Sunday, May 06, 2018

Helen Porter's new book reviewed in Telegram by Joan Sullivan

Joan Sullivan: Helen Fogwill Porter comes full circle

Helen Fogwill Porter’s debut novel, “January, February, June or July,” (1988) won the Young Adult Canadian Book Award from the Canadian Library Association.
She’s published two other novels, most recently “Finishing School” (2007) as well as a (exceptional) memoir, “Below the Bridge” (1980), and written plays and poetry.
Despite this output, Porter is almost as well known for her championship of social causes.
On behalf of artists, she has been deeply involved with both the Writer’s Guild and Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador
On broader issues, Porter is a founding member of the Newfoundland Status of Women Council, and has run for the NDP; a fund named for her and aiding women running in politics was established in 2003. She still advocates on matters important to her and not too long ago could be found outside city hall protesting on behalf of low-income single parents.
In 2015 she received the Order of Canada.
Porter writes with authenticity and wit. No one chronicles working class women as she does. She draws from her own life, with generosity, openness, and no pretense.
 “Full Circle” is an autobiographical collection.
Usually fairly short, these pieces are capsules, portraits of moments. Often these are painful.
Just as often they are funny. The poems are divided into three sections: “Before The Fall,” “A Woman’s Work,” and “Full Circle.”
They are formatted with textual breath and line breaks, rather than formal rhyme beats or schemes.
The effect is conversational.
Part 1 includes “Orange Papers”: “thin and delicate / they survived a long sea voyage / to reach my open hands / I liked to touch them / flatten them with my fingers / smooth them out one by one / and store them in the sideboard / to sniff and handle / on all the days when there’d be / no oranges”
Along with such a delicate and tactile memory comes something much sharper, if in a sense less tangible: “Shock Treatment”: “The orderly unlocked the door / to let us in / and then locked it again / behind us.”
She discusses religion, or more properly faith. The need for compassion. Not taking things on assumption: “Mea Culpa”: He talked with authority / about the proper use of stress / suggesting that one way to combat it / was to hire a cleaning woman / (he didn’t mention the cleaning woman’s stress).