Reading Sveva is award-winning author Daphne Marlatt’s response to the life and paintings of Sveva Caetani, an Italian émigré who grew up in Vernon, B.C.
Daughter of an Italian prince, leftist, and scholar of Islam, Sveva grew up with the multilingual and highly cultured European traditions of her parents who moved to Vernon in 1921, when Fascism was on the rise in Italy. At age eighteen, after her father’s death in 1939, Sveva was forced into home-seclusion for twenty-five years with her grieving mother. When her mother died, she entered the community of Vernon and flourished as a high school teacher and respected painter. Her life experiences took the form of an extensive series of dry-brush paintings modelled on the structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as poems and philosophical commentary.
Marlatt’s lasting interest in the lives of immigrants to the West Coast continues in Reading Sveva, a thoughtful collection of ekphrastic and lyric poems that respond to Sveva’s insular life, the late beginnings of her artistic grown in 1960, and the meaning of home.
Bringing her own perspective as an immigrant and as a woman, Marlatt illuminates the life of this forgotten female artist whose work is a testament to the struggle of the female artist, and the search for a sense of belonging.
Daphne Marlatt was at the centre of the West Coast poetry movement of the 1960s, studying at the University of British Columbia and with many of Donald Allen’s New American Poets, most notably Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan. Her early literary associations with the loosely affiliated TISH group encouraged her nonconformist approach to language and form. Her unique disposition toward language shapes and is shaped by her commitment to exploring and honouring silenced histories and experiences. For her, writing has been a lifelong ethical project, deeply engaged with feminism, immigrant experiences, and ecological issues. Her innovations in the prose poem form have influenced an entire generation (and beyond) of Canadian poets.
2014 ReLit Awards, poetry category (shortlisted)
Winner of the prestigious 2008 Uchimura Naoya Prize
This Tremor Love Is
Finalist for the 2002 BC Book Prize: Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize
“Marlatt’s language conveys a rich sensuality, a sensibility honed to a fine edge.”
“In Reading Sveva, Daphne Marlatt meets a kindred spirit in Sveva Caetani (1917–1994), a visual artist who, with originality equal to Marlatt’s own, strove to dissolve the same binary concepts that have preoccupied the poet and novelist throughout her career. … The poems are neither commentary, nor interpretation, nor do they evaluate or judge. Rather, they represent the summoning of one artist’s intuitive knowledge of another artist’s being. … At their most powerful, Marlatt’s poems conduct a kind of running interview with Sveva, addressing her as ‘you,’ quoting her own writings back to her in a new context.”
—Pacific Rim Review of Books
“Everything that Marlatt has published is instinct with caring, intelligence and a feel for technical innovation.”
"In writing that brilliantly combines historry, narrative, ekphrasis, imagination, and speculaion, Marlatt creates a reader’s version of Caetani’s life… Marlatt’s poems embody a generous attention to details that unfold into worlds."— Capilano Review
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