Combing through a lifetime of possessions was a surreal experience. Inside her childhood home in the United Kingdom, Cathy Stonehouse was making ruthless decisions about her mother’s things: what to keep, what to let go. Her mother was moving into a nursing home.
Upon returning home to Vancouver, the Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) Faculty of Arts instructor began writing poems. Darkly humorous, dreamlike – her writing became the basis of her new book Dream House.
“As I wrote, I became interested in the yawning gap between the word ‘home’ and the actual place my mother was then living. I also considered my own complex feelings about the house I grew up in, and how poetry and the imagination can function as a kind of home in the absence of one,” she says. “I also recovered my own sense of home as located in certain landscapes and ecosystems, and in the generative powers of my own body.”
Dream House is a book-length poem written in six sections. Released Oct. 21, Dream House is Stonehouse’s third book of poetry, a genre the creative writing teacher and interdisciplinary expressive arts instructor has long enjoyed.
“I’ve always loved poetry. Even from childhood, when I had access to a few old hand-me-down books of poems and liked to read them aloud even when I didn’t understand them. I appreciate the compression and playfulness of poetry, the space it leaves for the reader to make connections and spark associations. I also like the music it makes.”
Winning the top prize in a poetry contest for the book’s initial sequence pushed the author to further explore her ideas. She did, ending up with a thick manuscript she laboriously trimmed back and streamlined.
The result is a short, but dense book of 80 pages that explores themes of change and the elusive nature of home from a female perspective. Finished after her mother’s death, the book is also deeply personal, and offers lessons for her students.
“You can write about personal, political, and philosophical ideas at the same time – and indirectly. You don’t always have to use ‘I.’ Another lesson here is to persist, and make good use of feedback. This manuscript took time to bring to fruition, and I had to be patient about that.”
Dream House is published by Nightwood Editions.