New Directions: four books by Manitoba women….final post continued from last 3 posts

February, 11, 2008

Prairie Fire

Vol. VII, No. 3

New Directions: four books by Manitoba women

by Margaret Clarke

…..continued from last three posts…

Creating the life, the identity, through an act of imagination is central to No Fixed Admission, in which Jacqui Smyth writes of that moment in a woman’s life when coming to an understanding of the two people who created her becomes essential knowledge for her own survival. The protaganist, Alice, like Wonderland’s disoriented heroine, has fallen into that all too likely “hole” of modern life, the death of a male-female love relationship. To understand what has lead her to this failure, Alice spends some time with her father, who long ago separated from her mother. This leads to a series of recollections that bring her to a measure of peace and acceptance.

To summarize Smyth’s “story” in this narrative fashion is to not do justice to her technique. Smyth brings a poet’s love of the finely polished image to her first “novel” ( in length and organization more a series of prose poems) which consists of a series of penetrating, imagistic glimpses into Alice’s past. Each discreet glimpse comes to the reader as a cross between a dream and a suddenly recollected moment that arrives purely to the mind when prodded by some seemingly insignificant sensory detail, like “white kid gloves”, or the memory of the “smell of onions frying in a skillet.”

Smyth not only gives us the vivid recreation of one woman’s memory world. but allows that woman to become the rememberer of several people’s stories, of three generations of living. We not only see Alice recreates herself by remembering her mother and father, but how they too become more whole for the reader because of Alice’s memories of their parents, her grandparents. The purpose of all this remembering is to give the individual a firm center so that “when people change we hold on tight to a perfect memory.”

But Smyth’s characters are not disembodied voices weaving memory in isolation from others. A mother and daughter work their way through a liquor cabinet while resurrecting their pasts. A typical post mortem between father and daughter is framed by the daughter’s sensibility which moves from the mundane, to the sensual to the imagistic and toward the philosophical:

Ran out of cigarettes, smoked my father’s Exports, a haze of

dragon smoke, and now my throat aches. He cried whiskey tears

for old loves, his mother, my mother. His stale breath makes me

feel so old makes me feel tired. I can only nod, yes, yes, and my

elbows slide onto the arborite table. I look at him with swollen

eyes and he pushes my bangs off my forehead and whispers,

Lorna, Lorna, But I’m not Lorna, I’m Alice and the sun is an orange

ball of wool dancing in the sky. Heredity is the sliding blue vein.

The reader dependant on the temporality of novelistic style may find herself occasionally impatient with Smyth’s prose poems, but the brief seventy-four page text has a gathering force which gives an intimate knowledge of the protaganist’s world. Perhaps Smyth’s editors might have helped her amend passages where her desire for simple, clear images leads her to use too many similarly constructed short declarative sentences, but these are only occasional and are offset by the very real accomplishment of the book, which is to take us into a world in which identity is created by an act of the imagination. The many beloved “others” of the past are remade in the present consciousness of the individual. Thus identity is dependent on relationship, not ego consciobouusness.

I don’t wish to end this brief look at these four works with facile generalizations about the “direction” of women writing in Manitoba today. Each of these women has her own direction. Each book offers the reader a separate experience. Kamboureli’s book has the special power of the autobiographical persona, in which writer, narrator, and main character are the same person, and exert the full impact of the three-in-one personality of the reader. Anyone who is a reader of autobiography will understand the immediacy and intimacy such accounts produce. Lester’s book offers one of the first unabashedly feminist collections that has been published in Manitoba, and as such may mark a new (and long overdue) direction for women writing. Shields’s short stories give those of us who followed the progress of her work the satisfaction of seeing an important Manitoba writer enter a new phase of accomplishment. Smyth offers us a formal experiment in the novel that bridges distance between prose and poetry. Yet, whatever their individual achievements may be, these writers share a common concern about identity, relationships with others, and the place of imagination. The pleasure of their texts arises from both their similar concerns and their contrasting modes of presentation. Moving from Kamboureli to Lester, to Shields to Smyth is to experience both the continuity and variety in recent Manitoba women’s writing.


Tanya Lester, author of Dreams and Tricksters included in is review, has been a practicing intuitive reader, specializing in tea leaf reading and tarot, for over 20 years now. She is also a Reiki master and fulltime housesitter. Her website at explores her work in greater detail. She also has pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google as well being a member of Align. To book her services, text or call her at 2505380086 or email her at

To read more posts in this eclectic blog of a variety of writing on many themes and interests, go to and

Tanya’s books are available in some library systems and the last two titles listed here can be purchased from her or from  The titles of them are: Dreams and Tricksters, Women Rights/Writes, Friends I Never Knew and Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader. 


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