October 21st, 2008
As life returns to its normal cadence and rhythm of work and sleep and TV and work and sleep and TV, I managed to finish Lorna Crozier’s lovely book of poetry, Whetstone. I had taken the volume with me to read in Tofino but was still struggling through American Pastoral (more tk on that). So I went back to my poetry in transit and started the book on the Friday I returned to work.
Crozier’s poems have their roots in the natural world and are almost conversations over the course of a life. Some of them are meditations on a life in the process of being lived (like “Autobiography: Birth” that opens the book). And some are lovely pieces of almost Romantic-like poetry that express an almost whimsical yet utterly grounded adoration for the natural world (“Winter Birches”). Overall, my favourite poems in the collection were the three all with the same title, “Drought” sprinkled throughout the book. The first begins, “Water is suddenly old. / It feels stiffness, / a lessoning deep down.”
I found this idea, this image, of water growing old with whiskers and wrinkles and weathered utterly fascinating. I couldn’t help but think about our whale. About how my RRHB said that it’s no wonder he/she came up to see us at the side of the boat because they must swim to some of the loneliest places on earth. Some of the places where even the water, the ocean itself, must feel old and aching. As each takes the idea of drought in a different direction, the opposing wetness of it, the ache for that same wet, and the dusty, dirt-hemmed skirtness of it, the poems are nice compliments to one another.
Even if Crozier’s language remains simple and straightforward throughout, her thoughts, her comparisons and her poet’s eye is complex, and more often than not, I went back to re-read many of the pieces, underlining phrases that caught my breath and left me alone with my own thoughts.
September 16th, 2008
For some reason, when I can’t bike into work and am forced to take the subway (read: when I’m under the weather for various illnesses), I like to read poetry. The books are often smallish so they fit nicely into pockets and purses and it’s a nice way to be eased in or out of your day. Anne Simpson’s collection Quick was my companion for a good month — as the days were far and few between where I wasn’t riding my bike. I actually finished the book up the Friday of the September long weekend and simply haven’t had a chance to blog about it yet.
The sky softens with the end of light. Reaching for something solid when there’s nothing to hold. The woman slips deeper in the water, swims, snatches up her hand. A jellyfish has stung her. She gazes at its lurid pouch, fringed with cream: doll-sized weapons. Mute and deaf and blind, the creature glides forward as if this was what it wanted all along. Lifted on a wave, dropped on sand. A spilled sack. It’ll lose its sheen, begin to stink. Later, a boy will poke it with a stick, just to see.
Did you think you could miss this part? Everything is sharpened around you.
The above is taken from the almost prose-like epic poem that makes up the later half of the book. “Ocean, Ocean” is a sharp and visceral exploration of human interaction with the body of water and its many metaphors aren’t so much spelled out as inferred through the beautiful two line chorus that accompanies each one paragraph stanza. I was captivated by this poem and read it many, many times. The beginning of the collection wasn’t as arresting for me but I was consistently impressed by the themes: the most basic in literature brought to soaring new heights by Simpson’s wonderful poetry. Man versus nature, man versus man, nature in its most primal, effortless state.
I am ever glad to have ensured that my Canadian Book Challenge not only included the ladies, but poetry as well. It’s not as if I have to force myself to read poetry as much as remind myself how much I love it. Funny, too, as I had a conversation with someone at work who mentioned that they never, ever thought about poetry, that they couldn’t care less. I was saddened by this statement only because poetry, while endlessly important, seems to never sell as well as much of the schlock that crowds out the shelves of the bookstores.
Everyone should at least buy a book of poetry. I don’t even care if you ever read it. Well, maybe I care a little bit.
READING CHALLENGES: Quick is #3 in terms of my For the Ladies Canadian Book Challenge.
July 3rd, 2008
You’ll just have to take my word for it that I finished on time (4 PM on June 30th) for this year’s Canadian Book Challenge. I had one province (New Brunswick) and one territory (Nunavut) left and was pleased with exactly one of the two. Here we go:
I don’t know why I do it to myself. Keep reading Adams Richards, that is. I know he’s a lauded Canadian author who’s won piles of prizes and even more acclaim, but his work is just not for me. This book was beyond hard to get through and I wouldn’t have finished it had it not been for the challenge. The repetition contained within his writing style makes me crazy. It’s as if he finds two or three key elements to each character and continually reminds the reader of them over and over again as the novel progresses. One part murder-mystery, one part typical East Coast depressing drama, and two parts nothingness jammed in to fill up the pages, The Lost Highway is about a warring rural New Brunswick family (there’s a shock) living in a town that pretty much runs the length of, you got it, a road.
The patriarch, a misery of an old man named Jim Chapman, metes out punishment to all around him, including his bumbling, quasi-lost nephew, Alex. A former student of philosophy who can’t seem to do anything right, Alex gravitates from hating his uncle to loving his uncle, from brash irresponsibility to regret, from whimsical romance to stalker, from bumbling fool to calculating criminal throughout the novel. And every five minutes, we get a lecture on what it means to be ethical from the “narrator” who makes a confusing appearance at the end of the novel. I found the setup to be preposterous, the writing tedious, and the story unbelievable. I was captivated for about fifty pages somewhere in the middle of the book where the action heats up, but for the rest of the time I plodded my way to the end trying to find any spare moment so I could just get through the damn book. I know I like to find good things in every book I read, and I just need to remind myself that it’s not that Adams Richards isn’t a good writer, it’s just that his books are for another kind of audience (that doesn’t include the likes of me).
Alas, but all pages do lead somewhere and so I cross New Brunswick off the list.
Wells’s undeniably charismatic and utterly engrossing book of poetry, unlike the above, held me tightly all through my reading of it. I spent most of Monday with my nephew, a gregarious, spirited little guy who kept me on my toes all day (and who refused to nap). And even though I was tired, I sat down and read the entire book in one sitting, and then went back and re-read a lot of the poems a second time because I liked the titles so much. Having never been to the North, I think the part of his poetry I enjoyed the most is the clash between how you imagine the landscape to be and the writer’s human interaction within it. I also enjoyed the “freight” poems and could definitely see the Milton Acorn comp from the book’s back blurbs. His talent feels raw but the words are obviously chosen very carefully, and that’s my favourite kind of poetry, pieces that feel tossed off by the tips of ingenious fingers that read so easily but you know there were most likely draft upon draft before the author came to the final incarnation. All in all I can’t say enough how powerful I felt the poems to be and if I hadn’t left my copy at home I’d put in some quotes (to be added later).
So that’s it for this year! Now I have to do some thinking about next year’s challenge, which is technically now this year’s challenge because it’s July 3rd today. So. Yeah. Thirteen more Canadian books by this time next year. What to do, what to do.
I do think I’m going to count Night Runner as my first (it’s a YA novel we’re publishing this fall that I read on Canada Day eve and Canada Day after finishing Unsettled) because it’s a book I just adored from start to finish (#44). Anyway. An entire list tk.
May 6th, 2008
I am counting Ken Babstock’s Airstream Land Yacht as Newfoundland for The Canadian Book Challenge. I’m quite sure that’s where he’s originally from (if I remember correctly) and it’s one of the titles John had listed in his own challenge suggestions. The poems, though, are so much more universal and can’t really be defined by geography in the same way a novel can. They take inspiration from philosophy, from art, from literature, from other poets, from everyday life, from the stars, from the sea, from a whole host of interesting things that I will not be able to mention here, many I probably didn’t even get.
Separated into four distinct parts (Air, Stream, Land and Yacht), the book’s poems are deeply intriguing. It’s been years since I’ve thought critically about poetry but even so that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book. Perhaps in all the time since my Masters degree I’ve come to appreciate poetry a little for the pure beauty of how the words play together on the page. I’m also a little in love with the author’s impressive use of contractions, of apostrophe “d’s” and other whimsical ways of pushing the language to new heights.
If I had to pick just one favourite poem, it would be “Marram Grass” from the first section. A underlying sweetness pulls the piece along and it has stuck with me in the 10 days it’s taken to read the collection. I tried to stop my habits of speeding through sentences and forcing my eyes to take the corners fast so I could enjoy each one in the way it should be read. Thoughtfully. Carefully. Over sustained periods of time left to look up and imagine what the poet’s saying or how marvelous he is with vocabulary and language.
PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The cover from Anansi.ca.
READING CHALLENGES: This makes #9 for my Canadian Book Challenge. In terms of provinces, I’ve got: Manitoba, Nunavut, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick left.
WHAT’S UP NEXT: I’m already halfway through The Woman Who Waited. I should be done by tomorrow, it’s a swift read.
May 3rd, 2008
Much needed fun with old cronies from the place where I used to work led to a much later evening than I had anticipated. Which meant a slow start this morning but a revived outlook in terms of getting over the loneliness at work or maybe just ignoring it all together because I always expect it to be like it was, and it never will be. But isn’t that always the case. Many new music suggestions with only beer memory and all I can remember is that the one half of Uncle Tupelo that became Wilco means there’s another half out there that is apparently much, much better.
I’ve been reading poetry all week (Airstream Land Yacht) by Ken Babstock. Poetry and travel mean stopping in funny places to write. Like the middle of the street, halfway between University Left and Right, to make sure I caught this bit of something (or nothing, depending on how you look at it):
9:18 AM Dundas 505
A sturdy man sets his
coffee down on the floor
of the streetcar,
bravely flaunting his
knowledge of an
equation I fail to master
balance of iron and gravity,
the dancing hips of the
machine en route
to deliver him, now awake
and alert, to a same-time,
This morning. I am glad
to be late with time
still left to kill.
I think I have discovered that after I finish a big project I like to write poetry. Who’d a thunk? Another in a long list of embarrassing confessions I make here: I am now wearing a giant, over-sized Tom Green sweatshirt. One should never internet shop when one is a band widow on a reduced amount of sleep and under a deadline. But now that it’s here, I do have to wear it, or else suffer the consequences.
EDITED TO ADD: The band is called Son Volt. Whew. That’s one less thing to remember.
April 23rd, 2008
[I don’t think this one is quite done yet; still percolating]
A passing glance at the calendar
leads to hours spent flipping photos
examining the evidence of your existence
Your birthday–one of the few things I recall–
along with the smell of your cigarettes, how
you slapped my ass that one day, and your
prickly, adolescent chin.
I fell for the softness of your skin,
gentle like the lake water, Diego Luna,
Pacey, my Trip Fontaine, all the boys
of an over-active imagination.
Our time ran out like a rainstorm: quick, fierce
and uncontrollable on my part, lying in wait with no
sun to pass through.
It rains today. The same kind of rain,
thick, crisp like toast, and I crave an Export A,
Jay’s hotbox BMW, and the sour smell of your ball cap,
but the cold shoulder of my youth has passed.
I am dire need of some new music to write to. Does anyone else out there need a writing soundtrack? I feel like I’ve played every song in my iTunes 100 times and I’m still coming up short. April as poetry month is totally inspiring me.
I finally tracked down the folder that had all the drafts of the poems I worked on during the one class I took with Ken Babstock, many of which were on the computer that was stolen from our house two years ago. In my insanity, I had printed many, many of them up many times, so at least I’ve got copies, and I’ve been going through them tonight. A part of me wants to post all of them, just to see which ones are more successful than others, but I’ll exercise restraint and keep going with the poem a day (I missed yesterday, so that’s why there are two posted tonight).
The air’s warm. The candles smell yummy. We ordered pizza for dinner. And I feel like my fingers could go all night. So instead of posting all of my cycle, 12 poems based on each (you guessed it) month in a year, I give you a highly illegal version of a William Carlos Williams poem that knocks me to my knees every single time I read it:
(William Carlos Williams 1883-1963)
Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow
changed by white curtain–
Smell of cleanliness–
Sunshine of late afternoon–
On the glass tray
a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which
a key is lying — And the
immaculate white bed.
[One for yesterday and one for today. But this one’s for Sam. She’ll appreciate it.]
The recipe called for confectioner’s sugar
Dusty, super-sweet, and melting on top of your tongue
Light as a natural laugh and a joke that’s easy to remember.
We all secretly yearn to avoid the middle of every month,
Not just this one. Would it mean more or mean less?
Days later, I wrapped my legs around you and squeezed tight.
An arrow of lipstick painted my mouth the same colour as dessert,
And I giggled. We mocked wounded hearts together; then
Missed our main course to be home and watch Law & Order.
Satiated by the addition of extra cream, I was happy,
And added a heavy, over-burdened teaspoon of Mexican vanilla,
Both uncalled for, and the dish all the better for it.
April 22nd, 2008
The temperature dropped the day I left;
hours later I smelled cinnamon and saffron,
my nose, assaulted by warm air
(but not in a way I felt violated)
The sheets tried to hard to achieve a
balance between home and away,
and gave me large, angry hives.
(“A vacation,” he said, “would restore your health)
I took the news hard, my heart
stamped and packed down hard,
sand on a beach, snow underfoot
(the waves violated an all-inclusive order)
There’s nothing worse than a tourist
who doesn’t want to tour the ruins
of a most important relationship.
(I still avoid salt water)
I saw you, you who had been mine,
with your hand wrapped in hers,
with bow-like accuracy
(Violence against self excluded from the air fare)
Raced half-way around the world
to realise that the weather
did not improve the mood.
(Sunshine to sun visor to sunscreen)
Damn you and those intertwining
fingers that will never do
what I will forever want them to.
April 20th, 2008
[another unfinished fragment]
I fold myself out,
read all the sections, and
hold my hand over the horoscope.
Stain my fingertips with newsprint,
until I am classified by headlines,
inches per story, and unreadable bylines.