Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cartography - Rhona McAdam (Oolichan Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Cartography.  Rhona McAdam.  Oolichan Books.  Lantzville, B.C.  2006.

At Today's book of poetry every book that arrives at our door is new (unless of course we've already read it, but that is rarely the case).  What I mean is that regardless of the date of publication - until I read a book it is new territory.

So Today's book of poetry is happy to look back a little.  Lucky for us.  Rhona McAdam's fifth book, Cartography, was published in 2006, but is fresh as a daisy.  Her fine poetry has won the Alberta Poetry Award and was short-listed for the Pat Lowther Award so this quality should come as no surprise.

Today's book of poetry was charmed by McAdam's ability to turn emotionally charged and passionate intimacy into a language we would all understand.  These poems cover the gamut of concerns:  love, work, family, aging, death, but they do it in an Anne Tyler sort of way.  There is absolutely no fuss.  These poems/reflections/laments/sermons come at you clean and clear and crisp, no misleading mystery, no tricks.


You released a fever
asleep beneath my tongue

And though I drink distraction
to my limit, nothing

thins this blood, its riot
of heat and wakefulness

The others will check my eyes, touch
me all over with questions

Syllables beat at my throat. All night
they have been asking for you

Cause and cure, you offer
a gradual, compelling dosage

The half-life of your tenderness
poisons my sleep.

Widening rings of desire keep rising
to craze the surface

You are the diagnosis no one
would think of, the flag delirium waves

The name that splinters
between my teeth.


"The half-life of your tenderness
  poisons my sleep."

Whoosh.  That line alone is killer.  I love it.

McAdam has a chilling ability to write poems that haunt your memory by cutting so close to some universal truths you think she might know your life story.  She understands the inner workings of us all as we desperately try to map out our futures.  Cartography looks at all of our maps to the future, adds cautions signs, speed limits, direction.

Your Lucky Day

What if you wait all your life for it
and it's already been and gone, it came
one day when you needed rest, and got it,
or like a wasted wish you were granted
fingernails that dried without smudging,
and you never thought to ask for more.

Or maybe here as life turns the corner you got
a day without pain, a migraine
lifting without full blossom, a hip
blessed with ease of motion.

We expect luck to arrive in office hours
shaped and packaged like a gift,
but what if it comes at night:
some awkwardness of sleep resolved,
the nerve never pinched, what
if you missed hitting the pedestrian
who changed his mind and didn't go out.

What if this is your share: this life,
this day the tree, the axe,
the bomb that didn't fall.


The biggest problem Today's book of poetry had with Rhona McAdam's Cartography was a happy dilemma.  Cartography is ripped with so many essential poems - the choice of three almost felt unfair.

A couple of the interns backed me into a corner insisting on the inclusion of McAdam's poem "Craigflower Bridge" and frankly, I wanted to use it as well.  But needs must.

Another energetic front was formed for the poem "Crosswords", words were had, my typist is now standing in the corner repeating his sad little refrain "don't try to hit the boss".

I held my ground and my veto.  Only three poems.  But I assure you, Cartography is rich with thick nuggets worth the explore.


The week my mother left us, her mind
came winging back: a bird
that had been blown off course
for two years found its bearings
and came home.

Six days before she died
she called us to witness the enormity
of crows in the willow tree,
and at supper, she was with us
the whole meal.

The day she died, lungs
beating for breath, she spoke to us, knew us;
we flapped around her like rags
till she slept alone on her pillow.
When we returned after dark she had gone.

I spent that first long winter
watching seabirds arrive from the prairies,
falling in clouds on the water,
diving one after another,
surfacing unpredictably.

No one refilled the suet and seeds
at her windows; her bird feeders
came down in a winter storm. I sat in her chair,
wore her clothes and her bracelet. Missed her

One day we dismantled her room,
shared out her furniture, her books,
took down the pictures, the three swallows
that spread ceramic wings across
all her kitchen walls.

Out here on the winter plains
skies are scraped bare of everything but blue
and feathers of cloud; chickadees flick snow
from black branches and scold, until
we take off our gloves in the bruising cold
to offer food from our naked hands.


Our research team here at Today's book of poetry are about to all be fired.  They couldn't come up with anything on Rhona McAdam and the publications that followed Cartography.  They will all be kicking stones come Monday.  I am fairly certain that there are other books of poetry by Rhona McAdam and in the coming days our new research team will be sure to find them.  In the meantime we are certain that poetry this good does not go unrewarded.

Today's book of poetry thoroughly enjoyed Cartography by Rhona McAdam, we're certain you'll like it too.

Breaking news:  Found McAdam's sixth book, Ex-Ville, (Oolichan Books, 2014).  Wouldn't you know it.

Today's book of poetry will be looking for it.

Rhona McAdam

Rhona McAdam was born in Duncan—a great-granddaughter of the town's namesake—and grew up on Vancouver Island. She lives in Victoria, BC. She has post-graduate degrees in communications planning, adult education and library and information science, and has worked in Canada, England and throughout Europe. Her poetry has been published in Canada, the US, Ireland and England and has been praised for her unique and engaging voice, her clarity, and her ability to balance the ethereal with the real. She has a gift for creating vivid landscapes, both actual and emotional.

Rhona McAdam
Winter Poets
video: Times Colonist


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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