Weary of her humdrum existence, a woman packs up and heads for Arctic Quebec, where she hopes to find a new lease on life teaching native children. She quickly discovers, however, that the Inuit have far more to teach her than she, them, as she slowly learns that each day on this earth is a rich sensory experience, not merely to be lived, but savoured. Loosely based on the author's own three-year experience in settlements along the Hudson-Ungava coast, Snow Formations takes a realistic look at the modern Inuit world through post-industrial eyes, always walking the fine line between idealism and cynicism, hope and despair. Steeped in contradiction, this is Canada's North with all its trappings: igloos and pool halls, raw meat and radio, dogsleds and diapers. The North may be great and white, but it is not always pretty. Snow Formations began as a thirteen-minute commission for the CBC Radio series "Home and Away," featuring new work by five Canadian poets writing from a cross-cultural perspective.
About the author
Carolyn Marie Souaid has been writing and publishing poetry for over 20 years. The author of six books and the winner of the David McKeen Award for her first collection, Swimming into the Light, she has also been shortlisted for the A.M. Klein Prize and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Much of her work deals with the bridging of worlds; the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility of it, but the necessity of the struggle. She has toured her work across Canada and in France. Since the 1990s, she has been a key figure on the Montreal literary scene, having co-produced two major local events, Poetry in Motion (the poetry-on-the-buses project) and the Circus of Words / Cirque des mots, a multidisciplinary, multilingual cabaret focusing on the "theatre" of poetry. Souaid is a founding member and editor of Poetry Quebec, an online magazine focusing on the English language poets and poetry of Quebec.
Excerpt: Snow Formations (by (author) Carolyn Marie Souaid)
We handed them God on a silver platter. Do you know it took Him only one day to annihilate the past? Which, of course, allowed them to start over again.
In a flash,
He gave them light and a place to gather: Pool halls and greasy shacks. The world sugared white.
We took up the slack.
Served up their heart's desire: Export A and an excuse to get up in the morning. Vinegar on fries. Cameras to seize the day:
Dogs coveting cigarette butts, An Elder's rotten keyboard of teeth.
We gave them mercantile lust and the cunning to turn 4,000 savage years into art.
See that sky up there? That was us, too.
We gave them television, liberalism, tampons, Pampers, Pop tarts, tooth paste, acne, tartrazine. Did I mention Sugar-pops? Xanthan gum, Hubba Bubba, Boy George, Ringo, Paul, John, and Love, all they needed. With protection (which, of course, they still won't use). The rest just came: Woodstock, Hollywood, the World Wide Web.
The nerve of them saying we stole their land. Such a small thing.
The Trouble with Being Dead
It's the ones walking around you have to worry about. All flash and strut, but no heart. Dried-up corn for eyes. Those dead sleep a long time, midnight stuffing its black straw into their skulls.
Any one of them will tell you the same thing: Life falls away in blotches, whole bits at a time blanking out, like a puzzle unpiecing itself. Withering into a prairie for scarecrows, tattered half-men with nothing to do but scratch around the blueless dark.
And if they'd chosen another path? Sunnier and more passionate. An ear for the inner voices talking to them, the tingling air along the spine.
Just for a moment, imagine giving into your lust, your sequined pangs. Joy. Acute jags of glass in the wrist.
The trouble with being dead is what you miss: tin-cold lakewater. The cashmere feel of a last blurt of blood down the chin. What you end up settling for: life as a balance sheet, friends who are either assets or liabilities.
How that peony in a jar of water might as well be the wad of fuzz in a senile brain.
For all the impact it has.
“ Both the mood and method of St. Lambert, Quebec poet Carolyn Marie Souaid's Snow Formations, her third collection, are entirely different. Based on her experiences teaching in northern Quebec, it features pared-down, imagistic intensity and an ironic tone. The first section, pre-departure, conveys her boredom and lack of fulfillment. Then comes her flight north: "my fissured, brown/liver-spotted towns/vaporized in the dark air/and then I woke, the world had accumulated again/ outside my window/ the strapping, white, freshness of it/ shoveling life/back into my eyes."
Of course, this is a familiar ritual (reject civilization, reclaim the senses in an encounter with the Natives and Nature). But Souaid is no sentimentalist; wary of easy answers, she's as cautionary as she is celebratory about the North and Inuit life.
The images are particularly vivid—and unsettling—when she writes of the natural world. "Cabin Fever" evokes a feeling of menace as winter closes in ("the grey void of water, /the one wrong slip to certain death..the cold shoulder/ of snow against the door, the house"). Elsewhere, she writes of the solstice: "Earth suddenly sped up a notch while/ Hades breathed deeply from the night between the rocks."
In one poem, Souaid invites the reader to "feed on the world,/one breath at a time." That invitation is made compelling by these vivid, brooding poems.”
—The Toronto Star