The poetry of uneven transitions
Continuity Errors, by Catriona Wright
Like everyone else, I use trees
As a metaphor for myself
And my dream community
By Catriona Wright
Review by John Crump
In movies, as in life, continuity is important. A continuity error in film is when a character appears in a red sweater and then, in the next scene, the sweater is green.
“The pandemic was a weird continuity error,” says poet and former Glebe resident, Catriona Wright. “So was pregnancy during the pandemic.”
Wright’s third book is aptly named Continuity Errors, and she was back in Ottawa recently to read from her new work at Perfect Books on Elgin Street. The morning after, she relaxed in her parentsʼ garden on First Avenue.
Wright grew up in the Glebe and shadows of the neighbourhood appear here and there among the 33 poems in this small collection. “I was born on a dead-end street” is about living close to the old exhibition grounds but not seeing it.
My bedroom window faced a brick wall.
From my brother’s you could see
The carnival, those Ferris wheel spokes
Loud with orange lights. I was stuck
With the bricks and their boring
Secrets. They were terrible best friends.
“Fifteen” is, well, another continuity error – between childhood and something else, as yet undefined.
I smoked pot in a rhododendron
cathedral by the canal, pink petals
sputtering through thick plumes. I parted
branches and entered the afternoon.
In the canal’s radioactive waters
carp thrashed to the surface. We fed
them Pringles and Sour Patch Kids,
bright corpses covered in powdery
down, the first frost. Sour. Sweet. Gone.
There is a literary story behind her name. When her mother, Jean, was carrying her, a book fell from a shelf. It was Catriona, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1893 sequel to Kidnapped.
“Predestination,” the contemporary Catriona says. She was meant to write.
Growing up in a house full of books, with her parents reading to her and then becoming a voracious reader herself, as well as a regular at the Sunnyside Library, Wright was always making notes and writing. Nevertheless, the former First Avenue student originally wanted to be a veterinarian. And while the family had a small menagerie of cats, geckos and fish – “I wanted a ferret,” she says – Wright credits James Harriot’s Animal Stories for inspiring that scientific dream.
But her high-school journey at Glebe Collegiate and the influence of teacher Joshua Pattison led to a different path, and an undergraduate degree in English Literature from McGill and a master’s in creative writing from the University of Toronto.
When she’s not writing poetry or looking after her young son, Wright teaches communications to engineering students. She also convinced U of T to let her teach a creative writing course, also to engineers. It’s completely voluntary, she explains, an elective for those who want something more than numbers.
Her poetry at times seems very personal. But it’s also creative writing. “People always assume it’s you, even if it’s from the perspective of a sea monster,” she says.
Asked if having her words out in the world makes her feel vulnerable, she replies: “You are vulnerable but it’s a compulsion.” Even without being published, “I’d be doing it anyway.”
But some of it is very personal and very funny. “Keep the channel open” describes her son finding his voice:
my infant son splices syllables
with white noise, gurgles, word clatter,
the endangered bleeps, clicks, and static
of dial-up internet, the accelerated grind
of an asteroid mine.
While white noise of a baby finding his voice and the transition into parenthood may feel like continuity errors, in her poems about pregnancy, its hope, fears and absurdities, Wright connects to all women who have felt a new being within. From “How to Expect: A Triptych”:
. . . Some days I think you’re a prank
I’m pulling on my past
We live in parallel realities
You don’t believe in me yet
I’m just squishy walls
a loud wet climate
My birth plan is no pain
and the glaciers stop melting
I can’t fix the world
before you get here.
I hope you like your name
Catriona Wright is the author of two other volumes, one of poetry and another of short stories. She will read from Continuity Errors in Vancouver, Waterloo, Montreal and other cities over the next few months.
John Crump is a Glebe resident and former journalist.
Catriona Wright reading at the launch of her latest book of poetry Continuity Errors
Photo: John Crump
by Catriona Wright.
Toronto, Coach House Books. Available at Octopus Books, Perfect Books and Amazon.ca.