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Marlatt, Daphne

MARLATT, Daphne


Nationality: Canadian. Born: Daphne Buckle, Melbourne, Victoria, 11 July 1942. Education: University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.A. 1964; Indiana University, Bloomington, M.A. 1968. Family: Married Alan Marlatt (divorced); one son. Career: Instructor in English, Capilano College, North Vancouver, 1968, 1973–76. Writer-in-residence, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 1982, University of Alberta, Edmonton, 1985–86, and University of Western Ontario, 1993. Visiting lecturer, University of Saskatchewan, 1998–99. Poetry editor, Capilano Review, Vancouver, 1973–76; editor, with Paul de Barros, Periodics, Vancouver, 1977–81; associate editor, Island, 1980–83; member of the editorial collective, Tessera, 1983–91. Awards: Canada Council grant, 1969, 1973, 1985, 1996. Address: c/o Writers' Union of Canada, 24 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5T 2P3, Canada.

Publications

Poetry

Frames of a Story. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1968.

Leaf Leaf/s. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1969.

Vancouver Poems. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1972.

Steveston. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1974; revised edition, Edmonton, Alberta, Longspoon, 1984.

Our Lives. Carrboro, North Carolina, Truck Press, 1975; revised edition, Lantzville, British Columbia, Oolichan, 1979.

Solstice: Lunade. Buffalo, State University of New York, 1980.

Here and There. Lantzville, British Columbia, Island, 1981.

How Hug a Stone. Winnipeg, Turnstone Press, 1983.

Touch to My Tongue. Edmonton, Alberta, Longspoon, 1984.

Double Negative. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Gynergy, 1988.

Salvage. Red Deer, Red Deer College Press, 1991.

Two Women in a Birth, with Betshy Warland. Toronto and New York, Guernica, 1994.

Novels

Zócalo. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1977.

Ana Historic. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1988;

London, Women's Press, 1990.

Taken. Toronto, House of Anansi, 1996.

Other

Rings (miscellany). Toronto, York Street Commune, 1971.

Selected Writing: Net Work, edited by Fred Wah. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1980.

What Matters: Writing 1968–1970. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1980.

Mauve, text in French by Nicole Brossard. Montreal, nbj/writing, 1985.

Character, text in French by Nicole Brossard. Montreal, nbj/writing, 1986.

Ghost Works. Edmonton, NeWest, 1993.

Readings from the Labyrinth. Edmonton, NeWest Press, 1998.

Editor, Steveston Recollected: A Japanese-Canadian History. Victoria, Provincial Archives of British Columbia, 1975.

Co-editor, Opening Doors: Vancouver's East End. Victoria, Provincial Archives of British Columbia, 1979.

Editor, Mothertalk: Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshic Kiyooka, by Roy Kiyooka. Edmonton, NeWest Press. 1997.

*

Bibliography: Daphne Marlatt and her Works by Douglas Barbour, Toronto, ECW Press, 1992; Contemporary Canadian and U.S. Women of Letters by Thomas M.F. Gerry, New York and London, Gale, 1993.

Critical Studies: "Daphne Marlatt's Poetry" by Robert Lecker, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver, British Columbia), 76, 1978; "'Body I': Daphne Marlatt's Feminist Poetics" by Barbara Godard, in American Review of Canadian Studies, 15(4), 1985; "Phyllis Webb, Daphne Marlatt and Simultitude" by Laurie Ricou, in A Mazing Space: Writing, edited by Shirley Neuman and Smaro Kamboureli, Edmonton, Longspoon, 1986; Daphne Marlatt issue of Line, 13, spring 1989; "No Tongue in Cheek: Recent Work by English Canadian Poets Daphne Marlatt, Lola Lemire Tostevin and Margaret Atwood" by Christl Verduyn, in Canadian Woman Studies, 8(3), fall 1987; Translation Poetics: Composing the Body Canadian (dissertation) by Pamela Banting, University of Alberta, 1992; The Feminist Romantic: The Revisionary Rhetoric of "Double Negative," "Naked Poems," and "Gyno-Text" (dissertation) by Susan Lee Drodge, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1996; "The Birds, the Bees, and Kristeva: An Examination of Sexual Desire in the Nature Poetry of Daphne Marlatt, Robert Kroetsch, and Tim Lilburn" by Darryl Whetter, in Studies in Canadian LIterature, 21(2), 1996; Narrative in the Feminine: Daphne Marlatt and Nicole Brossard by Susan Lynne Knutson, Waterloo, Ontario, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1999.

*  *  *

In "Musing with Mothertongue" (in Tessera) Daphne Marlatt notes that "language is first of all for us a body of sound." It is this sense of poetry and, indeed, of all language as sound that gives Marlatt's work its characteristic rhythms and that explains as well the other quality that marks her writing—its meticulous attention to detail and form. The images that Marlatt selects are exact renderings of the environment she is describing, but their appropriateness extends beyond the mimetic; they fragment and rejoin to form impressions governed by the sounds they make in combination. These new relationships of word elements and phrases, sometimes created by spontaneous association and sometimes by carefully crafted quibbles, punctuation, or postmodern doubling—"this body my (d)welling place"—create in the poems and even in her prose criticism a series of new and deeper meanings as the writing progresses. It is as process then that the poems must be read and, in fact, that the whole of Marlatt's work should be seen. The later work interrogates the process even more strongly, questioning the relationship of female sexuality, mothering, and language within an écriture féminine, a concern for language as body. The novel Ana Historic overlays personal and social history onto the process of language, creating a biography as historiography. The later Ghost Works continues the layering of memory, autobiography, and narrative, though in a more straightforward diction and with less conscious wordplay.

The early poems in Frames of a Story establish Marlatt's desire for an escape into a literary process that will free her two protagonists from the framing influence of their grandmother's strict past, even as it frees Marlatt from the framing strictures of traditional literary expression. To some extent the dilemma is autobiographical in that Marlatt is the child of colonial British parents, a background she later explores in "In the Month of Hungry Ghosts." More important, the struggle of the two girls to see themselves and each other through new frames, to create a world out of their own perceptions, becomes the central aim of the poems. The two girls—each an extension of one aspect of Marlatt's own struggle toward commitment and self—do not succeed in finding freedom, nor does Marlatt find her independent voice.

In Leaf Leaf/s, however, Marlatt begins to assemble experience from the disparate images around her and to create poetry from the sounds these images evoke in words. The curious amalgam of visual and aural images that mark her writing from this point forms a series of complex photographs that simultaneously present a picture, its sounds, the effect of the image on the perceiver, and the resonance of that perception in the reader's ear. These four sets of stimuli for every impression, each one independent but all necessary for the total effect, force a process in reading that renders the poetry not only amazingly precise but also experiential. One does not observe the world Marlatt reports, but rather one enters it and, in fact, creates it with her.

Marlatt's vision has been called "phenomenological" by Douglas Barbour, Robert Lecker, and others, and certainly by the time of the Steveston poems it is clear that her universe has become one of sense perceptions. It is important, however, to observe the role of sound as one of these sensations, in itself a separate aspect of the world and an equal building block with other influences in which the poet finds herself immersed. This composite universe does not follow a sequential, conscious intellectual analysis in its groupings of phenomena, yet, in the relationship of sound to meaning and of personal experience to poetic moment, a strict relationship of cause and effect emerges. The layering of perception is perhaps most clearly seen in Double Negative, in which a train trip across Australia links visual documents with memories of lovemaking between two women, with concepts of the desert, with the train as umbilical cord linking the earth as mother to the "cyclical nature of female orgasm" (37). Nowhere is Marlatt's a linear construct, however, not even aboard a train. She seeks in a central metaphor of birth for an explanation of the writing impulse and a feminine vision of causality. Indeed, in Rings the entrances of the husband into the private world of mother and child mark a shift from a soft and creative language to one of more complex, but less felt, ideas and of direct connections. The experiences that fill Marlatt's world become more and more fragments of feminine process: blood, water, a letting go, mouths as sucking. Again, in Tessera she suggests that "like the mother's body, language is larger than us and carries us along with it. It bears us, it births us, insofar as we bear with it."

The work since How Hug a Stone develops these concerns from a more overtly theoretical perspective. In retrospect, however, one can see in the earliest poems the clear roots of the poet's identification with language as an extension of the female body and the process of writing as linked to the processes of female sexuality, to menstrual blood, to flowing. The sounds become more gentle as they are freed of what Marlatt calls "terms for dominance tied up with male experience," such as those she employs in the angry sociological statements of Steveston. Salvage rewrites the experience of the Steveston poems and other early work, removing the discourse of dominance and bringing forward the feminist concerns that Marlatt feels were always in the background of the work. The pun of its title echoes the aim of Double Negative to "[im]print" the negative term "women" with the positive. All of the work retains astonishing clarity, and the precise patterns her work forms create the multiple and overlapping impressions that are the core of Marlatt's poetry.

—Reid Gilbert

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