Friday, August 2, 2013

Trobairitz - Catherine Owen

Today's book of poetry:  Trobairitz.  Catherine Owen.  Anvil Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2012.

Catherine Owen is a Vancouver poet who has appeared on this blog before.  I wrote about her Angel House Press book Steve Kulas & Other Autopsies back in April.  Today we look at Trobairitz, her latest Anvil Press title.

Trobairitz is a coat of many colours.  Ostensibly it is where Metalheads/Metal Music (which you can not begin to imagine how much I do not enjoy), meets 12th Century troubadours, courtly tradition and the women who give voice to the spectacle.

This is so much NOT my cup of tea.  So, why and how did I enjoy it so much?

Canso 14

"I know it's easier to lose than gain;  still, though I be blamed,
I'll tell the truth"
                 - Azalais de Porciarages

No desire without tension
(you tell me).

that the ocean at Dauphine needs cliffs
or else the salt flood would devour the town

(all its edicts       all those battlements)
and then

(what then?)
only rubble of our love and not this sweet

unyielding endless scarce-succumbing
between us

would you want this
(o would you?)

(o would you


Catherine Owen apparently doesn't care about old men like me and our biases, she simply writes through doubt and into the world of her own creation.  This book is a fully formed universe we have never seen but through Owen's carefully measured direction we understand where we are immediately.  It is an astonishing feat of time-travel and gender navigation.

Canso 16
     for the Domna Assag or Love Test

"But she knows my sorrow and my pain/and when it pleases her,
she gives me comfort and honours me, and when it pleases her, I
make do with less:
     - Bernart de Ventadorn

There is one condition:  darkness.
Then the Kalamata light of her flesh,
her name's difficult spices.

Suddenly she is naked as a perfect seed
and you do not know why
she is embracing you, why

her mouth's small rupture finds yours
or your hands the sleek clay of her breasts.
He is watching us both

like someone at the site of a collision
helpless in the beauty of accidents
but when she calls for him to join us

he is already in our arms
as if our bodies are the only room.
Then she is gone

and he is entering me from behind
like someone praying, as in those dreams
where I had imagined him, wet and bent

over my back, hair working its rivulets
into skin and I know somewhere she is
listening, our cries translated by night

but she never once tears us apart --
I thinking this is her gift.
How wrong I was.


Trobairitz has so many of the qualities that brought me to poetry in the first place.  It's fun.  Owen is wickedly clever and rains her wisdom down like confetti at a large wedding.  It gets everywhere, into everything, and hangs around for days.

"we are in love with love, not death"  - Canso 6

This collection may be seen in the future with the same reverence we currently give books like Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy The Kid.  Trobairitz is a game changer.  Like Laura Nyro did for Pop music, Catherine Owen is utterly unapologetic about mixing genres, metaphors and centuries and whatever else she requires to achieve the alchemy of her purpose.

Why the Trobairitz Picks
Up Men at a Metal Festival

I enter

the Coliseum of Flesh: boys

with elaborate hair & symbolic skin, shirtless and moist

in the whirling bodies around the stage
& take my pick from them all.

How is this wrong.
High-born I proclaim --.

monogamy is for those who fear.
To not be owned by a single

set of arms as a moat without a drawbridge
but to hold when I please these men of intensity --

here receiving the sleek bolt of a touch, there
a tongue playing its lightning in my mouth &

moving on in the way of music, finding a song
for it in the morning perhaps, as the boy

sleeps his moment in my bed,

his string-worn fingers sweet.


Owen has declared herself the modern female troubadour, Trobairitz is a refreshing gender shuffle, a new history being hammered out in front of us.  Owen has such a vibrant and exciting voice and clearly so many things to say that are worth listening to.  Trobairitz was an exhilarating surprise, I can not wait to see what this absurdly talented writer does next.

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