Across the Page: Books of Discovery

 
 

Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction, edited by Sabrina Chapadjiev (Seven
Stories)

Sabrina Chapadjiev first decided to put together Live Through This, a collection of
stories, essays, artwork and photography about the connection between
creativity and self-destruction, when she heard of the suicide of Sarah Kane, a
young playwright. A playwright herself, Kane’s death forced Chapadjiev to
consider her own relationship with these two forces. Even more specifically —
and more frightening — she wondered if she was headed down a similar path.

Chapadjiev began to notice that many of the women artists
she admired were also scarred: "It got to the point where it became
logical: If a woman was fiercely intelligent, outspoken and passionate, I’d
look towards her arms for the scars. They were almost always there."

In the construction of the book, however, Chapadjiev was
also aware of the media’s fixation on "tragically doomed women" and
the "glamorization of this issue." What she was more interested in
capturing — and what she succeeded in creating with Live Through This — was a book about the women who struggled with
self-destruction and turned it into art.

One of the challenges she faced, she explains in the book’s
preface, was how to define self-destruction. She finally limited it to
"when a woman actively takes
away from herself or her power." Many of the pieces also explore the
circumstances behind these acts, including incest, depression, drug abuse and
eating disorders.

Within this fairly broad definition, Live Through This features stories and images from a wide range of
women writers and artists. Carol Queen’s essay "Long, Long Thoughts"
shows how losing her virginity to an unworthy suitor inspired her to become a
feminist sex educator.

Daphne Gottlieb’s "Lady Lazarus: Uncoupleting Suicide
and Poetry" explores her battle with depression (and the medication to
treat it) and its impact on her writing. Diane DiMassa’s comic "The Artful
Art of the Role of Art in the Ugly Art of Survival" shows how she learned
to work out her "ANGER!" on the page.

One of the more powerful essays in the anthology is
playwright Carolyn Gage’s "Rewriting the Script." The essay begins
with the question "How on earth can you tell a story you can’t
remember?" and then proceeds to put together the pieces of an abusive
childhood, a marriage to a man and participation in a homophobic church, and
Gage’s eventual coming-out and emergence as a playwright.

In the end, Chapadjiev’s goal was to change the stigma
behind the connection between self-destruction and creativity: "We have
been taught that self-destruction is an awful thing. ‘It is bad,’ we’ve been
told by therapists, psychologists, and those who do not understand its
seduction. I would like to edit that. Instead of ‘It is bad,’ I would like for
it to read, ‘It is.’"

This powerful collection of voices provides new insight into
the concept of self-destruction and, perhaps more importantly, offers hope to
everyone who has felt these forces.

According to Her Contours by Nancy Boutilier (Black Sparrow
Press)

When Nancy Boutilier published her first collection of
poems, According to Her Contours, in
1992, she was quickly recognized for her strong voice and contribution to
lesbian poetry. The book was a
finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry, as was her second
collection, On the Eighth Day Adam Slept
Alone.

A high school English teacher and athletic director,
Boutilier’s poems take on a variety of subjects, from the classroom to the
basketball court to matters of the heart. According
to Her Contours
is divided into five sections: "Third Person,"
"To Throw Like a Boy," "Relationships Blossom," "Love
Flowers" and "The Goddess Smiles."

Poetry may seem like a strange place to explore the body and
mind of an athlete, but this is exactly where Boutilier is at her best. In the
poem "To Throw Like a Boy," she describes her growth into womanhood
despite her desire to be "one of the guys" on the field.

In "A Child’s Logic," Boutilier re-examines that
desire and how she came to a new understanding about herself:

Child’s logic told me
I wanted to be a boy
when all I wanted was to love
and be loved
by girls.

Many of the poems in the collection also reveal Boutilier’s
struggle with an eating disorder and an athlete’s obsession with trying to mold
the perfect body. In "Charting Progress," she writes about her first
year in college:

Felt giddy
Beautiful
Lettuce
no fat
bones.

The book takes a turn in "Relationships Blossom"
as Boutilier experiences her first kiss ("soon I think of nothing but your
tongue") and comes to terms with her lesbianism ("My mother would die
to see me/In the arms of another woman,/But I had to see for myself").

The poems in According
to Her Contours
are powerful meditations on identity, power, loss and
redemption.

 

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