Authors @ Acadia: Madeline Bassnett

Authors @ Acadia: Madeline Bassnett
By Wanda Campbell

Madeline Bassnett will be reading from her poetry on Monday, October 7 at 7pm in the Quiet Reading Room, Vaughan Memorial Library, in this year’s second installment of Authors @ Acadia, brought to you by Acadia’s Department of English and Theatre, and Gaspereau Press.

Bassnett is the author of two chapbooks, Pilgrimage (2016) and Elegies (2011), and a literary monograph, Women, Food Exchange, and Governance in Early Modern England (2016), but on October 7, she will be reading from her first full-length poetry collection, Under the Gamma Camera (Gaspereau, 2019), which contains a powerful poetic exploration of her battle with breast cancer. A gamma camera (also called a scintillation camera or Anger camera), is a medical imaging device for taking internal scans using the radiation from a tracer introduced into the patient’s body. Bassnett teaches in the Department of English and Writing Studies at Western University in London Ontario, where she lives. In a recent article in Western News entitled, “Professor Explores Poetry’s Power in Tenuous Times,” Bassnett said: “Most of us know someone who has gone through chronic illness. The specificities are different, but some of the emotions that arise can be very similar […] In a time of real uncertainty and crisis, one of the things about poetry is the ability to express things that are really hard in a straightforward way. It gets to the core of emotion.” In that same article, Bassnett spoke about how her work and poetry relate to one another. “My academic work focuses on environmental issues, so I spent time thinking about the illness of the Earth, as well as the illness of the body. It reached well beyond me into the natural spaces I was walking through.”

The Under the Gamma Camera’s first section, Tricks of the Light, includes a poem entitled “The Secret Life of Crabs,” inspired by her real life observations of crabs on California’s coast, by the experience of having cancer (crab in Latin) invade her own body, and Ai Weiwei’s River Crab installation which features mounds of over 3000 very realistic-looking porcelain crabs. The second section of the book, Pilgrimage, inspired by Spain’s El Camino walking route and the Psalms, explores the seven deadly sins in relation to illness (in “Pride” she writes, “Helpless as a tree in autumn / I cling to my hair, trying to hold it on”) as well as the answering virtues (in “Temperance” she writes “One foot and then / the next, a steady gait that fills me / with the purpose of a blinkered horse, / sightless but for the end.” And in the book’s final section, In Praise of Small Things, Bassnett considers the widespread death of bees due to pesticide in “Colony Collapse,” and in “Cell Sequencing” explores the ways we might understand the cells that make us what we are: “a numbered sequence, loop of ribbon, the drift of water / on sand. The cherubim, all fire and eyes and wings.” This may not be a survivor’s memoir, but it is a seeking after startling metaphors within and without that help us survive our own encounters with mortality. Gaspereau Press is co-sponsoring the reading and will have books available for sale.

The next installment of Authors @ Acadia will be Dr. Lyn Bennett from Dalhousie University lecturing on her research project, Early Modern Maritime Recipes, that examines recipes circulating before 1800 in print and manuscript in the area now defined as Canada’s Maritime provinces. “Early Modern Maritime Recipes: From Baking Cakes to Curing Cancer” Wednesday, November 6, 7pm at the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre Auditorium.