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poet C M Donald

by CM Donald | September 26, 1997

C M Donald was born in 1950, in Derbyshire, England. She thrived in girls' schools, survived Cambridge University, came out as a lesbian and a feminist in 1976, moved to Canada in 1980, and now works in Toronto (for pay) as a freelance editor and (from conviction) with the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Toronto. She has given readings in Canada, the Netherlands, England, and Scotland.

In an article (see Resources) telling how her poetry changed as she grew up and her life went from change to change, as all our lives do, she says:

"The story of my first poem. I stood in my grandmother's front room, the one we used for best, that is, hardly at all. The coal fire wasn't lit, and it was cold and damp and eerie, but I was on my own and not with the family melee in the living room. I was about eight years old. I was looking out of the window at the sunset, feeling pretty numb, as usual. From nowhere, one line at a time, I composed..What to do with that? I went back into the living room and told it to the family. Approval. Approval? Well, then, I'll do that again. And I did. And that, my dears, is how I came to be a poet...

"My mother says that she used to read me a lot of poems when I was little, and to this she attributes my being a poet. (For my being a lesbian, she doesn't want any credit at all.)..It's true that I was most attracted to strict rhythm and rhyming schemes. They seemed to me very satisfying; also you could let the direction of the poems be dictated by the range of rhyming words you could find..

"At every step of the way, something somehow became more thinkable. At every step of the way it has been women, first my mother, then my teachers, then friends and lovers who kept me going."

FIRST DRAFT,
C M Donald

My grandmother in her lifetime
roared like a lion, prowled the boundaries
of cages she never acknowledged.

1894 to 1984: changes
in everything but her conviction,
her power, her will. She made
herself a businesswoman, she wheeled
and dealt - they tell me.

I came into her life when she was already
fifty six, only daughter of her only daughter -
no sons. She wanted, I thought,
to buy me: I retreated. She unabated
wooed, reproached and, later, shouted.

She was in her prime a force
to be reckoned with, they say, with a habit
of winning. What other women mostly didn't,
she did. Prosperous, confident, business-
suited - in the photographs.

For the puny twelve years
of my adult life, my grandmother
was a lion at bay,
the scope of her power shrunk, her will
a gleaming, lasting monument.

"Old Boot," I thought, - a grudging,
distancing compliment - still
nervous of approaching the old woman
for fear of the lion.

This lion, made tearful by increasing impotence;
this old lady who, rejecting the last
social constraints, snarled at everyone;
she died in the night, curled on her side
peacefully, we assume from appearances.
Then she lay quiet and waited, like a good
little girl, for us to come and take over.

And we, who had leaned for years, as if against
an opposing gale, found ourselves suddenly
off balance.

The Cheese Lady,
C M Donald

is there someone you think back to and think
wasn't there something about her and also
did I do all right?

for me, it's the cheese lady, the lady
behind the cheese counter at my local co-op.
I first noticed her because she seemed to have
more width than depth, because her hair was white
and she looked tired, and because she was curmudgeonly
and reminded me of eeyore

I used to go in there a lot with Alison and we liked her as she
eyed us balefully from behind the wensleydale and
grudgingly sold us the cheap cheddar

but I guess she had drawn the right conclusions
for the wrong reasons or the other way round, because one day

she stopped me on the street to talk and said
Anna, her friend, had died and they had been living together
for twenty-five years and the family were trying to throw her out
of her house and what was she to do?

and I can't remember now what I said, but I hope
I didn't do too badly; I didn't want to ask or assume
that she was a dyke, because what if they were just best friends
and she would be upset, and I didn't want to make friends with her
because I had my own plate full

but she was suffering and I don't know if I helped
and of course I moved away and I don't know what happened
and I'm sure it's happening again,
behind other cheese counters round the world
and I feel responsible

all the cheese ladies

resources for this story


Poems and essays in periodicals

  • "First Draft," in Canadian Woman Studies vol 5, no 3, spring 1984; reprinted in vol 11, no 3, spring 1991.
  • "For my christening," and "Nocturne," in Canadian Literature, no 116, spring 1988.
  • Three limericks, and poems, "When I was ten," "My mind," "Muriel's Bathtub," "You say you haven't," and "When you come," in Diva: A Quarterly Journal of South Asian Women, vol 1, no 4, March-May 1989.
  • Talk given at 1988 Feminist Bookfair, "Love, history and how logic saved my life," in GO INFO, July August 1988.
  • Talk given at 1988 Feminist Bookfair, tr. Muriel Fortier, "Armour, histoire et comment la logique m'a sauve la vie," and poem, "Muriel's Bathtub," English and tr. Muriel Fortier, in Treize, vol 6, no 4, avril 1990.

CM Donald Publications:

Books

  • C M Donald, The Fat Woman Measures Up (PEI: Ragweed, 1986; book and audio-cassette. UK: Jezebel, 1987)
  • Christine Donald, The Breaking Up Poems (PEI: Ragweed, 1988; book and audio-cassette. UK: Jezebel, 1988)

Articles

  • "Cave Canem," in InVersions, ed., Betsy Warland (Vancouver: Press Gang, 1991)

Co-author

  • Ruth King et al., Talking Gender: A Guide to Nonsexist Communication (Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman, 1991)
  • Kay Macpherson, When in Doubt, Do Both: The Times of My Life (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994)

Poems reprinted in periodicals

  • Canadian Literature, Canadian Woman Studies, Broadside Herizons, Diva: A Quarterly Journal of South Asian Women, Diversity, Hysteria, Radience, GO INFO, Rites, Pink Ink, The Body Politic

Poems reprinted in anthologies

  • The Virago Book of Wicked Verse, (London: Virago, 1992)
  • Mother Gave a Shout (London: A & C Black, 1990)
  • Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (NY: St. Martin's, 1988)
  • Ain't I a Woman? (London: Viargo, 1987)

Poems reprinted in books

  • Eat Fat, Richard Klein (NY: Pantheon, 1996)
  • Just Deserts, Sally Kline

Poems in Anthologies

  • From "When I was ten," in The Last Word, ed. Michael Holmes (Toronto: Insomniac Press, 1995)
  • Roundtable on fat women's health, in Lesbian Health Guide ed. Regan McClure (Toronto: Queer Press, 1994)
  • "Working From Photographs - excerpts," in Our Lives: Lesbian Personal Writings (Toronto: Second Store Press, May 1991)

This feature was first published on section15.ca's predecessor site CoolWomen.

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