Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Song & Spectacle - Rachel Rose (Harbour Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
Song & Spectacle.  Rachel Rose.  Harbour Publishing.  Madeira Park, British Columbia.  2012.

Winner of the Audre Lorde Award
Winner of the Pat Lowther Memorial Award

Song & Spectacle reads like a bowl of succulent and perfectly ripe fruit.  Every time you dip your hand to the bowl you are rewarded with different tastes, textures and colours.  Some of them are familiar and as welcome as old friends.  Others are entirely new experiences, grateful moments. Rachel Rose has served us up something elegant.  Which is not to say she doesn't slap the reader up the side of the head at her leisure.

These poems have deep resonance the first time you read them.  The second time you read Song & Spectacle these suckers start to sing.

What We Heard About the Heart

We heard you like red wine,
dark chocolate, prefer iambic

pentameter to free verse. Our
specialists study your ailments: we call them

cardiologists, poets. We give your aches
the names of movie stars: Angina, Arrhythmia, Tamponade.

We hear you won't go on forever,
and that gives us pause.

Each of your two and a half billion beats
shapes our hours. Our tickers stutter

like firecrackers, pressed against the breasts
of lovers. In dance clubs, we hear your be-bop

with the bass thrum in our ears. Tough muscle:
we put our hands on your to swear the whole truth

and nothing but. We give you
a day of candies and roses,

frilled boxes, pink and labial. We vow to stay true.
Don't be still, my heart. Once,

before memory, you shocked us to life,
began the mystery. No one knows how. Sweet

heart; we ask for a generous span of beats.
We pray when you stop, you stop

in our sleep.


Rose is as serious as a heart attack as she tries to figure out one paradox after another.  These poems don't promise any solutions - just traverse each subject and question with warm wisdom and cold scepticism.

Song & Spectacle isn't looking for any easy answers.  Rachel Rose is digging for truths.

What We Heard About the Mob

We surprise ourselves. An unknown talent
emerges. In a blink, we become collective. Smoldering

rage taproots down, ignites. Their accents revolt us.
The radio broadcasts suggestions. We are the swarm

of bodies, armpit tang, children on shoulders, cracked
teeth. Drag a body by a boot, hello, hello,

its arms flap over potholes. Don't trust
yourselves. Crush those who wear spectacles,

stack their skulls on shelves. We are peasants,
we are intellectuals, we play football.

The dog screams, pitch-forked to the wall.
The KKK burns crosses in moonlight.

We were breastfed, we were cradled,
we were kissed and beaten.

Chairs shiver through glass,
our grins reflect silver. We liberate a candelabra,

leave a footprint in blood. Three cut knuckles.
We are original, we are pure,

we discover the other use for fire.


What we thought here at Today's book of poetry was that Rose tackles as many big subjects as she can get to the tip of her pen, as many as are on offer; children, relationships, the nature of love, desire, abortion, murder, Buddha, cocks, drunks, suicide, death and dying, suicide and so on.

This is all good.

YOU want to hear what Rachel Rose has to say about these things.  And once you've read them you'll want to hear what she thinks about everything else.

What We Heard About the Suicide

We heard it wasn't our fault.
We heard you left a note,

scrawled when poison
stole your voice. We heard you left no reason.

You were alone. You borrowed a gun.
We heard you didn't mean to swerve.

Everywhere you went, bridges called you.
Cliffs made the soles of your feet ache.

From a hundred living rooms,
we watched your slow death on the internet.

When you left, the same rain
still blurred our windows. Pollen drifted over the freeway

near your apartment as we dragged away your blood-thick bed
before your parents came. Your smell fogged our hair.

The first time you shot into your own
supple vein, you knew your name

was an anagram of gone.
We heard the radio play what was once your song.


Song & Spectacle is both fast paced and carefully contemplative.  You usually only see that in jazz.

Today's book of poetry could listen to Rachel Rose riff all day long.

Rachel Rose

And any friend of the excellent writer Jane Silcott is a friend of ours.  Everyone in the office loved Jane's Everything Rustles, an excellent book of personal essays.

Rachel Rose’s work has appeared in various journals including Poetry, The Malahat Review and The Best American Poetry, as well as numerous anthologies. Her most recent poetry collection, Song & Spectacle (Harbour, 2012) won the Audre Lorde Award in the US and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award in Canada. She was the librettist for the opera When the Sun Comes Out, which grapples with fundamentalism and forbidden love. She is the winner of the Peterson Memorial Prize for poetry and the Bronwen Wallace award for fiction, and the recipient of a 2014 Pushcart Prize. She is the Poet Laureate of Vancouver for 2014–2017.

Vancouver Poet Laureate Rachel Rose has just won a 2016 Pushcart Prize for her poem, “White Lilies,” that will be appearing in Marry & Burn, her forthcoming collection from Harbour Publishing (2015)

In this stunning new collection, the poems are drenched with beauty, with milky maternal love, but also the hard grey rains of winter, with guilt and envy and the sadness of what we daily lose. The heart, the unborn child, even death has a song in these pages. Her language is so dense, so daring, so rich. [...] Read this book and you'll discover "The other use for fire."
     - Lorna Crozier


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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