Seeing Lessons - Catherine Owen
Apparently I cannot read poetry. My mind wanders when I read it silently, I break down in giggles when I read it aloud. Which is a shame because this book is very special to me.
Seeing Lessons has a place in my heart because of the memories that it will always carry. This past October, during the trial run of BlogCon, the willing
victims conventioneers attended a couple of Word Fest events, one of which featured the Vancouver poet and heavy metal musician, Catherine Owen, reading from this book. I wish she would come over and read all the poems in her book to me, because poetry really needs to be read to you. Especially the way she does it.
Catherine Owen was fascinating to watch. Her musicianship was very telling in her unconscious hand gestures, one hand keeping time with the rhythm of her words as she read. I tried doing that myself as I read these poems aloud, but it just made me giggle all the harder. I am no heavy metal poetess.
Seeing Lessons was born of Owen's fascination with an entry she came upon in the scholarly tome, A History of Women Photographers: "In 1927, Mattie Gunterman's large body of work was destroyed by fire". Her poet's imagination fired up, she uncovered all the information she could about Mattie Gunterman, the American woman who, carrying cameras and developing equipment with her, walked from Seattle into the BC interior, to work as a camp cook and settle a homestead near Beaton.
A mixture of Owen's poetry about Gunterman's life, some of Mattie Gunterman's few remaining photographs, and many of Gunterman's letters and journal entries, Seeing Lessons is a powerful and often poignant glimpse of a strong woman, not bowed by hardship and tragedy, a woman whose surviving work is an important chronicle of the history of a nation.
Because of my illiteracy when faced with poetry, it took me several months to read this book. I breezed through the chapters containing Gunterman's letters and journal entries and obviously had no difficulty with the photographs. But although I was forced by my own shortcomings to read the poems at a snail's pace, I can recommend this book to anyone with an interest in poetry or photography or Canadian history or women's studies.
You will never be able to share my memories of watching with admiration as your dear friend engages a poet in conversation at a downtown Calgary art gallery on a snowy day in October, but you can uncover the fascinating elements of the book that sparked their discussion.