Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Adrienne Gruber

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Adrienne Gruber

"Buoyancy Control is not a book for the faint of heart... Here are poems that burst like fireworks," said Rachel Rose, Poet Laureate of Vancouver, speaking about Adrienne Gruber's raw new collection.

Buoyancy Control (BookThug) is about the sea, it's about the body, and it's about sexual identity. Its language, simultaneous languid and powerful, sprinkled with humour, is evidence of a writer with creative energy to burn.

We're pleased to welcome Adrienne to Open Book today, where she takes our Dirty Dozen series for a beautifully creative spin, using the twelve fact structure to give us a poetic autobiography of parenthood.

She tells us about the difficulty of maintaining friendships, the soundscape of a household, and balancing publication with motherhood.

  1. My husband and I sit across from each other at the kitchen table watching an electrolyte tab dissolve in a Nalgene bottle full of water. We are hypnotized by the fish egg bubbles shooting to the surface, both of us without pants on, our thighs goose pimpled. The small disc is smooth at first but roughens as it breaks down, appears like sand paper. This is the lamest thing we’ve done together, I say. My husband disagrees. Look at how cool it is. The best part’s coming, it’s going to shoot up to the surface any minute. We wait. There’s a mound of laundry on the sofa, barricading our path to Netflix. The kitchen is the site of grotesque dinner theatre, blood from the roast pooling into the grooves of the cutting board, smears of avocado and applesauce, quinoa underfoot. Neither of us can bring ourselves to begin the scour.
  2. Pregnancy creates an overwhelming responsibility and obligation but it also creates a sense of control. If I swallow this pill containing folate, my baby's spinal cord won’t cleave and protrude, resulting in paralysis. If I abstain from raw fish and cold cuts I won't get listeriosis. I can prevent diseases, ailments, and disfigurements by what I consume and avoid. Once the baby is born, that's it. Out of my obsessive hands. My daughters were safer inside me.
  3. Since becoming parents we are flattened by all we have to get done in a day. The worst of this revelation is that none of what needs doing is actually important or meaningful.
  4. The first time I am alone with both of them, the older one, in a tangle of blankets, rolls off the bed and onto the two-week-old’s head. Her larynx perforates the room. I yank my shirt up and shove an erect nipple into her mouth. Scan her eyes for brain damage. As she sucks, her wailing ceases and mine begins.
  5. I miss you, a friend texts one night. I feel the distance between us. It's palpable. A fish caught in the net. Not panicked. Resigned. I don’t know what to say. I never know what to say anymore. I used to hate people who didn’t know what to say.
  6. The common soundscape of our household: pterodactyl yawps, guttural roars, ugly-crying, crocodile tears, my husband’s rainbow vocabulary. The pop of a balloon as the three-year-old throws her weight.
  7. Now, the hiss of the electrolyte tab as it sears the water. Frothing our fractured ossicles.

  8. At four months the youngest rolls off the bed and lands on her face, four inches from the corner of the cedar chest. I push the playpen against the bed to act as a guardrail. The next afternoon her body wedges between the mattress and the playpen, face pressed against the mesh side, spasmodic limbs and dilated pupils.
  9. My new book of poetry arrives in the mail over Easter weekend. The first reading is in the basement of Russell Books in Victoria. My youngest is eight months and will join me on a book tour in Ontario. Seven readings in ten days. Just as the host reads my bio, my daughter, snug in a carrier against my sister’s chest, stirs. As I stand she opens her eyes, scopic. I turn and walk away from her to the podium. I begin by pronouncing my gratitude at reading from the book for the first time in Victoria, where my sister lives, as the book is dedicated to her. A cacophonous eruption from the second row, a wounded animal. My sister takes her outside. After I finish, I wave to the audience, mumble something and dash out the door. My baby is halfway down the street, wailing, her breath punctured as I pick her up and clutch her to my sweating body. I spend the rest of the event walking her among stacks of old books as other poets read, stopping only to lie down next to her on the cold concrete to nurse.
  10. I miss myself.
  11. Friendships grow necrotic in time. There are those with babies and those without. Both grieve. For time spent or time allotted.
  12. It was over four hours of pushing what was sure to be an entire planet. This assault on my pelvis had me convinced that death from childbirth might be getting off easy. At worst I would end up with oozing fistulas or a clitoris that explodes like a star, shards of those 8000 nerve endings rocketing off into the atmosphere. At the end, each contraction brought on propulsion, my vagina prolonged into a swollen disc that suctioned her coned head cephalopodic. It was excruciating. The globe of an eye lifting and erupting from its socket. Every involuntary magnification of her scalp had me clamp down against her head with my palms in a futile attempt to cram her back inside. The final push lasted five full gratifying seconds. So pleasurable was the release of her head into the open air. Half-born, ethereal body fixed in a ghost estuary, shoulders obstructing her entry into the new world.
  13. Monotony of tasks. The nature of the job. Redundancy. Grind. I signed up to love two children, not to scrub the same diameter of laminate multiple times a day. I signed up for unending adoration. I signed myself into a bubble.
  14. Look, my husband points to the ellipse. It’s about to float up. But it doesn’t. It just keeps shedding fragments of itself.

Adrienne Gruber is the author of the poetry collection This is the Nightmare (2008; shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry) and three chapbooks: Intertidal Zones (2014), Mimic (2012; winner of a bpNichol Chapbook Award), and Everything Water (2011). Her work has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Grain, Event, Arc Poetry Magazine, Poetry is Dead, and Plentitude. She has been a finalist for the CBC Literary Awards in poetry, Descant’s Winston Collins Best Canadian Poem Contest, and twice for Arc’s Poem of the Year Contest. Her poem “Gestational Trail” was awarded first prize in The Antigonish Review’s Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest in 2015. Gruber lives in Vancouver with her partner Dennis and their two daughters.

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