When women go looking for a myth that speaks of the mother/daughter relationship, there’s not many in Western history. Where do you get the mother’s anguish of her relationship with her daughter? It’s always male, always patriarchal.
Susan McCaslin’s recent launch of her newest volume of poetry, Demeter Goes Skydiving, was a success as many gathered at Vancouver’s Canadian Memorial Centre for Peace on May 7, 2011. McCaslin is an esteemed poet, scholar, educator and author. Her work has appeared in literary journals across North America and she has contributed much to EVENT on our editorial board and to Douglas College through her 23 years as a professor of English and Creative Writing.
Demeter Goes Skydiving uses the ancient Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone to reflect the underlying theme of struggles between mother and daughter. McCaslin relates this myth to Homer’s Odyssey and describes the story of Demeter and Persephone as an epic for women. Such a myth is rarely seen in modern works, McCaslin says. In this collection, Mother Demeter must negotiate an alien world of health clubs, paparazzi and “reality” shows that illustrates a mother’s unconditional love for her daughter. Her lyrics have been described as hilarious, sad, surprising and profound. McCaslin says “People are saying that the myth is very relevant to today,” “They seem very attentive and it’s going very well so far.”
Her extensive research resulted in a two-inch thick binder of notes about Demeter and Persephone. The research allowed her to immerse herself in this myth leaving the collection to take on a life of its own. McCaslin spent time reading the work of poets Adrienne Rich and Marion Woodman to further feed her inspiration, and her research combined with her relationship with her daughter all influenced this work. Not only does McCaslin’s work provide insight into mother-daughter relationships but, through her use of the underworld as a backdrop in her work, she’s able to reference the capitalist, materialistic world we live in today that encourages and enforces perfectionism. McCaslin’s work allows readers to realize how much we are caught up in consumer society.
“When I started writing Demeter Goes Skydiving, I started to develop this…landscape and I noticed that we’re living in this underworld,” McCaslin says. “The poems started to be about perfectionism, and how it’s connected with this myth of progress that drives Western consumerism. We never have enough material things. We have to consume, consume, consume. The poems became a series of social satires about how we’re all caught up in this.”
She phones her family to say all is well, except all is
not well till after the abrasives and acid washes for the
acne, and collagen treatments for the lips, veneers for
tarnished teeth, and laser eye surgery so she can toss
the schoolman glasses. “And, oh my dear, 5’4” and 155
pounds. What can I say?” He scribbles out a regime for
fasting on meted fruit, veggies and protein – daily butt
work at the gym.
– From “Demeter Flicks the Remote to Extreme Makeover and Writes About It Later
McCaslin encourages her readers to see the connection between the past and present. Her work is a direct illustration of that connection. Of EVENT magazine, McCaslin says: “Be open to things from the past as well as the present because they are one. I like EVENT because it’s contemporary and edgy but it’s traditional. It’s a blend of both. It’s a mixture of the old and the new and it makes old things new.”
Check out Susan McCaslin’s website at www.susanmccaslin.ca
-by Nicole Freeston