Hearing Echoes
poems by Renee Norman and Carl Leggo

Print: 978-1-77133-337-5
ePUB: 978-1-77133-338-2
PDF: 978-177133-340-5

140 Pages
November 09, 2016
New Poetry All Titles

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Hearing Echoes poems by Renee Norman and Carl Leggo

This collection of both narrative and lyrical poetry moves between two strong voices that resonate with and against one another, a woman and a man, focusing on family relationships in all their intersections and differences. The poems are about daughters, granddaughters, son, mothers, spouses, and deal with love, sorrow, joy, loss, redemption: the stuff of living. Weaving through the collection are the words and spirit of Virginia Woolf, who has affected and inspired both poets over the course of their writing, parenting, teaching, and being.

“This co-authored collection (by two already established and provocative poets) is seamless; refashioning themes and tropes from translucent prose by that arch feminist Virginia Woolf, woven by them into luminescent poetry…. The result is invention and intervention, a re-creative of her indomitable spirit….”

—Anne Burke, Chair, The Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets

“This book is a profound, moving, engaging read. This primal Papa and alma Mater sing sweetly, not in unison but in dialogue, recalling joys and pains of parenthood. Words awash in the love that holds families together resound with goodness and grief, through push and pull of personal relations, through happiness and hardship, responsibilities and regrets. Moreover, these poems let the language of children pervade the language of parents and grandparents: the words are fresh and revitalizing. Reading these poems is like gazing upon a core sample extracted from the depths of kinship. Their words glint and sparkle like flecks of mica, feldspar, rarest metals and crystals that grow under the intense pressure of weening, preening and setting free humanity.”

 — Kedrick James, poet and scholar 

Hearing Echoes

Renee Norman, PhD, is a prize-winning poet, writer, and retired educator. Her poetry book, True Confessions (Inanna), was awarded the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award for poetry. She is also the author of 2 other books of poetry, Backhand Through the Mother, and Martha in the Mirror (Inanna). She received the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies Distinguished Dissertation Award for House of Mirrors: Performing Autobiograph(icall)y in Language/Education, published by Peter Lang, NY. Previously she worked as a classroom teacher in public schools, an arts educator, a university professor, and school board consultant. She lives in Coquitlam, BC.

Carl Leggo is a poet and professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia. His books include: Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill; View from My Mother’s House; Come-By-Chance; Lifewriting as Literary Métissage and an Ethos for Our Times (co-authored with Erika Hasebe-Ludt and Cynthia Chambers); Creative Expression, Creative Education (co-edited with Robert Kelly); Sailing in a Concrete Boat: A Teacher’s Journey; Arresting Hope: Women Taking Action in Prison Health Inside Out (co-edited with Ruth Martin, Mo Korchinski, and Lynn Fels); and Arts-based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Teaching: Honoring Presence (co-edited with Susan Walsh and Barbara Bickel). He lives in Steveston, BC.

Review of Hearing Echoes, by Renee Norman and Carl Leggo
reviewed by News from the Feminist Caucus - August 7, 2017

Norman dedicates the collection to her daughters, while Leggo does so to his granddaughters, "who teach me how to live poetically." The texts by Leggo appear in bold font, while Norman’s texts do not. She alludes to "a transformative writing journey and an amazing process of writing together." Leggo’s resume is marked by joint editing projects.

The poems were composed and previously published independently, at least according to the acknowledgements. Yet, there are reverberations of common themes, on birth, ageing, death, and other intense experiences. The exchanges are close to a conversation between poets, exploring aesthetic connections, rather than parallels.

Leggo appreciates "creatively and indefatigably promoting the spirit of Virgina Woolf by honouring the efficacy of words" (including her own words throughout). Norman thanks Leggo who years ago encouraged her. (p. 125) Leggo responds "Finally, I thank Renee for the countless opportunities to share poetry and grow in wisdom on a long journey of writing and living with heart." (p. 126)

This co-authored title reminds me of No Longer Two People, by Lorna Crozier (then Lorna Uher) and Patrick Lane (Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1979). In Matthew 19:6 “And no one should separate a couple that God has joined together.”

The poetry of this power couple is clearly delineated as the product of an intimate relationship, such that Crozier, in an interview, has expressed the belief that the marriage will outlast them as individuals. “and they that were two shall be made one flesh, so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Mark 10:8.

The present collection Hearing Echoes is prefaced with excerpts from Virginia Woolf, Room of One’s Own. “Questions for Virginia” by Norman takes on the challenge “And Infirmities Will of Course Increase” which Woolf avoided due to her suicide by drowning. “Never Cry Woolf”, by Leggo, reveals “my fear of failure”, in the face of “A Thousand Pities”, because Woolf discovered binary sex is inadequate and having/being only one sex would have been unmanageable.

 “Yes, Renee, There is a Virginia Woolf” is self-reflexive and references “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”, a phrase from a newspaper editorial in 1897. Norman responds to how she came late to Woolf, after Austen, the Brontes, Edward Albee’s Waiting for Godot; the playwright's character “George” in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.

Leggo writes about life lessons, two angles, the sentence whole. Norman bravely writes a poem to a man who warned her “don’t write a poem about me”. (“A Poem, for the Record”) “Will you ever leave me?” is the poignant question Leggo attempts to answer. (“Pumpkins”) A hip replacement (“Recovering Rapunzel”) for Norman, a “Roller Coaster” of emotional entanglement for Leggo, but “Dance” reinvigorates, according to Norman. Leggo adapts his James Bond image in the Caribbean and Norman adopts text messaging (“All Texted Out”); a poem held decades (Leggo) and the Virgin River stone dry (“Mojave” for Norman); “Why did you return” (Leggo answers), but mixed tapes (for Norman).

The epigraph for part four “Putting It Into Words”, which means making it whole comes, from Woolf’s “Moments of Being”, a collection of posthumously-published autobiographical essays which were found among Leonard her husband’s papers. Indeed, she had a hidden desire for something beyond the daily life. Norman believes smell may be a warning (“The Valley”), a story has scent for Leggo. (“Teacher’s Pet”) Norman’s story shifts daily (“Did You Teach Today?”); a small town minds its own business (Leggo’s “Artichoke Hearts”). Norman maintains the wound; Leggo puns on “yoke” and “joke". Norman reports the problem of "errant snakes"; Leggo’s silence, in his poem “Light Echoes”. Norman’s allusion to the phrase “we read so as not to feel alone” (from a portrait of the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham, in the film Shadowland) relates to how we ought to read Woolf (in “Between the Lines”, a poem by Leggo).

Part five is prefaced by “The Relation Between” (the incompatible and affinity), so that a poem is whole, not a fragment (“Letter to a Young Poet”, by Woolf). “Who is Virginia Woolf?” a poem by Leggo seeks to comprehend her suicide by reading her private diaries; he feels embarrassed, even guilty, she is a feminist deity, and finally “Virginia Woolf’s Alive and Well in a Co-op in False Creek” by Norman argues her death was greatly exaggerated, since Woolf still has access to workshops, computer programs, bookshelves, even rhapsodising homonyms for “temper” and “temporary”.

Leggo in “Textual Affair”, dedicated to Woolf alludes to his own odyssey with gender and patriarchy. Norman records middle age. (“These Women”) Leggo works at recalling childhood. (“Swallow Light”) Norman feels shattered by her mother’s lost memories. (“Erasure”) Stolen bread is a reminder of the past, for Leggo; busy women’s hands folding laundry, for Norman. (“My Mother’s Linens”) Phoning 911 (Leggo in “Tough as Nails”) and brain-based (“Exercising with My Mother”, by Norman) give way to Leggo’s desire. (“Tsunami”) Her mother “she is back to baby” for Norman, in “This is What It All Comes to”, while resurrection appears possible, at least to Leggo. (“Resurrection Plant”)

In “Putting the Children to Bed” the poet who "never wrote a word" admired by Woolf lives in us. Norman acknowledges two miscarriages. (“Dreaming Grandchildren”) Leggo exchanges a child’s eyes for his own which are dimmed. (“Ten Reason’s Why Your Grandfather Loves You”) Norman marks the occasion (“Last Summer of Childhood”) for her adult daughter. Leggo plays with scribbled texts, cipher, deciphering, “writing the unknown”. Norman makes daily life a triumph across a large canvas. (“Spill of Trees”) Leggo heralds an angel. Norman grows a garden while remembering “the earth womb”, her father’s grave. Leggo’s concrete poem is balanced by Norman’s “only temporarily beached” (p. 19) A good (grand)father enumerates his genealogy. (“Living Love”) “Home for the Summer” helps to stave off a mother’s loneliness. Poetry will wait (for Leggo); Norman emulates Edith Wharton’s writing process. His good/ogre of a father (“Driving Lessons”) contrasts with her role and students’ melodies. (“Teacher”) His “father to father” (“Plumb Line”), her “Dazzling Stripes”; his “I still saw my son seeing me” (“Prodigal Father”), but for Norman, the poor standards of care for an Alzheimer’s patient. (“Old Dogs”) The act of lying on his daughter’s bed, full of stories I can’t control, by Leggo. Norman acknowledges bodily needs (“My Canine Poet”); “now old” by Leggo.

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Hearing Echoes - poems by Renee Norman and Carl Leggo
reviewed by Candice James
Canadian Poetry Review - January 9, 2017
https://www.facebook.com/548677701931198/photos/a.647937188671915.1073741828.548677701931198/1009849942480636/?type=3

Hearing Echoes is a collaboration of two hearts and voices echoing with rhythmic whispers in a poetic canyon of their co-constructed imaginations and realities. The persona of Virginia Woolf weaves its way throughout the book peeking out through both visible and invisible windows of timeless time.

“Beached” easily compares the anxiety and fear a beached whale feels with the same emotions on a lesser scale that a journalist with writer’s block feels then successfully marries these two fearful anomalies with each other and projects them onto the canvas of life’s undiscovered mysteries yet to happen that haphazardly foist themselves upon us without warning. This feeling is summed up so succinctly in the last stanza:

“you are a journalist /
always /
hunt down (or wade out) /
the story /
so many stories /
in you yet /
only temporarily beached”

The brilliant comparisons and vivid imagery in “Poetry Scrabble” is an exercise in the thought of accidental poetry:

“a Picasso poem /
closing my eyes /
letting the written word /
careen across a page /
a sheet even /
or poetry scrabble /
each letter of each word /
assigned a score”


“Smiley” exudes a new wellspring of visual language for the thirsty mind to languish in:

“like a tightrope walk /
on the braided threads /
of the heart’s light /
I walk the curriculum /
of delight /
with a precarious poise /
between emotion /
& emoticons”

The life shattering fallout and effects of Alzheimer disease are imprinted indelibly spilling onto the page of the poet and into the mind of the reader in “Erasure”:

“My mother asks me for my recipe /
‘those delicious tars’ /
A compliment a daughter should cherish, right? /
Something inside me shatters /
the recipe is hers”
// - //
“In what winds do these hanging memory lapses blow, /
I wonder /
as they free float /
as the frontal lobe breaks apart”

“Suspended Question” is a brilliant mind soliloquy patronizing supposition with the delicious use of poetic licence: Stanza one and the last three lines of the poem are monolithic in their depth and their haunting echo:

“In any season, any place, /
your one persistent question,
your only question lingers /
why did you return”
// - //
“You think it is so important, /
and it must be since I ask in any /
season, any place, why I left.”

“Light Echoes” had me mesmerized from the first stanza and hungry for more: This is a beautiful, dreamy, mood poem sparkling with word’s dance of innuendo

“I jam with the wild lunacy /
of the wind tangled in alders, /
the day’s light in the aspens”

Hearing Echoes reverberates with a myriad of emotions and creates a circle of mistrust within oneself that must be addressed and dealt with. This collection of poems will leave the readers more in touch with themselves and more content with who they really are. It is a journey of self discovery not only for the poets, but for the readers.

About the reviewer: Candice James has recently completed 2 three year terms (2010-2016) as Poet Laureate of New Westminster, BC and has been appointed Poet Laureate Emerita of New Westminster, BC. She is also Board Advisor to Royal City Literary Arts Society; Director Pacific Festival of the Book. She is author of twelve poetry books published by five different publishing houses: the first A Split in The Water (Fiddlehead Poetry Books 1979); and the most recent is City of Dreams – the New Westminster Poems (Silver Bow Publishing). Some of her many awards include: Bernie Legge Artist Cultural award; Pandora’s Collective Citizenship award; Pentasi B Woman of Prestige award. For further details and information visit Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candice-James and www.candicejames.com

QUESTIONS FOR VIRGINIA

     Virginia—
     if you had not walked
     into water
     laden with stones
     would your hips
     have given out
     like mine
     would you have
     looked into mirrors
     loose skin
     disappearing eyebrows
     loping gait
     yellow teeth some kind
     of zombie apocalypse refugee

     were you thinking:
     best to skip this stage
     the weight of those stones
     unbearable
     leaving Leonard
     to face that reflection
     all of us wondering
     if only...
     you shouldn’t have...

     there was more, Virginia
     much more
     not all of it
     weight bearing
     some lightness
     of being
     still purpose
     laughter

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