The Words I Know


120 pages
ISBN 0-88974-037-2
DDC C811'.54




Reviewed by Eugenia Sojka

Eugenia Sojka is a sessional instructor of English at the Memorial
University of Newfoundland.


How do we write pain? What language do we use to inscribe our suffering?
Cathy Stonehouse’s memory of incest somatized in her body urges her to
speak out. It demands interpretation and translation into healing words
that are free from preconceived ideological notions. The Words I Know is
a painful exploration of the past and of the language that created it.

Distrust of her father’s language, which imposes on her a horrific
reality (“I am dirty, I know I am”), makes her look for a language
closer to painting and music. She learns to “listen to the / music of
the grass / telling [her] without words / who to be.” In the work of
Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, she finds a visual language that can
effectively render her pain, “a new scarred language, / pictures that
weep.” She impressively explores a model of writing that is
simultaneously verbal and nonverbal, blending poetry, music, and

Stonehouse’s collage of memories focuses on the powerful images of
incest. The repetition of the rape scene, especially effective in such
poems as “Snowman,” “Rapes revisited,” “Unboxed,” and
“Without hope,” may seem redundant and excessive, but it is
necessary in every act of remembering. She uses the form of an
interartistic collage to convey the pain of her childhood memories.
Fragments from Ian Stonehouse’s original collage open each chapter,
and thus strongly emphasize the interrelation between writing and
painting that is so compellingly explored in the text. This is a
powerful book and Stonehouse is a very promising young writer.


Stonehouse, Cathy., “The Words I Know,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024,