Daphne Marlatt

Daphne Marlatt, née Buckle, writer, editor (born at Melbourne, Australia 11 Jul 1942). When she was 9, Marlatt moved from Malaysia to Vancouver, which has been the ground of her imagination since. She attended the UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA in the early 1960s, where she participated in the first iteration of TISH, whose open poetics became the base approach from which her later feminism could grow. After graduate work in the US, she returned to British Columbia, where she has mostly lived and worked since 1970. In its insistence upon the particulars of perception, Marlatt's writing has sought to represent the flux of existence; as a result her densely accumulative style has sometimes proved difficult to the uninitiated. Early recognized as an innovative new writer, she published her first book, Frames of a Story, a poem-fiction based on The Snow Queen, in 1968. The extraordinarily compressed leaf leaf/s followed in 1969. Her first long poem exploring her personal relation to local history, Vancouver Poems (1972), appeared soon after. Steveston (1974/1984/2000), with photographer Robert Minden, became one of her most admired early long poems, a carefully documented and deeply personal overview of the town in history.

An editor with THE CAPILANO REVIEW, periodics and Island, she also compiled and edited material for 2 documentaries for the BC Provincial Archives: Steveston Recollected (1975) and Opening Doors: Vancouver's East End (1979). She published many books during the next 2 decades, including Zócalo (1977), Selected Writing: Net Work (1980), edited by Fred WAH, How Hug a Stone (1983) and Touch to My Tongue (1984), all of which express her intense apprehension of the continually changing world.

The last of these was also a love poem declaring both her coming out as a lesbian and her relationship to Betsy Warland. With her deepening feminism, she became one of the founding editors of Tessera, a Canadian journal of feminist theory and writing. In 1983, she helped to organize the first Women and Words conference in Vancouver, which brought together writers in both languages from across Canada. In 1988 she published Ana Historic, a novel involving a contemporary writer in the historical life she is researching, and Double Negative, a long poem written with Betsy Warland about their travels in Australia. In 1994, she and Warland published Two Women in a Birth, a collection of their collaborations, including Touch to My Tongue and Warland's Open Is Broken (1984), Double Negative, Reading and Writing Between the Lines, and Subject to Change.

Salvage (1991) collected poems of two decades that charted the many changes her life had gone through. Like so much of her work, these demonstrate how that open, searching poetics first discovered with the TISH group allowed her to construct a number of serial poems and novels in which she could explore her own life as itself an organic form, creating something both deeply autobiographical and carefully inscribed within each text as text. Ghost Works (1993) collected three important out-of-print works, Zócalo, Month of the Hungry Ghosts, and How Hug a Stone. This Tremor Love Is (2001) is a sequence of love poems covering 25 years, with the final poem dedicated to her new partner, Bridget Mackenzie.

Taken (1996), her second novel, offers its narrator's exploration of her mother's life in wartime Australia with her husband gone to fight, even as she experiences the absence of her own lover during the Gulf War. And although presented as a long prose poem, The Given (2008) reads as a similar kind of narrative, in which a mother's death leads the narrator into complex memories of life in 1950s Vancouver. As with so many of her works, Marlatt draws on what are clearly personal memories while weaving them into a complexly rendered textuality that complicates any simple autobiographical reading. Much of the theorizing behind such a continuing poetics can be found in the essays collected in Readings from the Labyrinth (1998).

Over a long career, Daphne Marlatt has pursued a poetics of openness to the perceptual world that allowed for continual growth and exploration; she has become a major figure in Canadian feminist and lesbian writing, and with her teaching and mentoring has influenced many younger writers seeking a way of writing that evades the traps of simple lyric poetry. In her poetry, fiction, and theoretical writing, she has demonstrated a willingness to accept risk that offers the possibility of freedom from calcified tradition to any reader willing to share that risk.

In recognition of her life in writing, Marlatt was made a member of the ORDER OF CANADA in 2006. Her play The Gull, the first Canadian play staged in the ancient, ritualized tradition of Japanese Noh, won the prestigious 2008 Uchimura Naoya Prize. The Given won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2009.

See alsoPOETRY IN ENGLISH; WOMEN'S MOVEMENT.