The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Wholeness Meter

by Tricia Dower

Victoria’s first poet laureate, young wife and mum Carla Funk, teaches at UVic when she isn’t penning lines for Victoria’s finest moments. (Ode to More Condo Development?) She doesn’t look like Wordsworth or Tennyson. For one thing, she has hair like pressed sunlight falling to her waist. She read a week ago Saturday at The Malahat Review’s somewhat misleadingly labelled “Gala” —coffee and cookies, nobody dressed up. Carla’s official bio says she grew up “in a world of logging trucks, Mennonites, storytellers and rural realism.” She envisions the “space of the page as a clean landscape where we can draw our own borders.” The poems she read were down to earth and powerful. I could have listened longer.

An aural art form, poetry is better for readings than prose, I think, especially if the poems are short. No struggle to follow the plot. You can let the rhythm of the words transport you; let their beauty infiltrate your subconscious (and perhaps the grocery list you’re drafting: ‘milk - empty of colour; coffee - dark and flowing.')

Pauline Holdstock, a heavy hitter in the literary world, with numerous books and a Giller prize nomination to her credit, says she tries to “reconcile the beauty and cruelty of the world” in her work. She read from The World of Light Where We Live. It won the 2006 Malahat Novella Prize. At the beginning and at points along the way, she wisely explained what we were hearing: scenes in a story about native people the government moved from long-held hunting lands to the shores of frozen waters where they were expected to survive on fish. I got a little lost trying to keep track of Wife, Husband and Brother, not to mention who had taken the sled where. None of that mattered, however, when she got to the ending — as heartbreaking as one could imagine. I cried.

Cut to a week later, Victoria’s McPherson Playhouse. Sitting in the upper balcony with everyone else who bought tickets late for the Bruce Cockburn concert, I scanned for cracks in the ceiling and pondered why Carla’s and Pauline’s readings had gotten to me while some others do not. The first notes out of Bruce’s throat —and fresh tears in my eyes — gave me the answer. It is the wholeness of their voices, the sense in my gut that their words are true to their natures as well as their art. A merging of intellect and spirit. An acceptance and celebration of who they are.

I got hooked on Bruce years ago when I heard If I Had a Rocket Launcher, the defiant, idealistic song he wrote after a trip to Guatemala. Now he sings about 9/11 and a trip he made to Baghdad; Tell the Universe (what you’ve done) is directed to Bush and company. His musical poems come straight from a convicted heart. If you’re interested, this interview in The Progressive offers more insight into what inspires the man.

Carla and Pauline seem to write from clear inner visions, as well; their words belong to them and no one else. It made me wonder how true or counterfeit my own words are. If there were such a thing as a Wholeness Meter, it might be fun to throw my words in and see how I score. Then, again, it might not be.

Photos: Poet Carla Funk; Author Pauline Holdstock; Singer/Songwriter Bruce Cockburn


Anonymous Larry said...


The question of "wholeness" or truthfulness of voice haunts everything we do, doesn't it?

Tue Nov 07, 09:58:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger MelBell said...

Great post, Tricia. Thank you so much for sharing the literary events that you attend - you always make me wish I could have been there.

Tue Nov 07, 01:13:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

Tricia, I am always impressed by how much you are getting out of Victoria: your Vic is so much more thrilling than my Vic. Yours is the cultural epicentre of BC, it seems; mine was, well, imagine a post-punk pining for the mainland... Yes, I do think I'll need to revisit Victoria some time soon. Thanks for reviews (I remember Viola Funk as a writer for a Van indie magazine... She looks way to young to have children and a husband ;)

Tue Nov 07, 01:42:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Yes, it does, Larry. Most of us were raised to hide more than we reveal.

Thanks, Mel, I like sharing Victoria in this way and like reading about how others are experiencing their piece o Canada.

Hey, Tamara, I probably wouldn't be doing what I am if I were in university. Might be hitting the clubs, instead. Colin goes to a lot of free lectures at UVic and wonders why more students don't attend them. Do you mean Carla instead of Viola Funk? I don't know Viola. Carla is, indeed young, mid-to-late twenties, I think.

Tue Nov 07, 04:16:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

My earlier comment didn't show up, I guess. This is wonderful, Tricia. You make us question what is at the heart of our writing and conclue that effective writing is honest writing. Thank you.

Tue Nov 07, 04:46:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

Yes, I meant Viola. I always forget to remember not to cofuse them ;)

Yes, students seem a bit preoccupied with 'experiencing' uni instead of attending lectures and readings. Even CW students, I guess, never change...

Tue Nov 07, 05:13:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Larry said...

HAIR LIKE PRESSED SUNLIGHT FALLING TO HER WAIST is just the sort of thing that makes one reconsider a trip to the ledge of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Tue Nov 07, 06:27:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Yeah, Jen, I seem to return to this theme, don't I? It's what I most admire in others' writing and what I often find lacking in my own.

Get down from that bridge, Larry!

Tue Nov 07, 07:15:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Patricia said...

you have such a fun life, such a wonderful place to live, I'm so happy that you're getting so much out of it Tricia, I love this post, you're right about truth in words and voice, these are the makings of a real story, you have the same ability xoxoox

Tue Nov 07, 10:17:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

You convey beautifully, Tricia. Meters are for Hydro.

Wed Nov 08, 09:12:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

If a person is an inveterate liar, not me, a friend, then surely their ‘honest voice’ would be full of lies, because that’s who they are. So, should I, I mean my friend, try to write stories that are as full of artifice and shenaniganizing as their wretched self. Just wondering. On behalf of my friend.

Wed Nov 08, 02:13:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

You'd be up there in the wholeness factor, Tricia. I'm sure of it.

Wed Nov 08, 02:33:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hey, thanks Patricia, Tony, Andrew and Steve! I appreciate your support.

As to your friend, Andrew: he could try writing every story in first person (all different characters, of course, all inveterate liars.) Readers love unreliable narrators.

Wed Nov 08, 04:21:00 pm GMT-5  

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