Lit Locale: Broken Landscapes in Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric

Catherine Graham’s book-length lyric essay Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric (Wolsak and Wynn)—longlisted for the 2021 Toronto Book Award—is a luminous homage to family, to cancer, and to the strange windings of truth. Today, Graham tells us how her cancer diagnosis led to a connection to the ethereal that prompted her to write Æther and what broken landscapes mean to her. As Graham puts it best: “We are all broken landscapes. Thankfully, our stories hold us.”


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What Does it Mean to be a Broken Landscape?That it fills first with emptiness—air, thick with loss, with grief—and as air settles in, something buried bubbles up—an underground spring releases its hold to serve the man-made hole, water embraces rock, the limestone lives lining the rock—slowly a blue eye forms.A water-filled limestone quarry has fuelled my imagination for all my creative life. I lived beside one once. I grew into an adult there and shortly after met loss flat in the face—first mother, then father, then I’m all alone.After selling the quarry (there was no choice), I took its memory with me. It has settled in my heart—coeur, cor, quarry. Everything is connected.
The quarry in the 1800s
The quarry—present day When I was diagnosed with breast cancer the exact age my mother was when she died from the disease, she accompanied me on my treatment journey. Visions, dreams, knowings, synchronicities—they fuelled my hope and cemented my connection to the ethereal, the celestial, the invisible layers that are part of this world. And it made me write my latest book: Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric, a hybrid memoir that weaves the mysteries of my parents past into a lens of knowing. We do know, deep down, the truth. And we are all walking, broken landscapes. The quarry inside each of us resides in our hearts.So, close your eyes and feel your own quarry. Perhaps the Great Blue Heron will wade at the sides for a sunfish or the osprey circle for prey. See fish jump through the sun’s red blade, the water white cap or lie doe-still. Your past is part of your present too, as is your parents’ past, your parents’ parents’ past. We are all broken landscapes. Thankfully, our stories hold us.

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Catherine Graham is a poet, novelist and creative writing instructor. She is the author of six acclaimed poetry collections, including The Celery Forest, a CBC Best Book of the Year and finalist for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry. Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award and CAA Poetry Award and her debut novel, Quarry, was a finalist for the Sarton Women’s Book Award for Contemporary Fiction and Fred Kerner Book Award and won the Miramichi Reader’s “The Very Best!” Book Award and an Independent Publisher Book Awards’ gold medal for Fiction. She holds an MA in creative writing from Lancaster University (UK). 

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Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric is available for purchase here on All Lit Up >>>