Thanks to a confluence of my research on 21st century first books of poetry and Kitty Lewis’ expansive generosity, I have read many Brick Books. How many? According to my fast count: 52 (ish). Whether or not that’s a lot, the number confirms my appreciation for Brick Books. The volumes themselves are exemplars of book craft, objects of art. Papers, inks, fonts, formats, bindings, and covers all pull their weight. They are as beautifully constructed as fine masonry.
And, of course, the content.
My first Brick book was Karen Solie’s Short Haul Engine. Solie appeared at Vancouver’s Writers Festival famed-to-sell-out Poetry Bash in the mid-oughts. Compelled by her smoldering and potent reading, I bought her book. I became a fan of her short, economical lines, chock full of intensity of feeling and meaning; homages to language’s toughness and spark. The management of those binaries aesthetically led me to read Solie’s second book, Modern and Normal, where the grappling with binaries continues, though the line length extends.
From there, I went to the Brick Books website, looking for first books to include in creative writing courses I teach at Simon Fraser University (SFU). To answer questions about which Brick Books were first books, I made the call. Kitty answered. It seemed like the next day I was opening a Cheerios box stuffed with Brick Books.
I commenced reading. Susan Elmslie’s I, Nadja and Other Poems and Brenda Leifso’s Daughters of Men became books on the required reading lists of my SFU courses. In Elmslie’s debut, the central section of lyrical poems explore the life and mental illness of Nadja, the person behind André Breton’s surrealist romance, while also addressing certainties and uncertainties in feminine identity. Leifso’s first collection explores vagaries of memory and silence as embedded in the sexuality, violence, and secrecy of familial relations.
Some other favorite Brick books: Anne Carson, Short Talks; Sheri Benning, Thin Moon Psalm; Julie Berry, worn thresholds; Julie Bruck, The End of Travel and Monkey Ranch; Heather Cadsby, Could be; Susan Downe, Little Horse; Marilyn Dumont A Really Good Brown Girl; Karen Enns, That Other Beauty; Carole Glasser Langille, In Cannon Cave; Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Lost Gospels; Sue Goyette, The True Names of Birds; Sue Sinclair, Mortal Arguments and Breaker; Carolyn Smart, Hooked; S.E.Venart, Woodshedding.
Each of these books by a woman—Brick publishes women!—merges qualities of the practical and the poetic, the forthright and fearless. They shifted, forever so far as I know, my awareness of language’s estranging and deranging powers to describe and enact and underscore the quotidian aspects of women’s lives, relationships, and arts.
To pick one of these women’s books to focus my attention and appreciation has not been easy. Nor does it feel right. Rather than put names in a hat and draw out one to stand alone, I bow to each and all. I honor Kitty, the house of Brick Books and the sturdy beauty of the books that have built it with voices of generosity, intelligence, daring, confidence, honesty, and candor. These qualities inspire and inform my artistic life.
Jami Macarty is a poet, editor, arts administrator, and community advocate. She teaches contemporary poetry and creative writing at Simon Fraser University, serves as a Poetry Ambassador for Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, Rachel Rose, is an advisor and editor of the online poetry journal The Maynard, and writes Peerings & Hearings–Occasional Musings on Arts in the City of Glass, a blog series for Drunken Boat. A recipient of fellowships from Arizona Commission on the Arts, Banff Center, and BC Arts Council, her poems appear in American and Canadian journals, including Arc Poetry Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal, Descant, Drunken Boat, The Fiddlehead, Grain, Prism international, Vallum, Verse Daily, and Volt.