Diana Hayes’ remarkable talents are fully evident this month, with release of her new book Labyrinth of Green and a photo exhibit at the Salt Spring Public Library showcasing her wonderful way with both words and image.
Though small in size and just about 100 pages, Labyrinth of Green holds a remarkable range of expression. The Plumleaf Press publication is beautifully produced, with its bright white cover and pages set off by full-colour images.
Hayes has provided new poetry divided into five different categories that move from reflections on her youth and her family to experiences with nature, through to death and beyond. Supplementing these thoughtful meditations are her own beautiful photos, plus quotations from fellow poets, introductory passages and even the odd footnote. End notes provide more information on the provenance of some of the poems.
Hayes is certainly adept at the poetic use of language, shaping complex thoughts and layers of meaning into spare and elegant arrangements of words. The visual and emotional imagery of a single stanza can be breathtaking. Take for example the beginning of Psyche and the Ladder, which addresses the lessons of adolescence through the metaphors of Greek mythology and its underworld. “A switch gets tripped/without warning she steps blind/ into the sinkhole dropping/ from daylight to pitch night/ feeling only the blood on her shins.”
In the section related to death, Hayes ably demonstrates the Celtic reverence for the transformation and the close connection between the natural and eternal worlds, with birds often acting as medium and messenger. The poems These Little Deaths and Thirteen Ways to Free a Crow offer eyewitness accounts of life and death as close at hand as the backyard. Hayes illustrates the heartbreak of “small” deaths in a way that honours our emotional capacity for grief and opens the possibility of mystery beyond, even while accepting that the natural cycle of life necessarily includes its loss.
“Raven’s chorus strikes grief by the neck/ the forest a dark audience,” she writes in These Little Deaths.
Hayes’ library exhibition is testament to her long commitment to expression in multiple formats. The lobby showcase displays some of her many previous publications, including books and programs for the Theatre Alive literary series she cofounded with author Brian Brett.
The photo exhibit in the program room features some of the images from her new book, including those of lovely green, stony places in Ireland and England that speak to Hayes’ connection to her ancestry. There are also some interesting examples from photo series in which Hayes’ dreams played a strong role.
The series On the Way to Mektoub was taken during 1995 and gained inspiration from writers of the Sahara such as Paul Bowles, as well as the artist’s interest in expressions of the body. The pho- tographs of subjects in the desert with faces veiled and torsos exposed seek to “obscure the usual definitions of feminine and masculine principles” and “illuminate both the ambiguity and the interplay of male and female forms.”
Another series from 1996 is called Of Bodies Changed to Other Forms I Tell. It takes inspiration from a dream Hayes had about seeing a drowned sailor in Santorini, Greece. She did a photo shoot at Salt Spring’s Southey Point to recreate the scene, and took her title from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Both series reveal the strong connection between images and words that runs through Hayes’ work, and how her art manifests through a combination of intellectual and intuitive forces.
The photo show continues through December. Look for Labyrinth of Green at local shops or the library.