28 March 2012

Canterbury Tales and Cows: Sheila Fisher and Susan Hawthorne on Woman-Stirred Radio

This morning, as I was getting ready to write the post for this week's show, I was struck once again by the fortunate fact that I get to read great books and then talk to the amazing people who write them.
photo by: Sonia Brand-Fisher
This week is no exception and I’m thrilled to welcome Sheila Fisher, who is garnering some attention with her new The Selected Canterbury Tales (Norton, 2011),  just re-issued in paperback, and poet Susan Hawthorne, whose collection, Cow, is a Lambda Literary finalist.

Sheila Fisher's interview starts at 4:15 p.m. (eastern).

“In the tradition of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf and Marie Borroff’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sheila Fisher’s The Selected Canterbury Tales is a vivid, lively, and readable translation of the most famous work of England’s premier medieval poet. Preserving Chaucer’s rhyme and meter, Fisher makes these tales accessible to a contemporary ear while inviting readers to the Middle English original on facing pages. Her informative introduction highlights Chaucer’s artistic originality in his memorable portrayals of surprisingly modern women and men from across the spectrum of medieval society” (WWN).

Chaucer has long been known as the Father of English poetry, who had a direct and significant influence on Will Shakespeare, but who does not enjoy  proportionate interest and popularity, let alone have a pop cultural resurrection. (I’m thinking Shakespeare in Love, the various Kenneth Branagh postmodern productions, Macbeth, King Lear, Midsummer’s Night Dream, et cetera.) 

But Chaucer is influential, and markedly so. Chaucer's influence resonates throughout the labyrinths of literary and artistic production and Sheila Fisher is working to further underscore that. Fisher's new translation of the Canterbury Tales is engaging and interesting, and in spite of the fact that the Church controlled every single aspect of a medieval woman’s or man’s life, Chaucer dishes up fascinating portraits into the medieval mind and character and insights into their life-circumstances. We also access the subtle and not so subtle social commentaries voiced through the likes of the Prioress, the Pardoner, the Wife of Bath, the Merchant’s, Reeve’s or Nun’s Priest (sic) about their time and place in history. The Selected Canterbury Tales are really good stories and traces can be found in current culture (I’m sure to the angst of Hilton Kramer) via the endless variations of heroes and knights against evil, dark villains, vulnerable maidens, and Disneyesque romances. Or the perfectly hilarious Knight’s Tale, with Heath Ledger.

Sheila Fisher, PhD teaches English and is associate academic dean at Trinity College. She specializes in Chaucer,fourteenth-century English literature, and medieval women writers.

That’s 4:15, Thursday March 29th, and if you want to join the conversation or have a question or comment, call 802.454.7762.

Then at 5:00 I welcome one of my favorite poets, Susan Hawthorne, whose recently published collection, Cow (Spiniflex, 2011) is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in poetry. 

Last autumn, my dear friend Julie R. Enszer, sent me a copy of Cow, and several nights running, after reading another string of Hawthorne’s masterful reimaginations of a multitude of cultural myths, I would settle down to my nightly cigarette and let my own imagination out to pasture. There in the dark, grasses soft underfoot and fragrant, was Queenie, her long flanks and elegant horns, her face soft in the moonlight, her eyes waiting for me to accept her possibilities. 

This is the effect of Cow: one wants to really go there

Hawthorne conjures such vitality and cleverness in her language that Cow become a cinematic emersion into a carnal, spiritual world without parameters and expectations; it’s as if the original myths of all our cultures have come together, reconfiguring the violence and calculated control of patriarchy into a vast, quirky fantasia of imagination. It becomes a personal experience of myths exploded:

in another time
a later time
when gods and demons
had forgotten to be immortal
they joined forces to create a nectar of immortality
these boys took their time
they carried in Mount Mandara
turned it upside down
placed it on the back of the tortoise
demons on one side
gods on the other
and each held the world snake
twirled the mountain top for a thousand years
back forwards
back forwards
again and again
the best they could manage was deadly poison

So please join us at 5:00 for a live interview, all the way from Australie, for an interview with poet Susan Hawthorne. Feel free to call in with comments and questions: 802.454.7762, or email: merrygangemi@gmail.com.


Woman-Stirred Radio is underwritten by Sinister Wisdom, celebrating 35 years of  lesbian-feminist arts and letters. Woman-Stirred Radio broadcasts live on WGDR 91.1 fm and WGDH 91.7 fm, Goddard College's community radio station located in Plainfield, Vermont.