Today, I'm delighted to have a "guest reviewer" on my blog. David Whitehouse is a British journalist in Paris and is the author of In Search of Rwanda's Génocidaires French Justice and the Lost Decades (Seraphim, 2014). Thanks, David, for reviewing Asking and sharing it with us!
By David Whitehouse
Shawna Lemay's Asking is a collection of poems and poem essays which demonstrates that the writing 101 stock advice about 'show don't tell' can withstand as much common sense as a skilled author is able to muster.
Many writers seek to camouflage their influences and sources, to ride on their anonymous backs. Asking is remarkable in that Lemay simply provides the reader with them and explains in graceful and poetic language how they relate to her life and work. The result is a distinctive and perhaps unique style, reflecting a self-confidence that is fully justified.
New and aspiring writers will find ample food for thought in To a Young Poet, one of the essays in the collection. "A poet should make a break for it when anyone is handing out advice. A young poet should both hear and not hear any praise they may happen to be given."
"I advise you to spend as little time possible on the internet attempting to decipher whether a person has 'liked' something wholeheartedly, ironically, or with what degree of fatigue."
I met Lemay in Canada because both our books were being launched by Seraphim Editions in Toronto. She had flown from Edmonton for the latest in her long series of publications. I had flown from France for my first, non-fiction book. Her style is much more accessible than it might at first appear. The work is transparently human to an unusual degree. A long-ago comment from a friend about her husband making money by merely selling his paintings has stayed with her. Henry James is cited on the three important things in life: be kind, be kind and be kind.
Among her subjects is the interaction between art and its viewer, experiencing beauty, and art as a form of survival in suburbia. Perhaps her best advice to young poets is that they should learn as many languages as they can, and to comb their hair before leaving the house. "Try and find a chaise long. I'm adamant about this point. If it's threadbare, throw a blanket over it."
Asking, by Shawna Lemay, Seraphim Editions 2014