Jackpine Press recently released The Sky Was 1950 Blue-a collaborative chapbook written by Katherin Edwards and designed by Melissa Haney-and I received #51 of a limited edition of 75 copies for review. Limited edition, handmade books are Jackpine’s foray, and each time I receive one I’m excited to see how the author and designer-often one and the same-have reconciled content and construct: concepts are such interesting animals.
Edwards’ colourful title comes from an Ian Tyson lyric, and the 1950s are represented here not only in the saddle-stitched book’s hue and interior drawings, but also in the fact that each poem includes a year (between 1950 and 1959) in its title. I opened the chapbook to discover that it also possesses a subtitle, “Poems from the Clothesline,” and indeed a continuous drawn clothesline acts like a border, stretching across the top of each page and supporting simple drawings of the clothing and linens referenced in each of the thirteen poems. The books were printed via a three hundred year-old process called cyanotype, which involves both “sunning” a negative image and later hanging it to dry (like laundry) in the dark. It’s also notable that the covers sport a scalloped “lace” flap; fitting, as the poems reveal that the narrator exhibits a romantic image of her future.
The opening piece, “1950, January Cotton,” introduces us to a girl as she removes clothes from her mother’s clothesline. This girl “fails to recognize in the bed sheets\a stiff-winged trapped angel, frozen\from the brittle night” and dreams of “striding\from this trapline of life,” as “Life’s picnic waits just\around the corner.”
Just two poems–and two years later, symbolic birds (romance, freedom, liveliness) appear on marriage cards and linens. They “soared into the threads\and with embroidery promises\and French-knotted eyes” these birds observed the newlyweds.
The chronological progression of these poems is interesting. Turn the page, add another year, and the tone takes a twist: “How to Hang Your Gabardine Husbands, 1953.” This poem, with its instructions for “good husband keeping,” actually reads like a found poem, ie: “Start with a clean taut line.\All pegs should be new and dry,” and then comes the darkly comic flip to “Be aware of what your neighbours may think.”
Poetry is subjective, but as I read it this collection represents a gradual disillusionment with marriage and 1950s gender roles (“Men stir martinis\ladies knit blankets”), and a quiet longing for the carefree days of childhood, with its “sheets snapping on clotheslines\sweet picnics and lemonade.” The finest poem is the subtle and lyrical “Chiffon Belief, 1957 ½ ,” which begins “All this falling.\Each year we greeted the autumn,\in love with leaves.”
“Simplicity Ball Gown Pattern, 1955” presents the promise of waltzes, the reality of “a greying housedress” and “Bare feet\ [shuffling] across the faded lino floor.” What we sign up for is often not the reality of our experience. This smartly-conceived little book hangs out the dirty laundry, including “the costumes we wear” as our lives blow and fade in the wind.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM THE SASKATCHEWAN PUBLISHERS GROUP WWW.SKBOOKS.COM
Download the catalogue here.