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by Catherine Owen

Two things happened relating to my writing over the span of the last 24 hours: I was mailed my contributor’s copy of the anthology Hidden Lives: Coming out on Mental Illness http://www.brindleandglass.com/book_details.php?isbn_upc=9781926972961 and my collection of essays & memoirs received another review, this time in the Halifax Herald. The review dubs me, in part, a “feminist narcissist” (making me wonder of course what a man who wrote a volume akin to this would be called!) and suggesting that my personal writings on writing should essentially not exist, determining that “such analysis [must be] left to future biographers, who honour a poet’s life by telling a balanced story, not just what the writer wants us to know.” While the review makes a range of other both damning & laudatory comments, this is the one I want to focus on in relation to the emergence of Hidden Lives. A few points: If one is fortunate/unlucky enough to have a biographer as a poet, the account may not end up being in fact an honouring (witness Elspeth Cameron’s Earle Birney: A Life) nor may it be balanced (David Layton’s memoir of his father Irving called Motion Sickness). More often than not, poets in this country will not receive a biography at all, regardless of how exciting, controversial or varied their work and life is. And those who write, in this case either the poet herself or those potentially writing about her, will always write what they want their readership to know. A fully objective and complete appraisal of an existence is plainly impossible. That being said, my essay in Hidden Lives deals with manifestations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in myself and in my family. Should I have waited for someone else to write this story about my own existence? And speaking of narcissism, my piece in Hidden Lives is certainly not a flattering tale, exposing against my own will my obsessive tendencies in order to work towards an open discussion of this brain condition. Is a woman who writes about her life, among other things, an automatic narcissist? And must we wait in silence for someone to articulate our own lives? Is this a literary critique? Is this the shadow of misogyny? I am compelled to question always. And to resist. But not without learning something. Again.

by Catherine Owen