(Canada), 1997-2007

by Patrick Ellis

Halifax, Nova Scotia; Cabot Plains, Vermont; Cape Cod, Massachusetts: some of the places J. R. Carpenter has made her home. A nostalgic, Carpenter has developed a number of web-based pieces drawn from her memory of these locations. In Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls1 she elaborated on the regional maps often found on diner placemats, in this case Nova Scotian; by clicking different locations on her version of the map (Lunenburg, Hubbards, the Minas Basin) brief poetic anecdotes and imagery are invoked. She pursued this line in The Cape, a simple collage memoir devoted to its titular locale. 2 With the two works, Carpenter developed a fairly unique genre. Its closest relative is the map - albeit of a cartography annotated and pre-Renaissance in its willful subjectivity - and it is akin to the catalogue. When discussing the poetry of Jason Camlot, a Montreal poet she has collaborated with, she revealed being drawn to his "big systems of thinking: the list, the collection, [and] the cabinet of curiosities": 3 a fair account of her own œuvre.

Carpenter now lays her head at the section of Rue Saint-Urbain that runs through Montreal's Mile End neighborhood. Living (and sleeping) there has wrought her finest work, Entre Ville4 and its apparent postscript, Les huit quartiers du sommeil. Entre Ville is devoted exclusively to her apartment and the neighborhood it occupies; the "map," in this case, is a sketch of her building, or one like it, and its legend a poem. Where the free verse falters, videos shore up the whole: the windows and doors of her sketch link to shorts filmed around her back alley and apartment. They are often positioned in intrinsic opposition to one another: one neighbor's trumpet competes with another's private squabbles; floral blankets force comparison to flowers; graffiti abuts civic numerals. It is a minutely local piece, patient with the modest hardships of urban life in Montreal and tender toward Mile End.

The reader will probably find confluences between Entre Ville and their own home or city life. If not, Carpenter's thesis for Les huit quartiers, that every neighborhood has "a different quality of sleep," will surely resonate; for just as every house poses a different problem to slumber, so too do neighborhoods. Carpenter frames Les huit quartiers as a list, from Côte-Ste-Catherine to Saint-Urbain, and under each heading she whimsically synopsizes the circumstances of her life, describes her mattress (futon to waterbed), and chronicles her oneiric nocturnes. For all its insight and the universality of its subject, Les huit quartiers should be more of a success than it is. Indeed, when read as an afterthought to Entre Ville, it broadens the horizons of the domesticity presented there, but on its own, it feels unfinished. There are the occasional easy, unrefined lines - "dip-slice-glide-lurch-swaying" goes the train - but the incompleteness largely has to do with Carpenter's decision not to illustrate her own map of Montreal, to instead offer a Google Maps version. Bed icons (bringing to mind Little Nemo's airborne adventures) indicates the locations of her sleep, and clicking on them offers the text. It might be fine on someone's blog, but as Entre Ville illustrates, Carpenter is capable of much more.

J. R. Carpenter's Bio: "I was born on a farm in rural Nova Scotia. I studied Life Drawing and Anatomy at the Art Students' League of New York, and Studio Art with a concentration in Fibres and Sculpture at Concordia University in Montréal. In 1993 I got a Unix shell account. In 1995 I stumbled across the Web at the Banff Centre for the Arts Thematic Residency, "Telling Stories, Telling Tales." I made my first web art project for Netscape 1.1. It still works. Since that time I have continued to explore and exploit the web as a writer, artist, programmer, teacher, lecturer and member the new media art community. I have served as the President of OBORO, a gallery and new media lab in Montreal, since 2006. My web-based projects have been exhibited internationally in lots of places and they're all online here.

Most of my web projects are based on a piece of my own writing. I also publish in print, even though it takes much longer and there are usually no pictures allowed. I'm a two-time winner of the CBC Quebec Short Story Competition and a fellow of Yaddo, Ucross and The Vermont Studio Centre. I write slowly. On paper mostly. With a fountain pen. My first novel is forthcoming from Conundrum Press in the fall of 2008. Many of my published poems, short stories, essays, articles and reviews in anthologies and journals or online here."
(From J. R. Carpenter's Bio on her website)


1 : J. R. Carpenter, Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls, 1997.  

2 : J. R. Carpenter, The Cape, 2005.

I reviewed The Cape for this magazine last year upon its inclusion in the Electronic Literature Collection, Vol. 1.
See : CIAC's Electronic Magazine no 27, Spring 2007.  

3 : Drawn from Carpenter's blog, Lapsus Linguae.  

4 : J. R. Carpenter, Entre Ville, 2006.  


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