No return to the urn

Kiss off Keats — Sheri-D Wilson finds feminine divine


Goddess Party Book Launch

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Technology has finally caught up with Calgary poet Sheri-D Wilson’s fertile mind, and the brainchild is a “crazy interactive opus” entitled Goddess: Gone Fishing for a Map of the Universe, a collection of verse that incorporates QR codes into the text. The pixelated black-and-white squares carrying embedded hyperlinks activated through mobile phones are by now a familiar tool of advertising, but here the cryptic boxes serve a grander, more ambitious (and fun) purpose — to lift readers off the page.

For Wilson, whose early training is in the theatre, the printed word is inevitably limited: hypertext allows her “to do performance in a book,” to tear down the paper wall between poet and reader, and invite us to join the show.

The show itself is mobile. As the reader follows tiny electronic pathways to uncover fragments of poetic archeology — photographs of flapper beauties, bits of runic inscription, wryly chosen images of Computerworld pins observing that “Floppies Need More Support” — Wilson embarks on a historical quest that happens in real-time, “tracking power points where the neolithic goddesses travelled.”

For Wilson, Goddess is one part of a much larger project that has seen her travelling the world exploring the physical routes taken by a specific group of ancient Spanish, French and proto-Celtic female mystics engaged in setting up temples. Her fascination with the “ancient power places” of the world provides the inspiration not only for the slim volume of poetry, but for a novel still in progress (on which she declines to comment at length).

And what is the quest? The title — which came to Wilson in a dream — says it all: to construct a map of the universe.

“If the map of the universe were a woman,” Wilson muses, “and if one woman is all women, then the map of the universe is the collective of the thoughts of many women into one woman.”

For Wilson, this map of collective thought draws on the ancient places of ritual established by female divines to point toward the future — a future that urgently needs change. And the only way to bring change is to know oneself.

“The map of the universe is the map of the self,” she says. “How do we live in this world? How do we bring change to this world?”

The answer may lie in the deployment of ideas of the feminine divine at the larger level of community, not only through the knowledge of self, but also through the knowledge of other women, through communication, education, the exchange of information. The Occupy movement, Wilson observes, is one example of this philosophy in action.

“People don’t know why they’re there, but they know things must change.” The movement itself has no clear direction, and that’s what happens with the goddess: “Female energy is random.”

Is Goddess a feminist treatise, then? Wilson demurs.

“I’m tentative about the word, because for years it has been funny, odd, twisted and misperceived.”

She prefers “feminine divine,” because “it’s not about the separation and segregation of ideas based on sexuality — or on anything else — it’s about coming together.”

Notably, some of Wilson’s major influences are strong voices from the male canon she sees as embodying the feminine divine: the French writer Guillaume Apollinaire; the modernist poet T.S. Eliot (a favourite writer); and, perhaps above all, Allen Ginsberg, beatnik and one of Wilson’s early teachers. Although on some level Wilson balks at what she refers to as the “patriarchal squishiness” of poetic formalism, Goddess offers three embedded haikus as a tribute to Ginsberg and his influence.

Not all men are welcome on the voyage, though. John Keats — one of the pantheon of male Romantic poets — offers a symbolic counterpoint to Wilson’s map of the universe, in the shape of an urn inscribed with dancing women, immortalized in his “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” The notion that women must somehow exist within a frieze — within the boundaries of the urn — makes Wilson want to vomit.

“I wanted to fuck with his ideas. I feel that he has squished us into a form that we have rebelled against, and we are now coming out of. We’re not dancing back. Our tambourines do make music and they may make a lot of noise and you may not like it.”

There is no return to the urn: instead, there are fragments and codes, a hypertext, a map, an invitation to join in the dance. Got balls? Want to get with the party? If you don’t worship the feminine divine, quips Wilson, you may as well not even come.

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