Monday, February 26, 2018

Journeywoman - Carolyne Van Der Meer (Inanna Publications)

Today's book of poetry:
Journeywoman.  Carolyne Van Der Meer.  Inanna Publications & Education Inc.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Journeywoman by Carolyne Van Der Meer

Journeywoman by Carolyne Van Der Meer is tour de force poetry.  Journeywoman demanded that Today's book of poetry listen to Nancy Wilson this morning.  That's always a good thing, Nancy set new standards and made a few demands in her day.  

Journeywoman is carefully divided into four sections:  Manoeuvring, Travelogue, The Cancer Journey and Fellow Travellers.  Van Der Meer changes gears in each section but her voice stays the same, steady on the throttle.

Here every poem rings true because Van Der Meer has chosen a language that is immediately accessible.  Journeywoman is every woman, not that Van Der Meer is making any such claims, but Today's book of poetry suspects that every woman could find themselves in these pages.

Van Der Meer talks to us about family, travelling, friendship and cancer, and then she puts it down so clearly Today's book of poetry has no trouble recognizing it as true.

Finding the Hollandsche Schouwburg

She asked me if I knew of it
before I'd even arrived
In the Jewish Quarter,
a theatre, now a monument
to the more than 100,000 Dutch Jews
who were exterminated
She was ready to educate me
about this place seen
only once before,
but was still affecting her
twenty years hence

We wandered:
goals along the way,
things you must see
we saw perky breasts
passed coffeehouses
with strongly-scented terraces,
ate a lunch of Dutch white beer
warm geitje,
goats cheese
on toast a warm
little goat she chuckled
as the beer slid down
Got lost between the University of Amsterdam's
Centre for Entrepreneurship
a palliative care centre, passed
the Dutch Resistance Museum

fell into the zoo
only to discover
Hollandsche Schouwburg
tucked around the corner
on Plantage Middenlaan

None of these
the sex for sale
the straying
the nervous laughter
could have lessened the effect
of the long list
of those deported
to Westerbork
of the lone
obelisk taking centre stage
in a now silent theatre


Today's book of poetry was misleading you earlier when we listed the four sections of Journeywoman, the truth is that it is all in here.  The big three, Love-Sex-Death, and so much more. Van Der Meer's keen eye takes in the details without ever taking her eye off of the poetry prize.  Today's book of poetry felt like I was listening to/talking with a dependable old friend whose wise counsel I could depend on.

Canada has Lynn Crosbie and Sue Goyette, Alice Burdick and Susan Musgrave, Lorna Crozier and Nora Gould, Eva H.D. and Linda Pyke, Margaret Queen of Atwood and Phyllis Webb, Suzannah Showler and Kayla Czaga and a dozen more women for each of these but Today's book of poetry asserts that Journeywoman allows Carolyne Van Der Meer instant access to that growing pantheon of Canadian women who are "must read" poets.

Barcleona Beach

A spray of bodies against the Mediterranean--
glinting grit on exposed breasts,
sun rippling off six packs, great bellies,
cellulite thighs and smooth backsides
She recognizes the possibilities,
imagines: some arrive together, leave together,
some meet later for transient intimacy
Jealousy, warring souls, lies, hunger--

Later in need
of her bearings, she peels
off her damp bikini
Scrunching up her panties,
runs them under tepid water,
lathers mimosa and mandarin into the silk,
squeezes out her own fluids
When done,
she steps
lithely into the shower
washes away the sun and sand,
sweat and salt cleansed
of other people's stories


Our morning read was an exciting affair.  Today's book of poetry had taken Journeywoman with him to Montreal for the weekend.  She was tagging along when we visited The Word bookshop.  If you love poetry and are ever in Montreal, Quebec, Canada you MUST visit Adrian and Luci at 469 Milton Street, just on the edge of the McGill University campus.  Today's book of poetry came away with poetry jewels and genuine glee and maybe even a new friend.  You might even meet Scott Moodie, he not only works at The Word but writes fine poems on the side.  Scott is an old friend from 1980's Ottawa.  The Word is a MUST see in Montreal.

Today's book of poetry showed the minions my Montreal poetry spoils but we wouldn't let Milo at the new Tom Clark "Sparrow" titles, they were in plastic and he was eating a piece of pizza out of his other hand.  Today's book of poetry said NO.  And I made him wash his hands before putting our marvelous Montreal loot in the stacks.

Sorry for the detour, now back to the excellent Journeywoman.  

Carolyne Van Der Meer shows us, by example, how a strong woman's heart works.  These poems take us on a woman's journey through time, love, friendship, illness and more.  They do it with a voice you can depend on for clarity, humour and understanding.

Prayer on a Train

With heavy-lidded eyes
fairly dancing she smiles
hijab covering what I imagine
a head of thick dark locks
Her skin smooth, few
signs of age

She flattens her purse
on her knees, leans forward
on elbows, head bowed
She pauses, looks up at me
speaks Your son will wonder what
I am doing I need to pray
I smile my thanks
My boy looks at me
I tell him she is Muslim
prays several times a day,
while she, silent, eyes
closed, mouths words
only her god can hear

Later -- thank you
I nod and ask her where she is from Iraq
she says left for Kuwait
to escape Saddam's rule, only
to find prejudice
in her new home
How could I raise my children there

in 1993 chose Canada
waited months in Senegal
for confirmation of
refugee status I ask her age
51 or 52, she says
I am not sure

I realize she is more
sure, praying on a train
in a foreign land
than so many of us at home


Today's book of poetry loved Journeywoman and is convinced you will love it too.  Inanna Publications continues to publish some of the strongest women's voices in the country.  Carolyne Van Der Meer puts her name on a list of strong and extraordinary poets from Inanna:  Vancy Kasper, Pam Galloway, Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, Eva Tihanyi, Cullene Bryant, Mary Corkery, Rosemary Clewes.  Journeywoman adds one more name and elevates the group that much more.

Strong, smart poetry will always find a welcome here at Today's book of poetry.  Carolyne Van Der Meer has thrown her hat into the ring.  Some hat!


Image result for carolyn van der meer photo

Carolyne Van Der Meer
(Photo: Bassam Sabbagh)

Carolyne Van Der Meer is a journalist, public relations professional and university lecturer. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees in English Literature from University of Ottawa and Concordia University respectively, and a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers. Her journalistic articles, essays, short stories and poems have been published internationally. She is the author of Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experience, published in 2014. Journeywoman is her first volume of poetry. She is currently at work on a young adult fiction novel. She lives in Montreal, Quebec.

“It is gratifying and exciting to read a poetry collection like Journeywoman by Carolyne Van Der Meer. Here is a poet using her considerable skill to craft poems that exhibit a controlled intelligence at work. Masterful uses of image, sound, shape of thought, and evoked meaning are all employed as Van Der Meer guides us on a journey of discovery to concrete, named places, and along curving, challenging pathways of the mind and spirit. The poems glitter and chime with word choices that are precise and rhythmic. The language is clear, direct, and concise. The point-of-view is focused. The sensual detail is exhilarating. Take this journey and you will be find poems that challenge and entice. Journeywoman is a book of significant charms. Read it once, and you will read it again, then again. Each time you will linger at points along the journey, unconcerned about reaching the end. That, after all, is the point, the satisfaction found in our wandering, our exploration, our journey through life.”
     – Michael Carrino, author of Always Close, Forever Careless and By Available Light: New and Selected Poems

"Carolyne Van Der Meer’s Journeywoman takes the reader on a rich journey through the many facets of womanhood. Everyday domestic events—slicing onions, breaking glass, sewing on buttons—become infused with deeper meaning through Van Der Meer’s keen eye and gift for turning these tasks inside-out and exposing their weighted underbelly. Delightful moments between mother and son, husband and wife, sister and sister are rendered in poems that feel like well told stories, full of evocative imagery. Literal journeys lead to playful and cheeky moments as Van Der Meer recreates moments of travel that connect the narrator and reader to other times and places. Perhaps most poignant are the poems in Section lll, "The Cancer Journey." Here, the body becomes a geography in itself as Van Der Meer, with astonishing colour and honesty, describes cancer treatments that make the reader feel that she too is undertaking the chemical journey deep down in her bones. Reading the collection, which is both personal and infinitely universal all at once, the reader is enriched. The poems invite the reader in casually and are as inviting as the tea described in "Teatotaler." The reader takes in the poems and experiences "all these essences/in one slow sip."
     —Lori Weber, author of Yellow Mini

Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experience by Carolyne Van Der Meer 
Video:  Carolyne Van Der Meer


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
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