Bloodroot: heartbreaking elegance
November 22nd, 2021
Betsy Warland’s groundbreaking memoir, Bloodroot (Inana, 2000) has been released in a special 20th anniversary printing. The book is about tracing the declining health and eventual death of her mother over a period during which the two renew their bonds of love after a long period of estrangement. It’s a poetic work of creative non-fiction in which Warland recounts how she and her mother were able to overcome old conflicts and differences to discover that dying and death mean more than despair and duty. This book, says Warland, is “about abandoning disappointment, acquiescing to grace.”
The second edition includes a long essay on further backstory revelations and the impact of the book on readers and Warland as a writer. One of the writers who was moved by Bloodroot is Chantal Gibson, author of the Pat Lowther Award-winning How She Read (Caitlin Press, 2019).
In the following Q&A, Gibson discusses the impact Bloodroot had on her.
BCBookLook: Please describe when you first read Bloodroot and what you felt after you finished it.
Chantal Gibson: I read Bloodroot for the first time this summer. Betsy Warland generously read and connected with my first collection of poetry How She Read, which is about the representation of Black womanhood across the Canadian cultural landscape. Betsy sent me a copy of Bloodroot and a copy of the essay for the second edition, with a feeling I might connect with the work—and I did. Our books are connected by the theme of motherloss.
BCBL: Are there passages that particularly moved you and why?
C.G.: One of my favorite moments in the book is on p.41
‘There are no words for where my mother went.”
This sentence sits alone on the page, black text surrounded by an ocean of white space. On a thematic level, I connected with this thought, Betsy simply saying the thing, because much of my work is about the inadequacy of language, especially the English language, to capture the nuanced nature of loss—the tiny aches, the holes, the silences, the loneliness. On an esthetic level, an artistic level, I love this tiny cluster of letters—there are no words on the page. As a reader you have to take in all the silence of the white space and honor it, before you turn the page and leave it behind. This is heart-breaking elegance.
BCBL: Warland describes how the more she writes of her life, the more she encounters the impossibility of telling the truth. Do you agree that writing — or art in general — can’t get to the truth?
C.G.: I don’t know what “the truth” is anymore. What I do know is that writing doesn’t get us to the truth. Writing produces something else, something other, something like… It’s the impossibilities, the proximities and the near misses that allow me a space to enter Warland’s world. I lost my mother in 1986 to cancer. I was a kid. How She Read was a looking back composed of fragments and fissures. While my experience of motherloss is different from Betsy’s—it’s those fragments and spaces that connect us.
The new edition of Bloodroot will be launched via a livestream performance on Tuesday, November 23 at 4 pm. Hosted by Jen Currin, the event will present readings of excerpts from: Betsy Warland, Jen Currin, Cat Borrie, Claudia Casper, Cynthia Flood, Jónína Kirton, Fiona Tinwei Lam, and Miranda Pearson.
To register, please go to this link:https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/book-launch-livestream-performance-of-betsy-warlands-bloodroot-tickets-204126516907
Also of note, a new annual award, the VMI Betsy Warland Between Genres Award was started in 2021 in her honour.
This year, the Indigenous author, Jordan Nobel received the inaugural award at The Vancouver Writers Fest, presented by judge Wayde Compton with Warland.