Wielding deceptively simple, straightforward prose, Alix Ohlin draws us into the labyrinthine lives and emotions of a set of connected characters who spiral out and back on their own journeys in Inside. The book’s opening scene, where a woman skiing alone literally stumbles across a man who has failed to commit suicide in snowy seclusion, draws the reader in as swiftly and intimately as the characters’ unusual collision.
From that breathtaking start, Ohlin takes the reader through the complicated lives of Grace, a perhaps overly dedicated therapist; John, a traumatized former international aid worker; Annie, a troubled teenager turned aspiring actress; and Mitch, Grace’s ex-husband and a therapist himself who has worked in Canada’s Far North. As the overall story moves back and forth in time and from Montreal to Iqaluit to New York City to Hollywood to Rwanda, Ohlin maintains a steady hold on the characters and their intersecting paths, to offer the reader an enticingly, compulsively readable experience.
At the recent International Festival of Authors, Ohlin took part in a combined reading and group discussion with her fellow Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist nominees. (In this season of literary awards, Inside is also shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.) In an elucidating exchange with discussion moderator Carol Off, Ohlin observed that Inside connects its characters through unanticipated acts of kindness. It’s a touching and potent way of encapsulating the entire book. Inside strikingly balances the precious gift of strangers reaching out to help strangers against the bittersweet conundrum of those nearest us and most beloved often being the greatest strangers and enigmas of all. This reader suspects that beautiful dilemma will continue to haunt and intrigue the most.
Thank you to House of Anansi Press for providing a review copy of Inside, by Alix Ohlin.
Well, I’m closing in on 10 months (211 poets in 288 days, to be exact) of #todayspoem. Yep, and so far, I haven’t missed a day. As I’ve mused before, did I have any idea I’d be this far along a journey through poetry when a bunch of us bookish Twitter friends had the first #todayspoem discussion back in late 2011? I knew I would commit to it, and I did. What I didn’t know was how far-ranging a journey it would be, and how much I’d learn from both my own explorations, and from the discoveries I’d make through the generosity and creativity of other #todayspoem contributors (who I hope I’ve accurately captured in this Twitter list).
As far afield as I’ve gone at times with #todayspoem, I notice from keeping track of my choices that there are poets I’ve returned to more than once. The following is a list of the poets I’ve visited and revisited for #todayspoem inspiration, with links (where available) to some of their poems that I’ve chosen, read, enjoyed and derived inspiration or solace from early in the morning.
- John Ashbery, Some Trees
- Margaret Atwood, In the Secular Night
- Margaret Avison, Rising Dust
- Ken Babstock, Compatibilist
- Gary Barwin, Shout
- Christian Bok, The Great Order of the Universe
- Roo Borson, Dictionary
- Julie Bruck, Once
- Charles Bukowski, peace
- Anne Carson, XIX. From the Archaic to The Fast Self
- Kevin Connolly, Wellbeing
- Lynn Crosbie, Love Letters
- Lorna Crozier, Calm
- Michael Crummey, Your Soul, Your Soul, Your Soul
- Lorne Daniel, Dog On Ice
- Louise Gluck, A Summer Garden
- Lavinia Greenlaw, Serpentine
- Phil Hall, I Was Wrong
- David Harsent, The Garden in Dream
- Steven Heighton, Long Distance Every Sign
- Kathleen Jamie, Roses
- Philip Larkin, Party Politics
- Gwendolyn MacEwen, Let Me Make This Perfectly Clear
- Randall Maggs, Running Battle
- Nyla Matuk, To An Ideal
- David McFadden, Strange Language
- Emily McGiffin, As Air
- Heather McHugh, Not Over It
- Don McKay, Taking Your Baby to the Junior Hockey Game
- Jessica Moore, Ghosts move through this house
- AF Moritz, Home Again Home Again
- Erin Moure, I is a foreigner
- Paul Muldoon, Love Poem With Pig
- George Murray, State of Emergency
- Les Murray, Inspecting the Rivermouth
- Sean O’Brien, Elegy
- Michael Ondaatje, Driving with Dominic in the Southern Province We See Hints of the Circus
- PK Page, The Blue Guitar
- Sina Queyras, Acceptable Dissociations
- Lisa Robertson, Wooden Houses
- Valerie Rouzeau (translated by Susan Wicks), Cold Spring in Winter
- Tadeusz Rozewicz (translated by Joanna Trzeciak), The Story of Old Women
- Frederick Seidel, What Next
- Karen Solie, The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out
- Tomas Transtromer, Black Postcards
- Ian Williams, Idioglossia
- CD Wright, Deepstep Come Shining
As I mentioned recently – here and here – I’m going to try from time to time to showcase and celebrate the physical books I’ve read, reviewed, and/or from which I’ve gathered #todayspoem snippets of inspiration. Today’s treasure is Bottle, by Margaret Atwood, published in 2004 by Hay Festival Press.
The frontispiece of Bottle includes a lovely, whimsical illustration by Margaret Atwood.
The Hay Festival started in Wales and now runs literary and cultural festivals under the Hay name around the world. As described on the festival’s web site:
For 25 years Hay Festival has brought together writers from around the world to debate and share stories at its festival in the staggering beauty of the Welsh Borders. Hay celebrates great writing from poets and scientists, lyricists and comedians, novelists and environmentalists, and the power of great ideas to transform our way of thinking. We believe the exchange of views and meeting of minds that our festivals create inspire revelations personal, political and educational. Hay is, in Bill Clinton’s phrase, ‘The Woodstock of the mind’.
Hay now runs 15 festivals across five continents at which current political thought and the re-imaginings of international writers gathered together cross cultural and genre boundaries and foster the exchange of understanding, mutual respect and ideas.
In conjunction with author appearances at the Hay Festival, excerpted and original works premiered at the event are also published in wee, attractive, gem-coloured Hay Festival Press original and limited editions. Learn more here.