I first met Marion Piper at a Thematic Residency hosted by Artscape Gibraltar Point on the Toronto Islands. It was our mutual love for words and images in our artistic work that drew us into that residency and into the proximity of each other. In her, I found an expression of human being so affable and buoyant that it was an experience of pure pleasure just to have the honor of spending time with her. She carries herself with such an infectious air of adventure and fun that you can barely believe life could have even a moment of burden to it.
This is not to say she carries herself without the attributes of seriousness or reflection. It is to say, however, that she does not allow these attributes of her personality to make her austere. Glass Confetti, her latest collection of poems, was the book of poetry she was working on during that residency. And, as a body of work created by her hand, it entirely captures her complex temperament. The book is serious without being grim and light-hearted without being trite.
The magic of Glass Confetti conjures up a moving and tragic narrative intricately weaved through graceful and formal poetry. While doing so, it conveys a story of two sisters, separated by death. The main story it tells darts through the poetry, following the surviving and eldest sister, Jo, as she negotiates her world through the lens of her own memory. This lens is primarily focused on specific events in her youth that surround her younger sister. In her retrospection, Jo finds that these touch-point events of her memory often foreshadowed her sister’s impending death and, thus, were filled with a poignancy that had escaped her at the time they were actually happening. This narrative approach, which reveals the illuminating power of memory and its ability to enrich our past, also fills the book with an ethos of regret.
Glass Confetti is a manifestation of concrete poetry. This kind of poetic expression conveys meaning partly or wholly by visual means, using patterns of words or letters and other typographical devices. It is a formally driven practice in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of poetry like rhythm, rhyme and so on.
Do not let this impetus to the book’s content dissuade you. In Piper’s hands, this formal style is neither dry nor academic. Instead, her use of the style becomes a scalpel that slices open an ordinary moment and effectively reveals the inherent poetry of it. Throughout the book, form’s relationship to content is always in the service of it’s meaning. The emerging Australian writer not only avoids the potential of dry formalism, she also avoids becoming too enamored with her clever use of concrete poetry’s style. She never allows her formal tendencies to run away with her. In this book, the young writer’s discipline ensures that poetic form is always in the service of what turns out to be a beautiful and tragic story.
Her playful use of a visual interaction between the literal and metaphoric nature of words and sentences is very effectively used to mirror the youthful, mischievous, playfulness of the two main characters. Her wisdom as a writer is demonstrated in the fact that these same visual keys do not evade the heartfelt pathos of these innocent playful moments. That wisdom is also demonstrated in the fact that this same pathos never eclipses the wonder and innocence of the moment itself. Evading the morose, Piper’s work strikes a perfect balance between the innocence of the moment and the grief that retrospect finds there.
I started this review with Ms. Piper’s personality because her personal biography feeds the essence of the book. Years back, Piper discovered that she had a sister born into this world through her father. After a few years tying to track her down, her estranged sister’s mother found Piper through social media. They arranged to meet and, just days before the scheduled rendezvous, the poet found herself facing the horrific news of her estranged sister’s death in a car accident. The very day that Piper was to meet her sister for the first time ended up, ironically, being the day of her sister’s funeral.
The mood of this tragic event in Piper’s biography pervades Glass Confetti. The book is filled with a sense of angst, genuine self-reflection and frank emotional honesty. And, because of the author’s own process of self-awareness, it is also filled with a precise amount of joyful resolve that does not banish grief all together.
In the book, the actual details of Piper’s own narrative have been inter-mingled with a strange form of fiction. The content of this book is a continuation of the writer’s long-standing tradition of collecting, commemorating and appropriating the narratives of others who have confessed their own tales of loss to her. Glass Confetti extends the practice that has driven the greater part of her artistic work: the details and experiences of others are subsumed into the artistic service of the story it tells. In the end, this means that the content of the book is a skillful compilation and hybrid of numerous stories of grief, forging a believable, yet fictional, rendition of Piper’s own biography.
This method, though used by many writers, seems to be more profound in this context. In the environment of a book of poems so saturated in the act of remembering, the author seems to be making something nearing a statement. There does seem to be an implication that interpretations of the moments of our lives, and the memories we subsequently build from them, are an admixture of both fact and fiction. There also seems to be an implication that one of the profound aspects of memory is its desire to re-examine the veracity of the story it tells.
In the end, the point seems to be that believable things are not necessarily true and that fictional stories are not entirely false. Regardless, the whole enterprise of the book’s examination seems to give license to rewriting our past. This conveys the good news that our tragic and devastating memories can be rewritten into a redemptive story.
The central metaphor of a shattering windshield that is caught forever in the book’s poetic title, symbolizes the shattering grief that lies at the heart of this book. Ultimately, it chronicles the haunting nature of human memory. It reminds us that our memory can often be an ironic simultaneous advent of joyful celebration and reflective grief. Glass Confetti is also a reminder that memory is not only a means to regret, it is also a means to the redemption of healing.
If you are looking for something poetic to evoke your own experience of grief without burying you in it, I think this is a book for you. The author confesses that the book is dedicated to those who have lost someone too soon and who have a story that they do not know how to tell. If your life holds a pocket of grief, the words of this book are a kind of balm that could help you find a way to tell your story, helping you to remember that you have suffered loss and helping you to remember that you have survived.
Marion Piper is a writer, artist and gallery assistant based in Melbourne, Australia. Her art making practice examines the role of personal text and memory in the face of trauma. You can purchase a copy of Glass Confetti here.