Reviews

The White Crow

“This book about life, death, and grieving, infused with extraordinary observational power, is for sinking one’s teeth into, with plenty to digest in all three sections: Here, There, and Here & Now.” Reviewed by Christine Lowther in Room magazine:

http://www.roommagazine.com/blog/review-white-crow-christine-smart

Decked and Dancing

Whether in taut prose or image-rich lines that trace ‘the edge of knowing,’ these poems note up-close the sensory tangibles of a life bodily-aware, aroused, and conscious of time’s shadow. Chris Smart’s poems are on the side of life, even with its pain.

Daphne Marlatt

Christine Smart’s poems perform acts of clear-eyed unsentimental recollection and fierce longing, and move with an earthy music that is all their own. The reader is left with a sense of the sharp, bittersweet tang of the authentic.”

Don McKay

Smart’s poetry breathes with an impeccably solid rhythm. Nothing dangles, rattles or distracts. Each word is poised and settled in its rightful place. Love, birth, nature and the domestic are treated with reverence, not sentimentality.”

Gulf Islands Driftwood, October 2006

Filled with wonderful and accessible poetry, it’s a quality production.”

Aqua, Winter 2006

The first section of Christine Smart’s collection of poetry focuses on the immense and unrelenting labour of farm life and the complicated dynamics of a patriarchy. The detail is gripping, from the violence of killing chickens to the beauty of a mother’s quilting. The other two parts of the collection have a wider range of topics–breast cancer, pregnancy, artichokes, and much more. The whole book is rich in descriptions of ordinary life, thereby ironically elevating that life beyond the ordinary.

Room, 30. 1

 

‘People’s Poet’ 

Saltspring nurse avoids the arcane as she writes from the heart and body

Goody Niosi, Special to the Times Colonist

Published: Sunday, April 13, 2008

Christine Smart recently received the Acorn-Plantos award for her first volume of poetry, Decked and Dancing. The award named her People’s Poet 2007, meaning that her poetry is accessible. That, of course, raises the question, “What does accessible mean?”

Certainly it means available for all to understand, but it does not mean simplistic. Smart’s poems have profound depth and overflow with moving imagery. She defines accessible as poetry that comes from the heart and the body, not the head.

“We’re in our heads enough,” she says. “So I bring it down into the body and write from that place.”

Decked and Dancing covers three main themes. The first poems describe a childhood lived on a farm in the Ottawa Valley. The poems are often graphic portrayals of the cruel realties of farm life: a knife slicing into a chicken’s throat, a calf bawling for its mother, a funeral for a frog — and for a person.

The subject matter switches to illness, loss and death, many of the themes inspired by Smart’s work as a community health nurse on Saltspring island.

The last poems revel in love, tenderness and sensuality, touching on intimate moments — the birth of a daughter, a night with a lover.

Smart has a knack for not only making her poems clear and understandable, but also for turning moments into intricate stories.

The immediate impression of the farm stories is that they are entirely autobiographical. Yes and no, says Smart. “Some of them are based on my ancestors so some of them are persona poems. They’re actually the stories of my great-aunts and my father. It’s not all fact, but it’s my history. It’s that farm where I grew up. It’s what was held in the foundation of that house.”

Smart describes herself as a visual person. As a child she was an outsider, always watching, always observing and, perhaps unknown to her at the time, storing away pictures to be unearthed in later years and woven into poem-stories.

She was embarrassed to be a farm child. There were two types of children at school: the town kids and the rural kids and she never spoke about her life on the farm, growing up as one of eight children with a father who was tough on his offspring.

It wasn’t until 1979, when she had been living in a collective environment in Scotland for a year that she began to write. Creativity was encouraged in the community and she joined a writer’s circle.

“It really makes a difference when you’re around other writers,” she says. “And I had enough distance from Canada and my home that I could see and I could start writing about it.”

She decided to become a writer and in 1982 enrolled in almost every writing course the University of Victoria offered, including creative writing, journalism and playwriting. By 1984, after another trip back to Scotland, she narrowed her field down to creative writing.

In 1986 she had a child, the birth so eloquently described in the poem Waterways, and her writing became more sporadic. Still, she never stopped writing and publishing in literary magazines around the country. Then in 2007 Hedgerow Press published her first solo book of poems.

Asked to name favourite poems from the book, Smart chooses Red Taillights in Snow, a bittersweet farewell poem, and Pears, a poem of deceptive simplicity and sensual imagery. From the poem:

Glass pears frosted silver,

pendulous in a skylight

where the seven sisters

mingle.

Curves flow

like a woman’s hips

round and firm

in the hand.

The observer in her is evident in each poem, in each description and often, in each word. And, as Smart says, each description is centred in the heart and body; through that centring, she hopes to connect with her readers.

“That’s what it’s all about for me,” she says. “It’s that other people can connect with the poem and see themselves in it. It’s not so much about being published in the end, it’s more that connection and when I read the poems again I realize that that’s really where the power of poetry is — it’s in the images that connect one person to another.”

Smart is currently working on a second book of poems as well as a novel. Her new poems reflect the influence of her life as a nurse on Saltspring Island and her commitment to Zen practice in everyday life.

Goody Niosi is a freelance writer living in Nanaimo.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008