Martha in the Mirror


poems by Renee Norman

72 Pages
April 01, 2010

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“Martha is a mirror. And in the mirror, Martha is double. Martha is also the Other. This is the other of écriture feminine. This is the Other of the female body, which in Hélène’s Cixous’ terms, is written and is already text. I invite you to enter the mirror of this writing, Martha and I in mirrors.”

In this third collection of poetry, Renee Norman inhabits Martha Quest like a spirit, and rewrites her through poems that bring her into being. Martha is Doris Lessing’s autobiographical protagonist from her Martha Quest series of novels, and Norman “borrows” Martha and encounters her in the mirror of writing. There she reflects upon, interprets, and reimagines Martha, at times addressing Lessing, too. But within—and in between—the lines and stanzas, she also encounters herself, as she is filtered through Martha’s reflection, the Martha who is in us all. Theses poems are about love and loss, birth and motherhood, longing and abandonment, and the compassion and understanding women can bring to one another.

“This book borrows Martha Quest from Doris Lessing, and just as “this country, the scarred back of a monkey-kaffir-skin like muck, trod upon-sucks Martha into it,’ this book will swallow you into her life, social, political and physical landscape as extended and re-imagined for her here by Renee Norman. Martha lives a dilemma: as a woman and a Jew, she belongs to an underclass because of her sex and race, but she has one claim to superiority is the colour of her skin. She lives with the conflicted love of her own kind and of a man. She becomes too real to be regarded as a post-modern contrivance; she is too diverse and inependent to be anything but herself between these pages. Just as Martha ‘does not sleep and snacks on sentences all night long,’ the reader will follow suit with these poems, once they open the book.”
—George McWhirter, Vancouver’s first Poet Laureate

“Renee Norman’s new book Martha in the Mirror is like a palimpsest, a complex layering of many texts—autobiographical, poetic, fictional, epistolary, and philosophical. The traces of interwoven texts, past and present, are carefully and creatively rendered in poems full of humane wisdom and steadfast hope.”
—Carl Leggo, poet and professor, University of British Columbia

“Through the device of the specific – Doris Lessing’s character, Martha Quest – Renee Norman evokes the universal. But whether she is writing the woman she met “on the mirror of a page” or the one she sees in the mirror of her own memories, images are reflected and re-reflected, coming back always: recognizeable, true, essential, female.”
—Heidi Greco, poet and editor

“Renee Norman peers into a three-way mirror, “borrowing” Martha Quest from Doris Lessing’s Children of Violence series to reflect on female experiences both like and unlike her own. Convincingly inhabiting her subject, Norman gives lyrical form to aspects of Martha’s journey from childhood in Southern Rhodesia to adulthood in England. Readers of Children of Violence will recognize many scenes in Martha’s (and Doris Lessing’s) life, poetically condensed, and those who have not yet read Lessing’s classic novel series may be inspired to do so.”
—Roberta Rubenstein, Professor of Literature at American University and author of The Novelistic Vision of Doris Lessing: Breaking the Forms of Consciousness

Martha in the Mirror

Renee Norman is an award-winning poet, a writer and a teacher. Her first volume of poetry, True Confessions, was awarded the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award for Poetry in 2006. Her second book of poetry, Backhand Through the Mother, was published in 2007. Renee completed her graduate work at University of British Columbia and received the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies Outstanding Dissertation Award for her dissertation, which was published as a book, House of Mirrors: Performing Autobiograph(icall)y in Language/Education. She has received several poetry and non-fiction prizes for her work. Currently Renee is a literacy consultant for Vancouver School Board. She lives in Coquitlam, British Columbia.


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