Monday, December 1, 2014

The Trouble With Beauty - Bruce Rice (Coteau Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Trouble With Beauty.  Bruce Rice.  Coteau Books.  Regina, Saskatchewan.  2014.

The Trouble With Beauty is Bruce Rice's fifth poetry collection.

These poems are entirely down-to-earth missives, without artifice.  Those of you who follow Today's book of poetry will know that these are the books I like best.

Glossary of Hills

There should be a glossary of hills
                       if only to say golden afternoon light on a butte
             weathered down to the clay is not old,

though these hills are old.  There should be a sign for the breath
                                    taken in the space between one hill and another,
             a notation for a voice on a ridge.

We need a name for one slope disappearing
                                   into the mist of the next and the faint green hyphen
joining ourselves to distance, to the deep memory

                                                          of how once we studied hollows for life,
                                  knapped blades from a flint core, learned
and remembered it all as if our lives depended on it - and they did.

Then we would know how ancient we've become
                                    watching the shallow brown river
            that seems not to move, all the while cutting away the time we have left.

There would be no apostrophes
                                   in the Book of Hills, no possessive form.
                       To open the cover would be like looking

                                                into the mirror
of our own faith, all the lost translations,
                       the songs at the end of the wind.


Rice is having a gentle conversation with the land itself.  These poems invite us to participate in that conversation.

Rice, I think, would argue that there is beauty almost everywhere in spite of what we humans have done to the planet.


I should do a better job of taking my own advice.
I am just getting the things my poems
knew all along.  Sometimes it's messy;
I peer into the chest of Patient 19, his pink ribs
retracted.  I am the sleep-deprived intern,
not to be trusted with brutal and delicate instruments,
so I take notes, the teacher disappointed in yet another
average student.  I wonder if the Apostles had it this bad
as they stood in line at the table.  Was the bread sweet?

These ecstasies we imagine - saints' eyes turned upward,
arrows dripping like leaves, the yellow-grey smudge
of a pyre - cannot compare with an empty road
and all the ghosts on it.

I trust the instincts of birds, oceans of grass
rushing up slopes - see a thing tremble
and I want to put it safely where it belongs.
I cannot choose what is already in me.  I feel nothing so heavy
as the great ennui of carrying on, though I am saved by the fact
I cannot see a horizon without going over it.


Rice has hope to share with us.  But it would be misleading to think about these poems as nature poems.  Human folly and human achievement, bravery, courage, failure, they are all in here.

At our offices we like poetry that is accessible - but that doesn't mean easy.  Rice asks some hard questions, muses poetic with the resolutions.


Where nothing is, small desires
have consequence.

In our night harbour, the indifference of the ocean is benign.
Its slender breath pushes us to shore for hours.

The colour of every inlet is different yet water cupped in the hand
is transparent.  Memory is like this.

A child knows our home is a starfish, dangling its arm in the millennial tide.
Further out nebulae curl crimson as tubeworms, a shy luminescence:

Which abyss did we come from?
Riding a planet-sized rock.  Yahoo.

When we hunt we must travel.  To forget is to die.
Every bay has an echo so name it.

These islands move, evolving into themselves, a dictum on survival -
seeds in a mudball, a million lives in trust of the feet of birds.

The most natural thing is to want to know where weather comes from, the ways
beaches differ -- ropy and treacherous, or a midden of shells,

a place to inhabit a week or a season, the sea's floating skin
measured in microns on which we sail.


Bruce Rice celebrates beauty and I see much truth.  What more does a poet aim for?

 Bruce Rice

Bruce Rice has published four books of poetry, including Coteau’s Descent into Lima (1996) and Saskatchewan Book Award-winner The Illustrated Statue of Liberty (2003).
Bruce’s first collection, Daniel,(1988) received the Canadian Authors Association Award, and his most recent title, Life in the Canopy, was a finalist for Book of the Year in the Saskatchewan Book Awards. He received Grain magazine’s 2002 Anne Szumigalksi Award for the best poem or sequence published in Grain that year. His work has been broadcast on CBC radio and he has collaborated on several poetry performances and excerpts which were performed in Globe Theatre’s “On The Line” series. Born in northern British Columbia, Bruce Rice grew up in Prince Albert and spent a decade in the Canadian Maritimes before settling in Regina where he continues to live and write.

"Bruce Rice's poems ripple across the land like light slanting through clouds, tender and relentless by turns.  He is equally adept at surprising us with crisp details -- the track of a coyote imprinted in mud, the blank-faced stare of a cow -- and at probing the shadows for wisdom.  The Trouble With Beauty is down-to-earth, immensely pleasurable and highly recommended."
      Candace Savage, author of A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie               

"In "Self Portrait As Landscape," Bruce Rice's speaker confesses: "These meditations feel like signs/
in a language not fully mine."  It's the modesty, the reluctance to overstate, that appeals so much here, that draws us into the poems.  No theatrics, no preening of the ego, but full attention to the land, the language, and the "dark line" inside that seeks out the battered, reluctant beauty in things.
     Gary Geddes, author of Falsework and What Does A House Want?


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