Friday, October 20, 2017

Dust Blown Side of the Journey - Eleonore Schönmaier (McGill-Queen's University Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dust Blown Side of the Journey.  Eleonore Schönmaier.  Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series.  McGill-Queen's University Press.  Montreal & Kingston, London, Chicago.  2017.

Today's book of poetry comes to you from the waiting room of a CMA Clinic where Today's book of poetry is having x-rays of everything but our memory.  Bless those kind and wise men and women who established a medical care system in Canada that will allow me to leave this building without paying a cent.

I've been here less than ten minutes and already I am in a hospital gown and awaiting my first x-ray.  All of this to explain my recent absences.  That and Today's book of poetry purchased a new computer yesterday, it was needed.  Our steampunk wonder system was an RCA Victor - Westclox hybrid machine that was still running, technically, but it was getting difficult to find a watchmaker-video technician with the right set of brass tipped tools.

Eleonore Schönmaier is such a needed tonic.  Today's book of poetry has been down the remarkable   Eleonore Schönmaier  poetry road before.  You might remember that Today's book of poetry took a look at her back in July of last year.  Wavelengths of Your Song was a pleasure to read and you can see our post here:

Dust Blown Side of the Journey is more of the same wonder.  Schönmaier is a perfect mix of Nelson Ball's wonder and brevity along with the breadth and wisdom, experience and vision of a Lorna Crozier or a Sharon Olds.  That is some fine company and Schönmaier is right at home.

Today's book of poetry has been stuck in a poetry whirlwind, tunnel vortex lately and the only person I can blame is the genius Albert Goldbarth.  I've been reading Goldbarth's The Kitchen Sink as though it were a bible and I had discovered religion.  Our Southern Correspondent, the Twangster, has infected me with Goldbarthism and I'm not sure any other poetry will ever work quite the same way again.  But no.  Eleonore Schönmaier is the perfect antidote/bookend.  Both of these monstrously good poets write poems that stop us with wonder.

But while Goldbarth, bless his cottons socks, is writing long brocaded tapestries that have gold and silver thread and may possibly contain the secrets of the world, Schönmaier, although never terse, is writing with an economy that sustains and winnows to the very heart of things.


The doorbell has been cut
and the only way to gain entrance is
to stand in the middle of

the bridge jumping up
and down, but this futile
until you begin to sing

and from the upper-floor
window our friends looks
down and lets us in. We sit

at the window and touch
the seashells in their bowl
and our friend picks up

the conch, leans out
the window and lets it sound
so the canal boat captains

travelling below search
for the unseen and
in their confusion they

risk colliding with
the visible. Another
friend arrives and we

wine and dine and play
the Steinway as the storm
quavers against the roof

and the wind and jets flying
low overhead sound
alike as we journey closer

into our true selves
and you talk about
the wind quintet

you're composing
where the clarinet
will sound off stage

and you say all of us
are in your music
along with our missing

friend and walking home
I say, "I've had other
devoted friends before

but this evening's circle
are my soulmates"
and you say, "It's the

soulmates and not
the others who will
break our hearts."


Ok.  Today's book of poetry is at home, it is twenty-four hours later.  The clinic visit was just fine, at least they don't pincushion you.  Got home and started to look at the elegant work of Eleonore Schönmaier again and then there was a knock at the 11:30 a.m. door.  Today's book of poetry was expecting guests from out of town but was not expecting them to arrive six hours early.  Now these are world class guests, always arrive with wine and a variety of gifts.  They also always demand to take K and I out to dinner, last night it was Pizzarro's (We've been regulars there for over twenty-five years, I remember writing a poem for the head waiter when his first son was born.  A couple of months ago his first born was our waiter.  We've never had a meal there we didn't enjoy.)  Before our guests left this morning I was the owner of a brand new pair of winter gumboots.  Like I said, world-class guests.  But six hours early and in need of our complete attention.

Eleonore Schönmaier is a worker.  You only have to look at one of her poems to recognize the craft.  These poems are worked on, shaved here, strengthened there, and then a perfect coat of clear varnish has been applied.  These poems are weather-proof epistles aimed right at your reasonable heart and your emotional head.  

Take a hard look at this tidy effort, "Vertebrae of Humans and Art Animals."  It's all in there, Schönmaier shows us how it's done.

Vertebrae of Humans
and Art Animals

the breeze against my back
            as I cycle through narrow
                        streets were tattooed

men stroll and when
            I make a wrong
                        turn I'm face to

face with a sculpture
            of Mandela and the real
                        Desmond Tutu stepping

down from the podium
            photographers swarm
                        but I'm unable to stop

since I'm racing
            against time to a stretch
                        of beach where I film

the strandbeest
            small sails as wings
                        and multiple legs

the skeletal animal
            all plastic bone
                        races forward

            how easily
                        it topples

on my route home I watch
            an old man place a metal
                                   ladder against

the barbed wire fence
          he hangs a bird feeder
                     up as high as he can reach

in the center a young friend
            (attacked by a mob) undergoes

vertebrae, scapulae,

which bones
              fit where
                           ossicles of

                  a wave a wind lifted leaf

under a tree a woman shows
                       her children how to read
                                               the tally marks

and tells them this is
            how many thousands of 
                                     days Mandela

had to wait to hear
                       bird song
                                   when his

captors knew
     exactly how
                 fragile bone is


Schönmaier isn't yelling about anything, this poet has far too much class for that.  But you read her and you see the strength, you see that she is a strong voice for women against the systemic in justices they endure.  You'll see that she is political but never proselytizing.  Reading Dust Blown Side of the Journey is like that first long cool and quenching gulp of fresh spring water after a long hike.

Considerable upheaval here at the Today's book of poetry offices these days.  Our morning reading was interrupted several times to continue negotiations.  It didn't matter much, Eleonore Schönmaier's crisp poems settled the room as we each took our turn and read them like prayers.  Of course we threw Wavelengths of Your Song into the mix.

We Are Alone

and lost along
the shore
the gentle slope
of the hill upwards
and we are found
again only when we
recognize the war
memorial where
resistance fighters
were shot and buried
in the sand of the dunes
you were imprisoned
in your youth for being
at the wrong place at the
wrong time, for trying
to make a better world
darkness falls upon
us and there is no
better world, only
the calls of the
nameless birds
in these brief
moments when
the birds still
exist for us: the bell
in the dunes tolls
once a year to
remind us of what
we still have
to lose


It doesn't get any tidier.  As long as poetry as fine as Eleonore Schönmaier's keeps arriving at the door Today's book of poetry will continue to want to tell you about it.

Today's book of poetry is hoping to return to regular programming as soon as possible.  Please stay tuned.

Eleonore Schönmaier

Eleonore Schönmaier is the award-winning author of Wavelengths of Your Song. She divides her time between Canada and coastal Europe.

Eleonore Schönmaier
Video:  Eleonore Schönmaier



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