Cassie Beecham: “Fantasy Land” and Creative Process

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Excerpt from ‘Fantasy Land’:

Nate was engaged to a girl named Beth. Beth was smart and confident and I hated her. She was a child speech pathologist. She helped children with adorable lisps talk better. I would have hated him too had he not been cheating on her. It redeemed him, somehow. Nate always fucked things up. It seemed to be the only thing he was good at and I admired him for it. He didn’t beat himself up over it, he just continued forward with a sheepish grin. I first met Nate at his 26th birthday party, I was serving at the Wheat Sheaff and he bumped into me on his way to the bathroom to vomit, as a result of the altercation he’d puked all over his own leather jacket. Later, to get it clean, he boiled the thing in a pot on his stove. After he boiled it the arms fell off and for a while he wore it as a sort of sleeveless leather vest.

I was going through a phase where I liked guys who were completely unavailable because it made me feel better when the romance ended in failure.


Nate was sitting in his blue Honda civic outside the house. He looked nervous and miserable in the driver’s seat, which was the way he usually looked. He’d always had a bit of a panic disorder. I shot him my most alluring over-the-shoulder glance. “Just drive. Anywhere.”

He blinked at me apologetically, even though he was the one who should have been furious. “I can’t.”

“Why not.”

“I ran out of gas.”

“What?”

“I ran out of gas.”

“Where?”

“Right here.” He turned the key in the ignition and it sputtered pathetically, an angry sound. He slid down in his seat. There was something red and grainy on his collar. Chutney.

I smiled a little bit in his direction and he scowled back at me. Part of me loved him for running out of gas outside my Father’s house. There’s something irresistible about a man who can emerge from constant failure unscathed.

“I guess we’ll just have to talk then.” Nate and I didn’t have a lot of variation on our dates. First we would drive around until we got bored, then we would fool around, then finally I would prod him with uncomfortable questions about why he thought his life with Beth was preferable to a life with me. It was a routine we had both become comfortable with. Our last date was a little bit different. Last time we talked he told me he didn’t want to see me again. I told him if he didn’t meet me tonight I would tell Beth everything. It was all the leverage I had. I didn’t want to lose Nate–he made me laugh and if he got rid of Beth he would be the type of guy my Father would really like.

Cassie Beecham:

I’m primarily a playwright, but over the last six months I’ve been trying to write a collection of short stories that focuses on really pathetic female protagonists. I’m interested in girls who are weak, girls who will throw away all of their dignity in order to get what they want, and then regret their decisions five minutes later. I want to do this, while at the same time making the characters likeable, or at least sympathetic.

I’m particularly interested in stories about romance gone bad. There are a lot of people who will do crazy things when they feel heartbroken. I happen to be one of those people. Often in those situations it ends up being a self-aware crazy. I like idea of moments when feelings and rational thought don’t match up, and the strange actions that occur as a result of this incongruity.

I find that female characters are rarely allowed to be weak while still remaining likeable, which is a shame because generally I find weak, troubled characters much more compelling. I’ve read a lot of fiction where broken hearted men hole themselves up in cabins unable to interact with the world, drop everything and follow their lost loves across continents, lash out violently, grovel, scream, beg, and generally act inhuman while still remaining the character the reader feel closest too. Pathetic male protagonists are often very endearing.

Female protagonists are rarely allowed to act this way. Most female protagonists surrender to their loss stoically, resigning themselves to the outcome whether they can stand it or not. Sometimes they have responsibilities to attend to, they have children, or a career, or some other pressing matter that requires them not to appear overly emotionally inclined. Female protagonists can almost always find a reason to preserve their dignity and will only lose it if absolutely necessary to save themselves or others. They rarely see their own unhappiness as a free card to act like a mental patient and they rarely shirk commitments in order to be utterly selfish. Mostly, through troubles, they persevere.

I grew up feeling (and still to some extent do) entitled to my wants, as I expect many of my generation does. This feeling of entitlement is probably my very worst quality as a human being. When things don’t go my way, especially in a romantic situation, I feel as if the universe has robbed me in some unacceptable way.  When trouble hits, I do not persevere. When trouble hits the rational part of my brain collapses.

When I feel jilted I’ll threaten suicide, violence, or to tell damaging secrets. If there’s nothing I can do to win my love back, I’ll attempt at all costs to make him feel as terrible as I do. The strange thing is, as I commit these acts, I recognize how ludicrous they are, how insane and awful I must seem, but I can never make myself stop. It’s only hours afterward that the embarrassment and shame kicks in.

I know that there are other girls out there like me and I’d like to believe that as whole we are not a terrible collection of people, perhaps too ruled by emotion, but otherwise well adjusted, caring and reasonably high functioning – some of us, anyhow.

Eventually I hope to have a collection of stories about girls who take the moral low ground, regret it, but can learn to live with themselves despite it.

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DRIFT by Julie Lassonde, Nilan Perera, and a.rawlings

April 27: Julie Lassonde, Nilan Perera and a.rawlings perform Drift at Calgary’s Engineered Air Theatre.

On April 27, Calgarians will have the opportunity to experience Drift, a unique interdisciplinary performance combining music, movement, and text, performed by three internationally renowned artists. The event will be hosted by dandelion magazine editor Kathleen Brown and Calgary Writer In Residence Oana Avasilichioaei, and is sponsored by dandelion magazine.

Drift is a structured improvisation of politicized bodies in performance developed by Julie Lassonde, Nilan Perera, and a.rawlings. Drift starts from the impulse of mantra, repeating a partial sentence to senselessness. Text derails into dialogue, discovery, passion, confrontation, inquisition, interrogation, indictment. Investing deeply in the political and personal power of words, Drift explores and explodes our cultural, sexual, age, gendered, racial, and consumer dichotomies. Drift offers transcendence through deconstructing the assumed roles identified within the performers’ bodies.

The “drift” effect is a constraint-based performative reading practice, a discipline of rapidity, repetition, and limitation. Nilan Perera and a.rawlings improvise syntax via repetition of a predetermined, borrowed paragraph, embellished by full-body gesture of Julie Lassonde. “Drifting” challenges performers and witnesses to listen while in dialogue, to wrestle and tussle with realtime communication between individuals.

Selected texts that undergo the “drift” effect are frequently sourced from legal documents, academic essays, and personal letters. The text undergoes a literal transformation of meaning in the mouths and gestures of the performers. Questions become answers as answers lose their certainty. Lassonde, as dancer, acts as a non-verbal translator of the dialogue, internalizing conflict and agreement while externalizing interpretation. Movement acts as both embodiment of tension and release.

DRIFT

by Julie Lassonde, Nilan Perera and a.rawlings
Wednesday April 27 2011

8:30 p.m.
Engineered Air Theatre, EPCOR CENTRE for the PERFORMING ARTS
205 8 Avenue SE, Calgary
Tickets: $15
Tickets available at the door; for advance tickets, please contact
dandelion.magazine@gmail.com.


For media requests or more information, please contact Kathleen Brown at 403-478-5632 or via email at kmehbrown@gmail.com.

ABOUT JULIE LASSONDE

Originally from Montreal, Julie Lassonde is a movement improviser and performance artist who is interested in femininity and masculinity in art and social justice. Based on her training in corporeal mime at the École de mime corporel de Montréal and in theatre at the Collège Lionel-Groulx, Julie presented solo performances and improvisations with musicians and dancers in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Berkeley and Edinburgh. Julie also received degrees in law from McGill University and a master’s degree in law and society from the University of Victoria. Her master’s thesis entitled “Performing Law” was published in the International Journal of the Arts in Society in 2006. This thesis, which included video, text and performance, also won the Innovative Electronic Theses & Dissertations Award awarded by the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations consortium in Sweden in 2007 (seehttp://law.uvic.ca/lassonde/). In 2008, she published the book Collision: Interarts Practice and

Research at Cambridge Scholars Press as co-editor and author. Julie regularly performs with improvising musicians from AIM Toronto such as Joe Sorbara and Nilan Perera. Her work has also been presented by groups such as the Regroupement des arts interdisciplinaires du Québec (RAIQ).

ABOUT NILAN PERERA

 

In the past 20 years, guitarist/composer Nilan Perera has been active in some of the most forward looking, influential, and radical Canadian ensembles including NOMA, Bill Grove’s Not King Fudge, Handslang, and the Excalceolators. He has performed and recorded with John Butcher, Evan Parker, William Parker, Jandek, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Glen Hall, John Oswald, David Toop, Sarah Peebles, Eddie Prevost, Urs Leimgruber, Rainer Wiens, and Michael Ondaatje. His decade-long association with multidisciplinary artist Susanna Hood has placed him in the vanguard of experimental sound artists working in performance with four major works with Ms. Hood’s company (being nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore award for the latest one: ‘shudder’) hum dansoundart as well as many other independent dancer/choreographers and theatre companies. Currently Perera leads the improvising ac. bass/drum/acoustic guitar country duo ‘faint praise’, electric improvising freefunk octet ‘rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL’, electroacoustic duo ‘Smash and Teeny’, and also performs frequently as a soloist and collaborator. Perera is also a music critic with the national music paper ‘exclaim!’ and is on the board of directors of the Association of Improvising Musicians of Toronto.

ABOUT A.RAWLINGS

Poet, arts educator, and interdisciplinarian a.rawlings has presented and published work throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. In the last decade, she held the position of assistant publisher for The Mercury Press and hosted the first season of television documentary series Heart of a Poet. Her first book, Wide slumber for lepidopterists (Coach House Books, 2006), received an Alcuin Award for Design and was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award; the book is being translated into French. Her works-in-progress EFHILMNORSTUVWY and Rule of Three have been exhibited in the Simon Fraser University Art Gallery, Niagara Arts Centre, and Infusoria in Belgium. The last few years, angela has sat on the board of directors for bluemouth inc. and hum dansoundart. As the recipient of a Chalmers Arts Fellowship, angela spent 2009 and 2010 in Belgium, Canada, and Iceland working on her next manuscripts, researching sound/text/movement with special emphasis on vocal and contact improvisation, and collaborating with local artists. angela’s current collaborators are experiential theatre company bluemouth inc. and Belgian artist Maja Jantar.

dandelion magazine publishes literature and art on the edge. We are committed to supporting both emerging and established writers and artists of local, national, and international stature. Our tastes are eclectic. We are, however, particularly interested in concrete, hybrid, and collaborative work. Recent and upcoming issues feature work by Erin Moure, Lisa Robertson, Caroline Bergvall, Sina Queyras, Nicole Brossard, derek beaulieu, Lance Blomgren, Daniel Canty, Kevin Mc-Pherson Eckoff and Jake Kennedy, Jessica Hiemstra-van der Horst, Ray Hsu, Nikki Reimer, Steve Savage, Christine Stewart, Sandy Pool and Blair Prentice.

 

dandelion magazine gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts,

Calgary Arts Development, and the Alberta Foundation for the arts for our publishing program

“A Conversation with Sandy Pool” by Cara Waterfall

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A Conversation with Sandy Pool: Poetry and the Politics of Place

(or An Introduction to Dandelion’s Assistant Editor Sandy Pool)

It’s hard to forget this line from Sandy Pool’s Exploding into Night:  “In a dream I’d made love to a bear and enjoyed it.” Pool laughs when I asked if she had read Marian Engel’s Bear before writing it.  (Engel’s novella is about a woman who disappears into the northern Ontario wilderness and ends up having sex with a bear.)  In fact, Pool read the book after she wrote her own, but both writers revel in language that is startling and animalistic.

At 28, Pool is enjoying a 2010 Governor General’s Award nomination for her first book of poetry. I am interviewing her by telephone, but her disembodied voice manages to convey warmth and energy – even when we tackle the troubling subject of her work.

Exploding into Night is the true story of a woman murdered by her common-law husband in Parkdale, a Toronto neighbourhood that has transformed into a wilderness fraught with fear and failure.  The inhabitants have to push “through the difficult topography of the day” as they assess this unfamiliar world.

The plural perspectives contribute to this disorientation as the victim, the perpetrator – and the city itself – learn to metabolize loss and adapt to a new reality.

The epigraph to Exploding into Night is from poet Adrienne Rich’s An Atlas of the Difficult World and informs the entire book:

“I promised to show you a map you say but this is a mural

then yes let it be     these are small distinctions

where do you see it from is the question”

Place is determined by perception rather than a location on a map and includes people’s lives and shared histories.  Pool’s narrative poem provides an atlas for the reader who inhabits multiple narrators to examine the murder from their perspectives.

At the heart of Pool’s book is the politics of terrible things: human beings are tethered together by their vulnerability to violence, which dictates everything about their relationship to a place.  In this interview, Pool shares her thoughts on poetry and the politics of place.

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From ‘Field Guide’ by ryan fitzpatrick

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My current project Field Guide is an attempt to explore notions of disappearance by zeroing in on extinction as a phenomenon. Each poem in the series takes as its subject an extinct plant or animal species, but rather than write about that species, I write around it, enacting a kind of textual ground where the figure has been erased. In practice, this requires me to first do a bit of research on the species – the IUCN Red List is a consistently good place to start. After I feel like I have read enough, I start improvising around the details of the species’ life and death, folding those details into explorations of development and imperialism, of exploration and exploitation. The improvisations are meant to take the form of entries in a handbook for the identification of extinct species in the wild that purports to assist readers in their attempts to find these unfindable creatures.

Meghan Doraty’s Palliative Poetry

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I wrote these three poems in collaboration with a patient in the palliative care unit at the Foothills Hospital. Sarah was in her forties, a diagnosis of bone cancer with a lengthy prognosis, and had been in the hospital for almost twelve months with nothing to do but watch TV and sleep. When I first met her, she was skeptical about my proposal to write poetry with her for my undergraduate English honours thesis project. She told me in no uncertain terms that she disliked both reading and writing poetry, and had since school days. I suspect that she agreed to work with me on my project because she was bored with hospital life and willing to put up with me popping by and peppering her with talk of active verbs and concrete, specific detail.

My honours thesis project came about due to a strong interest in both creative writing and medicine, and I felt that facilitating poetry writing as a type of therapy among patients might be the perfect way to wed both my interests. I recruit potential participants through the physicians and nurses of the palliative care consulting team who recommend patients who might be interested. Then I do the rounds, visiting patients and seeing who would like to be involved. If interested, patients have the choice of one of three creative writing exercises:

(1) A memoir poem – patients commission me to write a poem based on a memory that they describe to me; such a poem would serve as a legacy-building exercise to create a monument that will exist after they pass away.

(2) An Oulipean based exercise whereby the poet omits a letter of the alphabet. This omissions helps the patient write a poem based on constraints that allows them to struggle with, and overcome the loss that illness and dying brings into one’s life.

(3) An aleatory cut up technique exercise. The poet physically cuts up and rearranges words from their own personal medical documents. This exercise is a way of resisting the medical text so as to prevent it from determining the participant’s identity as solely “patient” or “sick person.” By reforming the text into a poem, the participant regains control.

Most patients have chosen to commission a poem for me to write. I think this is because people tend to be rather frightened of poetry and view it as something that only those with a certain specialized skill can undertake successfully. I took my role as memoirist seriously and put a lot of pressure on myself to write a cure – thinking that in some way, if I could just write a good poem, it would cure my patients and make it so they wouldn’t have to die. Of course, this kind of expectation made it incredibly difficult to actually put anything down on the page, and I remember spending several agonizing hours laboring on the above poem, fearing my patient’s disappointment in my work while worrying about staying true to my own aesthetics as a poet. The struggle of the creative process, in tandem with a growing awareness of my own mortality, manifested in the form of minor physical ailments – I nursed a seriously unromantic and unremitting case of heartburn for weeks.

These symptoms began to subside when I was able to persuade my patients to write. This relieved me while empowering them to tell their own stories. Sarah began to write her own poem, one about snow fairies. She dictated to me while I typed and offered the occasional suggestion. She liked to show the progressing poem to friends, family, and medical staff. She told me that she never knew she could write before this and asked if I would stay and write with her past the end of my thesis. Unfortunately, last week, her symptoms worsened and she passed away, the poem almost complete, but untitled. I feel sad knowing that Sarah didn’t get to see the complete and final poem before she died but I’m also really happy that she was able to tap into the delight of creativity and discover her inner poet while she lived. I will leave you with the poem she wrote: