The Difficult was at first a footnote to an essay on Lisa Moore's novel, February. I was defending that novel against an absurd charge that it was anti-feminist. That quite accessible novel had been so superficially and insensitively read that I began to wonder how any such reader could begin to cope with more challenging books. From the essay on February, that was too great a detour, certainly for the book (Strangers & Others: Newfoundland Essays) it appeared in, so I cut it. I let the subject of reading and writing about difficult texts lie for a few years, went on to other projects, until I found myself talking to Jack Davis, a former student and Pedlar Press poet, about hatchet reviewing in this country. I mentioned to Jack that I had written something on the subject of reviewing and could send it to him, if he was interested. He was. To refresh myself on what I'd said, I read it over, began to revise and expand. That's how I got back into the subject. Many interesting things happened while writing this book. My friend Phil Hall sent me a poem, for example. That got me thinking back over my long readership of his work, which led me to write a new section of what was now becoming a book. This section includes ruminations on the career of Red Skelton, the televangelism of Joel Osteen, the journalism of Andrew O'Hagan and other things. In other words, the section swings widely (as do other sections) between disparate but related subjects. Thinking about my "method" caused me to coin the word "meanderthal" for what I do. Other chance encounters with various texts provoked like meanders.
Stan Dragland was born and brought up in Alberta. He was educated at The University of Alberta and Queen's University. He has taught at the University of Alberta, at The Grammar School, Sudbury, Suffolk, England, in the English Department at the University of Western Ontario in London, and in the Banff Centre Writing Studio. He now lives in St. John's, Newfoundland. He was founding editor of Brick, a journal of reviews and founder of Brick Books, a poetry publishing house, which he still serves as publisher and editor. Between 1993 and 1996 he was poetry editor for McClelland and Stewart. He has published three previous books of fiction: Peckertracks, a Chronicle (shortlisted for the 1978 Books in Canada First Novel Prize), Journeys Through Bookland and Other Passages, and (for children) Simon Jesse's Journey. He has edited collections of essays on Duncan Campbell Scott and James Reaney. Wilson MacDonald's Western Tour, a 'critical collage,' has been followed by two other books of criticism, The Bees of the Invisible: Essays in Contemporary English Canadian Writing and Floating Voice: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Literature of Treaty 9, which won the 1995 Gabrielle Roy Prize for Canadian Literary Criticism. 12 Bars, a prose blues, was co-winner of the bp Nichol Chapbook Award in 2003, the same year Apocrypha: Further Journeys appeared in NeWest Press's Writer-as-Critic series. Apocrypha was winner of the Rogers Cable Non-Fiction Award in 2005. In April 2004 the stage adaptation of HalldÛr Laxness's The Atom Station, co-written with Agnes Walsh, was performed at the LSPU Hall in St. John's. His most recent book is Stormy Weather: Foursomes, prose poetry from Pedlar Press, was shortlisted for the EJ Pratt Poetry Award in 2007. He is editor of the recently-released Hard-Headed and Big-Hearted: Writing Newfoundland, a collection of essays by Newfoundland historian Stuart Pierson.
Reading Christina Baillie, I find myself thinking of experimental Canadian writers like Daphne Marlatt, Erín Moure, Gail Scott. I also think of Mary Dalton's Hooking, a "book of centos . . . made of lines which occur at the same point in the linear structure of the poems they are excised from." None of these women writes like any other, nor is their writing all the same, but their styles are often no less demanding than the Baillie style.
Bricoleur. Bricklayer. The play on words is intentional. After all, the author is arguably CanLit's hardest-working mason, having founded both an important literary press and a magazine called Brick. What's more, in addition to penning ten books of his own, for almost thirty years, Stan Dragland thrived (or at least survived) in academia. "Maverick" scholar or not, you can't do that kind of work without some periods of dogged application. Bricoleur--the collagist, lover of fragments and random accidents. Bricklayer--the methodical builder. Are these, in fact, so antithetical?That is just one of the questions this fascinating assemblage raised for me. Do these sentences tell a story or state an argument? If they do, it is an oblique one. No matter. There's something magical in the age-old classification of tropes and schemes, something magical in the way these sentences jostle up against each other. There's fun in finding Christopher Smart in bed with Gertrude Stein; Warren Zevon wedged between Margaret Avison and Seamus Heaney; Ken Babstock on the same park bench as E. B. White. "It's a lonely activity, writing. Even the most successful of us, doing what we feel called to do, may feel like orphans unless we chance to happen upon our spiritual family." How to read a person? the book begins. Chart what he accumulates, say Ondaatje, Oliver, McKay. Reading this bricoleur's accumulation of sentences, I felt companioned. I'd wander with him anywhere in the fields of language. Erudite, yet earthy. Confidential, yet not confessional. Part commonplace book, part essay, part memoir, part literary appreciation, The Bricoleur & His Sentences is as playful, perceptive, and profound as the spirit that animates it.--Susan Olding
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