Sunday, May 4, 2014

LEAVING HOWE ISLAND - Sadiqa de Meijer (Oolichan Books) - 2014 Pat Lowther Memorial Award Nominee

For the month of April (and the first couple of days of May), 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:
Leaving Howe Island. Sadiqa de Meijer.  Oolichan Books.  Fernie, BC.  2013

This is very attractive poetry.  de Meijer has only one voice - a startling clear, pensive and considered voice - but she has lots of hats.

These anecdotal poems seem relaxed until you try to stand in front of one of them, these poems move forward, constantly, and with the force of a train.

Great Aunt Unmarried


The past, because
look at the binoculars;
massive, grained, a leather strap.

Her vision, handed over,
is an underwater blue.

Subsidized flat a crow's nest.

Custard and orange rations, anagram games.

Below orchestral radio, the elevator's pitch.  Gulls
shear the view.

A freighter first is a shimmer, a possible snag in the seam.

Schip! Smudge of form,
distilling contours , sea as Polaroid.  We love
the tempera colours of hulls, sightless surrenders
to tugboats, Russians for their stately,
intergalactic names.


Freighters marvellous as whales, moored under the smokestack
forest of the smelters.  Saffron chimney flame a nightlight
in calico curtains, woollen sunrises.  That sleep dust
drowsing our eyes was soot, those ore ships were
dismantling the earth, but who in ladybug sneakers,
who in orthopedic loafers wouldn't speed
to the gorge of the locks, wave at sailors tossing ropes
across the churning chasm between hull and us?
Home with herring from a harbour truck, we watched them move
upstream, year after booming year.  Freighters dwarfing
row houses, slow embolisms in the bloodstream
of our patchwork landscape, rivers mapped
to the veins of our wrists.


After the dune road,
vast beach of damp sand, sparsely
peopled, dogged.

The crowds of a city south
in pavilions.  You can't see England—
that's cloud, tomorrow's

duller weather.  Past the kelp
threshold: soup bowl cephalopods,
crab fragments,

razor shells.  I dig.  Wind clatters the fabric
of flags, whips words inland.
Such quicksilver

light.  Breakers, ambulant soda can.
The freighter looms impossibly
on its inch of sea.


camera, film

Three girls in salt dresses, ribbons
askew.  Fierce shine on tired shoes.  He's told
them to clasp hands and freeze.
Foto Modern embossed in gold.


Sadiqa de Meijer's Leaving Howe Island has no theatrics, no fireworks and no need.  Again and again, de Meijer conjures up a familiar and then explores it with a voice of "transformative power" and grace.

The Widows

They pull their groceries along in stuttering carts,
winded where

the street is steep.  Their cardigan pockets
hold folded tissues, stashes of velvet tomato seeds:

Roman Candle, Moneymaker.  In the shadows of houses, their gaze
is on remembered mountains, orchards fogged by cataracts.

The real sky, they sight it second-hand, when polishing their glasses.

There should be a word for a group of them, aligned on park benches,
square-heeled shoes scuffing the earth.  They quarrel in the Romantic languages,

stay frugal even with feelings.  Only the faded, plaster Madonnas know
the broken from the free.

In the evenings, to the clicks of bedroom lamps, the widows
grow enormous on the muted florals of their walls.

They soak their teeth, hang their tomorrows from the backs of chairs.


And then there is the humour.  I like poetry that can make me laugh.  de Meijer is uncanny gentle but this work has a serious undertow, you feel it pulling you, a tug of certainty on a powerful, continuous assert.

I Am a Rock / What I Am

Neighbours never guessed that we lived in a lapsed
circus, tattered canvas disguised as a row house.
Where there should have been marvels,
a circular emptiness.

I used to barricade my room.  I made tapes
from radio, dial chasing the space before songs—
in that leap to record, a vestige of trapeze,
the static's swell of applause.

Imagine there has long been no audience:
the ringmaster has evicted the clowns, uncaged
the carnivores, and lurks under the bleachers,
a noise-maker in his teeth.

Maybe they knew.  Possibly every home is a drywall
tent, rank with bewildered elephants,
stale popcorn.  The ring
of the doorbell the signal to sweep.

When Paul Simon and Edie Brickell married, I thought
that everything would be okay.  Because my mix tapes
were, between surges of static, skilled enough
to sway whoever orchestrated love.


With Leaving Howe Island, 'Today's book of poetry' has now posted a blog about all of this year's League of Canadian Poets award nominees (with the exception of Murray Reiss's The Survival Rate of Butterflies - Hagios Press).

I wish you all the best of luck.  What splendid poetry.

One more from Ms. de Meijer:


Don't be scared.  Every airplane is a suspension
of disbelief, a merger of physics and faith.

Every airplane guides its housefly tongue
along a curving, snagless line.  Its corridor of earth

is lined with lights.  So don't be scared:
let that crescendo of the engines be your trust

that nothing levitates on algebra alone.  Subdue
the sputter of doubt.  The bags are checked,

the brown men shackled to the ground; their secrets,
pulled like rotten teeth, are yours.

As is the sky, swept clean by searchlights, emptied
even of the moon, the stars.


Sadiqa de Meijer was born in Amsterdam, and moved to Canada as a child.  Her poetry, short stories and essays have appeared in many journals, including The Malahat Review, Geist, The Fiddlehead, Riddle Fence and Poetry Magazine.  Her poems were anthologized in The Best of Canadian Poetry in English 2008 (Tightrope Books) and in the international anthology Villanelles (Everyman's Library).  In 2012, her series "Great Aunt Unmarried" won the CBC Poetry Prize.  She lives in Kingston with her family.

"Both tender and funny, the poems fulfill Octavio Paz's demand of poetry - they 'resurrect presences'.
     -CBC Poetry Prize 2012 Jury (Julie Bruck, Dennis Lee and Patrick Lane)

"A voice of authority and grace".
     -Michael Crummey

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