Fresh-voiced and female

Ribsauce: a cd/anthology of words by women

By Maria Simpson

A review of Ribsauce: A Cd/anthology Of Words By Women by Taien Ng-chan

Published on April 1, 2002

Ribsauce: A Cd/anthology Of Words By Women
Taien Ng-chan

Vehicule Pres
$18.95
paper
208pp
1-55065-150-1

After a lull in actual spoken work performances, Montrealers have recently seen a spate of books devoted to the local spoken (and written) word scene. Running with Scissors (Cumulus Press), You & Your Bright Ideas and Impure: Reinventing the Word in Montreal (both Véhicule Press) have all sought to carve out a niche. Now, Véhicule introduces this slick-looking volume dedicated to female authors and performers.

One of the problems in capturing the diversity of literature today is that much of the work being created is written for performance, and is appreciated in its best light in theatres, bars, and coffeehouses. In an effort to convey this, Ribsauce includes a CD tucked into the back jacket featuring artists such as Catherine Kidd, Debbie Young, Alexis O’Hara, and Skidmore. The CD is edited by Kaarla Sundström and Alex Boutros, while the book proper is edited by Taien Ng-Chan, so each part is discrete.

Ribsauce (a play on the rib taken from Adam to create Eve) is an ambitious project, and not just because it combines writing and speech. In Ng-Chan’s introduction (called “an interview with myself”) she offers some suggestion of what glues this anthology together, asserting that women need “new strategies beyond simple identity politics” and that it is time to “push the boundaries.” Statements such as these, while purportedly trying to broaden the scope of the book beyond feminist politics, actually try to create a new feminist agenda. Perhaps it would have been better to let each woman’s work stand on its own. The temptation in anthologies is to tie them up with a neat bow, and the women represented in Ribsauce have no common agenda.

Happily, some of the authors’ agendas are to deliver amusing, finely crafted writing. Heather O’Neill’s “The Diary of a Fourteen Year Old Butterfly” collects the fresh-voiced musings of an adolescent girl about her blue-collar life. She says of her apartment: “The bedroom is so small, every way I stretch my arms, I hit a sister.” Joni Murphy rages against nine-to-five culture in a poem called “Head Office” where an employee is called on the carpet for being too dressed up on casual Friday: “Look around, all your co-workers are nice and comfortable…why can’t you just be casual?” She also bids us “batten down the cubicles” against an apocalyptic office storm in “A climate controlled cataclysm.” Prize-winning Nova Scotian poet Calabrese offers “Her Father’s Barn,” a play about a cheating farm wife and her “snub-nosed, blunt-fingered country-bumpkin” husband that is at turns brash and touching.

The CD offers another dimension of authorship, and shows other ways genre and form can be expanded. There are many different sounds to take in: voices are laid over beats, electronically modified, combined with instruments, presented solo in front of a crowd, or within an ensemble. While a nice addition to the package, the CD would have worked better had it been accompanied by some sort of lyric/word sheet. This is not exactly a CD to unwind to at the end of a hectic day; it requires some attention and focus, and a text to follow along with would certainly help. mRb

Maria Simpson is a Montreal writer and production manager for a children's press.

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