Friday, March 26, 2010

Reader's Diary #593- Anne Szumigalski: When Earth Leaps Up


If you're like me, you often found yourself reading until you nod off. The next night you can't seem to figure just what the heck is going on, despite having used a bookmark. Those last few pages were such a blur that you don't remember them at all. In fact, you even slipped into dreamland once or twice and now you can't figure out why Sherman Hemsley had showed up in a Jane Austen book anyway.

I've found the solution: ditch the bookmark. No, I don't advocate dog-earring pages or breaking the book's spine to leave it open on the nightstand. Those wreck your books and don't help you in the sleepy situation I described above. But! Without the bookmarks, you have to find the last thing that you remember. Yes, you'll end up reading some parts over, often you'll read 5 or more pages until you realize a certain phrase is somewhat familiar. But it helps prevent those gaps that eventually destroy a more complete understanding of what's going on and lessen your enjoyment. So get rid of it. Throw it away. No more bookmarks, Walmart receipts or old envelopes. Trust me, it's crazy enough to work. Bedroom readers of the world, unite!

My bookmark free existence (oh, I don't know if I'd call it revolutionary...), recently helped saved Anne Szumigalski's When Earth Leaps Up for me. It's no secret that sometimes you need to read a poem over and over until you get it and finally appreciate it. I've known that for years, but I've continued to zip through poetry books way too fast, only enjoying about half of what I've read. When I began When Earth Leaps Up about a month ago, I really wasn't enjoying it. I'd put it down several times, bookmarkless, read a novel or two, and keep going back to find where I'd left off. The result was reading some of the poems over and over, finally and actually enjoying them!

One of my favourites in the whole collection is "Mother and Daughter Dancing in a Garden." It begins with two women dancing and laughing in a garden and ends the way so many of the poems in the book do, with a dramatic shift. Here are the last two stanzas:

Now whether it has something to do with the conversation, a
question unanswered, an idea not explained, or whether it's the
last line of a half-remembered lyric that will not come to mind,
suddenly that's all there is to it.

Someone has locked the door from the inside. No access. And the
women are stopped there in their flight, the one with her mouth
pressed forever to the other's ear.

Is this a MacGuffin? Possibly. There's a lot not explained in the poem. There's a hint of danger in the last image in the first stanza (Heel holes at the very edge of things.) and certainly the sudden frozen image at the end indicates that something of monumental importance has just happened. But maybe it's more a comment on the selectivity of memory. It's quite evocative. And to think I skimmed it over the first time around. Now I find Szumigalski whispering in my ear.

1 comment:

Bybee said...

Lose the bookmark!? It's scary and brilliant!

A variation on your idea that I've done from time to time is sticking the bookmark in a few pages from where I knew I stopped reading.