Exploring the art of prose


Author: Baņuta Rubess

Author’s Note

“But I’m not an artist,” I protest.

I’m studying with the formidable Kyo Maclear, who often includes her own sketches in her writing. (See Birds, Art, Life.) Kyo invites us to make collages, and I balk. I turn images into words, not vice versa. Or so I think. But I can’t say no to Kyo. She distributes magazines, origami papers, Sharpies, glue. She recommends a site called Canva. I pick up the scissors, the glue; I take one step, another, and then I don’t stop.

Never underestimate the pleasure of scrawling on a page, of assembling objects linked by association, like reaching for a pine-scented candle and planting it on a map of your road trip, and voilà, there’s the story of your father’s travails. There is a childish glee in shaking out tiny paper bits from your three-hole punch across words about fear and thinking, “That’s all I need to say.” The eye and the hand circumvent calculated thought; they whip up their own dish. My first draft of “Four Words” aimed to be more gamelike, interactive, a piece in which you could click on a map and snippets of text jump up. But I lacked the technical skills to construct that kind of work. And now I prefer the messiness of random-seeming text boxes pasted across a PowerPoint slide.

I’d written 95,000 words about my father for a memoir called Bruno Slept Here; I’d read a score of books and interviewed a bevy of experts. But Kyo’s prompt let me vault across all the facts to a visual poem about what keeps you going amidst the mayhem of war.

I’m indebted to Rebecca Solnit’s book The Faraway Nearby for the idea of running an independent string of text at the bottom of the page.


BAŅUTA RUBESS pioneered feminist theatre and contemporary opera to national renown in Canada and Latvia. She has lived in four countries and writes in two languages. She has written plays, libretti, radio drama, television biopics, stories, and has devised site-specific productions for a beach and a mansion. She has been nominated for many awards and has won a few, including Best Play, Best Director, and Best Short Story. Her writing is published in Aesthetica (UK), Creative Nonfiction (US), and Domuzīme (Latvia). Baņuta lives in Toronto and is writing a memoir about the personal cost of surveillance. Follow her voracious reading habits on Funny, You Don’t Look Bookish. Find her on Twitter @banuta or Instagram @labagne.