Today's book of poetry: Seawrack. David Helwig. (Contemporary Canadian Poets: Vol 7). Frog Hollow Press. Victoria, British Columbia. 2013
One of the first poetry reviews I wrote was in 1982 for David Helwig's just released The Rain Falls Like Rain, (Oberon Press). If memory serves I doubt if I did the book justice.
And now my fears are renewed. With Seawrack, published by Frog Hollow Press, Helwig continues in the same vein as his previous forty or so books - clear, articulate and erudite.
Keep it brief. The animal that lives
in cities. Toolmaker. Trickster,
him of the opposed thumb. Primate
with the largest penis. God's
The he and she of consciousness,
inexorable, inexplicable. Does
a dog suffer with its mate?
Do you? The longest bridge
cries out an earthling triumph.
Grow up, Chuckie, be a mensch,
small mortal with upright spine,
define eternal, sympathy, sublime,
kill what you don't desire
to eat. Be reasonable.
Most of the poems in this volume are untitled and prefaced with a short five line stanza, sometimes only two or three lines. There is a casual and almost playful tone to this entire collection. As serious a cat as Helwig insists on being there is smile on those lips, sun and sand on his toes.
What like? Thus: in sanctuary,
asylum from the ice, the criminal,
the nakedness of wretch and scold,
the bad gas of corrupted skies.
Always within, all that is not without.
You must query the grave empiricist
on the mystery of just how the one
moment by moment becomes the other.
Blood swirls skinward and back
in its daily cycle of adventures.
The miners descend to hack and hew.
Submariners pass beneath the icecap.
Each doorway reveals the one
to its adjacent other, or in reverse.
Food swallowed fills the gut, makes
its retreat to the universe in due order.
It is everything sheltered, from shower stall
to the slithery architectures inside
beloved Milly, Anne, Maria, Jane,
or stasis in the tall silence of the nave.
What like? A where to go, away
from the centrifugal dissolutions
of cycle, climate, furious accident.
A companion, a chair, a book.
The perceptive introspection remains. Helwig has always been a serious poet, but there is evidence of a lighter side at play here.
In the neighbour's yard
let us come over, but only
at the second bidding.
Tell the lost summers, cry out
the innocence of the games
Wide in the haunch now, still a smart listener,
she has scribblers full of fancy reminiscence,
embroidered pillows and a worn red rug,
stands tall and strong even yet
and keeps the secrets of postmen,
detectives, clerks and steamfitters.
New names of war appear in the daily news,
and quiz shows fish for answers
but never the best ones she knows.
On thread around her neck a golden ring,
boon of a short bald man who rubbed her
just the right way until he packed and left.
She teaches pure love to the early shift
on icy mornings, the first hot cup,
two over easy and the buttery toast.
All winter she paints her toenails scarlet
as soldier's blood and plucks her brows.
It is what she achieves in the quiet nights.
Seawrack is a beautiful book. Frog Hollow Press produce stunningly lovely books and this one is gorgeous with a cover by George Loewen that is incandescent. Seawrack is Volume 7 from Frog Hollow's Contemporary Canadian Poets Series and has been published in two numbered limited edition versions.
David Helwig was born in Toronto in 1938, has won numerous literary awards and is currently the Poet Laureate of Prince Edward Island, where he now resides.