Compositions: Notes on the Written Word
by Naomi Beth Wakan

Wolsak & Wynn, 2008. ISBN 978-1-894987-25-7.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 06/20/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Creative Life

This collection of Naomi Beth Wakan's musings on books, writers, and writing is a sequel to her previous book, Late Bloomer: On Writing Later in Life. As Wakan says in the foreward to Compositions, she finds the essay the perfect way to express her mind's twists and turns. As a self-described "writer-cum-artist-cum-dilettante," she has created a fascinating collection of personal essays, memoir, poetry, and writing guide, inviting the reader on an entertaining journey. The book could have a sub sub-title: Leading a Creative Life.

I so enjoyed Compositions that I'm happy to be reading it again as I write this review. The first essay in particular, in which Wakan writes about the creative process, is my favorite. It's the ideal place to start the collection, guiding the reader from those first embers of ideas to the writing process, the various forms, right through to giving readings (she rehearses like mad) and receiving fan mail. Her final chapter is "A Plea for Kindness," directed to publishers, writers, and critics.

I should point out that Naomi and her husband Elias chose their surname, Wakan, which is a Sioux word meaning "creative spirit." Now, that's inspiring! They chose the name as an "aspiration" for them both and (Naomi supposes) for the marriage itself.

Wakan includes her poetry within the essays with humor generously sprinkled throughout. To say she's an avid reader is an understatement. Wakan and her husband each reserve 50 library books at a time (the maximum allowed). All that reading, as well as writing, are her disciplines. She's gathered many quotes from many writers, using them to illustrate and enlarge her work. It's almost as if she has conversations with the quotations and the authors of them. Wakan says she likes "to feel that many folk are contributing to every project I do."

I appreciate Wakan's down-to-earth style of writing, with her likes, dislikes and honest self-observations. She shares her publishing experiences, such as the time her publisher lost one of her manuscripts written for children. She has much to say about poetry, and includes a list of the poems she considers worth reading. As an avid reader of detective stories, Wakan offers her opinions on the genre. Her suggestions on "writers' block," which she associates with self-criticism, are excellent.

You may not have the opportunity to attend Wakan's readings (as I have), but her book will engage you with its very real approach to a creative life—which for her, began in childhood. Her chapter on word games had me remembering my own interest in them. Wakan and her twin sister played endless word games as children. As adults, they created books of quotations together, and Naomi produced two crossword books. These have given her an excuse to collect dictionaries, she says. "There's nothing like the rustle of onion skin pages to soothe the heart." And speaking of the heart, Wakan likes to go to sleep while listening to country music, as it has "the meter of a mother's heartbeat".

At a recent reading, Wakan asked her audience what literary folk they would choose as their parents and literary role models. She chose Billy Collins as her father and Wyslawa Szymborska as her Mum. I chose Pablo Neruda as my father. I think I'll choose Naomi Beth Wakan as my very creative, entertaining and supportive Mum.

Naomi Beth Wakan has written educational books geared to children and many books for the adult market. Haiku, One Breath Poetry, was an American Library Association selection. Her most recent are Segues and Late Bloomer: On Writing Later in Life (both published by Wolsak and Wynn). Naomi Beth Wakan and her husband, the sculptor Elias Wakan, live on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. Visit her website. You can read Mary Ann Moore's recent profile of Ms. Wakan in the Vancouver Sun.

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