Pearl is a poetic exploration of the life of the legendary Pearl Miller, early Calgary’s most famous, and successful madam. Cullen fuses traditional lyric lines and experimental uses of form and language to fabricate a biography of Calgary’s mythical brothel keeper.
Cullen has a delicious way with words that can be both biting and tender at times; Cullen has made a complex web of poetry to examine a complex woman in history.
Cullen’s soft intense writing works without straining to impress.
“I find Pearl’s story emblematic of the renegade individualism Alberta claims to love,” Cullen writes in the introduction. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, Miller’s story isn’t well known; madams aren’t the kind of maverick the chamber of commerce celebrates.
Like Atwoods’s Alias Grace the poet draws on true crime. With a legendary madam for inspiration, she explores the economic, sexist and psychological factors involved in the World’s Oldest Profession. Cullen culls phrases from a Modern Typewriting Manual of Office Procedures, the Penal Code, the Madam’s Little Black Book of Johns and a mock will, as well as Miller’s prison records to establish the authentic documentary purpose of the book.
Pearl spirals down to a series of epithets on the pillars of Miller’s life, much as it must have done years ago. Here, “whore” is tragic, solipsistic, business. Cullen has crafted a naked work and requiem of uncommon truth.
- Winner: Alberta Book Awards Trade Fiction Book Award
- Shortlisted for the The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize
About the Author
Nancy Jo Cullen is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Science Fiction Saint and Pearl. Science Fiction Saint was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry, the Writers Guild of Alberta’s Stephan G. Steffanson award for poetry and the book publishers Association of Alberta’s best trade book. Pearl won the Alberta book Awards Trade Fiction Book Award and was short listed for The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. Nancy Jo Cullen lives in Toronto where she is at work on an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph–Humber.
Nancy Jo Cullen was the 4th recipient of the Dayne Ogilvie Grant. The grant is given annually to an emerging gay or lesbian writer who demonstrates great promise through a body of work of exceptional quality.
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