Sunday, June 8, 2014

Galaxy - Rachel Thompson (Anvil Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Galaxy.  Rachel Thompson.  Anvil Press.  Vancouver, BC.  2011.

Rachel Thompson channels Margaret Laurence's idea of "emotional biography", as the back cover of this Anvil Press title would tell us, she chooses to "tell it slant" as Emily Dickinson might implore.

Telling the truth isn't always about getting the facts right.

Ms. Thompson gets the emotional centre right, dead on in fact.  These poems avoid the screaming siren of the gender wars and get on about their business.  Thompson's Galaxy is familiar territory emotionally, it is wonderfully authentic poetry.


Your kiss hello is a bee sting.
Both of us would rather you hit me
to complete the violence
of your gesture.

An elbow grazes my face—
sharp lurch—
during the ride from the airport
as you change the station.

We prepare chickpea curry
with your favourite daughter.
You eye the sharp knives
just behind me.

You hate the taste of coriander
so we have it on a side dish.

My jaw held tight
in light conversation,
I sprinkle the smooth leaves
over my plate.

Down they float like maple keys
we once called helicopter
delicately stick
to the steaming food.


I feel compelled to address the "queer" content of these poems. I guess there is some gender stuff happening in these poems and of course it's important, but I would argue it is quite secondary to the poetry.  This is fine poetry with gender content, not a polemic dressed up as poetry.

Good poems, the best poems, don't worry about anything, they just tell their story.

Galaxy, which won the national First Book Competition sponsored by the Writer's Studio at Simon Fraser University, tells us fine stories about love, loss, family, sexuality and twin beds in Prague.

In Prague After the Iron Curtain Has Fallen

The printed sheets paint the twin beds
a vulgar swirl of colour,
the only brightness
in this hostel-cum-dorm.

The dullbrown radiobox
stern on the wall
matches the furnishings.

We take turns barking soviet dictates,
giggling, pretending
our rasped orders are crackling
from the carpeted speakers,
imagining a burly comrade
in beige skirt suit
listening in
as we push together
two wobbly beds.

I stretch over you
and wham!
we connect
I reach one arm up
to switch off the bright bulb
that bears down on us
plunge my other arm
into the right mattress
beneath you.

Your voice
is reckless
as you move your hips
in a revolution
that bangs the cheap
bed frame bang bang
bang against the wall.

into the rough pillowcase
I muffle my manifesto.


Rachel Thompson has all of the things I most like in poetry - the good story, passion, humour and the ability to laugh at oneself.

The reader never has to see from the same eyes as the poet to recognize a true landscape.  The emotional terrain Thompson climbs all over is familiar to all of us, that she has broadened that horizon can only be a good thing.


If I were to write to persuade you of anything
first I would need to pull apart the night-sky curtain
of years so we could step gently over the ledge
as from a shower, careful not to slip on the braided
mat, holding our towels tight and tiptoeing across
the cold floor. The steam drifting like stardust in the room
would somehow show us outside of time,
in a changing room of sorts. At the mirror, overhead
lights would burn off the mist like suns and I would use
my free hand to caress your face with soft cotton and white
cream. The fans of mascara under each eye would slip off
to reveal every spot on the speckled solar system of your cheek.
A string of tangles, your hair would wave down your back,
eclipsing its curve. If I were writing so, I would mention
the tips of your nipples, the soft hairs around your areola
like the path of a satellite orbiting our planet,
the chasm of scar that starts at the crater of your belly button
and ends below. If I were to write you, it would be crouched
at your feet, making words with water on the black stone floor.


Today's book of poetry apologizes for being unable to find video of Rachel Thompson.

Rachel Thompson grew up in Dauphin, Manitoba, located at the foot of Riding Mountain National Park, aka the Galloping Goose of Margaret Laurence's books. She went to the University of Winnipeg, majoring in English and International Development Studies. After moving to Vancouver in the early 2000's, she took part in the award-winning Writer's Studio program at Simon Fraser University. She completed Galaxy at the Banff Centre's Wired Writing Studio program. Her poetry has appeared in journals in Canada and abroad.

"A truly wonderful collection of poems. Wonderful and clear imagery as well as a "real" and "true" sense of place, love, longing, family, and the constant struggle and re-negotiation of self and experience.  Galaxy possesses a simple but sensual approach to language and tone."
     —Gregory Scofield, author of kipocihkan: Poems New and Selected


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