Monday, September 30, 2013

A message for all my friends


I've a minor set back.  This past weekend I had emergency surgery and had my gall bladder removed.  I know, too much detail.  As a result I will be taking a brief respite from posting blogs.

Thanks for your patience.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why does it feel so late? - Simon Thompson

Today's book of poetry:  Why does it feel so late?  Simon Thompson.  New Star Books.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2009.

Simon Thompson, who has a Bachelor Degree in Journalism, is a teacher in Terrace, B.C., and I'm sure he is a fine one.  I would have been curious to see what he would have got up to as a journalist.  Luckily for us, he's a poet.

The periodic table of elements holds us together

Two-stroke oil slick and saltwater,
creaking dock boats
scuff with the tide and bump hollow:
waterline, red, fibreglass hull, white.

Against the wind and tide
resistance is only an imperfect vacuum.
Wood splits with the clime;
there's no stopping a bolt of cedar splitting
along the grain.

It's a part of a larger scheme:
the periodic table holds us together.


These poems snuck up on me as I was reading this collection, the more I liked one poem, the more I liked the next, and so on.

How can you stand looking at the Skeena?

How can you stand looking into the glacial haze of the Skeena?
How can you stand to cross the bolted timbers of the old bridge?

Many suspect I grieve a secret
long since washed downstream.

A raven's wings in flight form a certain angle
and some read this as a sign of impending doom,
but the grey tissue of smoke hanging about the smouldering
the cottonwood pollen falling aimlessly into the water
is not a map or even a hint.


Some of these poems made me think of Alden Nowlan, but with a darker edge, a gentler voice.

Marking papers

Might as well wave a pencil
at the Skeena as it mysteriously
slides away.

Might as well write my name
in the air with a blade of grass.


These poems and the experiences they describe sound and feel true which is always a good thing — but not nearly as important as whether they work, whether they tell a good story.  Thompson doesn't hesitate to use refreshing brevity and humour along with his numerous other tools.

Why does it feel so late? has a sense of the impending, the animated dread that foreshadows what might befall us.  It's tempered with his assurance that it doesn't matter, these things are already decided, or not, but they are out of our hands.

The famous Cedar Apartments

The rain has stopped
for now.

Pale kids emerge
from the Cedar Apartments
to play on the lumpy infield at the junior high;
their evening late fall shadows are stretched tall
to reach me.

I watch my daughter
as she makes laps of the track,
her newly made bicycle circles encapsulate me;
I walk behind
in circles of my own.

Old patterns and lines intersect
every time I take a walk,
the slump-shouldered crane-necked figure that is me.
I appear in old and damaged clothes
to be old and damaged.

Someone spent a lot of money on the school,
an architectural wonder of sheet metal
reflecting the shapes of a far-off range.

The word "fuck"
is painted in red letters on the library window,
the shadow of the word
falls on spinners full of paperbacks.

The apartment kids have no ball/no bikes:
they mill around,
mindlessly kicking the turf
with the toes of their basketball shoes.

One looks back to home;
television light emerges from sliding doors
over unused verandas piled high with junk.

The police go there every day,
pull people apart
to stop the yelling.

Our sun is swiftly eaten by a pregnant cloud,
flashes again and drops behind a western peak
on its way deep into the mountains.


Thompson surprised me again and again with his sense of direction, changing tone and volume on the slip of a phrase, upsetting expectations — but rewarding the reader at every turn.

Pancake breakfast

This morning I ate pancakes
outside a grocery store.
The cook passed me a paper plate,
and said, "Thanks for helping the sick kids."
A local celebrity smiled at me,
and on her ankle
I saw a blue tattoo of a dolphin
jumping over a crescent moon
into the Milky Way.

I thought to myself
she must be in kind of hell
I don't yet recognize.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rock Creek Blues - Thelma Poirier

Today's book of poetry:  Rock Creek Blues.  Thelma Poirier.  Coteau Books.  Regina, Saskatchewan.  2011.

There are several responses that occurred to me while reading Thelma Poirier's Rock Creek Blues.  One of them was that this woman was connected to the natural world as only a person who lives on the land can be.

when I lugged
the bull's skull
seven miles up Rock Creek
it was not because
I thought the skull would speak
or even that I might listen
but because it was there
braced against the bank
shimmering beneath the water
staring at me
through a watery lens

and when I brought it home
            the skull, full of iron oxide
it was not because
it was more beautiful than any living thing
it was my legacy

by the time I was home I was inside
             staring out


These poems, of exceedingly charmed wisdom, are full of perception changing doors to the natural world.  Poirier never pushes the reader away with language but draws us towards her work with her intimate knowledge of the land and how she makes it all familiar.

wild flowers

moving to the prairie, there are things you should know
neighbors will forget to tell you

and you can not read them in the Farmer's Almanac
they are not printed on paper

the lure of wild flowers
small addictions in petal and stamen

where the larkspur grows,
how to recognize the plant before it blossoms

the purple poison; how a cow died
and three heifers aborted theirs calves

because no one was watching for larkspur, and
another year it was a filly

chomping on locoweed; and what of nightshade
it dealt a double death, a team of horses

wild flowers,
the colours of death


There are five sections to this collection of thematically connected poems but I would be reluctant to try to describe them with precision.  The reader moves through blues music, parent paradigms through New Orlens (New Orleans), impending war, a mother's fine lens for perception, time at the blues bleating piano.  It really doesn't matter, Thelma Poirier's writing is as crisp as a grocery list and as entertaining as your favourite Aunt in full flung memory recollection regailia.


a heifer heaves
turns her body inside out
calf and calfbed steaming in the yellow straw

a young woman knots the calf bed
tight around her fist
leans into the heifer's hip
pushes, shoves the knot inside
pulls her arm out of darkness

the calf bed follows
iridescent in the pale light

she begins again

hours later, wet and weak
she goes to the house for the gun

memory:  a blurred image
the heifer's eye


Poirier lives in Glentworth, Saskatchewan but spent most of her life on ranches near Fir Mountain.  Her main interests are ranching, the natural environment and history.  Her strong willed and strong minded poetry reflect those interests without ever sermonizing or proselytizing.

January, the fourth

for two weeks we try to move the cows home
they will not leave the creek bottom
are exposed to bitter weather
wind and temperature: the combined factors
minus forty, minus fifty
cows huddle in the brush
clods of snow stick to their hides
icicles on their lashes
their muzzles, beards of frost

we coax them from the brush
this day, they surrender
follow single file
the sound, knuckles cracking
the hollow crunch of snow

you walk behind the cows
your toes cold as metal typewriter keys
I drive the truck, am warm inside the cab
I listen to the radio
talk of war
a Middle East advisor outlines precautions
soldiers must follow in the Arabian desert
lessons in survival


Thelma Poirier's hard earned knowledge of the natural world enhances what Poirier has to say about how we humans conduct ourselves.  We could do much worse than to absorb some of these wise words.

January, the twenty-seventh

I envy you, your stance
you do not let the war keep you
from all that must be done
the cattle that must  be fed, the ice chopped
gates opened, closed again
dirty pigeons shitting on the rafters will be cursed
dogs praised
plastic twine burned,
tires repaired and filled with air again,
wheat augered from the bin into the truck
hauled to the elevator in town
you will have a coffee
gather the local news
and carry it home
I will know who had a new baby
who won last night's hockey game

you have already crawled out of your television set
I am still popping in and out of mine.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Song Collides - Calvin Wharton

Today's book of poetry:  The Song Collides.  Calvin Wharton.  Anvil Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2011.

There is a gentle tenderness to Calvin Wharton's The Song Collides.  These poems about family, the death of his father and about his time in China all have the same affectionate and caring timbre.

But this isn't an exercise in milquetoast emotional glib - these very good poems are taut and pointed as Wharton ranges through death poems and bicycling poems.

Murder In The Heart

On this otherwise brilliant morning, the SkyTrain
experienced fifteen unscheduled minutes of commuter tranquility,
"a medical emergency at Main Street station"
was all the speaker spoke,
while light shone through an actual-size photo
of some basketball hero's hand,
illuminating a security guard's blue nylon jacket.

Passengers claiming more complete knowledge
insisted suicide, an unknown
jumper had crossed the yellow line
into the face of morning rush hour,
sixty kilometers per hour and the weight of public transit.

I wish I could report that everywhere around me, people
took out notebooks and pens to reconstruct
countless pure renditions of this moment,
but no one had the heart for commentary
unless you count the man with a nose
like the prow of a ship,
his complaint:  that whoever it was
could have chosen a more convenient
means to an end,

as if at that moment,
of everything stopping briefly, then beginning again,
the sun could rise once in the west
while we arrive, depart, forget.


Wharton's resume echoes the range of these poems.  Having tried his hand at a wide variety of non-poetic careers, Wharton has a broad pallet of personal experience to pull poems from.

Tooth Fairy

My son, giddy with a six-year-old's delight
at toothlessness, four teeth out in ten days

the front of his mouth empty in the mirror,
a doubling of his surprised laughter,

finally asks questions about the tooth fairy,
where she gets her money, how

she enters people's houses;  I tell him
it's like Santa Claus (intending magic)

but he says:  you mean she comes down the chimney?
and because I don't want him to lose these mysteries yet

I concoct a tale of getting in through open windows,
bearing coins in exchange for unwanted incisors

leaving messages under his pillow, her hand
as it lifts his beautiful child head

so gentle it never wakes him from his dream.


Tooth Fairy, there's that gentle tenderness I was talking about.  Wharton's family are very present in this collection.  There are poems about his Grandfather and his Grandfather's mountain and his son's teeth.  It's never coy, these emotions are real and they play out so naturally in these short, terse and tender and very polished poems.

End Of A Season

     "...when I arose to go
     Her fingers were like the tissue
     Of a Japanese paper napkin."
                            -from "The Encounter" by Ezra Pound

The garden is already emptied
despite its promise
of endless giving;

the sky grows cold at night,
days are cool,
brisk as the snap of flame
in a pile of burning leaves.

Trying to sprout new seeds
would be foolish now,
when everything stretches
away from the centre of summer;

an old glove
dissolves into the earth,
and fingers, like sandpaper,
brush across my cheek
for the last time
as I close the gate behind me.


End Of A Season is an almost perfect poem.

Total Recall

All the actions, large as airship balloons
that keep growing while losing colour

or slight movement that perhaps
the eye can't follow

the steps up toward the front
of a vaguely red house

or grey, no building matters
in this story,

because when I look back
behind me to consider the pattern

of grass bent, arranged neatly
into the shape of the path taken

I see nothing, an open
empty expanse of lawn, and

everything I did
isn't there.


Calvin Wharton is the Chair of Creative Writing at Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia.  The Song Collides is his first full length collection of poetry but there has to be much more poetry where this came from.

Very solid stuff.

Monday, September 16, 2013

For Display Purposes Only - David Seymour

Today's book of poetry:  For Display Purposes Only.  David Seymour.  Coach House Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2013.

The long arm of Don McKay reaches across Canadian contemporary poetry like a giant benevolent octopus of reason.  David Seymour's most excellent For Display Purposes Only, was strongly influenced by advice from Don McKay.  Good advice.  Good poems.

Eyewitness Testimony

The man who was killed died.  The gun
had gone ballistic in the parking lot.  Up 'til then
all he'd done was have nothing to lose.
His hair was growing right out of his face.

Earlier, from the precipitate sky, hail the size
of golf balls pelted the clubhouse.  Errant
hail-sized golf balls shanked the clubhouse
before the golfers ran for cover from the weather.

This occurred.  On the fringe of suburbs
and their evident neighbouring.  The cars
remained parked in the lot where he fell,
immobile necessary machinery.

The woman at the scene sporting leopard-print
spandex was way too realistic.  She lacked
conspicuous panty lines.  Her description,
though relevant, was weapon focused.

The report from the shots fired was heard variably
as a calendar sliding off a kitchen wall and the after-
vacuum of implosion.  With decibel fluctuation,
distance and Doppler effect, reports varied.

Between the houses backing onto the tenth green,
aphids gathered all sounds within the  250-
to 45,000-cycle range of their tympana
and slept uninterviewed in the shade of hydrangea.

The passing cab driver had the largest
hippocampus among the onlookers, being
the least lost.  This was scientifically proven
though need not be mentioned in the final.

Others were directionless - what they saw
they now knew had never not happened -
wondering how they had arrived here,
how here arrives.  Post-storm light

struck the police cruiser windshield,
behaving as particles, or waves,
depending.  Even as testimonials
hardened into notebook fact.

Plausible rival hypotheses
will arise in court.  The incident
began more suddenly than the victim
expected, and will last much longer.


A short personal aside, a bit of personal history.  My life was influenced by Don McKay as well.  My wife and I met over 30 years ago in a university course on the long poem being taught by the poet Robert Hogg.  My paper for the course was about Don McKay's great poem Long Sault.  I met my wife because she wanted to borrow my notes.  Thank you Don Mckay.


Then unbuoyant dread at the all-night
hot-dog stand.  On the woozy cab ride home
the street turns trampoline, Olympic updates

play on ethnic radio.  Cars lurch to the stops
like relics waiting for an archivist with foresight.
Sewer smells, primary, combine then cancel out.

Faces of the passersby broadly range
the zone of cranky and dissatisfied.  What
happens badly comes in threes but never

does triangulate, while they waver, gather
patternless at crosswalks, not as sums
of chance but slim chances held against.

Probably, we're told, it's not success
or doing our job well that counts, but
to recuperate from unexpected failures.

The business district's scrapers look like saints
about to levitate, every ad's in love with us;
condo cranes are angels poised again to strike.


And thank you David Seymour.  Seymours inter alia, (Brick Books), was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and For Display Purposes Only is likely to garner the same sort of attention.  These poems and shorter prose poems read like micro movies, snippets of screenplays from movies you definitely want to see.  Seymour never forgets he is writing poetry, line after taut line whips you in one directly, caresses you in another.

Natalie Zina Walschots ( calls David Seymour's Display Purposes "a combination of acid and honesty" that "serves Seymour exceedingly well", and she is right.  Seymour has a Tarantino mental vocabulary and a Toronto sensibility, the two together are paralyzing.  His line "you smell like my third wife" literally made me scream.  And I am using literally correctly in a sentence, so bite me.

Several Occasions for Happiness

I've grown obsessed with preservation,
fold bedsheets crisply as unread books, stop clocks,
search for signs of eternity when buying produce.
If I shift my gaze to familiar faces and objects
with simplicity and without aspiration, I can stare for
hours and none of them will change.  That which moves
away from me isn't necessarily afraid and that which
moves towards me is not always in love, I've learned
to say with cautious honesty, surrounded as we are
by the cavalcade of powers and lights and agencies,
some of which I'm for but also some
I am against - a happy coincidence I can be
both at once.  Of happiness, I forget what I have done
so I imagine several occasions for it.  They have many
likenesses, and each alike in part or whole, like most
of what's beyond my grasp.  They're nameless as seconds.
They envelop, in their inane, fog-like disregard for details,
the bulk of what's transpired.  Once I could conjure.

They take it without prejudice.  They alter
something crucial in me as easily as conjugating
verb tenses.  They confiscate my recklessness,
replacing it with refinement of taste.  They take
their time.  But they mustn't take my island.
It's all I have left to remind myself.  The weather
here today is exactly as I remember it yesterday,
as mild as the week before.  I'm convinced
this is remarkable, that this slight breeze is here
while the island remains, is theirs, too, but wonderous,
because it is.  It is a perfect day for a swim.


I enjoyed For Display Purposes Only very much.  Seymour is smarter than most of us but explains himself rather nicely so that we can understand.  There are several prose poems, especially Cory on the Bash Awhile, and In the Company of a Lie that are spectacular builds that leave the reader abandoned with a panicky "what comes next?!".  That's a good trick for any writer to pull off.

Corpsing This Century

I know what you are about to say and you know what
I'm about to say.  This turns our conversation into a gas.

Despite pre-emptive vocal exercises I still avoid your eyes,
stare at the space left of your head and pretend I've just

come to, try to forget what you've said and will repeat;
but anticipation throws my better, composed self into a shit-

eating grin.  When you use words like that I can't help it,
the fascination's morbid with me - history, politics eject

like plastic furniture from their seamless moulds, accumulate
unpatented, synonymous with landfill.  Our miscues are

grave and the retakes no picnic.  Because we're never not
aware of our surroundings.  If you and I were in a Herzog

these would be the lines we couldn't get past, landing on the gag
reel as a gaff, thought they're the lines we'd continue to recite

until we nailed the scene.  But we're not.  In a film.  So
these replays keep playing on a loop.  Similarly, art resulting

from the exhaustion of easy living provokes a stifled laugh.
I should say absurdity sets in earlier and earlier.  Whose was

that exhibit, the sculptural gack suspended in the dark only after
the opening ended, the patrons left?  There's a memory, too,

that makes me crack;  a friend falling in slow motion from another
friend's horse.  I've reduced it, for deft recall during crises,

to his look of surprise and the expression of air leaving him
on impact.  The serious is so ripe, a cathedral for hysterics, really.

When I convinced myself the man slumped against me in emerg
last night was only sleeping, scanned the room for loved ones

to come nudge him awake, nothing seemed remotely funny.  Even
allowing the silence and proximity.  What happened next, as you've

guessed, was approximately the same as what didn't.  Composure's
about timing.  You mustn't equate deadpan with a winning performance.


David Seymour's For Display Purposes Only left me wanting more.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Teeth, Poems 2006 - 2011 - George Bowering

Today's book of poetry:  Teeth, Poems 2006-2011.  George Bowering.  A Stuart Ross Book.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2013.

Teeth, George Bowering's six hundred and twenty third book, could just as easily have been titled Poems From a Brilliant Grumpy Old Guy.  Bowering is unhesitatingly gruff as he dispatches comrades, cohorts and any other complaint worthy cadre with glee.  It would seem to be something that comes to him with an natural alacrity, perhaps explained here:


My grandmother
was my groundwater.

I'll tell you how mean she was.
She learned sign language
so she could tell deaf people
to piss off.

She was radiophonic

She told me
Haitians sing happy
not because they're happy about their lives,
but because they're happy about their music.

I used to watch her juggling
knives and puppies.

She used to haul me off to church.
I wonder whether she woke up in Hell,
surprised to be there?

My grandmother:
she grounded me.

She said
there is more about you
that you don't know
than there is about you
that you do know.

When my grandmother comes back
I'll be her son
or I'll be her.
There are times, she said
when a pronoun is

She likely went down to Hell
to deny Descartes
to his face.

One April she told me shhhh,
pointing at a skinny-feet bird
picking his way over twigstrewn
garden dirt.

That was not Jesus,
she said, krinkly–eyes.

You want to know something?
she asked me when she got back.
The solar system
is a mail drop.

I have been to Northern Ontario, she said.
It is a huge expanse
of little things.


I was reading Olson
and drinking Molson.

Every time he got started, the line

I admire the leaves, my grandmother said,
ever when they do.

My grandmother
had the ground sense

You will end your life in exile,
she said, from your childhood.

On the way there, she said,
be wary of a left-handed man
named Dexter.

You see that mysterious man
stepping out of the crack in the ground?
That's the fissure king.

You know the ground, Grandma,
I said.  You are the Witch of And/Or.
That iamb,
she said the day I told her that.

Look at the colourful Okanagan Valley,
she instructed me.  Do a cartwheel
and you will see
a kaleidescape!

Oh, Gran, I sang,
you are groundbreaking.  You
delightful amateur

Whew! was all she could reply,
but at midnight suggested,
Don't take pills or advice in the dark.


That Olson, his poems
peppered with end-

Told me one thing:
the Sacred Wood
is carried in a gold bag.

How would you like,
my granny said,
to be Charles Olson's typewriter?

All my adult life
I have been afraid to sit
in a lighted window at night.

Get back into that baseball orchard, she said,
and pick those baseballs.  Don't think,
she said.  Get up that baseball tree.

What would you rather be?
Happily perfect or
perfectly happy?  You'll die
if you choose wrong.

When my grandmother was pitching
I generally grounded out.

If you know what you are doing, she said,
you'll always leave with
a better umbrella.

You are so wise, I told her often,
you remind me of Sappho.

Is that, she enquired,
one of the Marx Brothers?

I told Descartes down there
he was a bisected bisexual.

     He called his therapist
     the rapist.

     male violence.

     Lost in the labi-

     Need to iron that out
     (ouch), need to re-

     Need to learn some

     Need to get under each other's
     surface, need co-

     Need a

Ah, she was one mother,
my Gran.


Bowering has earned his accolades.  He's been Canada's Poet Laureate, was instrumental in the founding of TISH, he belongs to the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.  His list of published work is longer than your arm and my arm as well.

Teeth, George Bowering's most recent collection of poetry is both funny and fraught with mindbombs.  These poems can be heartwarming and then when you suspect or expect it the least, they kick out and hit you where the sun shines the least.  Bowering, who fears nothing, is playful and powerful, this is a non-filtered, non-restrained, non-repressed voice of experience.

The Company of Poets

     He shared a cigarette with Pindar, nervous in the cold of a
familiar back alley on the wrong side of Olympus.
     He often said etonnez-moi, and I thought he meant throw stones at
him, till Eric Partridge explained he meant make a loud noise.
     He grew up in Idaho, where Ezra Pound was born, where Ernesto
Hemingway's in the dirt, where Ed Dorn lived in a chicken coop.
     We all kissed him, why not, he was so cute or as in the early
photos so French-Greek movie actor beautiful.
     Well, why not, of course, this was poetry walking around in
slippers, and who cares about recently, poetry is for beauty, ask Jamie
     He always said Blaser is a French name, but it is a German word,
look it up, and also slang, no don't.
     I am wearing a lush blue housecoat as I write, in homage, in
imitation, not to copy, but between commas, to apprach some
     Oh, cloud of dragonflies, what a corolla, to imagine, as he would
say, almost devouring that word, a suitable touch with one hand.
     I have his bust of Maimonides on my desk, his face looking at us
every morning from a photograph of Piapot, mad prairie hero trainrobber.
     Pindar said can you spare another smoke, and he said sure, what
are companions for, and I said is tobacco bread?


Many of these sharp, almost tactile poems might leave you with the impression that George Bowering is angry about something, maybe about everything, and is not all that optimistic about the future.  I happen to think he is riffing, reminiscing, and ripping a new one when the whim strikes.  This is the poem I think reveals Bowering at his most honest.  And this is a guy who is honest all the time.


When someone says to us:
the higher life, it doesn't exist,

that the corpses of women
are scattered to the winds, the trees

are cut to become biers
in the ghats of Varansai,

that a person finally rides outward
in a casket of flowers,

that lovers
will take all their minutes to fall into marriage.

Simply enough,
it will go on being difficult
to live simply.


I was engaged from the first poem of this collection and found the crisp precision and bawdy "I don't really give a damn" of Bowering's elder personae liberating.  The thing about older writers  is that they do collect wisdom as they go, it comes hand in hand with hard won experience.  Willy Blake and Jimi H will tell you all about innocence and experience, Bowering does too.

Monday, September 9, 2013

been shed bore - Pearl Pirie

Today's book of poetry:  been shed bore.  Pearl Pirie.  Chaudiere Books.  Ottawa, Ontario.  2010.

crossing the shallow acreage

A snake rail fence had been zigging long before
holes filled in with the river that drank the posts as dunked donuts.  Drought-lift
shifted moss up for air.  The punky wood titled to fern-dry, greyed as Dorian.  A shake
of wind drops cedar fans over its lank frame.  The bark rose
around it all.  The unfelled trees shifted their lucky lottery weights in wind.  Light
of river winked, said something inarticulate.  Sun answered in crude same.  Pickle-
warted planks where branches had been shed bore no choice but bear.  Pickle-
thick posts with knots and nubs, strung wire after auger set up other sidelines.  Before
electric fence's zap, before chain link factory imports, there was that stack -- light
work, so far as farm grunt can be -- No shoulder to shovel and stone to lift.

5-rails is normally high enough to keep any old Bessie on your rocky ground.  A rose
hedge?  she'd nose through, scratches or not.  Some say there's a shake
a wobble, once you take it over 10 rails high;  you'll need a joint or wire.  A cedar shake
roof sort of fuss-pot use -- to get all aligned right.  Now, there's a why for you.  A pickle
of a bother to try that.  Think of how the fence first rose:

Split into rails, without nails or saws, lengths like fingers folded before
prayer, but mind that rails like prayers are best kept at home.  It would lift
a stink to stick that panel, ambiguous light
weight width of boundary, kinked against neighbour who might light
into you over the inches that are his, never mind that the benefit is common.


This excerpt is from one of the many poems I really enjoyed reading in Pearl Pirie's been shed bore.  It suits all my traditional narrative poetry desires and then some.  But this is just a sampling of what is to come, for Pirie offers a fun house of animated choices as she tries out styles at disparate ends of the spectrum.

desire's first ojala

I wish I were close/ To you as the wet skirt of/ A salt girl to her body.
   -Kenneth Rexroth

desire's first ojala broke
from Arabic to Spanish to her
the word     the wild travel of etymology of hunger
no food can state
              the distances flash   continents
                        centuries    classes
bedroom eyes to blinked
eyes that third time 'round   recognize
understand these things
                       as Mary did
            marveling in her secret heart
the dry lips of the Angel

we must not look at these
not hear the anguish foretold
             press joy against the losses
       cast your mind from the stones
the child who is still the twinkle
will be the pillar on which religions
& fevered night sweats & lives will
thrash around, crumble


Stylistically been shed bore offers a plethora of choices and the unendingly exuberant imagination of Pirie who comfortably stakes out her space as she explores a wide range of poetic forms.  The choices I'm offering here reflect my biases, but Pirie has far more to offer than just these narrative driven poems.

just kiss me then

a tangle, a lip of the tongue
some flaw in the ointment
the flu in the augment?  more/less
the fly in the argyleness,
the flay in the target.  bite some
sorry for that sleep of the tonne
er, that slip of the tone, of the done
a tangle, a
aaas they say, lewd lisp sinks shits, um,
moose lips split hips, waits makes hates.  come
on mouse, mouth!  sooner started is
fast done, mere fish in the pen.  bless!
a flesh in the pan, no, wait one -
a tangle, a


This fine first book shows the dexterity Pearl Pirie brings to the page with confidence gained from the wide publication of many of these poems in journals, periodicals and anthologies.

we are each other's backgrounds

a life timed in apologies
a stone house

against the dementia incoming
back of hand raised

to punish guff the arm swings
forgets itself at elbow

what isn't never happens, again
and again remembering

when now is 30 years ago
when I scraped professions of

regret?  I was forepaying this


What I have been clumsily trying to express is my admiration for those poems I loved in this collection, and there were many.  But equally, my awe at Pearl Pirie's comfortable range, this book is so much thicker than it appears.

Pearl Pirie @ Pulpfiction Books, Vancouver.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

In Defense of the Attacked Center Pawn - Jason Heroux

Today's book of poetry:  In Defense of the Attacked Center Pawn.  Jason Heroux.  Puddles of Sky Press.  Kingston, Ontario.  2013.

I haven't had the privilege of reading Jason Heroux's 2012 Mansfield Press title Natural Capital yet - but after reading In Defense of the Attacked Center Pawn from Michael Casteels' Puddles of Sky Press, I can't wait.

     Summer evening: mixed-up winds carry the scent
     of blood from the bakery, the fragrance
     of bread from the butcher shop.

Heroux throws out genuinely new and astounding ideas like a laughing child throwing confetti at a wedding.  These short, short poems reveal no strategy whatsoever other than to blind the reader with wit, charm and a kiss for twisted brevity unseen since Richard Brautigan.

     We woke up in the middle of the endless war and heard
     our frightened clothes hastily packing themselves
     into other people's suitcases.

On every page Jason Heroux does some shadow-dance that convinces the reader, provides certain footing to move forward with, but it is all sleight of hand.

     I looked outside and saw a light trace of snow
     on the city sidewalk, hundreds of footprints
     floating like dead grey goldfish on the surface.

No chess player myself but I know when I'm being played.  Jason Heroux is a genuinely exciting poet to discover and already a grandmaster as he moves his reader about with ease, leaving a reward with every single move.

     Our calendar died, milk forgot to sour, nails failed
     to rust, and we ended up at the birthday party
     of someone who had never been born.