New Recruits Episode 14: Mari Lise Stonehouse Reads Sharon Thesen

Welcome back to New Recruits! If you’re new to this series, check out the description back in Episode 1 for more information about how it works.

For all four years of my undergrad at U of T, I spent Fridays and Saturdays working at Clay Design, a pottery studio and gallery at the corner of Harbord and Brunswick. I am not a potter. My job involved dumping buckets of old clay into other buckets of old clay, climbing up windows, laundering aprons, and a whole lot of dusting. So, what kept me coming back to a messy, minimum wage, hour away (once I left residence) job? Mari Lise Stonehouse, Phillis McCulloch, and Dennise Buckley. These three women are all incredible artists and have managed to run a successful business for over 35 years.

Mari Lise makes plates, bowls, mugs, vases, and decorative pears. She taught me a lot over four years, like how to put up Christmas lights, how to “balance the books”, how to appreciate flowers, and how to be a feminist.

In my first year of undergrad, as a recent export of the suburbs, my ideas about feminism were mostly shaped by the internet. I learned that it’s hard to maintain your adolescent cynicism when a six foot tall woman who beats clay into submission for a living makes feminism look so damn cool.

Sharon Thesen and Mari Lise Stonehouse are a match made in heaven, even if they don’t know it yet. I could have easily given Mari Lise some of Thesen’s more recent or more eco-focused work, which I’m sure she would have enjoyed just as much as the poem you’re about to hear her read. But for right now, for this moment, it had to be this poem.

So here’s Mari Lise, my former boss and current friend/role model, reading “Biography of a Woman” from Thesen’s 1995 collection, Aurora:

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

I loved the poem right away. Then I was embarrassed because I felt the poem was about me.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“forced to sew/ starlight into shirts enough/ for an army”

Why?

It is not enough to sew starlight into shirts? It has to be for an army? I love the nonsensical fairy tale task. Also so feminine. No boulders being pushed up the hill here. Sewing starlight and sorting ten tons of millet seed.

What does this poem make you think of?

The poem made me think of that half awake time when you are trying to pull yourself out of a dream. I see the heroine twisted in bedsheets.

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

I think I like poems, but in fact I find them frustrating and I never go out of my way to read them. This poem made me laugh and then laugh at myself. She was so intelligent! It is always about me! Maybe I liked the poem because it touched on that time in a young woman’s life when she is looking for a story book life and is overwhelmed by the mundane tasks and the confusion of having her suitors be swans.

Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?

The poem made me think of nursery rhymes and traditional children’s stories, like Rapunzel and Cinderella. The painting of Leda and the Swan.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

No. I would like to hug her and dance around.


Mari Lise Stonehouse is interested in gardening and pottery. Newly interested in politics. 65yrs old. Her son introduced her to his girlfriend’s Russian parents as an Old Hippie.

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