Sunday, August 18, 2013

No Ordinary Place - Pamela Porter

Today's book of poetry:  No Ordinary Place.  Pamela Porter.  Ronsdale Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2012.

The well published Pamela Porter's latest book, Late Moon (Ronsdale Press, 2013), was reviewed on this site on April 14 of this year.  Today we are looking at No Ordinary Place, Porter's 2012 offering from Ronsdale.

No Ordinary Place

I turned to look behind me
and saw the long road of my life.

Now I lead a secret existence.
I fill pages with all the things
I can't tell to anyone.

They sway like tall pines around me.
The moon climbs among their branches
          like a barefoot girl
straining for a glimpse of the sea.

Now the wind whispers
          stories in my ear.
It says my life is not what I believed.
It says this earth is no ordinary place.

And god, that lonely child,
                                 I've seen him
tossing winged seeds into air,
turning round and round in his bewilderment
as they sail back to earth.

Now I can't tell heaven from an ordinary day,
or heaven from hell, or my left hand
from my right.

To all my questions come answers:
Turn around.  Look closer.
See where you have already walked.

And the stars, oh, the stars --
everywhere now, there is singing.


These poems are rich in experience, they are the tale of life lived looking at the world in wonder, they are textured and they are polished.  So often these poems, Porter's work in general, seem so simple, so straight forward.  It's a good trick.  Her poems sound so much like conversation, a directed conversation, Porter has a lovely voice.

The Night of My Conception

This is the dream that has recurred
all my life.  It is the farm
I love and long to return to, and know
                       I cannot.
It is no place I can find in this life.

They are still young,
          my mother, my father,
the trunk they carried off the ship
hunched and weary in a corner
of the cabin they built together.

The hearth logs lick the flames
                       of their desire,
her dress rumpled on the floor,
his hat hanging from a peg.  In the loft
where I will sleep in the bed
he will make for me,
            I hover, listening,
the night pregnant with stars,

the plow horses' thunderous feet
                      quiet in their stalls,
the milk cow curled in the straw, all
waiting for the day I will reach out to them
with my curious hands.

Tonight there is the moon
           in the window
of the barn.  But I remain
with the mother and father I will love
even beyond this life.
                        Like the rain
before it reaches us, like music
before the first note is struck,
                        I am the pearl
that will gleam inside her,
I am their song of songs.

And when the bright egg
                        of the sun dawns,
I waken and rise, wondering
where in the world they are now,

certain I would know them
by the sound their hands make,
              their quickening breath,
their sighing just before sleep.


Pamela Porter has mastered the most difficult aspect of poetry - she makes it look easy, the best poets do.  But there is nothing easy to writing a line that both sounds common and contains the secrets of the world.  The wondrous American poet Sharon Olds is a master of this form and Porter is no slouch.  These poems resonate because they sound and feel so real, so much like one's own life.

Making a Life

And wind, always wind rolled over the land,
pulling the clouds thin and grey.
We had to go out -- in snow, in cold, no matter --
I lay the baby in her crib to let her sleep
or cry.  Some part of the fence was down;
a deer, maybe, or one of the horses run into it
in the blizzarding dark, or the wind
had sheared it off, the post long rotted
but holding taut in the tension of barbed wire
until, like someone exhausted or dying,
it could no longer keep itself upright.
Wind watered my eyes, the razored barbs
cut my hands through gloves, the bleached
bones of grass bent with the weight
of snow.  First we had to pull the rusted
staples out, then the wire off the post,
the hard wooden knot like a face
etched with pain.  Then a new post to go in:
the pounding of the maul, my hands
holding the new post straight; I stood
unseeing but for a smear of colour, the tremble
in my bones when my husband hit it clean, each time
missing my hands, my wrists, the skin
exposed and fiery with frost.  The chokecherry
beside the cattle guard bloomed with birds
feasting on the final fruit, one hawk
on the power line, patient and lonely,
our child in her crib and her dark hunger.
My prayer for her sleep.  Then the wire, coiled
like a summer rattler, pulled snug with the claw
of the hammer I held in place, my feet braced
in snow hard as love, burrs catching on my socks,
sleet of tears stinging my face,
my hands just holding on, and my breasts
sudden with milk.  And when we finished,
the birds scattering from the chokecherry,
we stepped into the house as her newborn wail
shattered the air, and I, stunned with cold
and crying, my breasts burning
and the milk coming down.


Pamela Porter's wisdom seems obvious, there is a comforting sense of an author in complete control of subject and tone, a mature voice.  Porter won the 2005 Governor General's Award for The Crazy Man, a novel in verse.  She is a winner of the Prism International Poetry Prize and well as many other literary awards, she is also featured in Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac.

These very clever poems follow a crisp narrative tradition - each and every one of them polished like a gem.

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