The term still life did not come into being until 1650. The French adopted the term nature morte, dead nature, around 1750. The painter de Chirico was said to have preferred the Italian term vita silente. The Japanese, however, call still life, calm things.

Calm Things is the title essay of this collection of meditations on what it is like to live with still life, and to live poetically.

Both an insider’s glimpse into the precarious world of artist and poet, and a long gaze at objects and the calm and silence they hold, these essays prize the ordinary, radiant gift of common things.


Palimpsest Press, 2008

Read the title essay, "Calm Things" in Cezanne's Carrot.
Shortlisted for the 2009 Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction. 


"A writer looks deeply at paintings, and in the exercise of her deep attention, she learns and teaches as much about the art of writing as she does about the art of painting. It is a book about one art form that guides a reader towards a deeper understanding of all art forms. But most of all, it is a book that both embodies and instructs us on the need for, and place of, loving attention and receptivity in our over-crowded, jangling lives."

"Structurally, each paragraph works like a painting. You could, if you wanted, read each one in isolation, like a lyric poem."

-Susan Olding

"Calm Things by Shawna Lemay is the most beautifully written, generous and honest collection of personal essays that I've read in ages. Thought-provoking to say the least. Because the clean, pitch-perfect prose never calls attention to itself, I was left looking at a world through Lemay's eyes and with Lemay's clear, wide-angled vision. What I saw was a well-rounded world. A moving world. A world I both know and don't know."

- Brenda Schmidt, Alone on a Boreal Stage

"Lemay’s essays will appeal to those who wish to look at the world the way a still-life artist does: delicately and from oblique angles…. The cool temperature in her voice remains curious about everything from cone seashells to teacups and bowls… Despite jostling between objects and emotions, Lemay rarely succumbs to sentimental reverie without purpose; nor does she attempt to make bric-a-brac shimmer with empty words. In a kind of Roethkean or Keatsian sense, Calm Things describes the imaginative power commonplace objects hold."

- Richard Cole