Ecstatic Quotidians and Karen Dennison’s Counting Rain

In 2012,  my very good friend Karen Dennison, published her first poetry collection  Counting Rain  (Indigo Dreams Publishing ).  Here’s the beautiful cover –

Karen Dennison_Counting Rain

Later in this post, I have more to say about Karen’s book; but first I want to share a few quotes from a second book – because several of Karen’s poems are excellent examples of what the second author is discussing.

It’s the  The Ecstatic Quotidian: Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature  which I borrowed from the local university’s library, after  Jan Fortune’s mention of it on her blog.

Author Gosetti-Ferencei examines through art, literature and phenomenology what is –

 …the most ordinary and habitually unnoticed. The “quitodian” is the sense of life built up in daily experience, by everyday habits…the background in contrast to which new discoveries emerge and we are surprised;…it is a necessary condition for surprises, the regularity in contrast to which something new and unexpected occurs. Unfamiliarity, wonder, and mysteriousness are both embedded in and turnings-away from familiarity and predictability.

The ecstatic quotidian is the notion of

stepping outside or ‘ectasis’  of the ordinary feeling of the self’s familiarity with the world;

and the notion of the tension between everydayness and this ectasis – and how their coupling is a common theme in modern literature and painting.

…writers and painters embrace the paradox of seeing the everyday for its very everydayness and, yet discerning within it, latent possibiltities of transformation. Of course, to look at the everyday with intensity and scrutiny is to have already stepped outside of it…

The author discusses why childhood, childhood consciousness and play have been important themes to writers such as Proust, Rilke and Frost, why we all need to go back; and

…this child consciousness resides deep within the reserves of human possibility. It remains as an access to reverie and its flights, venturing experience, to the unblocked adventure, the conceptually ungraspable and the groundless, and the quiet, ateleological beauty of perceptual experience to which child`s play and reverie are so amenable. The child`s fearless lurching forth in Frost’s poem Birches  is not a heroic poetic resolute stance in face of death, a venturing into the abyss, but the risk and protection of trusting despite its fragile manifestation as human existence.

Authors such as Rilke, Proust and Frost –

evoke  or imaginatively recollect stages of childhood experience as a residual, perhaps buried but persistent source for the revivification of life. …They have sought to illuminate this living undercurrent of the imagination…

So – the quotidian book is written by an academic, and academic in nature,  and heavy going in places, but I am picking up on a few of her main points. Which brings me back to Karen’s book.

The first poem in Karen’s collection is NOT about the quotidian. It’s my very, very favourite poem about the first moon landing. Or any moon landing. And yes, it’s also about another momentous happening.

But I want to go back to the notion of the ecstatic quotidian . Karen deals with many life-stage and relationships with self and others -type subjects in her Counting Rain – including  several poems that look back to childhood; and the speaker lets us look too – and in some ways, we’re there again – almost, but by necessity, we’re also the adult.

In Wrinkles a routine bath becomes something else because of a connection with a grandmother. The first verse is precise description that sets the scene –

In the bath under the greying foam
I cover my tears with the flannel
and it sticks to my face like wallpaper
I breathe through its clamminess almost blind

After I reading Perennial Sky, I went down to the park, and for the first time in a long time, went swinging on the swings, just like the speaker –

Swifts unravel years of sky
and I’m a girl again,
plumbing a clear blue horizon,
head dipped back, hair billowing.

Karen turns poem endings into surprising, unforgettable, and just-right images that bring back memories, but also – for  me as an adult, help me think about mortality and love in new ways. In Memory’s Ghost

In vanished shoe boxes, I bury myself with old pets
curl up in the clean bones of their rib-cages.

And in Smoke and Concrete, she brings the speaker together with her teen-age self on a hot day, in away that “sizzles” and that gives me, the reader, goose bumps. But I will say no more than that.

Using childhood memories as a way to add the ecstatic to the quotidian is only one of several themes that Karen wrote about in Counting Rain

It’s a poetry collection that I recommend highly.

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