Winner of the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry
In 2010, Catherine Owen’s 29-year-old spouse died of a drug addiction. A year later, she relocated to an apartment by the Fraser River in Vancouver, B.C. As she moved beyond the initial shock, the river became her focus: a natural, damaged space that both intensifies emotion and symbolizes healing. In a sequence of aubades, or dawn poems, Owen records the practice of walking by or watching the river every morning, a routine that helps her engage in the tough work of mourning. Riven (a word that echoes river and means rift) is an homage to both a man and an ecosystem threatened by the presence of toxins and neglect. Yet, it is also a song to the beauty of nature and memory, concluding in a tribute to Louise Cotnoir’s long poem The Islands with a piece on imagined rivers. While Designated Mourner honors grief, Riven focuses on modes of survival and transformation through looking outward, and beyond.
About the author
Catherine Owen lives in New Westminster, BC. She is the author of ten collections of poetry, among them Designated Mourner (ECW, 2014), Trobairitz (Anvil Press 2012), Seeing Lessons (Wolsak & Wynn 2010) and Frenzy (Anvil Press 2009). Her poems are included in several recent anthologies such as Forcefield: 77 Women Poets of BC (Mothertongue Press, 2013) and This Place a Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone (Caitlin Press, 2014). Stories have appeared in Urban Graffiti, Memwear Magazine, Lit N Image (US) and Toronto Quarterly. Her collection of memoirs and essays is called Catalysts: Confrontations with the Muse (W & W, 2012). Frenzy won the Alberta Book Prize and other collections have been nominated for the BC Book Prize, ReLit, the CBC Prize, and the George Ryga Award. In 2015, Wolsak & Wynn published her compendium on the practices of writing called The Other 23 and a Half Hours or Everything You Wanted to Know That Your MFA Didn’t Teach You. She works in TV, plays metal bass and blogs at Marrow Reviews.
Excerpt: Riven: Poems (by (author) Catherine Owen)
Nature Writing 101
Our minds can turn anything romantic.
Is the problem.
The sewagy mud of the Fraser a quaint muslin & the spumes
pulsing out of chimneys at the Lafarge cement plant look,
at night, like two of Isadora Duncan’s scarves, pale, insouciant veils,
harmless. The trees are all gone but then aren’t our hearts
more similar to wastelands.
We can make it kin, this pollution, children one is sad about yet still fond of, their
delinquency linked to our own, irreparable with familiarity, a lineage of stench &
forgiveness. Our minds can assimilate all horrors.
Is the problem.
The animals will disappear and those small, strange invertebrates;
the bees will vanish & in the well-oiled waters, fish
will surge their deaths over the sand bags.
But then we keep saying, “Let’s construct another narrative.”
The nightmares must simply be called reality.
And after this you see,
it is possible to carry on.
“Owen takes a single landscape and imbues it with the wrenching intricacy of grief, letting it move through her, letting it stay, but also letting happiness in to cohabitate.” — Publishers Weekly
“What Catherine Owen mines from her experience of losing a young spouse to drug addiction is extraordinary for its sweep. Her depths come to bear on nature, love, contamination, and the things she was forced to know about herself.” — Foreword Reviews
“In Riven she considers with keen observational depth the lessons that a river can offer about the brevity of life, the eternity of love, the continuity of survival and the futility of death … Riven presents some of the most descriptive and incisive poetry that Catherine Owen has ever offered, derived from a place of deep contemplation and raw emotive power.” — Coffee Salt blog
“Coming back up from my underwater travels in [this book] I feel the same heart-weary ebb in my blood. The overwhelm from the sheer force of the poems. The grief, the wisdom there. When I think of [this collection] I feel a heart’s thirst for love and reconciliation with this earth, its losses and our countless other losses.” — Recovering Words with Richard Osler blog
“The gift of this new book: to witness a woman’s refusal to succumb to grief, her commitment to heal through writing poems that map how she honours the pact of living on … Designated Mourner is one of the most riveting and compelling Canadian poetry collections I have encountered in the past ten years. And what a complement Riven is to it … Catherine’s book, gorgeous with undertow. Its reminder of how we, too, can survive and be transformed in spite of grief and losses in our lives.” — Recovering Words with Richard Osler blog
Other titles by Catherine Owen
Locations of Grief
An Emotional Geography
The Day of the Dead
Sliver Fictions, Short Stories & an Homage
Day of the Dead
Sliver Fiction, Short Stories & an Homage
Other 23 & a Half Hours, The
Or Everything You Wanted to Know that Your MFA Didn't Teach You
Confrontations with the muse