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.

'Pull Down the Northern Lights for Chandeliers,' Zoom video August 20, 2020

   "I'd dance to death to evoke it." "Who in me writes?" It was a rich, varied poetry evening where we read, talked ...