Saturday, April 19, 2014

INCARNATE - Juleta Severson-Baker (Frontenac House Poetry) - 2014 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award Nominee

For the month of April this blog will be looking at the nominees for the 2014 Pat Lowther Memorial Award, Raymond Souster Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award as recognized by the the League of Canadian Poets.

The Pat Lowther Memorial Award is given for a book of poetry by a Canadian woman published in the preceding year, and is in memory of the late Pat Lowther, whose career was cut short by her untimely death in 1975. The award carries a $1,000 prize. It is presented each year at the League’s Annual General Meeting in May or June, with the shortlist announced in April.

The Raymond Souster Award is given for a book of poetry by a League of Canadian Poets member (all levels, dues paid) published in the preceding year. The award honours Raymond Souster, an early founder of the League of Canadian Poets. The award carries a $1,000 prize. It is presented each year at the LCP Annual Poetry Festival and Conference in June, with the shortlist announced in April.

The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award is given in the memory of Gerald Lampert, an arts administrator who organized authors’ tours and took a particular interest in the work of new writers. The award recognizes the best first book of poetry published by a Canadian in the preceding year. The Award carries a prize of $1,000 and is sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets. It is presented each year at the League’s Annual General Meeting in May or June, with the shortlist announced in April.


Today's book of poetry:
Incarnate.  Juleta Severson-Baker.  Frontenac House Press.  Calgary, Alberta.  2013.

Juleta Severson-Baker takes a broad swat at lust in the pages of Incarnate.

Down Will I Lie

I want to be wracked like driftwood
I want wave after wave of you to lick me
lift me in your briney mouth
swish and strip and
spit me out

Reach for me

and please and again
without ceasing
reach for me


There is a brevity to Severson-Baker's longing, a straight to the point edge - but these poems are not harsh.

Avalanche Zone

Nearing the top of the chairlift the wind is most severe.
My gloves up to cut the shear between goggles and
cheeks — a helicopter enters from off right, crosses
the mottled sky, same sky I dangle in, apparatus
humming me up mountain, insecting westward,
a metal flight towards the avalanche slope.  I make
the top, skis kissing grooves of snow, thighs and
shoulders coordinating to push off and slide
down a little rise to where four of us in our costumes
pose very still, looking up and to the left.
There's people up there, someone says and three black
dots move and become suddenly human.  Eyes can't
fathom distance in this enormity of granite and white.
The helicopter lowers, slows, shakes loose some snow,
a widening puff in the whumpwhump wind of its blades,
ascends, wobbles, turns and falls out of sight just the
other side of the peak.  The dots scramble with what
seems unreasonable speed over the black line and beyond
knowing.  Just then I feel an egg drop loose from the ovary
on my right side, freestyling towards the powder of my womb.
I hold frozen for one slow inhale before turning, poling,
searing a long straight line down the cold blue bowl,
two solo minutes, to the bottom.


What these poems are - is clear.  Blue sky and endless horizon clear.  Which is something I appreciate.  These poems are full of life, full of possibility and full of hope, within reason.

Sometimes;  from the edge of a city

The shine and pulse of the airport becomes beautiful
when we're alone.  Not yet on a plane, electronic ticket
hiding on my new phone, walking down the wide bazaar
of commerce, huge wall of glass to my left, and beyond —
tubes of air-people rolling close.  All the engine and lift
of my life in a bolus of truth closed up, sealed.
Black phone in my hand.  Threads of people I'd once
loved trailing the waxed floor behind me.

As in a dream the thin man, so young he mightn't
have been twenty, slid into my hoop of space —
this boy-man, neatly dressed and with pretty white
fingers and a hat, came upon me from the right and took
my hand, released my phone.  Like that I loved him.
He did not meet my eyes, was working my touch
screen and yes, I needed his help.  We moved
somehow to a table and he was putting the magic
of the age and his lovely lovely touch into my
grateful phone and with something like horror growing
I knew he was not going to stay.  I asked him where
he was from, Edson.  The ordinary dirt in the word,
the way he spoke it, it would be the last time.  Montreal
he said, and my chance was slipping by.  He was making
music play from my phone and colours lean and I wanted
to gift him, needed to keep him here, so I offered with
the red of my cheek and my forty-year old voice
a life like mine.  He saw it, full and possible and already
starting;  he would only have to smile and stay, but
from across the lurch of the cafe table he shook
his empyrean head, and faded to gone.
Sometimes the edge of a life is all we have.


The sensuality that shaped all these poems is not without humour.  Incarnate doesn't pull back from pointing fingers or tongue cheeking.


You hold a pelt
and your mind revolts
at a death as soft as god allows

Still, you'd take a hundred pelts
and make a coat

             (and wear it naked, fur side in)


Juleta Severson-Baker is a romantic and realist.  The best of these poems have an intimacy beyond what is usually shared on paper and Severson-Baker has her eyes wide open in the dark.

His Gentleness With Her

Heel of his hand along her collar bone,
his voice with a soft edge, the curve
of her ear burning.  She feels the strength
across his back, contained, controlled.
Her role is the clumsy child falling
from monkeybars;  every bone in her body
softer than clover.  When it is over
he kisses her forehead once, twice,
slow, so she will know his gentleness
is a choice.


Whenever Severson-Baker decides to step on the gas, her fearless wit pops up and lashes out.  But the bigger accomplishment is when she turns her pen to joy...

Between Us

Bees in our bed,
their restless feet
where my hip fits,
your ribs bristled by
the fuzz of their backs.

harvesting the whole length
of one another's skin
and smell, the bees release
their hum and honey.

An entire season
surrenders with
the burst of our shudders,
and the bees hover
only wings between us.


Juleta Severson-Baker is able to capture joy in a real tangible way, and that is tremendously hard in this fractured world.

Birds So White

I believe that pain can reach completion.
     ~Sena Jeter Naslund, from "The Disobedience of Water"

Somewhere, my friend, on a green lake
a white swan has left her nest and is paused,
perfectly, as if for a photograph.  The lake water
is a mirror;  two swans it seems, in the middle
of a lake, at the edge of a deep, quiet wood.
Though there is no photographer, no one at all,
thought I know you are not there to see her,
take heart in this knowing;  somewhere
a great beauty floats in silence, serene.
Somewhere the tears have already fallen
and the air is so clean, the birds so white.


Juleta Severson-Baker is no young naif.  These poems are full-on life experience passion, with warts whistles and bells.  Severson-Baker is brave enough to be honest and writes well enough to be poignant.

This last poem is a killer.  It's a novel wrapped up in a shortish poem.  I think it is brilliant.


In Bristol in 1776 ropemakers worked near the muddy
shipyards hard every day grey winter or summer grey day after
day pacing lengths of the ropeshed twining hemp or burlap
rough and heavy turning and twisting the fibres layering anchor
cables into heavy existence.  These men might have sang or
jeered while working but I think by noon they'd have fallen
silent a hard labour bulging forth from their corded hands
shouldering the finest rope in England.  See their skin scratched
and layered torn in the early months of their apprenticeships
ships in docks waiting for rigging ropes hawsers cables lines
there were American colonies to be put down victory over the
French to protect these men toughened their skin for King and
country muscles rivaling the strength of finished rope six inches
thick and skin so tough it tore no more.

Their women had to tougher too.  Ropemakers' hands couldn't
feel softness in breast or thigh at night they became all lips and
cock unwinding their women fraying untwining to expose a
fragile first thread at the core.  By day finger and thumbing the
thickening rope but thinking of that cotton tie at the neck of her
nightclothes beneath it the pulse purple in candlelight of a tiny
cord in her neck feeling it beneath his lips then that quick burst
of freedom unroped undone before the sure short oblivion of


Juleta Severson-Baker, Incarnate


Incarnate is a brilliant collection of poems that capture the tension between the quotidian and the miraculous - "the hiccups-of-magic in the world" - recognizing that the two inform every moment of the day.  Both intimate and wide ranging, sensuous and spiritual, sorrowful and ecstatically joyful, these poems celebrate everything that is human, and blend observation with secure craftsmanship.  Juleta Severson-Baker observes the world with love and precision, and through her vision, enlarges our own. This is a book to be grateful for.
     Rosemary Greibel

The sensuality of Juleta's poems is obvious in the first word.  That's not easy to do: make words feel like moving lips.  And the pleasure of them will be clear, too, when someone, feeling these poems, will not be content with an empty room, and say them out loud.  I've known the mourning in this book, and now I know that the words for that loss were waiting here all along.  What delights me most, though, in reading all these poems together is the way they teach us that everything in life waits for the language to make it more than real.  Metaphor erupts in these poems, most evidently in the surreal "Leaving," but once you see it in one or two poems, you see it in all of Juleta's poetry.  Poetry is the most that can be wrung from language, and the most vivid images in it are the one that were never seen until made incarnate in art.
     Richard Harrison

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