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All Wings and Fire: A Review of Madeline Bassnett’s Under the Gamma Camera
by Taylor Rousselle
Madeline Bassnett’s first full-length collection of poetry, Under the Gamma Camera (2019), comes at the perfect time to a world plagued by natural and physical illness. Described as “a frank portrait of our relationship with disease,” Bassnett’s poetry gives voice to the intensely personal, as it works to reconcile her contradictory experience with breast cancer which was at once deeply emotional and strangely clinical, but also to the broader human condition which, at its core, is inextricably connected with the fraught condition of the Earth.
Divided into three sections, Bassnett’s collection brings readers on a journey through the treacherous terrain of internal and planetary disease beginning with diagnosis in Tricks of Light, entering treatment and remission in Pilgrimage, and recovering in In Praise of Small Things. Though the poems are ostensibly distinct, each of which examines a different aspect of the minutiae of everyday life through the lens of a gamma camera – meditating on specific moments, memories, and the physical and ecological spaces in which they are created – Bassnett brilliantly binds her verse through recurrent motifs (of botany, silence, sense, satiation, and pollution), symbols (of limbs, roots, and cells), and juxtaposing imagery (of the impersonal blue vinyl with the warmth of “this red-gold day”) which work in harmony to emphasize the collection’s larger theme of interrelation and connectivity.
If you were to ask any of my peers, they would tell you that I refuse to analyze poetry before I have read it aloud at least once. While I hold this fervent belief that meaning is missed, sometimes entirely, in the absence of sound, I caution the reader who dares to speak “The Secret Life of Crabs” aloud. When verbalized, this poem which explores the relationship between internal and external illness, between the natural world and the human body, can be felt; not emotionally – though I was certainly moved by this poem – but physically. To one who has yet to read this collection, this idea of a poem holding the power to physically touch you might seem alien. If it does, or even if it doesn’t and you are simply curious, I implore you to pay close attention to enunciation and sound as you read the following lines aloud: “I have found them always slightly repellent, / their hiding tactics, their sideways scuttle” (1-2); “Their communal ways, / clambering over each other’s brittle shells, / the rise and fall of multitudes of legs, clicking / and scraping” (7-10); “Their dim pools, / their crannies and caves, the way they appear / unnoticed, voraciously reproducing” (12-14).
Could you hear the crabs scuttling out of a crevice? More importantly, could you feel them crawling all over your skin like tiny pins and needles? If you could, you have Bassnett’s masterful (and unnerving) use of onomatopoeia (“clicking,” “scraping,” “clambering”), alliteration (“their sideways scuttle,” “their crannies and caves”), and diction (“multitudes of legs,” “voraciously reproducing”) to thank (or deplore). “The Secret Life of Crabs” is thus a poem that works at a multitude of levels, making it a useful roadmap for reading the collection in its entirety. At the most basic level, and most evidently, it is a poem that embodies Bassnett’s larger theme of connectivity between the natural world and internal illness: the crabs equated with cancerous cells. At the more personal level, however, it is a poem which both captures the personal unease felt by the poet at the idea of these crab-like cancerous cells “voraciously reproducing” within her breast and, through form and language that mirrors this anxiety, imparts a similar unease onto the reader.
Madeline Bassnett’s Under the Gamma Camera offers a powerful reminder of mortality and relation. Both as a woman born into a body with the incessant desire to suffocate her and as a human existing amidst a global pandemic and active climate crisis, I have never felt as seen and understood as I did while reading this collection. There is no better moment than the present, in which we feel disconnected from ourselves, from one another, and from the Earth, to be reading Madeline’s stunning verse which reminds us of our inherent bond with our own body, with others, and with our planet: of just “[h]ow wonderful it is, to be one.”
Poetry London Online Presents
Randy Lundy & Ali Blythe with local opener Sydney Warner Brooman
Reminder: our fall events this year are video readings launched on our YouTube channel; we hope that public health conditions will allow us to return to live events in 2021.
Poetry London Online Presents
Roxanna Bennett & Greg Santos with local opener Courtney Ward-Zbeetnoff
Wednesday September 23rd 2020
Roxanna Bennett will read poetry from her Trillium Award-winning collection Unmeaningable from Gordon Hill Press. Greg Santos will read from his DC Books collections Rabbit Punch! and Ghost Face. Local writer poet Courtney Ward-Zbeetnoff will open. Courtney is Western’s Student Writer-in-Residence & has a special interest in writing about mental health.
The event launches at 7:00pm on YouTube. Don’t miss it!
NEW: Poetry London’s 2020-2021 Season
Poetry London is delighted to announce the readers for its upcoming 17th season!
Our three fall events will be video readings launched on our YouTube page; we hope that public health conditions will allow us to return to live events in 2021.
Regardless, we can’t wait to host these outstanding poets:
Poetry London is Talking with the Presses – Episodes 1 – 4
Poetry London Online: Spring Mini Reading Series
During social distancing, please join us for some great poetry! Announcing our spring project: a multi-week online mini reading series featuring poets from across Canada! Video posts will happen on Wednesdays at 7:00pm. First episode took place on May 20th. If you miss the initial posting time, don’t worry: all videos will remain on our Poetry London YouTube page.
An Evening with Shelly Harder, Paola Ferrante, & Shannon Bramer
Poetry London Blog (Feb. 26th, 2020) by Amelia Eqbal
Originally, Poetry London was prepared to welcome Gillian Sze and Paola Ferrante as our feature poets for February’s reading. When weather conditions prevented Sze’s flight from leaving Montreal the morning of the reading, however, the day was saved by Toronto poet Shannon Bramer, who was available to carpool into the city with Ferrante and gracious enough to fill in for Sze on short notice.
It was lovely to see the outpouring of support between these poets both online and in person. Sze, Ferrante, and Bramer cheered each other on via Twitter all afternoon, and regarded each other highly in their opening remarks that evening.
While the circumstances leading up to the evening’s events weren’t ideal, once the night’s activities began, they unfolded without a further hitch.
The reading room itself is modest. There are five rows of black plastic chairs, with an aisle down the middle leading to a wooden podium poised atop a small patterned carpet at the front of the room. Not far off stands a table with a water jug, already coated in condensation, waiting to quench the thirst of the night’s readers. In behind is a tall leafy plant that helps to frame the room. In the opposite corner rests a piano that remains untouched, atop of which are three incandescent lamps of various heights, flicked on for ambiance. The space feels intimate and cozy, and encourages you to really focus on the reader.
The patrons file in all aflutter, whether they’re coming from the (free!) poetry workshop in the neighboring room that precedes the reading or coming in from the cold. The audience is an eclectic mix of ages and walks of life; regular visitors are mingling with each other and newcomers alike, trying to determine the best seat to nab for tonight’s reading. Some stand near the book table before the event begins, stealing glances at the chapbooks and collections for sale at the back of the room.
After a land acknowledgement and a “thank you” to all of our event sponsors and granting agencies, there are a few announcements about other upcoming poetry events in the community. The night begins with our local opener, Shelly Harder. Her work has a clear sense of movement to it that allows the raw emotion embedded in her words to run its course unencumbered. Themes from her poems such as identity and personhood resonate throughout the evening as the other poets tackle these topics in their own ways.
While it may have been fate that paired them together this night, Ferrante and Bramer prove to be a captivating pair of readers, as they each talk about different sides of womanhood, family, and love in their poetry.
Ferrante conveys a gripping ferocity in each line of her poetry from her collection, What to Wear When Surviving a Lion Attack. Her pace waxes and wanes with exacting precision; her intonation and emphasis are calculated yet made personal by tinges of humour and wit. She leans on the podium throughout her reading, interjecting anecdotes of relatives and other inspirations behind her works between poems, bringing a refreshingly casual air that balances out the intensity in her performance.
Bramer has a softer delivery and an introspective tone in her works. While she may have had little chance to prepare, this doesn’t show once she begins her reading. Sharing sweet stories of her days as a kindergarten lunchroom supervisor and reading poems inspired by her students from her children’s book, Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children, Bramer demonstrates an enduring sense of love in her work. As she moves into her other collection, Precious Energy, Bramer reflects on the emotional labor women undertake from day to day in a way that is enthralling in its authenticity.
This night was one unlike any other I’ve seen at Poetry London; the chaos that led to this epic conclusion could hardly be duplicated. To know for certain, you’ll just have to join us when we resume our reading series!
We’re pleased to announce the winners of our 2020 Open Theme Poetry Contest judged by Lucas Crawford. Thanks to Lucas for being the judge and to all contestants for submitting a poem. Congratulations to the winners!
• 1st Prize: “The oldest photograph of” by Brian Baker
The oldest photograph of
nature (not some experiment in a dank, darkened room) was by
Niépce and his camera obscura, unroofed high above Le Gras.
Thickly stippled and angled rooftops, shimmering blue on the
a person, on the Boulevard du Temple, his image on daugerrotype,
phantoms all around. None of them stopped, though, long enough
to get their boots cleaned, or lean up against a Parisian lamppost.
But he did, and was then so perfect in time and space that
he became a foundling, risen up through fumes of heated mercury.
a hoax, bombastic as it was, perpetuated by Bayard and his “Self Portrait As A
Drowned Man”. Tricked by Daugerre, his Academie honours stolen, he
shows his enemies that he has surely drowned himself because of it, can you not see the state of decay?
people drinking, around the table. Hill, Ballantine and Bell. Three men, lost in
their Edinburgh ale, a drink so “potent” that Ballantine has made Hill laugh. They
the sun and the moon, unassisted, posing in the sky, no need for the head brace,
no need for them to keep their eyes open (so there would be
no flutter). The only concerns were errant light, beams which strayed
from exposure. That and clouds, relentlessly shadowing.
me, as a young boy, grinning out from the top bunk, in a cabin on the Bow. The
tobacco-stained hands of my Grandpa at the table. The battered straw hat his
friend wore. Before all that, I was just a baby. They were fading then (and are
even more faded now) but there are scars on my head, from an operation I survived,
so that I could be in a cabin on the Bow with my Grandpa and his friend and still
look at that photograph today.
the separation of binary stars is what we saw for the first time but always knew
was there. Stars so closely aligned that they appeared as one. Getting us there, though, a
Burgundy skyline begets Parisian shoeshine begets an un-drowned man begets the sun and
moon begetting a young boy, smiling, which begets stars with a shared barycenter and
stellar winds. Yes, the stars have winds!
• 2nd Prize: “Susan Gilbert” by Gabrielle Drolet
possible, but not yet realized —
love like a myth, elliptical.
revealed little, as did the poems.
when Dickinson said I have one prayer only;
that is for you,
who knows what she meant. next-door
neighbors, friends, companions,
sisters-in-law. sharp-sighted observers who imagined
their escapes. to make the abstract tangible
is a double-edged sword. there is such a thing
as too much
freedom. to make
the abstract tangible is to touch
to run a hand
through her hair, to run
a hand across her neck, to kiss
under her chin.
• 3rd Prize: “O” by Megan Silva
I draw circles around your name.
I draw circles. I draw circles around
your name and my name. I draw lines
through our circles and your name and
my name - but there are still circles around
your name and my name. Still circles, circling
round, circling around your name. Circling
around, till there are no names, only circles.
Circling around, and around, and around, where
there were once two names in a circle.
UPDATE: March 25th Poetry London Event POSTPONED Indefinitely
Our March event featuring Mary di Michele and Susan Gillis has been postponed indefinitely due to ongoing concerns about the Coronavirus. Safety of readers and audience is the priority.
Poetry London 2020 Open Theme Contest
***DEADLINE EXTENDED!*** March 15th, 2020
Submit your best work to Poetry London’s 2020 Open Theme poetry contest, judged by acclaimed Canadian poet Lucas Crawford! Contest entries must be one poem of no more than 40 lines, on any topic, in any style; only submit original work that has not been previously published in print or online.
Send poems in PDF format by email only to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, your complete contact information (including mailing address) and the title of your poem in the body of the email. Judging will be anonymous. Do not include your name in the PDF file with your poem. You must be a resident of (or attending school in) London and surrounding area to enter. Winners will be announced in early April 2020 (only winners will be contacted).
First Prize is $100
Second Prize is $75
Third Prize is $50
The winning poets will have their work published on Poetry London’s website and will be invited to read their poems at our April 22nd event, ahead of the feature readers.
UPDATE: Poetry London Presents Paula Ferrante, Shannon Bramer, & Shelly Harder