In Man Reading “Woman Reading in Bath”, John Livingstone Clark creates a series of poetic meditations as responses to the work of Anne Szumigalski: specifically the poem entitled “Woman Reading in Bath”, in the book that shares the same name. Clark’s inspiration for this project was a question posed by the elder poet several times in her last few years: “Why do so many of my book titles have water in them?” For Clark, the poem “Woman Reading in Bath” reflects a number of major themes in her work, and by writing individual poems in relation to single lines (occasionally a couplet), the ‘mythopoesis’ of her work could be opened up in a book of poetry. Within this textual framework, Clark’s poems are dominated by the metaphor of a swimmer enveloped in a series of states and environments.
It would be understatement to say that these poems deal with loneliness, aloneness, and that final liminal state one experiences between life and death. The swimmer is a lonely man, but he accepts it as part of the rite of passage we must all make: moving from solid ground and social activity, to the beach with its visionary views, and finally the stage when one actually enters the water and moves out into a seemingly infinite ocean, beneath a tangibly infinite sky.
One of the main reasons Clark chose this poem of Szumigalski’s is its radical, though humorous, deconstruction of all patriarchal theologies. As suggested by the poem’s title, there really is a woman having a nice soak in the tub, but wouldn’t you know it — a Yahweh-like figure pops out of the water and starts throwing his weight around. It is in his responses to these poems that Clark moves into a very specific duel with the hegemony of Patriarchal Christianity.
From the personal to the universal, this collection is an ode to the harmonics of mind, body, and spirit. Why always about water? Characters and Selves within all of us beg to know, the swimmer reciprocates: the body is sixty-five percent H2O; the water breaks at birth; and in the unconscious process of Individuation, we are “drowning to life”.
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