Nathanael West in Mexico, 1937
WCW on West: “a very curious type, straight (I think) and capable of discriminating enthusiasm”
Nathanael West in Mexico, 1937
WCW on West: “a very curious type, straight (I think) and capable of discriminating enthusiasm”
Had I meant it to be myself I should have said so
I made a very approximate outline at the start and then proceeded to write and how I have written. The first draught comes to 42 pages, somewhat over the 10,000 words they want. But that’s what I planned to have happen. When I start writing I forget the original plan almost entirely, it’s a trick, loosens your mind–frees you, permits originality of expression, lets you get excited and allows you to follow new leads wherever they may take you–within the larger scope of the whole scheme, of course. Then comes the revising and the adaptation of the outline to the newly discovered material. That’s how I write.
I love Ten, I love Martha, but, God, Jack owns my heart. And this episode with him trying to phone “his gang” and Himalayas! and defending Torchwood which he rebuilt in the Doctor’s honour! I didn’t *love* Nine, so I only got around to seeing the Captain Jack episodes of season one today (I know! I mean, I caught The Empty Child/Doctor Dances when they were on CBC, which, alone, made me want Torchwood) so all that on the heels of Utopia and the Doctor Who Confidential and, seriously, I haven’t stopped watching/listening to this. I can’t take anymore.
Except for this: I want a story where, in the end, the Doctor sends Jack back to Ianto and they have a good life together, but then it’s over and the Doctor comes back and takes Jack away again and, all right, I know, I have problems and I don’t care.
ETA: Tea! He made the tea and holds the Doctor’s coat and shares a look with Martha about boys who don’t know you fancy them.
I love this song when I’m listening to it, but never remember who it is, what it’s called, or, even, where I got it.
Poetry Stands Above the Hills
In terms of form and structure, The Double Hook by Sheila Watson, straddles a thin line between poetry and prose. But, within the familiar prose of the novel, there are, sprinkled throughout, pieces of text, indented and separated, that use line breaks and symbolic language that can be easily identified as poetry. These passages of poetry illuminate themes of community and character and identity. They are tied to the land, to the people, and Coyote. These pieces of poetry that Watson drops into prose are more than an experiment. The poetry speaks to theme and character, and it resonates throughout the book.
Poetry permeates The Double Hook. Though the passages with the most resonance are deliberated set apart from the prose, typographically, the prose itself is written to mirror poetry. In Jan Marta’s article, “Poetic Structures in the Prose Fiction of Sheila Watson,” Marta writes particularly about how poetic style adds to meaning. The Double Hook works because of “the fusion of the two modes” (Marta 149). These passages do not sound any different than the prose Watson writes, but their typographic form draws attention to the words. “[T]he use of verse form creates expectations” (Marta 149) that Watson then subverts by writing the poetry as personal pieces, rather than universal. The poetry keeps the narration off balance, even, “thwart[ing] the narration at various points throughout” (Marta 149). Watson plays with poetry and expectations.
The novel opens with poetry, but follows a familiar storytelling structure, introducing the setting, and then the characters. “In the folds of the hills” (19) is where the characters live, and they follow the land. What follows, though, is not a simple list. Watson uses deliberate structure to determine a hierarchy in the community. First is “the old lady” (19), on her own line. Her children share that line with her, just as the old lady shares her identity with them, is, in fact, defined by her family connections. She is “mother of William/of James and of Greta” (19). She has no name, identified only as a woman and a mother; her age adds to the notion of status that is suggested by the old lady’s place at the top of the list.
She has this position of status in the community, as well. The characters are connected to the old lady in the poetic sense, as well as in the “real world”. By using fragmented sentences and dispensing with punctuation, Watson connects each clause, and each character, to the one that came before. James and Greta, brother and sister with a relationship that might be too close—their names sit together, connected with “and”. In the next line, their brother, William, is paired with his wife in the same manner: “lived William and Ara his wife” (19). This similar structure reflects the way their relationships look similar to people on the outside. James and Greta live a “husband and wife” type relationship, especially now that the old lady, their mother, is dead.
The way Watson uses line breaks illuminates all relationships. The Widow Wagner stands alone, as she does in life, without a husband. However, the husband remains in her name. Like the old lady, the Widow Wagner has her status in the community because of her husband, and, like the old lady, she has no name but his. Her children have an identity because of her. “The Widow’s girl Lenchen/the Widow’s boy” (19) follow the Widow, one by one, alone on a line, but with no words or punctuation to keep them apart. Watson’s poetic structure in this passage has a flow that runs each character into another, but separates them with line breaks. At the same time this list of characters is introduced as a community, the idea of community is undermined.
The second time the community is separated from the text, it comes from Ara’s perspective. In a neighbouring community, Nineveh, “[t]here were more/than sixscored thousand persons” (33), but this is not Nineveh. In this community, Watson can list all the important people in seven lines that are not even complete sentences. People are different here, different even from how they were introduced at the beginning of the book. Ara lists herself first, “and William” (34) follows. Then come James and Greta, but Ara flips them to a female perspective. She sees “Greta and James” (34). Lenchen follows, on the next line, but, without the comma, she is connected to what comes before: James. This connection is subtle, almost hidden, just as their relationship in the book.
Ara is also conscious of the change in Felix and Angel’s relationship In the short time since the first poem introduced the community, Felix and his wife are no more. Where once
lived Felix Prosper and Angel
lived Theophil (19)
now lives “Prosper, Angel and Theophil” (33), all on the same line. The comma here is a wall between Felix and his wife, who has left their home and taken their children. She lives now with Theophil, attached poetically with an “and”. Structure reflects relationship, but also, here it reflects how Ara sees the community.
When Watson shifts setting, another cast list is provided. “In the town below” (92) starts James’s trip into town, a structure repeated now a third time. There “lived Paddy, the bartender,/and Paddy’s parrot” (92). Like the Widow Wagner, Paddy is defined by his job, his position in the community. Like the Widow’s children, his parrot is subordinate to Paddy and defined, not by name, but by Paddy’s ownership. Yet, town is much less personal than where James has come from. The men in town are last names only, and jobs, and each name sits on its own line. Except for the parrot and Tallifer, a clerk connected to his boss by job, each character stands alone.
The rest of the population of town is anonymous. In the last line of the poetic passage, almost an afterthought, “[l]ived ten score other souls” (92), who matter even less that the men with jobs who have names. James has come to town to escape a community that can be summed up in thirteen lines of poetry. He has come to a town where more than one hundred people live anonymously, without names, but in that anonymous group is also connection. They are not one hundred disparate people, but a town and a group, in a way James’s hometown is not.
James’s hometown is set “under Coyote’s eye” (19), and he is most present in the numerous passages of poetry. Coyote speaks here in first person and in metaphors of nature: “In my mouth is the east wind” (24). The metaphor is key to illustrate how Coyote is tied to the land. He watches over the land. Coyote is the land and the animals are connected, too. It is “the hounds [who hear] Coyote’s song” (24). They know the land like Coyote and understand that when Coyote says, “Those who cling to the rock I will/bring down” (24), he is saying, ‘Everything will be OK’. The hounds “[flatten] themselves to rest” (25). Even “Felix put down his fiddle and slept” (25), after his wife and children have left him, and after he has seen the old lady, who is not fishing, but dead. It is because of Coyote that the people and animals under his eye feel safe enough to rest.
Next, the Widow’s boy sees the old lady. “It’s enough to turn a person mad” (25), his sister tells him, but the boy is curious. He is not afraid to confront the old lady. As he gets closer, the old lady disappears, and all he sees is light and shadow. All he hears is Coyote’s voice “[rising] among the rocks” (29). In four short lines, Watson reaffirms Coyote’s place—“Above on the hills” (29)—the power of his words—“In my mouth is forgetting” (29)—then adds: “In my darkness is rest” (29). The boy sees that darkness; he sees shadows. But he “knew it was the old lady” (29). He “know[s] a shadow from an old woman” (29). From Coyote, in his dark shadow, the old lady receives her rest. This is what the Widow’s boy sees.
The old lady’s son, James, on his trip into town, away from home, begins to question why he killed his mother. As James stands on the river’s shore, Coyote speaks. As James asks himself why, Coyote speaks in the infinitive verb form that might be the answer James is looking for. “To go down to into the holes of the rock” (98), Coyote says. This is where the old lady found her rest, “into the caves of earth” (98) where it is dark. This is where Coyote tries to lure James. Coyote tells him that “In my fear is peace” (98), a line highly suggestive of suicide. This sentence structure, “In my [something] is [something]”, is repeated in these passages of poetry, always in reference to the power Coyote has. Even now, after James has escaped to town, he remains “under Coyote’s eye” (19) and under Coyote’s influence.
As James returns home, crossing a river bridge, a question: “Where is your hope?” (122). This comes after Greta’s suicide, after Coyote has retreated, though he still has voice enough to push James toward the dark. But who asks this question is not completely clear. The assumption is Coyote, because previous poems call him by name and because he has been the bearer of this kind of introspection before, but this could be James, asking himself what, until now, he has not been able to. To this point, the structure of these poems has segregated the text, indented it to suggest an aside, and the symbolic speech only adds to the otherness of these passages of poetry. This question, more likely, comes from somewhere inside James, where Coyote’s influence still remains.
Before this passage, James crosses the bridge on horseback, and he sees “in the shadow of the girders fear [unwinds] itself like the line from his mother’s reel” (121). His mother is ever-present in his mind, and the question that follows immediately, “Where is your hope?” (122), is tied to her death and James’s actions. The answer: “Better go down to the bars of the pit/Better rest in the dust” (122) reflects the suicidal tone of before and ties into the rest James’s mother received from Coyote. But James’s is not lured. He continues on, and “the horse seemed to draw life with every breath” (122), and James, too.
Like James, Ara is not fooled by Coyote’s words. After Greta’s suicide, Coyote is reduced to “the coyote”, not Coyote, but just an animal. This is after the community has fractured, after the old lady dies, and Greta, after James leaves and Lenchen is pregnant, after the community is split, but, still, the coyote can speak, or, rather, bark. Its voice is a part of the land and “the walls of the valley magnified its voice and sent it echoing back” (114). The words, just two lines, “Happy are the dead/for they see no more” (115) are for all, but Ara, in particular, who sees too much, so much that she has to “hid[e] her face in her hands” (114). This is the turning point for Ara and the community, too.
The catalyst is Greta’s death—this needs to happen for any change—but these two lines of poetry, standing off by themselves on the page, prompt the Widow’s boy to say, “If we don’t move… night will be on us” (115), it spurs Ara into action. It sends her back home because “there’d best be someone there” (115) for James and for Lenchen when the baby is born. “Happy are the dead/for they see no more” (115) are meant to push the community towards death, but the exact opposite happens. Ara sees everything now, understands everything, and by rejecting these words, she pushes the community together.
When the community stands together, with young Felix Potter, the baby that ushers in new order, Coyote returns to his place above the land. He gets his power back after the birth of Felix, and he has one more task to do. Coyote “[sets Felix’s] feet on the soft ground;/[Coyote sets] his feet on the sloping shoulders/of the world” (134). This is where Coyote lives, too, on the land. He gives Felix a position of authority and power when he connects him with the land. He starts the world anew.
The structures Watson uses in The Double Hook are new, also. Barbara Godard, in her article, “Between One Cliché and Another,” draws attention to how Watson is “changing our perception of language through emphasis on its rhythmical functions” (Godard 163). She sets up expectations, uses “the commonplaces of speech” (Godard 163), then turns it into poetry. The whole book, in fact, seeks “to disturb the reader’s conventional consciousness of words” (Godard 164) and structure, as well. The themes of the book are disturbing, and meant to be off-balance, until the end, when birth brings new life.
The poetry in The Double Hook stands out, typographically, structurally, and thematically. It stands up and out and speaks above the characters and inside them. As Coyote’s words, these lines of poetry seek to influence the members of the community, for good and bad. But the poetry adds character to the prose, little moments of unexpected insight and speaks to personality and identity. Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook, is an experimental book, defying both labels of prose and poetry. It is both, and, though poetry stands above, visually, it permeates the prose and both speak Watson’s themes.
Godard, Barbara. “Between One Cliché and Another: Language in The Double Hook.”
Sheila Watson and The Double Hook. Ed. George Bowering. Ottawa: Golden Dog Press, 1985
Marta, Jan. “Poetic Structures in the Prose Fiction of Sheila Watson.” Sheila Watson and
The Double Hook. Ed. George Bowering. Ottawa: Golden Dog Press, 1985.
Watson, Sheila. The Double Hook. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1983.
I couldn’t care less about baseball, but I do like stats and nerdy projects, so this is pretty cool. Maybe people who like baseball *and* stats and nerdy projects will think it’s even cooler.
You’ve gotta picture John and his platinum blonde hair singing this. In fact, you should just watch the video.
It’s not an epigraph in the conventional sense. It’s a piece from inside the text, clipped out and put up front, like a trailer that shows all the best scenes.
Why does my mind go to the John/Rodney place while watching the video for Sigur Rós’s Viðrar vel til loftárása?
John was that little boy who liked to play with dolls and who had a dad who didn’t like that he like to play with dolls. And Rodney is the boy on his soccer team who finds John’s dolls in the river and says, “Fuck ’em, you are who you are. You do what you want.” And then John scores the winning goal and then they kiss. There is no bad here. Also, I just noticed the brown-haired boy’s mom is the one with the baby, so, you know, little sister. It all fits!