. Minimal poems, bare traceries of the consciousness passing through the landscape of another land that is not home. Home is “the bosom of the olive piles…that burst with happiness.” (The Valley, 31) London, by contrast, “is dying /from the melancholy.” (53) Leaving home is perhaps a broken love affair: “There is a heaviness which lives in the skin /and reopens wounds… //Have patience that time /will leave the path /of misfortune clear /and with its light it will cure the pain”: (Recollection, 21)
This was loneliness.
The coldness of silence
whispering in the bones,
the infinite prison
from which none escape. (Loneliness, 61)
Pablo Valdivia’s, Breathing Underwater (translated by Ross Woods from the Spanish), is a sparse melancholic meditation on alienation and loneliness and the anxiety and pain which accompanies the isolation of the stranger in a strange land. The tenor of the imagery is consistent. Everything, the landscape, the locale, is described only in ways that express the emotional trauma of separation and the isolation of the poet: “The room waits, its keyhole / dormant, until a voice awakens it.” (Doors, 19)

Emptiness lies at the heart of these poems. “Everything returns and perishes.” (Everything Returns, 35). The poet watches lovers kiss underwater, "their lips" pouring "bubbles of happiness," and responds, "I would like to submerge myself /near their hope forever, /so that pain would finally float /away from my smile." (The Swimmers, 23) Many of the poem in this collection describe a stagnation of the poet's joy in life while in a foreign and lonely landscape. As he listens to an evocation of the sea in "River" (59), he sees faces in the clouds who fight through the water and says, "They are like my memories /illusions that tame the current."

Perhaps the collection is a lament for a broken love, the loss of a relationship, or the poet longing for home in an alien land, the lover being Spain itself. This is left deliberately unclear in the poems. He is adrift in a new locale, where he has no community, has not created friendships yet. He is the watcher who does not participate except as a poet grappling with his own feelings of loneliness. Valdivia's writing could be called nomadic, in the Deleuzian sense, but it not post-colonial writing and does not deal with exile, discrimination, race, colour or creed. He is Spanish, living in London, clearly is fluent in English, and, as we learn from his bio, now lives in Amsterdam, where he is a Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Amsterdam.

I was initially drawn to the collection by the sparse beauty of the poems that were read at the Guernica launch in Toronto in 2014. On a closer read, though, I find that the poems do not seem to grapple with the attitudes of the writer, and that there is little contradiction in the perspective of the poems. This left me feeling that the collection slides over difficulties in the subjective stance of the poetic voice. I was missing a depth that I expected the collection as a whole to have because I thought it would include contradictions to the main voice, echoes of other stances, moments of joy that interfere with the overall sombre tone.

The poem from which the title of the book is drawn:
I submerge myself in the
hopeless evenings
of the first days
of Spring.

Light is a sound
of bodies that walk in the distance,
of illusions that live in houses.

Night begins
to suffocate me relentlessly.

Day has a pulse as difficult and strange
as breathing underwater. Cold.
Meanwhile loneliness writes
my name in the air.

(Breathing Underwater, 25)
Valdivia is outside the outside, coiled within. The fog of London, his melancholia; a visitor, his room a glasshouse of the lonely. In the poems, which are sparse and quite beautiful, sadness is not mute, but, rather, described as carefully as a stranger might map his locale in new territory. Breathing Underwater is an anatomy of a specific sadness. The focus is on the poet's difficulties with his transposition to a foreign country. All images of his new landscape represent his inner feelings of loss, of being cut-off from others, from home. In this way, the collection has a more passionate undercurrent, one might say a more Spanish feel, than we might normally be used to with our English emotional tautness.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May Poetry Salon this Saturday afternoon!

On Saturday afternoon, May 30th, 2:30-5pm, I am hosting another wonderful Poetry Salon at Urban Gallery, 400 Queen St E (just west of Parliament) in Toronto. This month features poet Kath MacLean and musician/song writer Joani Paige. There are 8-10 open mic spots of 5 min each and all forms of writing are welcome, as well as music. The Salon is free, but we do pass-the-hat for the features. Hot apple cider and mineral water provided by Urban Gallery. It's always a warm, convivial, supportive and very talented afternoon and I would love you to come out and enjoy a marvellous afternoon and perhaps share a poem, short story or song of your own.

We have two features this month:

KATH MACLEAN Is a Toronto multi-media artist and educator. She writes poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, critical reviews, performance poetry, drama and film and has performed her work throughout Canada and the United States. Her most recent work is Kat Among the Tigers (2011), poetry based on the journals and correspondence of Katherine Mansfield, and its accompanying poetryvideo, Doo-Da-Doo-Da, which won her the “Best of Fest” at its first national and international screening. Inspired by the writing of Robert Kroetsch, MacLean’s poetry was short-listed for the Robert Kroetsch Innovative Poetry Award in 2012, the same year she received the inaugural Anne Green Award for her excellence and innovation in film, poetry, and performance. In 2013 she was Writer in Residence at the Mackie House for Kalamalka Press, and she is the current WIR at the Al Purdy A-frame in Ameliasburgh.

Singer/songwriter/guitarist, JOANI PAIGE, captures audiences with passionate performances of acoustic alternative, rock, blues, roots and a hint of the psychedelic, weaving tales with a little grit, a little class and a lot of heart.

"A whiskey huskey twang on target with a big city muse", JoAnne Light.

Along the way Joani has received numerous awards including a nomination for Best Unreleased Song of the Year in Nashville, FACTOR, NXNE performance, and Finalist on FM96 ONTracks. She has appeared on TV as well as a song on Biker TV, vocals in a rock opera, music in art video(s) by award winning artist, Tony Miller, internet radio airplay, on charts in Germany, airplay for several songs, contributions as vocalist/writer/producer on other's projects (including a techno house project), as well as live performances. She has almost 200 songs to date and continues to write. Her travels and experiences have brought her to share the stage and studio with many talented musicians/artists/writers/actors.

When not on the musical stage Joani can be found acting, writing a novel "The Beautiful Crazies", or basking in art and nature at Bliss Studio........... and, of course, writing new tunes.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Simple sketch to test Pitt oil-based pencils

A simple sketch to test some Pitt Faber Castell oil-based pencils, soft and hard black, sanguine and sepia. In my Moleskine poetry journal. Small, 4"x3".

Thursday, May 21, 2015

'Words on Water, the Humber River Poetry Walk'

This walk is part of the Lost Rivers exploration in Toronto: These photos are from, 'Words on Water, the Humber River Poetry Walk' last Saturday afternoon (May 16th). Yah, poets on the Humber River! A perfect afternoon!

We walked, and then stopped a pre-designated spots for poetry readings. Raymond Souster lived near the Humber River and some poems were read that were written by him on the river. Lucy Maud Montgomery also lived by the Humber, and extracts from her diaries were read. The organizers had done this walk late last Fall and each had written poems, and they read them at various stopping places. The river came to us in many moods and through many images in the poetry. It was all quite wonderful, indeed.


2. Hogweed - if this touches your skin, a nasty rash (with boils 'n stuff) that can be reactivated by sunlight up to 12 years after the initial exposure. Way too much of it along the Humber...

3. That mark of waves on the bridge... how high the waters flowed during Hurricane Hazel in 1954!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

'Contrast,' ink painting in Bampot Bohemian Teahouse Group Show

Contrast. Brenda Clews, 2015. 16" x 20" x 1.5", acrylic, permanent India and acrylic inks on gallery size canvas.

Bampot Bohemian House of Tea
201 Harbord St (at Bathurst)
Toronto, Ontario

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Lady Albion (after Blake)

Lady Albion (after Blake), ©Brenda Clews, 2015, 21cm x 29.7cm, 8.25" x 11.75", graphite, Prismacolor premier and Pitt pen permanent ink on Moleskine Sketchbook acid free paper sized with Golden Gak 100.

'Albion' is Blake's primal man. I leave it up to you to decide about Lady Albion. Of course, the title of this drawing may change at some point too.

It is impossible to know which image to show. The upper one is what the drawing looks like in daylight; the lower one, more like evening light. Both photographs are true-to-life. I am a stickler for accurate rendition, and use Photoshop to attain the truest colour. Two accurate images drive me crazy.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Two Spots this Weekend

I'm featuring in two poetry events this weekend with a whole lot of other fantastic poets and musicians.

◇ On Saturday afternoon I will be a guest poet at 'Words and Music Salon' hosted by Linda Stitt and Lucky Mike from 1:30p-4:30p at Vino Rosso, 995 Bay St (just north of Wellesley St).

◇ On Sunday evening I will be performing poetry with masks and video at a 'Syrian Refugee Poetry & Music Fundraiser' hosted by Sharon Goodier from 7p-10p at Beit Zatoun, 612 Markham St (near Bloor and Bathurst) ▻ their facebook event page

If you're in Toronto and can come out to one or both events, I'd be chuffed to see you.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Yet Untitled Painting

Latest painting. It's finished except for some detail work - the paint is thick and still too wet. Haven't thought of a title yet. Model was originally from a life-drawing session last year at Bampot Teahouse, two 20 min poses. 16" x 20" oil on canvas.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A 'Breakout' Poetry Performance

Last Saturday night was a 'breakout' session for me - for the first time, I performed at a poetry event with some of my video poems playing on a screen behind me. At least, the video part of the poems, with their music. I either read or recited poems and wore a mask for one of them. I had prepared my set over the previous weeks, managing to get the video tracks to work with my pico projector. At the last minute, I got cold feet, and tried to cancel, but ultimately did the set and it went over very well. It was a private Poetry Salon at Norman Cristofoli's house, and he just wrote in an email:
Just wanted to let you know that I have had rave reviews about your performance at the Salon on Saturday.

Here is one quote from an e-mail:

"And the Salon kept us all up to date with what seems to be the latest in poetry: ‘voice-over’ poetry, combined with original music and visual video content.

One might say: four art forms combined! All as cleverly presented by Brenda Clews, whom I had a chance to thank in person. She seems equally talented in all four art forms, although I thought her little sculpture was in a class by itself."

As for me, I think it was one of the best performances ever at my Salons. So unique, creative, entertaining and moving.
[Blushes.] The audience was small, which helped me to go ahead and do the set as planned, and simply wonderful. A great group of people. Many thanks to all!

From, 'A Tangled Garden":

Monday, April 13, 2015


There will be no April Poetry Salon at Urban Gallery - there is a wedding in the Gallery that evening and Urban Catering will be prepping the room in the afternoon. The next Salon will be at the end of May, on Saturday afternoon the 30th.

I have two upcoming mini features, though. I will be a Guest Poet at Vino Rosso on Saturday afternoon, from 1:30-4:30pm, hosted by Linda Stitt, 995 Bay St, Toronto. And a short feature at a Fundraiser being held by Sharon Goodier for a Palestinian refugee from Syria who is being sponsored by her United Church at Beit Zatoum, 612 Markham St., Toronto (near Bathurst Stn), 7pm Sunday evening May 3rd. More info on those poetry spots later.

Friday, April 03, 2015

little transit drawings

last Tuesday on the subway


The size they are on-screen is the size they are in-life. Transit Drawings #1, #3, ©BrendaClews, 5.5"x8", 14x20.3cm, graphite, Pentel brush pen, Strathmore 400 Series 80lb toned gray sketch paper acid free.

Monday, March 30, 2015

March Poetry Salon @ Urban Gallery: photos and video

The March Poetry Salon at Urban Gallery yesterday was MAGNIFICO! /MAGˈNIFEˌKÔ/ I would like to thank our two terrific features, Roberto Angelis and Norman Cristofoli, who were MAGNIFICENT. And those who stepped up to open mic, MAGNIFIQUE, MAGNIFIQUE! Valentino Assenza, Kayla Forrest, Arlene Paculan, Jeff Cottrill, Joe Wray, Cate Laurier, Robbie Patterson, Coral - Crescendo Excompare, and Vladimir Azarov. And to all those who came out, MAGNIFICUM!! (magnificent in Latin, yeah really). Especially I would like to thank my brother, Allan Clews, who has added my Poetry Salons to his Meet-up Group, Toronto Mindful Artists, Writers and Storytellers, and who helped set up. And a special thank-you to Calvin Hambrook, owner of Urban Gallery, who helped everyone get settled, and did the open mic list as my bus connections left me running late. When I arrived to everyone's friendly, smiling faces, wow, all I could think was, MAGNIFICO! It was fabulous!

Here are photos from the Soirée. Please go to the Picasa Poetry Salon album for the names of the poets and musicians - the link will open in a new tab.


The video of the Salon. Since these Poetry Salon videos are for my own archives, I make no apology for the quality of the editing and continue to lament the sound produced by my Canon HF G20. But I know people like to see, and for those reading or performing, videos like this are great learning tools.

direct link: March 2015 Poetry Salon at Urban Gallery

In order of appearance:

Robbie Patterson, with Roberto Angelis 1:16
Jeff Cottrill 7:29
Kayla Forrest 11:25
Roberto Angelis (Feature) 14:45
Norman Cristofoli (Feature) 18:49
Valentino Assenza 35:07
Arlene Paculan, with Roberto Angelis 39:46
Joe Wray 48:48
Cate Laurier 54:42
Vladimir Azarov 1:01
Coral Excompare 1:03
Brenda Clews 1:07

NORMAN CRISTOFOLI has published seven chapbooks of poetry and prose and produced two CD’s of poetry/musical collaborations. He is also the publisher of the Labour of Love literary magazine.

However, Norman believes that people should focus on the art and not on the artist. An artist’s bio should be buried with the artist.

From one of Norman's poems:

"The hardest part is not searching for the answer. The hardest part is living the answer once you have found it."

ROBERTO ANGELIS'S crucible: Despite a rather secular early childhood, since the tender age of ten, Roberto was raised under the shadow of a fundamentally restrictive cult. An old world religion steeped in tradition, filtered through a graceless love, rooted in fear.

He had no tv or other media in this restrictive and abusive environment. He began creating beautiful broken poetry against the vile words, retreating into his tormented being, and immersing himself within sweet symphonies of sound, with every connecting blow. He would drown out the curses, fists, and buckles, with angelic harmonies, celestial woodwinds, and sadly sometimes, red violins..

Compelled to secrecy for fear of the abuse getting worse, he went deeper inside himself, where he kept himself alive by writing the whispers of his innermost being. After this period of indescribably suffering followed tumultuous years of struggling to overcome the demons of his past, [which includes depression and even to the point of suicide. -[We cannot know what burdens and struggles such a man carries but we can open ourselves to his poetry and really listen with empathy and caring and understanding and let it make each of us stronger in the battle against child abuse.

Roberto has been described as a truly unique and groundbreaking presence on the music and art scene His main themes focus on a truthful portrayal of an innocence lost. There is always a battle within: “the antagonist and protagonist vying for position within the man, as clawing shades of grey warring within an ancient, ravaged soul.”

In Roberto’s own words.. I endeavour to embrace the unsung beauty I find strewn amongst the broken pieces of my life, writing the songs and painting the pictures which well up within me.."

Roberto’s hauntingly distended vocal texture, combined with his lyrical genius and infectious phrasing, testify to a brutal truth. An axiom at times jagged and hard to swallow, yet so often sweet, brimming with pregnant promise for a brighter tomorrow.

Roberto’s publisher won’t allow us to video him here. He has done some powerful video poems, and I urge you to go to his website, Particularly, watch the video 'Heroes.'

In Roberto’s words, let’s now place all of our crutches aside, and enter the deeper chambers of the heart in our listening.

hosted and videoed by Brenda Clews