Red With Living: Poems and Art
by Diane Driedger

978-1-77133-301-6
96 Pages
May 01, 2016
New Poetry All Titles

$18.95

Share:

Red With Living: Poems and Art by Diane Driedger

In this compelling collection of poems and art, the colour of living is red with excitement, pain, sunsets, blood, and tropical flowers. Along the way, the poet  paints herself into the works of Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Maud Lewis. Diane Driedger confronts  the body in two different contexts: through her participation in the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival and through her experience of undergoing breast cancer treatment and of being chronically ill. This is poetry that celebrates the body in all its varied forms.
 
"A naturalized Trinidadian through marriage, Diane, with an acute eye, successfully explores in poetry and art the contrasts between her Mennonite heritage in wintry Manitoba with the "letting go" carnival culture of ​Trinidad's opulent tropical landscape. Lines such as "mashing down the place" and "Women would go mad without Carnival" are a foil to "standoffish Canadians" and "my past a black statue dress/ unrumpled/ not even a swish." A bi-cultural tribute to both cultures.
 
—Madeline Coopsammy, author of Prairie Journey
 
"Diane Driedger’s artful poems and allusive paintings tumble us through a carnival of the rebellious body. Red With Living invites a nervy reassessment of pain and pain’s intimate trespass upon the suffering, joyous body.
 
—Méira Cook, author of Monologue Dogs

Diane Driedger is a poet, writer, visual artist and educator. Her first poetry book, The Mennonite Madonna, was published in 1999. She is author of the Last Civil Rights Movement: Disabled Peoples’ International, and editor or co-editor of four anthologies by women with disabilities, including, Living the Edges: A Disabled Women’s Reader (2010). Driedger was awarded the Inaugural Tanis Doe Award for Distinction in Disability Study and Culture from the Canadian Disability Studies Association in 2009. She lives in Manitoba and is Assistant Professor in Disability Studies at the University of Manitoba.

Review - Red with Living: Poems and Art by Diane Driedger
reviewed by Sarah Klassen
Rhubarb Magazine, #40 Mennonite Poets -
January 2017

Red with Living, Diane Driedger’s second poetry collection after Mennonite Madonna in 2000 is a personal journal comprised of poems and paintings set in the Caribbean and Canada, places the poet has lived, with detours to Ukraine, where she has travelled. These poems are not, however, primarily about place; front and centre in this work is the poet’s exploration of what it means to live as an embodied being, capable of experiencing both physical pleasure and physical pain.

Driedger, assistant professor in disability studies at the University of Manitoba and former provincial coordinator of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities (2010–2013), writes out of experience: she has lived with both cancer and chronic illness.

Seen through the poet’s eye, Trinidad is a place of fecundity, teeming with colour and motion. Orchids bloom: yellow-brown-purple; mockingbird and kiskadee battle over bananas; garbage may yield a sequined bustier; careening traffic raises black clouds; sirens scream; steel drums punctuate “Trinidad’s success / oil boom / business boom / beach boom.”

This vitality comes to a climax when the narrator plunges joyfully into the spirit of carnival. She “sail[s] / behind a steel band” and celebrates her “bumsey,” which in Trinidad is admired while in Canada she would be expected to “cover that thing up.”  Wearing a festival costume, she boldly declares:

I am a devil

mashing down the place

as Trinidadians say

with my forked tail

But when the body that dances during festival comes under attack, its vulnerability is quickly revealed, and the scene shifts to Canada where cancer treatment is available. Driedger acknowledges and describes this part of her journey with candour and without sentimentality. The imagery can be forceful: a cabinet full of pills becomes “an arms build up”; radiation is “a long crucifixion.” Such metaphors are reminiscent of Susan Sontag’s assertion that descriptions of cancer tend to draw on language of war.

“Hair” is a matter-of-fact description of shopping for a wig, post-chemo. In “Not Coming Back,” the narrator mourns a friend in Trinidad who did not survive while she, in Canada, had good medical treatment.

The poet’s medical history is reflected vividly in two of the many watercolours interspersed with the poems throughout the book. “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Breast” and “Crucifixion” unabashedly declare the narrator’s refusal to flinch from ravages inflicted on the human body by cancer, chemo, and radiation. These paintings become all the more poignant when viewed in juxtaposition to Driedger’s colourful and cheerful portrayals of carnival life in Trinidad.

While Driedger references Renoir, who painted despite arthritis, and van Gogh, with his famously bandaged ear, she identifies most closely with Frida Kahlo, who also lived and painted while suffering ongoing pain, the long term effects of an accident. This identification becomes focused not only in the two water colours mentioned above, but also in one of the stronger pieces in the collection, a prose poem titled “Frida Kahlo and Me.” Here she addresses the Mexican artist as sister, stating: “Your bed is my bed, your paintings wash over me.” While acknowledging the influence of Kahlo’s work—“nails riddling the flesh”—Driedger claims her individuality in making choices in life and art: “My brush now paints little flowers indolent with colour avoiding red or the lightning flash of firing neurons my pain ting.”

Driedger’s ongoing interest in her Mennonite heritage is evident in poems about her travels to Ukraine, a country “red with my ancestors / living  loving  leaving,” a country from which she returns to Canada “red with rage.” She pays tribute to an aunt who “sings fear / away,” when her pacifist family is threatened in Russia, and to her Grandmother from whom she “learned about love while picking raspberries.”

The simplicity and clarity of these poems appealed to me. Driedger’s approach to her subject is direct, relying largely on imagery, description, and statement, less on reflection and nuance.  Occasionally, I found the poems too thin, with too much left out, and wished the author had lingered with the text, reached for more depth in the exploration of embodied living.

I was left with a sense that, for this poet, individual choice remains possible, not only in joyful times, but also in the face of acute or chronic illness. The final illustration in the book, a cheerful watercolour titled “Self-Portrait as the Bluebird of Happiness in a Maud Lewis Painting,” demonstrates the poet’s choice to live with hope.

This attitude of intentional hopefulness is reiterated in “I have a dream,” one of the last poems in the book:

my mind is a lightning flash

away from the body

how will the two work together

I will find my way

and this leap

                  will be flying

Readers will appreciate and enjoy Diane Driedger’s cheerful and positive determination.

Sarah Klassen continues to read and write in Winnipeg. Her most recent publications are: The Wittenbergs (2013), a novel, and Monstrance (2012), a poetry collection.

-----------

Red with Living: Poems and Art by Diane Driedger
reviewed by Candice James
Canadian Poetry Review - July 22, 2016
http://bit.ly/2au5EXz

Red With Living Poems and Art by Diane Driedger is a beautiful journey into a world weaved together with art, music and poetry interlaced sometimes surreally; sometimes succinctly; but always with eloquence. There is a continuous vivid red vein pulsating through the pages, poetry and art that fills up this book with living, pain, fear and excitement and above all else… raw, red living.

The intangible sound of music hinted at in “Aunt Warrior” compliments the poem to such an extent that the poem almost sings: ‘Liese strums hymns / on her guitar / sings fear / away’; and in “I Remember” the lines describing poetry stand out and stand tall: ‘pen words / a fountain / the drought is over’.

The “Robber” poems take us on a sightseeing journey of Trinidad. In “Trinidad Devils” the poet displays a brief nostalgia as she: ‘longs for Winnipeg streets / lanes wide / longs for standoffish Canadians’.

“40” is a brilliant write! Driedger reminisces showing how far away 40 is to the and how old it seems to the young; and how young it seems to the old, and finally how very much younger 40 is now compared to 40 in her mother’s time. Another terrific poem is “Winnipeg’, alive with brilliant imagery and layered depth packed into 6 extremely profound lines.

The book is accented with Driedger’s artwork to accompany specific poems, lending an artistic realism to the poem the artwork depicts. It is a successful journey into the body holographic and the spirit electric.

About the Poet: Diane Dreidger is a poet, writer, visual artist and educator. Her first poetry book, The Mennonite Madonna, was published in 1999. She is author of the Last Civil Rights Movement: Disabled Peoples’ International, and editor or co-editor of four anthologies by women with disabilities, including, Living the Edges: A Disabled Women’s Reader (2010). Driedger was awarded the Inaugural Tanis Doe Award for Distinction in Disability Study and Culture from the Canadian Disability Studies Association in 2009. She lives in Manitoba and is Assistant Professor in Disability Studies at the University of Manitoba.

About the Reviewer: Candice James Poet Laureate of New Westminster 2010-2016, is past president of both Royal City Literary Arts Society and Federation of British Columbia Writers; a full member of League Canadian Poets; Director of Pacific Festival or the Book, and author of eleven poetry books: the first book A Split In The Water (Fiddlehead Poetry Books 1979); and the most recent Merging Dimensions (Ekstasis Editions 2015). Her Awards: Bernie Legge Artist Cultural Award 2015; and Pandora’s Collective Citizenship Award 2015. Further Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candice_James and www.candicejames.com

Frida Kahlo and Me

       my sister Frida your bed is my bed your paintings wash over me veins of
       vines envelop your paintings the reds of the pigments speak to pain you and I bound
       by pain and no one can pronounce it valid or in-valid you are the body on the
       page of history I am the body on the altar of my life chronic problems getting out of
       bed? taking a shower? going to the grocery? reaching for a dish off the kitchen shelf?
       be a Frida lie in you bed paint your world switch to the couch read on your tiny
       altar am I a lamb to be slaughtered or fattened in pain for a future meal of the
       universe?

       my sister Frida no one likes a malingerer did you fit their stereotype of the sick one?
       or were you too vocal insistent on having the reds on the page? you had a mustache
       you were an androgynous figure in bed except you painted your breasts with nails
       riddling your flesh pain a crucifixion to bad taste

       I paint too Frida but my pictures are peaceful scenes of warm blues and greens
       the sea is my favorite place its tide promising to take away all debris once I painted
       a fibromyalgia fog and scared myself into amnesia my brush now paints little
       flowers indolent with colors avoiding red or the lightning flash of firing neurons
       my pain ting

Copyright © 2012 Inanna Publications. Site development by In the Lost and Found & Nicole Chung.