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what i read: rm vaughan’s troubled

January 12, 2012

somehow this blog is only turning into a book review blog, but that’s because i haven’t been writing so much lately as i have been editing, and apparently i don’t have any scintillating philosophical thoughts on that process. i will say one thing – that this is the first time i’ve read my thesis all the way through, not just in chunks and pieces, and it’s not as shit i thought it was. it’s odd, this writing process. if someone had told me at the beginning of the process how much it sucks, i probably would not have undertook this thing. maybe sucks isn’t the right word… more like… gut wrenching. how often do i doubt myself when writing! all the time. good grief.

for christmas i got a gift certificate for another story bookstore which was TOTALLY AMAZING. what with toronto’s (actually, not just toronto but apparently all of north america’s) bookstores going down the pooper lately, it felt so good to buy books. i managed to squeeze 3 books into my 50 dollar gift certificate, which was also amazing. i literally crawled on the ground to find the poetry section, which was pretty damn sad for a bookstore (COME ON) but i did the gasp when i found rm vaughan’s troubled.



disclaimer: i’ve met vaughan. he came and read for carolyn smart’s creative writing class in my fourth (??) year at queen’s university. he was kind and gracious and struck me as soft-spoken, quiet, almost meek. he also read my application for me for applying to ubc, gave it an eyeball to make sure i wasn’t being totally inappropriate re: queer issues.

i know i’ve read troubled before. i must have grabbed it from the queen’s u library and gotten part way through it, or maybe i got a chance to sit down in a bookstore somewhere and give it an eyeball. but this is the first time i got to read it cover to cover.

troubled is about vaughan’s affair with his therapist, back in… i’m tempted to say 1997 or 1998. the late 90s. the book consists of his poetry, most of it simply titled “session” (as to connote goings-on from a therapy session), excerpts from films that vaughan has made or written, and excerpts from medical journals re: therapists committing sexual indiscretions with their patients , as well as photocopies of letters to and from the college of physicians and surgeons of ontario regarding the affair and legal action taken against it by vaughan.


i really love the way vaughan writes. his poetry is totally unflinching. it tackles issues that are not often discussed – vaughan’s body consciousness, for example, and the way that he talks about his body insecurities – the fact that he feels pudgy (god i hate that word) next to his therapist, the way he feels shamed. he talks about his fat peeling off his body in layers, the fact that he wants to go on a diet to please his new lover (i hate that word, too), the fact that dr m, his therapist, won’t touch him for the longest time and vaughan thinks that it’s about his own body. it’s so raw, and so peeled open, and it gives the reader no chance to back away. it’s sex, and gay sex, and animal references, and actual copies of the actual letters that they sent to each other in the wake of it all blowing up.

i did have trouble with the blame, though, and i can’t tell whether vaughan has done this on purpose or not. (sometimes i have trouble determining emotional and purposeful intent in writing – i think it stems from my inability to properly read human emotion. i often need things to be expressly stated to me [especially in relationships] for me to completely understand. i always better understand emotion when it has been explained to me, outright). i had trouble with the fact that vaughan comes across as completely wounded at times, and that there are times when he shifts the blame completely onto the therapist, dr m. relationships always take two to tango, to use a tired adage. two people have to engage and ratchet each other up to inappropriate levels, make each other crazy and cruel and awful. reading these poems, i get no sense of what vaughan did to dr m. i only get a sense of what dr m did to vaughan. and this was written (published, actually, since i have no idea when he started writing poems about it) about 10 years or so after the affair so there must have been some personal introspection about the whole thing, and i wanted to see more flaw. i guess every reader wants the writer to break down a little more, which seems like such an awful thing to demand of your authors, but it reassures the human condition. we see the therapist as cruel, borderline incestuous with his teenaged daughter, as vain, as twisted, but vaughan remains the naif, the sad, large child. i have a feeling that vaughan must have been totally terrible at one point. i wanted to see that. maybe it’s the cruelty in my own soul that responds to that. but that would have really sealed the deal for me.




aside from that, i do love this book. it’s an anna book for sure – strong, disquieting, disjointed, jarring images, things that you can taste on your tongue even though you’re not supposed to. it’s poetry that’s really not going to be attractive to everyone, but some of these images are going to stay with me forever. to close, a quote:

“On a flowered couch, I seed     crack like milkweed pods

in frost, spores in mud

call all the old gods to harvest.

My father, mad as a paper kettle,

as three glass balls in a blender.     My mother, her sleepy violence,

a limbless she-cat, all caterwaul and cant.

My body, a wrung pillow

and the quiet habits of rough sex, for spice.”


— RM Vaughan, ‘Troubled’, 2008


i actually remembered the phrase about glass balls in a blender for three years, that’s how powerful it was to me. so go and buy this book! RIGHT NOW. ps the paperstock is totally luxurious – the poetry is printed on thick cream coloured paper. lovely. so seriously, go buy it.

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