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Posted: Friday June 23, 2017
Listen: Nancy Shaw reads her poems
[cover of The Gorge]

Nancy Shaw (1962–2007) was an award-winning poet, scholar, and critic who was formative in shifting the ground of Canadian literature and poetics. She was a member of the influential Kootenay School of Writing (KSW) collective, co-director of Writing magazine, artist-in-residence at the Western Front in the 1980s, and served as a chair of the Vancouver New Music Society.

To befriend Nancy Shaw was to enter an expanding, enticing, and complexly interwoven terrain that was continually in the process of analyzing its own construction. Poet, scholar, curator, cultural critic, and teacher, Nancy was a generous, invigorating friend, as generous with her intellect as she was with her time and her affection. During our nearly two decades of friendship, we read and wrote poems together, walked, swam, knit, ate, watched films, and played with kids, but above all, we talked. We talked politics, social theory, popular culture, art, music, dance, food, sports, books, relationships, fibre arts, history. For she had an almost endless scope of interests; an incomplete list of the topics her work engages would have to include (just for starters and in no particular order) visual art, photography, cultural policy and cultural theory, poetics, feminism and gender, media and communications theory (with particular attention to the work of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan), dance, politics and governance, race, trauma, the October crisis and the Rocket Richard riots, television, architecture, video production, the domestic, film noir, and the ideology of nationhood. At times Shaw considered these subjects individually, particularly in her bracing scholarly writing, but especially in her poetry, her concerns are intertwined and inseparable.

The above is an excerpt from Catriona Strang’s introduction (“‘Constellations and Contingent Networks’: Nancy Shaw’s Structures of Possibility,” page xiii) to The Gorge: Selected Writing by Nancy Shaw, which was published in Spring 2017.

The Gorge launched in April at the Western Front in Vancouver, and editor Catriona Strang read from the book and then played the video below, which features the voice of Nancy Shaw herself, to a rapt audience. In the video – which uses a recording produced by Jacqueline Leggatt in 2006 and used by Talonbooks with permission – you’ll hear Shaw read poems from her book Cold Trip (2006; co-authored with Catriona Strang) and see photos taken by Shaw to accompany her poems.

And below, for those who might prefer to read, rather than listen, another poem collected in The Gorge (pp. 167–8)):

Rhetorical Fancy (2006)

a denial of fortune
deliberately vow
without doubt
or plead to
the contrary
in overtones

verbal dares
epistolary
conundrums
the gradual
dismantling
of ballads

I remember
the old days
spread with
delicate flesh

wipe down
and wipe
down again

celebrate for
weeks, eyes
proud in
dismembered
triumph, prepped
skinned
and branded

I keep company
among the
favoured seed
sober brine
peeled in solicitude
a still pricey
analysis
the marriage
is clearly politic


The Gorge is available now for 19.95.