CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 16. . . .December 20, 2013
Shy: An Anthology. (Robert Kroetsch Series).
Naomi K. Lewis & Rona Altrows, eds.
Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Press, 2013.
170 pp., trade pbk., epub, Amazon kindle & pdf, $24.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-88864-670-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88864-743-6 (epub), ISBN 978-0-88864-744-3 (Amazon kindle), ISBN 978-0-88864-745-0 (pdf).
Canadian literature (English)-21st century.
Canadian essays (English)-21st century.
Canadian poetry (English)-21st century.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Joan Marshall.
I sat as still as I could, holding my pencil in a trembling damp hand. The classroom seemed to have reached greenhouse temperature despite all the snow blowing around outside the window. The worst part was, I'd been lost in my own world, had believed myself safely invisible while I stood out like a fluorescent light. Once again, everyone was in on something I didn't get. I still didn't get it: S.A. – suspended animation. Stay perfectly still, in the exact position you happened to be in when Miss B. spoke the magic term. But why? Didn't animation have something to do with cartoons? And suspended was what happened to bad kids, really bad ones, kids who committed unforgivable acts of rule breaking.
The suddenly everyone was moving, with purpose. Putting away the animal habitat assignment. Reaching into their books, their bags, opening their pencil cases. Miss B. had obviously given us specific instructions.
'Naomi?" said Miss B. "Is there a problem?"
My days of staring in blank, stark stupidity were supposed to have ended with the move from French immersion to the English class. Smarting all over with the brilliant heat of an invisible spotlight, I buried my face in my arms, the cool wood of the desk against my cheek, and squeezed my eyes shut.
During her time as Writer in Residence at the Calgary Public Library, Naomi K. Lewis and her co-editor, Rona Altrows, edited this compelling anthology of poetry and short articles and fiction centred on the topic of shyness. The 39 diverse Canadian contributors, successful writers all, have published their work in journals and books and have won countless awards.
Some observe (as shy people do so well!) the effect shyness has on others. In "Watching My Love," for example, poet Lorna Crozier explores the strength of the mother/son bond and the shy embarrassment of old age's incapability. Alex Boyd's poem "The Culture of Shyness" is filled with visions of how the shy person behaves, "arranging books and chairs in cafeterias to create tents of space". David Van Buren's "The Shy" presents a prehistoric man who remains as alone as the moon in a sea of stars while his brothers connect with their mates.
However, most of this writing concerns how shyness has directly affected the writers' lives. There are heart-rending recountings of childhood and even adult terror surrounding stuttering, public speaking and class presentations, and work and social relationships. The reader's heart goes out to all these marvellous writers who, at one time in their lives, or perhaps even presently, were and are overwhelmed mentally and physically by shyness. From Madeleine Wong's "Cloak of Invisibility" in which she explores the pain of being labelled a high school loser, to Sylvia Stopforth's "Creepmouse Manifesto," in which she barely copes with the public humiliation of enduring the attention of all the other campers at an archery lesson, the reader cringes in sympathy.
Some of the writers suggest that shyness should be valued, rather than scorned, expressing irritation that others should so blatantly attempt to change shy people by forcing them to get over shyness. Others, like Ben Gelinas, in "Other People's Agony" recount how a particular job, in his case that of crime reporter, can squelch out shyness as you reach out to comfort others. In "Shybrightly," Shawna Lemay suggests that shyness "is a way of being – silent, seeing, reserved, a little off-kilter."
Obviously a topic of immense importance to the writer, either beginning or experienced, this anthology will be well received in creative writing classes as students examine what it is to be a writer, but its literary value will also draw readers and provoke re-reading and lively discussion.
Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.
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