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From Her Mouth

The Dirty, Pretty Prose of Lisa Foad

By Stacey May Fowles

I first saw Lisa Foad read in front of a crowd at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times theatre in 2005, at the launch for Red Light: Superheroes, Sluts and Saints, an anthology edited by Anna Camilleri. What struck me immediately was that Foad, small and blonde and unassuming, had an uncanny ability to hold the room captive like a high-heeled giant. Her voice was all sandpaper and hypnotic sweetness, her prose a delicate hand going for the gut. Any assumptions made about Foad’s stature were dismissed as soon as she opened her mouth. While effortlessly gliding through her addition to the anthology-“Violent Collections, Anxious Supplements” (a piece that would later end up in her debut collection)-it was evident that Foad’s writing belonged on a stage, a place where she felt more than comfortable enchanting an audience.

But I wanted her writing on my shelf. I left that evening with one thought-when do I get a whole book of Lisa Foad’s writing?

It was a long wait, but this past spring Foad launched her first collection of prose, The Night is a Mouth, with Exile Editions. “A considerable amount of that time was spent stumbling and fumbling-experimenting, struggling to find my voice,” Foad says of the process. “I had a lot of ideas but I really wasn’t sure what I was doing. At a certain point, specific themes began to emerge-namely, abjection and monstrosity… Once I found my stride, the collection began to fall into place. Of course, understanding the shape of things meant that a lot of material got trashed, while smaller, less developed pieces suddenly made sense and had to be worked. To that end, much of what appears in the book was written over the last year-and-a-half.”

Much like her presence on stage in 2005, Foad’s art is bursting with contradictions. While she is primarily interested in a gritty, violent reality so many of us willfully ignore, it’s evident that she has little interest in the staid realism the Canadian literary tradition so often uses to portray “reality.” “It’s not so much a dismissal of realism as it is a fascination with the possibilities that surrealism, expressionism and collage afford-these elements encourage a wholly different kind of exploration and unfurling.”

Foad, who has been compared to female counterculture superstars like Lynda Barry, Kathy Acker and Daphne Gottlieb, has always been genuine in concocting something far from the status quo. She’s a veteran of the stage, once one-third of the spoken word-based multi-media performance troupe, Trash & Ready, and as a result her prose is undeniably performative. It loops and lingers in poetic rhythms far from the sparse, minimal writing most readers are accustomed to in the Canadian canon. “I can’t tell you how often I find myself deliberating between 10 or more versions of the same sentence,” Foad explains. “The differences between them are ridiculously slight-but the shifts in rhythm and implication change everything.

“I really like performing material because it allows me to experience the text in a much more dynamic way-something I don’t get when it’s just me working with the page. Performing freshens material that might be feeling stale; it helps resolve uncertainties I may be having about particular elements in a particular piece; it lets me interact with readers and potential readers, and helps me gauge what’s working and what’s not.”

In the dreamlike world of The Night is a Mouth, parents gleefully come back from the dead to fight via phone through their daughter. Young girls find their burgeoning sexuality. A stripper tells her candy-coated stories with frantic precision.

Despite the beauty in her craft, there is something distinctly uncomfortable about Lisa Foad’s rendering of the world.

She isn’t afraid to aggressively talk about drugs, lust, sin and the seedy underbelly, to reveal bleakness through characters that feel sadly familiar, but in doing so manages to put the reader in a place both stunning and grotesque, forcing us to face a sparkling filth and a frightening beauty simultaneously.

“I didn’t set out to write gritty or provoke discomfort,” Foad clarifies. “But gritty is certainly where my fascination lives. And depending upon our experiences, expectations and interests as readers-certain kinds of gritty may elicit certain kinds of discomfort. I don’t know that the writer ever really provokes the reader.”

With a bold, experimental voice, The Night is a Mouth defies both explanation and tradition. Each snapshot in the book is more than mere story-these are the courageous meditations of the world-weary, sporadically littered with pleasure and hope.

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