Sunday, February 22, 2015

Magpie Days - Brenda Sciberras (Turnstone Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Magpie Days.  Brenda Sciberras.  Turnstone Press.  Winnipeg, Manitoba.  2014.

A magpie can mimic voices other than its own -- perhaps that's why they show up again and again in Brenda Sciberras's fine first book Magpie Days.  We get to see many facets of the bright Sciberras voice and it remains remarkably consistent and confident in these poems.

These poems follow a loose narrative and personal arc from childhood and first bicycles, adolescence to marriage, to the caring for an aging and dying parent, death.  Covers the range.  Sciberras's journey, as personal as it is, is one many of us can identify with as she shares humour and humility, a little irony.


Here, I've found that picture
you took of me when I was nine
or ten in my yellow pedal-pushers

standing by the barbed wire fence
next to the cornfield
meekly pointing

at the magpie perched
on a wooden post
amazed that it's

intrigued with me
yet certain to fly away
with the click of your shutter.


Sciberras moves from, as Joni Mitchell would elegantly sing, "from the cradle to the grave" over the course of Magpie Days and her timing is dead on.  We never feel rushed, we never feel left behind. Today's book of poetry loved the feel of these poems, this book.

Brenda Sciberras has a very mature voice for a first book, polished like an old pro.  Sciberras is one of those poets I really admire, she is from the "write what you know" school of poetics as Rhona McAdam suggests.  That is not a bad thing, especially when you know your world so well.

The Art of Gardening

Convince me
We should plant a garden together.
Peel away sod, scatter rocks,
break apart clumps of soil, thrash out
poplar roots exposing rich earth.

Convince me
Our garden variety will be more succulent.
Melon holding its vine, sugar peas
cradled in pods, sweet corn cloaked
in silk waiting to be shucked.

Convince me
We should get down on our knees,
surrounded by eager weeds & pull the ugliness
in the midst of such beauty.
Every breath choked by couch grass & thistle,
prune back excess foliage, clear borders.

Convince me
Our bed of stems & blossoms swaying
in a patch of brilliant colour can survive?
Can we immerse our hands
in damp soil & sow what we intend?

Convince me,


Today's book of poetry is excited by anyone who includes a Ford Shelby Mustang in one of their poems and Sciberras handles that with aplomb.

Carrol Shelby is right up there on our hero wall next to Laura Nyro, Muhammed Ali and Vaclav Havel.  It's a big wall with a lot of room.

You can only imagine how happy we were to find Mr. Shelby in Magpie Days.

More to the point, these poems spoke to me in a language I recognized and felt instantly familiar.

There are some hard stories and hard moments in Magpie Days, but also enough humour and sly wit to soften the way.


Sitting up in his hospital bed
arms outstretched
my father summons us
to gather around,
shakes one chastening finger
& lovingly commands
don't cry for me.
But we will.

Later alone in the dim of night
he traces my face
runs his fingers through my curls
outlines my features as though to etch
them deep into his memory.

We both know our time
is brief.
Silence our comfort.
I take his work-worn hand
use my finger
trace each line
a gentle sketch.


Brenda Sciberras

Brenda Sciberras is a Winnipeg writer whose poetry has appeared in several Canadian literary magazines and anthologies. She holds a BA from the University of Manitoba and divides her time between working fulltime in a library, singing in the Spirit’s Call Choir, writing, and her family. Magpie Days is her first book.

At the heart of Magpie Days is a father lying in a hospital bed, dying, and his daughter sitting next to him, watching him go. Other losses are explored and for each a bright memory persists. Magpies circle these poems for those memories, the glint of life they give off. The absences that won’t be silenced are recorded here in trustworthy detail by a poet who is exploring not only loss but how memories persist by shining.
     —Sue Goyette, Ocean

Sciberras’s Magpie Days is a beguiling debut collection, charming us with its clear and confident voice. The intoxicating language within these poems pecks at memory and scavenges the heart of family, love, and loss. Deft lines soar along the often delicate and generously crafted poems, allowing the reader to linger and “gather all that shines.” 
     —Tracy Hamon, Red Curls

In Magpie Days we feel the ambivalence of childhood and adolescence, the bleakness and rancour of marital breakdown, the challenges of motherhood, the tenderness and brutality of old age. Sciberras “writes what she knows” in keen detail, with clear, honest language and some delicate, precise twists of humour. A strong beginning for a new prairie poet.
     —Rhona McAdam,Leaving Howe Island

Brenda Sciberras
Say the Word
video from: Winnipeg Writers Festival

ODD SIDEBAR - Today's book of poetry, me (and my lovely K), often rent a small home in Magpie, Quebec, every chance we get in fact.  It is as remote as it is beautiful.  It is almost twenty hours of driving to get there.  But we love it so.  You can look it up on here:,+QC+G0G/@50.3046565,-64.50832,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x4c8563884afa65d7:0x21d602e98c011a9d

What a coincidence that Brenda Sciberras clearly loves Magpies as well.


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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