1470 Piecework and peace work
Mother, the Verb, Swan Sister Treasure Book
by Linda Rogers and friends
Victoria: FriesenPress, 2022
$25.00 / 9781039124530
Reviewed Cathy Ford
Upon a time (note dear reader, not “once”), there arrived a beautifully dense green book on my desk. For me, it arrived just in time. As said more often than anyone ever wanted to hear it, it has been a dark and difficult several years. And not over yet. I was ready for a very good book. A book in which art and ideas are freely expressed, celebrated, documented. This book.
Mother, the Verb, Swan Sister Treasure Book is a book of fine, fine print, with a subtext powerful enough to merit its profound cover colour, grounding in green, green for hope. A book that resonates, not once, but many times, like the accomplishment of throwing a skipping stone into a large lake, with ripplewaters spreading as far as the horizonline, circle after circle after circle.
The time was, just now — through and affected by the world pandemic and its silences and violences; the current world war, and the hopelessness again of facing down the patriarchy, its murderous weapons and unmistakable inhumanities. To have this book in hand, so full of feminist challenge and resolve, piecework and peacework, opens the eye and heart to many with the activist heart of an artist, here grouped with other like-minded souls. The contributors are giving of themselves, their art, their artistic intention, with matriarchal certainty, tapping the power of artwork, justice mothering, creative, cultural and societal warrior woman respect, witness, and honouring.
As a reader, one is conscious of a diversity of new voices, wisewomen, cultural bridgemakers, teachers, celebrants, knowledge keepers, literary, performance and visual art advocates for comprehensive reconciliation. Reconciliation a huge basket of the past for all of us, including the working through of present issues, healing of wounds, facing down discrimination and genocide amongst the bodies of women, the wounding of the cultural strengths and powers of women, especially within Indigenous communities. Mother, the Verb celebrates the exercise of the universality and presence of art to make a difference — whether the opposition is to sexism, racism, economic disparity, false equivalencies, bullying, misogyny, interpersonal violence, domestic injury, corrupt politics. Small wonder this book is full of dancers, photographers, poets, novelists, painters, songwriters, sculptors, singers, historians, fishers, basketmakers, screenwriters, costumemakers and wearable art designers, gardeners, musicians, textile artists, ancestral storytellers, environmentalists, climate activists, printmakers, filmmakers, art history students, actors, Indigenous scholars, life counsellors, printmakers, collage artists, illustrators, watercolorists, metalworkers, luthiers, couture dress designers, memoirists. By this I mean, many of the “friends” in this collection do, as in DO, more than one thing — commit to more than one art, practice more than one passion, sing more than one song, dedicate to more than one lifework, often combining several firewalks, inclusive of witnessing, documenting, forging new artworks, and nevertheless, expressing love and working to save the earth. Earth, the mother.
On a shelf with other anthologies, this book is woven together like an archival biography of several generations of peers, and familiars, those who have chosen to stay alive in heart and mind and artistic achievement, no matter the odds. It is simultaneously making the case that this group of “treasure book” creators is, in its commonality, its clarity of purpose, essentially an accidental wonder, “Linda Rogers And Friends”, a gathering of those whose lives have intersected already, or will. The hope that this impression conveys is critically important — there is, after all, hope, that this kind of commitment to purpose, to speaking with the strength of one’s own voice, or working alongside others, can make a difference. Can improve the world. Each small piece of the world, after all, is reflective of all the rest, even accorded every distinction. The reverberations arising from this collection, of intellectual inquiry, of artistic inspiration, of family and friendship, universal attentiveness, cultural inheritance and archiving, help one realize that it is all possible. All the good hard work can create change.
Every voice in this greenest of books plants another seed or two — the examined mind, the intent, the consciousness and complexity of the achievements detailed within are an awakening. Perhaps as a reader, the various works of art of some of these creators are already known to you. Perhaps you will meet someone or some ideas, for the first time, all new. Then there is the company they keep, the chorus that has been raised, of how many creators in this common room are wide awake, convincing, richly embroidered, carved, beaded, quilted, collaged together. Certain, modestly and adamantly revolutionary. How many of these voices are quietly, persistently, stubbornly at work, at carry forward, at perseverance, at credible, vividly detailed, fiercely procedural accomplishment. And at giving their all, individually, and here, collectively.
There are gifted, eloquent voices in this Mother, the Verb, occupying the page, fluent at the haunting, speculative, intimate expressions of art and artists to improve the quality of light on all subjects, but especially addressing the most difficult, the unexpected, the overt mutabilities, the miraculous. In review, I am not selecting any one voice as apart from any vivid other. Rather, taken as a whole, the company each one keeps is what is the magic here. Taken as a kind of handbook, an almanac, time and geography and weather are going to touch every reader differently. That is the sheer joy and daring of this “Swan Sister Treasure Book” – a kind of ghost-text acknowledgement that any one of these artists’ works may touch and change any attentive reader. Some artists anthologized here speak for themselves, their art speaks. Some are spoken about, remembered, and their works documented or illustrated. More power to the print, the fine print, the visuals. A worthy accompaniment to this book might be an art show, public performance, and poetry and prose reading event. Perhaps it would prove difficult to have everyone, or everyone’s art, as represented between these covers, actively participate. On the other hand, at leisure, the treasure a book is, one can read cover to cover, at random, again and again, as preferred. Research further on one’s own. Follow through. No pressure. Be prepared for sudden infusions of light, fireflies, lightning, surprise worth waiting for. Joy.
Consider then, what company you most value, companion in ideas, lifeforce, truth and beauty, beauty, truth. This book is the short version of what might be done, how this earth might be actively, progressively, mothered, taken better care of. Swans, like some others, mate for life. True friends are the families we choose. Likeminded, we help one another move forward. As for me, I identified most clearly with the glimpses through the fresh green leaves, of the red dresses hanging untorn in the trees, dragonfly or crow perched on one shoulder, all multi-dimensional, all stark, fresh in the rain, not yet worn, not stolen, not yet folded away with care. Self-identified. Not buried “unknown”. Protest, protection, prevention, pax. Knowing what it means. Like a running headline. More work to be done.
Acknowledgement of the power of artistic work, moving on ahead, forwarding, the verb, is what this collection of ideas, images, statements of artist’s intent, and the courage of clearly stated political intent is what this book is about. The very explicitness contained here is rare, fearless, a gathering in of friends and relations of common purpose and heart, flashes of brilliance in language, colour, ideas, images.
The most recent spark of red I saw blowing north from the roadside, candling, reminded me of the swan sister weaving or knitting wings or sweaters or cloaks for her brothers. Of course, not just for her brothers, but for us all. Perhaps most directly, those brothers in need. To keep them warm? To help make them human? To save their lives? To overcome horror and loss? To show them love? To remind them we are all family? To wrap them in the same soft down as all sisters and their children and brothers need? Perhaps to state as emphatically as “Mother, the Verb” — the anecdotal, the record keeping, the practice, the suffering, the life affirmations — all these are not enough. Contributing to the kindnesses, the beauty, the faithfulness, the evolving comprehension of wonder is also required. The artistic spirits and the works represented in this opening salvo should push everyone just a bit more ahead, into the future of our making, our life arts, even during times of darkness, bringing light. With thanks. Deep water, green light.
Cathy Ford is a poet, fictioniste, and memoirist, working predominantly on the long poem, feminist issues, life and death concerns, social justice and peace, our relationship with this beloved earth. She has published more than fifteen books, including the art of breathing underwater, and Flowers We Will Never Know The Names Of — an abc book of the language of flowers and their transliteration, an interpretation of grief and protest, based on the Montreal Massacre. Both most recent books published by Mother Tongue Press; others by blewointment press, Caitlin Press, Harbour Publishing, Vehicule Press. Cathy Ford lives in Victoria.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster