Thursday, February 23, 2017

Selah - Nora Gould (Brick Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Selah.  Nora Gould.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario.  2016.

There is much debate as to the actual meaning of the word Selah.  Some Biblical scholars insist it is a musical notation while others suggest it means "praise" or "lift-up." Today's book of poetry is convinced that in Nora Gould world it means "sorrowful song."

Selah is one long poem made out of a myriad of poetic fragments and it is damned sad territory.

You may remember that Nora Gould's first book of poetry, I see my love more clearly from a distance (Brick Books, 2012) won the first Today's book of poetry KITTY LEWIS HAZEL MILLAR DENNIS TOURBIN POETRY PRIZE.   Today's book of poetry still raves about I see my love more clearly from a distance to everyone who will listen.

Selah roams the same hard ranch country of east central Alberta but the focus has changed.  Love, mutual respect and hard earned companionship have given way to a battle with her husband's recently diagnosed frontotemporal dementia.  And with that diagnosis a new future replaces the old.

from Selah

He had misplaced my mouth
that night he wanted me.
Even I couldn't discern this
as because of something I did or didn't do.

This was not long before the potato pails --
everything happened before or after,
windblown around markers themselves

eluvial. I set that night aside,
next to the candles
above the pegs where we hang our jeans.


Today's book of poetry feels for Gould, how could you not?  You can feel the sullen drift apart as tangibly as if her husband had mounted a passing ice-floe and was disappearing, sailing off to a foggy horizon.

Neither Selah nor Nora Gould descend into the full and justified gloom you might expect.  But that doesn't mean these melancholy prayers and sad asides won't render you to tears.

from Selah

I am writing to you from inside this,
my confusion. You will recognize yourself.
I don't know you, who you are, how to find you,
but I am aware I'm a person while I am with you.
Please forgive all the simple declarative sentences.

I am exhausted, lonely for you. Your refusal --
I didn't know I had asked, was it something
I said? body language? -- told me what I carry,

how impossible it would be.
If you were to hold me, let me hold you --
these are two different things. Could
either of us allow either?

I miss him. That is
where I would be, where I am anyway,
not in his arms. This is not
guilt or impropriety.

Caffeine-tired, I can't sort this out
in a coffee shop
far enough from home to believe that
it is not true. Charl is himself

at the farm; he will still grab his chin
in mock consternation.
The shelf above the potato pail is
undisturbed. This is all my fault.

I will go home and Charl will be himself.
He is himself. That's the thing. He is.

I miss you. I miss
the possibility of you,

I am in a hayfield, snow gathering
in folds and creases -- my coat sleeves.


This morning's read was a fairly sombre affair but we did Selah proud, our office is full of Nora Gould fans.

Most home health care in Canada is provided by women, as though they weren't already busy enough.  Nora Gould has allowed herself full candor when it would be easier to hide every wound.
For better or worse, in sickness and in health, these are promises many of us make without ever really having to face any sort of big test.  Nora Gould's Selah is one big honking final exam into a new and harsh reality.

What happens to love when the object of that love is vanishing into the ether and being replaced with an angry shadow?  Most of us, regardless of what we signed up for, never have to answer these terrible questions.

from Selah

At his first appointment with the neurologist
the receptionist called me his caregiver.
I said, No, his wife.

Wearied by incremental mourning,
his withdrawal into 
a culture of one,

I ache
for his songs,
his intricate drawings.

His Einstein hair, his six a.m. piano.


Nora Gould's Selah is a restrained and prolonged scream at the fickle nature of nature.  All the future hoping and planning and dreaming in the world doesn't mean a thing when that messy bastard fate sidles in and sits down.

Gould resists all temptations to have a pity party, instead she lives this new life, perseveres.  Paints the future with memories of the past.

Nora Gould

Nora Gould writes from east central Alberta where she ranches with her family. She graduated from the University of Guelph in 1984 with a degree in veterinary medicine. Her debut poetry collection, I see my love more clearly from a distance (Brick Books, 2012), was winner of the 2013 Robert Kroetsch Edmonton Book Prize and the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry (Writers Guild of Alberta); it was also shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and was a finalist in the Poetry category for the High Plains Book Awards. Selah is her second poetry collection.

“This poem never slips into sentimentality but it breaks the heart. The fragments are wind-scoured, they startle like a fox and coyote suddenly appearing against the snow, they leave their marks on you like hard work scars the hands. I love them.”
      —Lorna Crozier

“Nora Gould’s second collection, Selah, works with presence and absence: fingertips versus touch, the burrs of a long marriage vs. the voids of dementia, a beloved’s body vs. anatomical drawings. “Breathe,” Gould advises, in a voice that is stuffed full of hand-made quilts and rusty barbed wire, “There is air in the room.” Air enough for Gould to take on birth and illness, maturity and sadness and death: “If I outlive him, when he dies / my grief will be stillborn.”
      — Ariel Gordon

Nora Gould
Interview with Nora Gould at HOWL at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Video:  Brick Books



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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