What if the lady — Jane Austen’s contemporary –who conceived the world’s most intriguing modern monster (Doc Frankenstein’s creature) — was also a proto-suffragette, precursor-feminist, and, simultaneously, much to her chagrin, wedded to a narcissist poet, whose liberalism urged on his libertinism? How would such a woman think? What would she say about her majuscule Romantic dilemma and minuscule romantic predicament? Such are the questions that Chad Norman pursues in his act (and art) of sympathetic re-animation: Squall: Poems in the Voice of Mary Shelley.
This by George Elliott Clarke, Parliamentary Poet Laureate for two recent years. Out of the gates, a tone is set. In fact, before the gates even open. Clarke pens an eloquent introduction to Chad Norman’s suite of Shelley-inspired poems. I find myself drawn into that Promethean realm, a lump of humanity-rich clay thunked on a potter’s wheel, waiting to be spun, released (unleashed?) into the world.
Judith bauer illustrations intersperse Norman’s exquisite work, her black-and-white drawings rich multimedia, seeming simplicity that surprise in their depth of effect.
References to Shelley, despite numerous novels, invariably result in envisioning the woman alongside Frankenstein, the author perhaps peering from curtains at the side of a stage, herself a sculptor of animate raw material, albeit it ink and paper. Which in turn transports me to a similar tale, a swath of silicate sand where all human life was created – a finger of land in a beckoning curl, coaxing mankind from a sea-washed clam, spat from shoreline clay.
From This Parting The Earth Whispers, 1822:
Mary with a cheek to the land; / a small sealed box by her face
I have rested on / the bosom of a man / the sea consoled / as if it were the wife / he forgot / in the centre of his final wish.
Together we delve into Shelley’s innermost yearnings, wishes, loss and experience. This is a diary of thought, of feeling, carved into vignettes of verse. Mary the publicist and partner, promoting her hedonist spouse, the wayward Percy Bysshe. Mary the mother and traveller, her peregrinations with relatable encumbrance of familial baggage. And of course, Mary the writer.
From The Nigredo, 1820:
Mary gathering driftwood for a fire; / a small sealed box in a circle of stones
I woke to behold, / the aching ink / settled / in the page’s kind silence, / the fierce erect quill / my tiny life lived within.
Any writer, every artist, knows this. Disappearance into the craft – creativity, animation of a muse, imagined and real. Genius. Love. Your curse. Akin to a small sealed box.
From A Grim Depletion, 1819:
Mary rolling in the sand; / a small sealed box in grass by the beach
How our planet withstands / the many lives / roiling the lithe hopes of restoration / the overcoming the conquests / for comfort / hardly gets beyond / the hot stretching drop of / a memory, I ready for, / like any desert / under the anxious widening / shadow of a meteor.
Reading Squall: Poems in the Voice of Mary Shelley at this moment, like everyone, I’m in relative isolation, anxious, our meteor’s shadow widening. Crude sutures hold us intact, aspiration and decay, sewn into post-mortem cross-stitched lumps. Awaiting animation, a sculptor like Chad Norman, to free us.
Squall: Poems in the Voice of Mary Shelley goes on the 2020 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Best Poetry category.
About the Author: Chad Norman continues to do things his way … as any true poet must in the
current age. His poems are published in countries around the globe. He continues to arrange/host events, helping other poets. His collection, Selected & New Poems, out from Mosaic Press, brings together 30 years of poems. Chad resides in Truro, Nova Scotia.
About the Illustrator: judith S bauer is a poet, painter, and sculptor of wild paper, based in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia where she and her partner operate the Main & Station Nonesuch arts centre and residencies.
About the Reviewer: Bill Arnott is the bestselling nonfiction author of 2019 WIBA Finalist Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Dromomania: A Wonderful Magical Journey. Bill’s a featured performer at literary events internationally. His poetry, articles and columns are published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. When not trekking the globe, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, reading, writing, making friends and drinking too much coffee. @billarnott_aps
Squall: Poems in the Voice of Mary Shelley by Chad Norman
Illustrator: judith S bauer
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