Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Other Houses - Kate Cayley (Brick Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Other Houses.  Kate Cayley.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario.  2017.

Kate Cayley's Other Houses manages to put Arthur Conan Doyle, the knighted author of the Sherlock Holmes as well as plethora of other books including four of poetry, and Harry Houdini, the great magician and escape artist, into a room together.  Beautiful mayhem ensues of the sort only a playwright who is also a poet could stage.

Seemingly, this is a typical Cayley move.  Her imagination is rostered with the famous and the oddly infamous.  She moves them around the page as though they were actors on a stage subject to her jurisdiction.  

Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini Share Breakfast

Cunning man, and wise enough to keep up the patter, Doyle
lays plots, Houdini listens, keeping his eyes
somewhere else, pointing his host the wrong way. Look here,
not here, where the trick nests. By the time the eye
swerves back, it's done. What's meant to vanish, has.

The teaspoons are gone. Doyle is determined
not to be hoodwinked, outwitted. He's canny, genial, disposed
to liking the chicanery that lends itself to art. He blinks
and his toast rack has evaporated. Both are too polite
to mention this. Consummate gentlemen

revisioning their ancestry: rueful Irishman, shamed Jew, knowing
they may inherit through ostensible obedience, press hard
on the mold, secretly break it. Doyle rises, coughing lightly,
and flings the net. Houdini dodges, dives under the table
but his feet are already shackled. Doyle smiles,

swilling laughter. Then sees appearing on the tablecloth
among the china roses and the crumbs, sudden
other objects: sealed letter, straitjacket, noose.
Pocket watch, deathwatch beetle, death's head.

He ducks his head down just in time
to see Houdini wriggle free, brandishing cuffs,
whistling through the gap in his teeth. Cards
erupt from the napkin holder, Tarot showing one
or another face. Empress and Hanged Man,

World and Fool. Staring over the muffins, eggs,
bread and butter, they make a truce, saying
nothing. Fear death by water. Fear the end.
Yet neither does, and so they nod,
knowing that each may apprehend the other.


Arnold Potter, Ann Lee and William W. Davies, united in their belief that they are the risen Christ animate several of Cayley's clever pages along with Laszlo Toth who attacked Michelangelo's "Pieta" with a hammer in 1972 before the Italian courts declared him insane.  Cayley makes use of these narratives, skating between mystery and myth with mystics, chatting with charlatans, watching children grow.

Other Houses is that odd tent at the fair ground where no one is charging admission, and the lighting is unnaturally challenging.  You feel your way into it, compelled to enter, until once inside and you realize time has stopped, however briefly.  You roam, with increasing excitement from one splendid curio to the next.  Your satisfaction swelling with each diorama that appears out of the dim light with knowledge you didn't know you needed until now.

A Partial List of People Who Have Claimed to Be Christ
Laszlo Toth, 1938-2012

The patient is still writing letters to the Pope. He complains of not
receiving an answer, though he allows that even great men may be
afraid of the unexpected. He went to Rome, he says, for revelation,
as it was his thirty-third year. What he did there on Pentecost
Sunday, he did with his whole heart. When he struck Michelangelo's
Pieta with the geologist's hammer he'd hid under his coat, it was
a step up from carpentry. He struck first at the Virgin's arm, then
nose, then eye, because she would not look at him. Her son.

I lie to him, like all doctors. His followers are waiting for him on
the other side of the padded door. He turns to face the wall when he
sees me. Some days he says nothing. Other days he begs me for a
chisel. He wishes to pry himself apart. His blood will rinse his spirit
clean, his guts unwind along the carpet, his bones split like winter
wood, and the true part of him will show plainly, risen.


Milo, our head tech, pulled Kate Cayley's first book of poetry, when this world comes to an end (Brick Books, 2013), from the stacks this morning so we could look at it during the morning read. We realized Cayley was both consistent and dazzling.  The noggin' that puts Nick Drake and Emily Dickinson on the same small cloud is a curious treasure indeed.

Kate Cayley is one of those well read architects of future dreams.  She reconfigures the known past to better suit her splendid narrative gifts and to better serve our current poetic purpose.  Cayley is operating on a high wire, safe in the knowledge that her lyricism, wit and winsome intellect is all the net needed.

Daedalus and Icarus

He dreamed his son was a bird.

It was a pardonable thought.
Fathers think these things,
mulling possibilities, noting
a body outlined in the fridge light,
the thwack of a door, a sudden
ability for numbers, words.

His son hollow-boned, red-
feathered, fearless. Fledged.
Bright-eyed, already aloft
as though bypassing human
muscularity, the lumbering frame,
the lolling head.

After the fall into the sea
his father was stooped forever,
as though looking in each pavement crack
for that closing hole in the water below him.

If only he'd spoken differently.
If he'd imparted his own
shortcoming. Soldered his son
to earth. Yet it seemed
too much to waste, that winged hope
in hell, ascending.


Today's book of poetry is always a sucker for the Icarus story.  W.H. set the tracks with "Musee des beaux arts" and it stuck.  Kate Cayley graces her way through with style.

Today's book of poetry has always admired smart, even when it is intimidating.  Other Houses, Kate Cayley's second book of poetry is smart, like an erudite fox.

Kate Cayley


Information added after the fact:  It was only several hours after Today's book of poetry posted this blog that we realized our mistake.  Today's book of poetry did look at Kate Cayley's when this world comes to end back when we were first doing this blog.  It was before we were keeping proper records and it slipped our attention today.  Damn.

Here is that post:

We stand by both posts.  Kate Cayley has an office full of fans here.

Kate Cayley is a poet, playwright, and fiction writer living in Toronto. She is the author of one previous poetry collection (When This World Comes to an End, Brick Books), a young adult novel (The Hangman in the Mirror, Annick Press), and a short story collection (How You Were Born, Pedlar Press), which won the 2015 Trillium Book Award and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. She has been a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto since 2009, and has written two plays produced by Tarragon, After Akhmatova and The Bakelite Masterpiece.

Beware of Kate Cayley. With an agility stolen from some other world she flicks this one open and invites us to watch our certainties scuttling away. Predatory and unsettling, these exquisitely crafted poems suggest that we are at our most human when yearning to reach beyond the visible.
     —Martha Baillie

Kate Cayley reads from When This World Comes to an End (Brick Books)


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