Asking is a collection of poems and poem-essays about paintings, ekphrasis, beauty, and deep looking, which takes its title from the lines by Phyllis Webb:
“Listen. If I have known beauty
let’s say I came to it
Conversations on the page arise from observances made at cocktail parties, art galleries, at the kitchen table, and in the suburbs. Whether offering writing prompts or advice for aspiring poets, or enacting the conventions of ekphrasis, Asking is attentive to the movements and gestures of humans as they navigate a world of bewilderments and betrayal, but also a world of light and an ordinary beauty.
(Seraphim Editions, 2014)
- available in Edmonton at Audreys Books
"To come to beauty, and to “use life” as, perhaps, “a time of approaching,” (as Lemay quotes from Hélène Cixous in one of her poem-essays) might sound, on the face of it, to retrace the steps of an incursion on some highly contested ground. Beauty is a concept that may contain a multitude of meanings, but if it has survived with any resonance through the old critical battles of the last century and beyond to some imagined “post-ideological” world we’re all now reputed to be living in (please someone tell the newscasters), it might be convalescing, in some state of diplomatic immunity."
- John Delacourt, The Ottawa Review of Books
“Now, this may all sound cerebral and abstract and inaccessible, but Asking is blissfully simple and meaty and smart, and I would highly recommend this slim volume…”
“Some lines are laugh-aloud funny, others profound. In A Sonnet, which looks nothing like a sonnet, she writes, “I’d like to say something important just as much as the next poet.” And in Expresso (spelled that way deliberately), she reminisces about when specialty coffees arrived on Whyte Avenue before admitting she used to hate how people always say “take care” when parting ways. “But now I always want to end poems that way,” she writes. “You, lonely souls, take care, take care.”
- Elizabeth Withey
Oh How It Loves You
To prove that you were never even remotely ordinary I would make a film that would follow the light from your childhood all the way through your life, in and out of windows, through corridors, in the backyard, down the street, and falling on your hands as you washed the breakfast dishes in solemnly radiant bubbles. I would follow the line of light like a poem, flowing from stanza to stanza, from room to room, through your life and into the lives of those you love and who love you.
When others come to see this movie they’re going to be expecting it to be sappy, but it’s not, because light is more hardy than that; it sustains and it illuminates but it exacts nothing from anyone. It is so much. Even so, there are those who will get up and leave muttering about how nothing happens and that there’s no story, and how they’ve been ripped off and want their money back. But the movie is free, and the only catch is you have to navigate dimly down a back alley at night to get to the theatre. (Do you remember reading a scene in a book something like that, and there’s a neon light, at the end of a long alley?) The thing is they want to leave because they haven’t noticed the light in the movie at all, its starring role. They just see strange details of boring things, odd croppings, strange angles and unjustified close-ups and they note an absence of Hollywood actors and explosions.
It begins with the light that collects in the landscape of your sheets and rests in the indentation on your pillow on a summer morning like leftover dreams. A clean, club soda light.
The light sweeps and whispers through laundry on a line and the white sheets wave and billow until the shape of a wing appears and the camera freezes that for a few seconds, just long enough to leave the viewer with an intense desire to see it again.
It illuminates the reddish winter coat of a horse, and then she moves her head into the light, so her whiskers are apparent. And you move your hand into that light, and the horse blows on your palm, a sun kissed benediction. You’ve remembered that your whole life, haven’t you?
A woman sits in a car, waiting for her child to come out of school, and she has rolled the window down. The sun strikes the side of her cheek and unconsciously, she leans toward it, into it, so that her neck and shoulders are at odd angles. A bird flies overhead, between the sun and her cheek. The breathlessness of that moment, small, wondrous.
Late at night, a computer screen filled with mathematical formulas, a strict and quivering light.
Light dives like a swallow into a glass of champagne. Such accuracy and surprise.
The skinned and haloed light in a birthing room. There is the sickly hospital light but set that aside. This is replaced by the new life and all the miraculous energy it takes to birth. You’ll remember this as the one moment you were completely sure there is a god.
Maybe there is a scene, in the middle of the night when the phone rings and you turn on the light to answer the phone, fumbling and groggy. You sit up and swing your legs over, feet on the floor, toes digging into the carpet. The light from your bedside table makes your legs and feet look yellow and as you begin to shake, the light flutters, reminds you of being rocked back and forth, back and forth by the light itself.
Did I mention I would like my film of you to be an homage to Beckett, to the fact that he could write so much darkness and yet produce such startling light. I want it to be a rope that you follow from the farm house in a severe and relentless snowstorm to the barn so that you may feed the starving animals.
This is maybe my favorite part of the film. There is a kitchen table scene, a very grey day, so that the light is straining and shabby. You know it loves you then. Oh, how it loves you.
It’s mid-day and there’s tea and a plate of biscuits, store bought ones, and everyone is happy. But the frame is centered on the table, there are hands reaching, lifting cups. All you see is the way the light reaches and holds the scene together. And the light modulates, first it is very weak, then a little less weak. Someone picks up a crumb with a forefinger, that gesture. Someone else has folded their hands. After quite a long time, there is an opening in the grey sky, or it is considerably less grey, and so the scene changes dramatically. Although nothing has changed. A cup is raised, an elbow is placed on the table. Someone leans in. The flowers on the teacups swagger and glint and the limpid tea is now a magical, tremulous pond. The sugar on the cookies is now sequined and glorious. But then the grey light returns, swings in hard left, a light in which everyone is from another year, not old, not young, but who they are. Only different and enlivened and bright. So beautifully bright.
The movie goes on for hours, with free popcorn and orangina, showing how one person may be ensouled through a continued experience with the frequencies and wavelengths and blossomings of light.