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.


  1. yes, End of a season is almost perfect. Thank you Michael for this morning's reading...

  2. Crisp and descriptive, heavy with emotion and keenly observational. Great read.


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