Bread and Salt offers spice of life
by Ruth Raymond
Bread and Salt
by Renee Rodin
Hidden by a tall tangle of bamboo, flanked by manicured lawns belonging to retentive, green-thumbed homeowners, sits Renee Rodin's house. It's a fact I've witnessed myself (she lives on my street) and one that she recorded in the poem "Law [N] Order":
"... the back is similar to the front, only wilder
laced with blackberry bushes, brambles and vines
in the midst sits an ancient tree
whose fruit falls from such a lofty height
it results in instant cherry jam
and despite being brutally hacked
by midnight commando pruners
the tree's crop is so abundant
birds leave visibly bloated ..."
Originally from Montreal, Rodin arrived in Vancouver in the 60s, with "that mass migration of artists, hippies, and hopefuls, romantic renegades." Since then, she has been writing, operating book stores, writing, facilitating poetry readings, writing, but never getting around to putting her work together for a publisher. Until now.
Rodin launched her first book, Bread and Salt, earlier this year. It is prose that masquerades as poetry and poetry that dresses up as prose. It offers a reader's journey that includes bus and taxi rides, stops at weddings and funerals, junctions of poignancy and politics, feasts, family, feminism, all stirred about with a dollop of Montreal Jewish culture. Oh yes, and it includes the six-page lawn warfare poem that describes not-so-neighborly pre-dawn guerrila mowing attacks.
But the variety in these pages comes as no surprise. Rodin has been a reader of eclectic taste all her life. For her, choosing between poetry and prose was not an issue. "I'm trying to let the content define the form, rather than impose a form on the writing," she said in a recent interview. "I invented the term prosaics to describe the blend of form and content I was working with."
Rather than obsess about form, Rodin concentrated on accessibility. "I wanted it to be as simple or complex as the information or experience that readers bring to it--to be an interaction, open enough for the reader to enter," she explains. "As well as contain, it had to have a shape that would carry the reader too. It had to have movement."
Indeed, the book moves, and moves its readers as we find bits that are sad and intensely personal. Rodin explains the cathartic component in her writing: "I was aiming for it to be affective; it had to have something in each piece that would reach the reader. On one level, it's almost the history of a generation. But so much of it was personal that I hoped through the particulars of my life--with a little literary license--it would have some kind of universality."
Touching and emotional as many of the poems are, there is also ample wit, humor and a love of wordplay. Consider these lines from "Fiend de Siecle (The Clowning Glory)":
"at the spurn of the century
no longer Jung and easily Freudend
writhing down riddle-aged menofesto
the hex marks the spot
jumping to inclusions
a pang in the flash
baby it's scold in this coming of rage
film blanc with the switch of a flick
flail Mary full of grace..."
Bread and Salt is one of those books that reads differently to different readers. In it, you will find something that speaks directly to you, but I can't predict what that will be.
The book's varied and flexible contents may account for its popularity in Canada, as well as abroad (it is reportedly being read in Armenia, Australia and Korea). "I was happily surprised by the response, that people from both genders and a wide age range have been attracted to it, are able to identify with it," says Rodin. "Maybe it's because the language is so accessible and the book dances between the private and public worlds--a dance so many of us are doing."
Ruth Raymond writes for magazines and corporate publications in Vancouver, Canada. Her quest to encourage Lies readers to buy (and read) Canadian continues. If you can't find Bread and Salt, have your favorite book store call General Distribution Services at 1-800-805-1083.
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