Paying Attention

We’d like to introduce you to our newest blogger – Kate Braid. Kate has written poetry and non-fiction about subjects from Georgia O’Keeffe, Emily Carr and Glenn Gould, to mine workers and fishers. In addition to co-editing with Sandy Shreve, In Fine Form: The Canadian Book of Form Poetry, she has published five books of poetry, most recently A Well-Mannered Storm, The Glenn Gould Poems (Caitlin, 2008) and Turning Left to the Ladies (Palimpsest, 2009). Her memoir of fifteen years as a carpenter, Journey Woman, is forthcoming in fall 2012. Her work has won and been short-listed for a number of awards including the Pat Lowther Award for Best Book of Poetry by a Canadian Woman, the British Columbia Book Prize and the Vancity Book Prize, and both her poetry and non-fiction have been widely anthologized.

Please join us in welcoming her to Black Ink, White Paper. We’re delighted to have her.

As a writer, one of the things I love is the permission to pay attention. If I see someone bent over at the bus stop, minutely inspecting the body of a dead mouse, then I know it’s probably a writer, or someone with “writer” in their soul. This is what writers write about – the everyday “made fresh,” as Ezra Pound suggested, so that others can see it newly too.

But for several years, I’ve found myself paying attention not just through my own eyes, but through another’s. I’ve taken on the personae – the voice – of the American painter, Georgia O’Keeffe, and of the Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould. I didn’t really notice I was doing it, or that it might be thought a bit, well, odd – like putting your nose up close to a dead mouse – until I submitted a few of the Gould poems for publication in a literary journal that sniffed back, “We don’t want these, but send us more when you’re ready to write in your own voice.”

But Glenn Gould’s had become my own voice! It started with hearing a documentary on him, on CBC radio, which got me curious. What would his life have been like? (He died in 1982 at age 50 of a massive stroke.) I started to read about him and listen to his music. Until then, I didn’t even like classical music, especially Bach who – I now found out – was the guy Gould specialized in. I listened more, read more, and before I knew it, I was writing in the voice of Gould about, “the fortress of fugue and partita where /notes, like hands, heal me.”

With O’Keeffe, it started with learning she’d once met my other favourite painter, Emily Carr. I already loved both women’s paintings, loved that both had defied the attitudes of their day in order to paint. So it was so much fun to slowly “become” a painter, to read about O’Keeffe, to walk through an art supply shop noting colours: raw sienna, madder carmine, and all the ways to say purple: garnet, amethyst, Caput mortum. I felt I knew her, in fact, I got so close, I slipped into her head and wrote from there, exploring what it was like to see the world as colour and form, to be a bit nasty, to write, “Last night I dreamed the blood / ran in my veins like skeins of thread, / each thread a different, shimmering colour.”

There are still some presses (and literary journals) that don’t like such so-called “persona” poems, but through the characters I’ve adopted (or who have adopted me), I’ve learned new perspectives – new appreciations of art and music – I would never otherwise have had. I’ve learned to love Bach. And there are always other journals to publish in, more small miracles of life and death, everywhere.

Kate Braid


7 responses to “Paying Attention

  1. First of all, Kate, welcome to Black Ink, White Paper. Your first astute post makes it apparent you were well-chosen to fill the void. Glad to have you aboard.

    That said, I believe taking on another’s voice is a sign of how immersed you become in your project. Their skin is your skin. You breathe the same air. It is beyond behaving like a chameleon. It is true learning—a process beyond memorizing facts—wherein what you learn becomes a part of you and you become what you have learned.

  2. Hi Kate *waves* Welcome!
    Great post, and I can relate. I’d like to believe that over time, my voice as a writer will become stronger, but I also believe we unconsciously assimilate the voices of others we admire.

  3. Welcome, Kate! I’m so glad you ignored the critics, because INWARD TO THE BONES is brilliant. I love the “conversation” between Georgia O’Keefe and Emily Carr – who also happen to be two of my favorite artists. 🙂

    So happy to have you as part of the group, and I’m dying to read your Glenn Gould collection.


  4. Jar O' Marbles


    I think photographers also pay attention in a similar way. It’s one of the things that I love about photography, is that I can stare at something and look for the coolest angle to capture.

  5. Kate (and Annette), I think all artists – visual, musicians, dancers, writers – all pay attention in similar ways. We go deeper, stare longer, think harder about whatever it is we’re thinking about or looking at or listening to. Can’t help ourselves, methinks.


  6. Hi Kate and welcome!

    I can definitely relate to taking on another’s voice. Not the voice of another writer, but the voice of my characters. There have been days when I’ve been so immersed in my writing that I’ll respond to real life situations how my characters would. With less blood and death and mayhem, of course. 😉

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