Imprint and Casualties: Poets
on Women and Language, Reinventing Memory
Review by Lily Iona MacKenzie
Imprint and Casualties
edited by Anne Burke, attempts to capture the spirit of the Feminist
Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets in the late '80s and early
'90s. It is thus an important document, a "living archive"
that immortalizes in print the women involved in these proceedings.
In a series of letters written
between 1985 and 1987 (the most compelling part for this reader),
Erin Moure and Bronwen Wallace discuss feminist theory and the
underlying assumptions that went into the 1987 panel, "Illegitimate
Positions." Moure defends the language philosophers (particularly
Wittgenstein) who "show us that the way we speak, the concepts
we can form in language, largely governs what we can know, and
finally, how we can act" (24). She says, "in poetry,
language conveys values. If we don't examine it, we duplicate
the eyes of the Father" (25).
Wallace resists the assumption
that language-centered writing rescues women from the patriarchy,
claiming that it can be "just as easily co-opted by the patriarch
as any other kind" (28). Wallace believes that "we must
begin with what we are, with what we have already learned, with
how we have acted and continue to act in the world, as well as
from theory" (28).
In theory and practice, both writers
represent the parallel tracks that Carolyn Zonailo describes in
her piece near the end of the book, "A Poetics of Memory."
Zonailo suggests a distinction between lyric and narrative/confessional
poets. She believes that "In the narrative mode, the poet
tells the story of their life and memory plays a key part in the
piecing together of a poet's individual biography" (155).
She theorizes that the lyric "moves both poet and reader
toward epiphany, discovery, luminosity, revelation, and change
in perception or expansion of consciousness" (155).
Zonailo's ideas explain, partially,
at least, the differences between Moure and Wallace, who work
from divergent assumptions. Wallace wants to capture female voices
and experiences in her poems. It appears that Moure wants to break
out of that mode, “to give vent to a plural language (Dupre),
not curbing feminism to a narrow truth, but using the oral and
literary nature of women's expression, escaping linearity and
the law, breaking out of a symbolism that excludes us and our
thought...just to steal a few phrases from them" (31).
The remainder of the book consists
of papers that other poets presented for additional Feminist Caucus
panels, a problem for this reader. Seeing only the papers without
getting an overview of the whole event feels like eating a sandwich
with no filling: the actual discussions that took place in response
to the presentations. Still, there's enough here to give a reader
interested in feminist poetics some ideas to chew on. The section
on memory and poetics is particularly thoughtful, including an
insightful essay from editor Anne Burke.
Imprint and Casualties: Poets
on Women and Language, ReInventing Memory
edited by Anne Burke
Broken Jaw Press, Fredericton, NB, Canada, 2000
Prairie Fire Journal
Copyright by Lily Iona MacKenzie: www.carolynzonailo.com,