Sunday, April 15, 2018

How to Dance in This Rarefied Air - Rienzi Crusz (Mawenzi House)

Today's book of poetry:
How to Dance in This Rarefied Air.  Rienzi Crusz.  Mawenzi House.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

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Today's book of poetry couldn't say it for a certainty but we strongly believe Rienzi Crusz has some of the answers we've been seeking.  This past week has been a difficult time here in the Today's book of poetry offices.

Sometimes, and this is one of them, the world news is just too much to bear and we become deafened by the fusillade of despair.  Syria, Beirut, Rwanda, Mogadishu.  And there are no saints dancing in Canada either as Aboriginal women continue to vanish and reconciliation remains a bitter word and an unfulfillable promise.

Closer to home friends of my age group having been falling to the side like pine needles off of a tree in a stiff wind.  Mortality has been licking at our heels and the entire staff feels a little skittish.

So How to Dance in This Rarefied Air by Rienzi Crusz feels like a balm.  These are poems from a sophisticated and robust citizen of the world.  Crusz, who was born in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) now resides in Canada, understands our country and our society from both sides;  he is both an immigrant and a citizen.  Both narratives play out in these poems that feel like stories we should know.

How to Dance in This Rarefied Air

How he jabs his thick forefinger
     into my poetic
as if it were a breastbone.
     O God, how it hurts;

cups his eyes
     against my passionate burning,
the bougainvillea's profusion,
as a rogue in heat.

My words, it would seem.
     elude him by a generation;
I would walk only
     in shaded byways or exotic arbours,
the poem jaundiced
     without the blood of a new idiom.

What he wants
     is wasteland:
white, scrubbed, frontier;
whose poems
     must deconstruct to bare bone,
the flesh and blood laid out separately
     to dry like fish
in the noonday sun.

No. I will not desert
     those wintered killing fields,
the spilled blood sweeter
     among the paddies, the frangipani,
upside-down elephant
     squinting at the sun.
Noble Eliot, you might as well
     rest in peace,
your ransom will not be paid.

My ear to the ground
     and I hear the drumbeat of Avon,
mad Hamlet strut and nurse
     his eloquent pain;
Milton, hammering Lucifer
     to a perfect poetic, a perfect Hell.

Wounded, give me the psalms of David,
     words to learn by rote, comfort the dark sargassum
of my days,
     how the valley of death
passes like a bad dream.

I am still here, Montes de Oca,
     my beautiful wild Mexican bard,
belting my boisterous song;
     and Pablo, hug me again,
show me the true metaphors
     of sun and rain,
how to throw my bread on the waters,
     circle the world with a poem.

Speak to me, Rabindranath,
     I need to hear your distant voice,
bask under your stunning skies; 
     and Kahlil, I haven't forgotten
your wisdom that must laugh
     and weep, how one's head to a child.

And Dylan, do I ever love the melody
     of your song, your riotous book of words;
good Manley, sing, sing, sing,
     I'm all ears and silent;
Lorca, my friend,
     tell me the secrets of "Duende",
ask the spirit to stab my words again.

Rilke, take me gently
     into the depths of myself,
the soundless paths,
     how to listen, listen, listen;
as for you, Vallejo,
     teach me the thunder of silence,
the value of the spilled blood,
     how to dance in this rarefied air.


How to Dance in This Rarefied Air is old time wisdom.  Crusz reads Pablo Neruda and all the other Poet-Saints and he wants you to read them too.  Today's book of poetry had Milo, our head tech, go into the stacks and he came back with Rienzi Crusz's Elephant and Ice (Porcupine's Quill, 1980) but unfortunately - nothing else.  Milo's newest assignment will be to procure any/all of the other many Rienzi Crusz poetry titles.

After reading How to Dance in This Rarefied Air Crusz has become a must read, Today's book of poetry is always going to have time for poetry this smart.  As Adhipadya Rienzi Crusz (see Adhipadya and think Duke) says:

     "Listen. At the margins of poetry
      are lies, modes of ridicule,
      foul words, sweet nothings;
      but savour the mad beautiful dance of metaphor,
      imaginative leaps, primeval chaos --
      for at the centre
      lies truth
      still and uncompromising as desert stone."
                                       from Poetics for the Doubting One

Today's book of poetry loves the image of "God playing marbles" that Crusz leaves burned in my skull because it fits perfectly with my theory of plans made and the Gods laughing.  Crusz writes poems like elegant missives of understanding.

In Crusz world his vision encompasses all of us, his poems narratives that cover all that empty space between a new country and the old.


For Cleta Nora Marcellina Serpanchy

What the end usually demands
is something of the beginning,
and so
I conjure history from a cup
of warm Portuguese blood
from my forefathers
black diamond eyes, charcoal hair
from my Sinhalese mothers;
the beached catamaran,
gravel voices of the fishermen,
the catch still beating like a heart
under the pelting sun;
how the pariah dogs looked urgent
with fish-meal in their brains,
the children romped, sagged,
then melted into the sand.

A Portuguese captain holds
the soft brown hand of my Sinhala mother.
It's the year 1515 AD,
when two civilizations kissed and merged,
and I, burgher of that hot embrace,
write a poem of history
as if it were only the romance
of a lonely soldier on a crowded beach
in Southern Ceylon.


The morning read here in the Today's book of poetry offices was a little more boisterous than usual as several members of a book club descended on our little corner of the world in the hopes of gourmet coffee and teasing brunch treats.  Today's book of poetry said they were more than welcome to stay for the reading -- but only if they participated.  There is no better way to get inside a poem than to read it out loud.

How to Dance in This Rarefied Air got the full treatment and it sounded spectacular; Crusz bounced around room and hushed all conversation like we were in church.  Deep respect rose in the voice of every reader.


For Anne

"This is all there is and this is everything" - JOYCE CAROL OATES

Take my poems--
I have nothing else of value to give you.
of lonely nights, faithful candles
that flamed and sputtered until
my metaphors were right.

Take my poems--
my kingdom of fears in harness,
days of silence
when my neighbouring world
danced its tumultuous jig
and laughed.

Take my poems--
they were born with a brown skin,
sang with a brown voice,
danced a brown jig, preserved,
until the cold white paper
took in my words with the music
and fatted calf of the prodigal story.

Take my poems--
my umber heart my umber words,
the forgotten pain, the remembered music,
the new landscape,
why I thought God was a poem,
the poem, the only cosmic poet.

Take my poems--
mostly, because I love you,
they are the bloodstones
of my youth, fading footsteps of age,
small bouquets
that may, perhaps, survive a little while
like a memory.

Nothing else comes to mind--
the house is only wood and cabook,
the money is paper.


"Take my poems--".  What better legacy.

Rienzi Crusz impressed today's book of poetry with his compassionate reason and his beautiful song.  How to Dance in This Rarefied Air is a poetry treasure.  You want to be in this poetry kitchen, Crusz has spiced this thing just so

Rienzi Crusz

Rienzi Crusz was born in Sri Lanka and came to Canada in 1965. Educated at the Universities of Ceylon, London (England), Toronto, and Waterloo. He has widely published in magazines in Canada and the United States, and is the author of ten previous collections of poetry.

"[R]omantic and keenly self-aware, How to Dance in this Rarefied Air examines the immigrant experience in Canada, and, by extension, the human experience, with an unabashed and postmodern flair and clarity.
     —CBC Books

"Arguably the best living Sri Lankan poet in English."
     —World Literature Today

"At 84, the Waterloo poet knows a thing or two about mortality. His thoughts, musings and speculations, not to mention certainties and anxieties, are given eloquent expression in this deep, rich, moving meditative collection of poems that celebrate life as it reflects on death."
     —Robert Reid, The Record, December 2, 2009

Please note that it was only after Today's book of poetry posted this blog/review that we were informed that Mr. Crusz had passed away in September of 2017.


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