Bush Chord (2012 – 2nd Edition) by Margaret Lindsay Holton
Bush Chord, the most recent collection of poetry from Canadian artist, Margaret Lindsay Holton, clearly demonstrates Holton’s talents as a wordsmith, an art photographer and a true-blue Canadian spirit. In it, her deeply thoughtful and richly poetic evocations are accompanied by a striking selection of her own pinhole photographs. (Holton has, amongst other activities, exhibited her pinhole and photo-collage photography for over two decades.) The entire book unfolds cover to cover with the spacious airiness of the vast Canadian landscape. It is, thus, my honour to salute this relatively ‘unknown’ Canadian poet during this 40th anniversary year of Brick Books’ publications of new and established voices in Canadian poetry.
Holton became my long-distance associate and friend two decades ago, when we started communicating between her studio in Southern Ontario and my residence in California. At that time, other outstanding international artists, knowing that I was compiling and writing Furniture: Architects’ and Designers’ Originals said I must see the work of a Toronto-based Canadian furniture designer, Margaret Lindsay Holton. I did not know her work then, but I soon discovered it. I was in absolute awe. A number of her finely crafted pieces – all visual poetry in wood so lustrous and charmingly turned that each one begs to be caressed — became an important focal point within the chapter on international bed design in my final book project.
From the very beginning of our email exchanges, I soon realized that Holton was as equally creative with words. Then in 2002 her first book of poetry, ‘On Top of Mount Nemo’ was published by Acorn Press Canada of Ontario. A decade later, I read her last poetry collection, Bush Chord. Both are deeply moving, filled with rapture as well as precautionary tales. Both are so ‘her’.
To Holton, the soul of language, as much as photography, is light:
“In my pinhole photography, light enters a tiny pinhole to create an atmospheric illuminated image on photographic paper. In poetry, a single word bounced between two can pinprick an ‘aha’ moment. Language, well used, is a form of light.”
Poetry and pinhole photography are, for Holton, highly engaging art forms that, she says, “allow me to interact, almost dance, beneath the full and brilliant bounty of sunlight and ‘word-light’. Both disciplines can enlighten, enhance and enlarge our everyday perceptions. We all can see anew.”
From the opening poem through to the last of Holton’s Bush Chord, the reader finds such re-envisioning of our daily life and experiences:
pine poplar willow and punk wood
spit and spark
while bone hard elm birch apple and oak
fine hard woods – good wood to burn
these wonder instruments pressure whistle
chattering, cheering, cackling
crackling within a hesitant cyclone of light
of sublime delight, warming slow, they give us life
parse this minor miracle of mega bio-physics
of holy fire drawn down
from primal sun
through leaves to rugged root shoots far flung
look here now
to this instant, brilliant burn
an intense unrehearsed liquid fire –
a sound symphony of sun struck lyres
complete and sacred
a rare but common gift
the honey musk smell of jumbled bush wood
burns deep into primal memory
(remember those crisp sun-filled fall days
of cutting, gathering, splitting, stacking,
carrying, piling, drying, and cursing
those back breaking loads?)
to get to this
this calm clear moment
to these bush chords
Along with Nature’s harmonies, Holton’s “pinpricks of light” illuminate conditions that are all too human. Consider these choice words from “The Tyranny of Coupledom”:
Later, I saw them leave
In a whisper of Conspiracy
and from “Lost & Found”:
‘Poetry is best abandoned’
As she untied her apron
She hands me a wet dish towel
To dry the kitchen dishes
Her hand briefly touches mine
And our eyes quickly meet
and from “Home”:
far and wide
yet know not
where we go
dawn to dusk
tired and worn
Yes, Margaret Lindsay Holton shows us how to see with word ‘light’. I shouldn’t have been surprised.
I had written some decades ago about the expertly crafted warmth, charm and wit that she brought into her award-winning furniture designs. These qualities are so deeply inherent in her Self that it should be expected that they would be cornerstones for everything else she does, especially those items produced by her writing hand.
Other titles, and items, that she has created over a forty year period include: ten books, (with her second novel, The Gilded Beaver by Anonymous, winning the Hamilton Arts Council Best Fiction Award of 1999); a newly released musical CD, “Summer Haze”; her exquisitely drawn “Lindsay” ™ typeface circa 1980; an experimental 54-minute documentary “In the Eye of the Hunter” that she co-produced, co-directed and wrote in 1984-86; the fine furniture that she designed under her MLH Productions banner (now in many notable collections worldwide, including The Royal Ontario Museum) and, last but not least, her signature and eclectic ‘naive-surreal-folk-abstract’ oil paintings.
Holton may be obscure and a relative ‘unknown’ to some in the hip urban art matrix, but her literary and artistic output, to date, is very impressive when seen from this great distance.
It seems to me that her inherent qualities of warmth, charm and wit first manifested in the works she produced when she began her artistic career apprenticing with her father, the late cabinetmaker, Luther Janna Holton of Holton Fine Furniture, Hamilton, Ontario in 1984. Under his tutelage, she discovered and developed her own unique sense of “form,” and “harmony.” These design disciplines are rooted in time-honoured traditions, yet expressed, in Holton’s unique way, very contemporarily, with a very personal flair. These qualities have served as repeated metaphors in her assorted artworks that she then designed and made through her own studio, MLH Productions.
Today, Holton no longer designs or produces award-winning Canadian fine furniture. “In truth, the market was just too small for the calibre of work I was producing.” More’s the pity. Instead, she has shifted her focus to a more public display of her pinhole photographs, her written works and her signature paintings. Holton has exhibited widely in Canada and beyond, and she has won various jury awards and honors in those disciplines as well.
In sum, Holton has a distinct philosophical perspective that, in essence, could only radiate from her location on the planet. Her perspective stems from a deeply felt devotion to the magnificence of Nature “in her own backyard” and to the effervescent wonders of Life in Nature’s sphere. She is often mythical in her outlook, as much as she is literal in her production. How quirky of her to call herself a ‘canajun’ in ‘Canadada’! She is acutely aware of her distinctness that both separates her and joins her deeply to the land of her birth.
The full expression of Holton’s artistic devotion comes across as a sort of pre-historic summoning of everything sacred. It erupts from the clarity of her words and from the seeming simplicity of her artworks. It is a kind of blessing to us all.
Discover her. Read her. Enjoy her fine words. They have been crafted as well as any of her Canadian fine furniture pieces.
Carol Soucek King, MFA, PhD, is author of twelve books on design. Her thirteenth book is Under the Bridges at Arroyo Del Rey: The Salon on the Spiritually Creative Life Its focus is the positive and uplifting thoughts that can provide substance to one’s own home, material and spiritual, and that are the purpose of the Salon she founded over nineteen years ago. Here is her website.