Friday, February 12, 2016

Folding the Wilderness Within - Joan Shillington (Frontenac House Poetry)

Today's book of poetry:
Folding the Wilderness Within.  Joan Shillington.  Frontenac House Poetry.  Calgary, Alberta.  2014.

Joan Shillington's second book of poetry, Folding the Wilderness Within, is rock steady from the first page to the last.  These poems are gorgeous constructions ripe with tension, drama and passion. 

Shillington's poems carve us a new notion of what it is to grieve, to lose.  That loss is there like a weight but then these poems redeem and reward the reader with intelligent surprise.

The Neighbour Speaks from Beyond

Let me say, this is not how anyone could imagine it is to drown.
August water creeping over my soles, then ankles. Slow list of
boat and there I was, caught between nightmare and reality. I
tipped the last of the twenty-six past my lips then lashed my
wrists to a rope and eased myself across the overturned hull.
Rum burned in my gut as if I had swallowed glass from the
bottle. Haunted voices hurled themselves from a distant

shoreline. Words, distorted, sank. Confused letters on black
water. I counted the seconds between lightening and thunder.
Paper, scissors, rock. Our Father who Art in Heaven. Cold
cleaved my body. I rocked and swayed with waves. I became
boat. Storm. Water. Rain. Soon, I was not seen but could see. I
saw the dark beyond the cottage. Family. Wife. Children. A girl
on the opposite shore who could not come. And now, she has
forgotten my name.


Today's book of poetry picked out a hoard of poems from this collections that we felt you HAD to see.  Shillington sets the bar rather high at the start of Folding the Wilderness Within and then she sustains that fierce standard like John Coltrane holding a moment of beauty in one note and turning it into a song.  We liked this book.  Shillington calls on the voices of the dead and the dying to help when no other voices will do.

Shillington mentions poet Richard Harrison as a friend and mentor in her notes.  Harrison is an old and respected friend of Today's Book of Poetry.  We don't quite go back to our teens, but close.
It is easy to imagine this manuscript going through Richard's disciplined hands.  If these poems meet his standard then they certainly meet ours.

         After Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what ordinary is, you must visit a funeral home
and view the body of a friend you made plans with just a few
days before. You must watch as the people dearest to you, buried
beneath flowers, sympathy cards and lasagne casseroles, have
their mother's urn pressed into their hands. You must stand in
their home and see the unmade bed and laundry still scattered
on the floor. Then you must hug and kiss good-bye, turn the key
in your car and drive home less than a week after the phone call
and discover that milk and bread still line grocery store shelves,
traffic lights change green, yellow, red. Your dog needs grooming.
You step into the rain, walk through the neighbourhood,
past the church. Yellow parking lines gleam wet, your dog busy
on new grass and then look you look up as an SUV pulls
alongside and see the smiling face of Vivian, who you haven't
seen in six months. She rolls down her window and you pick up
your wet dog, hold him as he shivers beneath your jacket. Your
feet sink into the soft earth as you walk across the boulevard and
then you stand in the rain as the city hums around you, and
become one of the two women talking in the quiet of a road.


The poems in Folding the Wilderness Within, romantic lamentations, prayers, praise-songs, made for a very passionate morning read at the Today's book of poetry offices.  Our head tech Milo and our new intern Kathryn both brought in friends for the event - and as you all know - you show up for the morning read then you have to participate in the morning read.

Today's guests were an excellent addition to the poetry reading team.  We here at TBOP believe that the real music in poems is best heard aloud.  Ms. Shillington did not let us down.  These beauties sounded better than spare change.

TBOP's morning reads are open to the public.  


         Please come before winter.

         Before north winds crumple veined leaves to the ground
and prairie grass is laid by snow.

         Before river's rage slows to a trickle between ice floes
or low clouds obscure landscape and snow muffles earth.

         Please come before frost snaps limbs or yellow birdsong
is erased by this season.

         Please come before the absence of light weighs on me.



Joan Shillington's narratives follow a hard clean line and we like that, clean as the burn from the flame of a one-hundred and fifty proof flame.

Joan Shillington

Joan Shillington is a Calgary poet and has been published in The Antigonish Review, Fiddlehead, Grain, Prairie Fire and Freefall Magazine as well as four anthologies. She has won various contests over the years.  She is currently a poetry editor for Freefall Magazine.  Joan’s first book of poetry, Revolutions, was published by Leaf Press (2008).

These poems, at their best, achieve their power through withholding, to create an intimacy – sometimes gentle, sometimes brutal – that involves us even as it reveals the unspoken otherness of lives not our own. Though there is much loss here, the poems’ sustained attention to what endures makes the collection a celebration of the essential force of family. 
     ~ Stephanie Bolster

Joan Shillington’s new collection mines “this threshold of ordinary” to show the gleaming moments in all our small lives. Anchored in the detritus of daily routine, Joan knows “each word and their order”, revealing memories as archetypal as a hand of cards. Her adolescent narrator is unforgettable, “flamed one hundred and fifty proof in metal spoons, / sliced elk membrane from out-of-season carcasses, / fur falling wild …” For Shillington, the dead “are just people who / are very quiet.” But Shillington gives the quiet ones space to roar. Her poems spill over with the full throttle details of lives thoroughly lived. This book illuminates, offering us moments of grace in our flawed world.
     ~ Lisa Pasold

Welcome. You’re in for a treat, a second book from a poet fully committed to the art. I’d say a perfect second book because I can hear, in the Tsar-like footsteps of the poet’s father in all his daring, bare face turned to the wind, the echoes of history’s grasp on Joan’s first poems. And then hear the change in the insights that arise from a story but flash free of it to stand outside of any particular narrative in order to fit with many. Consider, “I dozed beside sleep,” or, of a butterfly on her arm, “Now this little epistle pleats its bright wings slowly,” or, of anywhere: “Here, we are all strangers, separated by death pains and dusty roads, quiet about the wrongs in our lives.” These are poems filled with the double-pleasure of poetic truth: the secrets are disclosed, but the mystery remains.
     ~ Richard Harrison



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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