Poetry in Motion: Appetites and Marriage in Julie Cameron Gray’s Lady Crawford

Julie Cameron Gray’s second collection of poetry, Lady Crawford (Palimpsest Press), is Anna Karenina gone furious: an assemblage of poems that deal with unmanaged expectations of (royal) marriage, materialism, and parties.(BONUS: Last week, we featured Lady Crawford in our “It’s My Party” list of CanLit ragers).


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Julie Cameron Gray’s second collection of poems, Lady Crawford, is at once deeply personal and a complete fabrication. Like a fascinating woman you met a party once years ago and can’t seem to forget, the characters that inhabit these poems are strange and exotic; from famous artists and wealthy dowagers to groupies and teenage skinheads. Entertaining, engrossing, and accessible, these are poems from an eclectic range of viewpoints examining the inherent need to strive for something beyond our current grasp, no matter what we have – skinheads, hipsters trying to go off the grid, Georgia O’Keeffe, or Harry Houdini’s wife. Gray’s first book, Tangle, had a strong thematic focus on regret and failure, on the instability of our carefully crafted lives and the dark, sinister undercurrent that throbs. In her second book, there is a ramping up of the sonic qualities of her work, and the themes, while less sinister, explore perspectives of deception – people deceiving themselves, deceiving others, and feeling complicit as others have deceived them. The titular Lady Crawford suite of poems began as an exploration of lineage via marriage, and became more of a re-imagining of the unsatisfying nature of adulthood and the acquisition of ‘stuff.’ Several poems explore the relationship to aspirations of a certain lifestyle and how achievement of status often doesn’t feel real, since material accomplishments don’t bring any sense of fulfillment, but tend to highlight failure instead. The human appetite for more – more of everything – is difficult to combat. Her influences include Gwendolyn MacEwen, Sylvia Plath and Al Purdy. Plath is most keenly felt in the unusual trio of poems depicting the Roman Goddess Minerva a a twentysomething club kid, and Al Purdy in the poems “The Woodsman” and “Sunrise with Sea Monsters”. MacEwen’s influence has a modern interpretation that hums quietly throughout the collection, such as in the lines from ‘Groupies’:
Most won’t understand and it’s hard
to explain, but attention seeking is the new kind
of proxied fame—costumed in vintage
before vintage was cool, the margin
where legions are eyelinered
into cartoons—the notorious spectacle
that cuts our senses to confetti
and our impossible selves carry on stage
until the music stops and we stand
undancing, pinned into place by the truth
that our lives might not actually matter,
then throw our hands up in the air,
gut the horizon with our red nails
and let fruit punch light bleed the night out.
* * *Watch Julie read from Lady Crawford: “Last to Leave the Party” “Performance Art”* * *Thanks to Aimee at Palimpsest and Julie Cameron Gray, for sharing Lady Crawford with us. For more Poetry in Motion, click here.