Undiscovered Country. Al Rempel. Mother Tongue Publishing. Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. 2018.
Today's book of poetry remembers where we were the first time we read Sir Charles Bukowski, Lord Alfred Purdy, Saint Jack of Kerouac. And now we're going to remember meeting the work of Al Rempel.
Undiscovered Country is an undiscovered and staggering masterpiece. Undiscovered Country begins with the long poem "Into The Cloud of Unknowing" and this is a truly great poem. A life changing poem.
How is it possible that there is a poet that is this good and his name is not on every ones lips. Today's book of poetry is embarrassed that we have never encountered Al Rempel's poetry. Today's book of poetry will now correct that and acquire This Isn't the Apocalypse We Hoped For, Understories and Rempel's two chapbooks Four Neat Holes and The Picket Fence Diaries.
Today's book of poetry hasn't been this thrilled about discovering a new poet since our man in the south, David Clewell, introduced us to the poetry of David Lee. Sir David of Lee. That's how fine we think Al Rempel's Undiscovered Country is. That's how wise/clever/smart Today's book of poetry thinks Al Rempel burns.
Undiscovered Country is a great pleasure to read. You feel like you're in that movie where people are gathered at the knee of some old wise guy who doles out wisdom with each and every breath. A sage. Today's book of poetry knows these are ridiculously high claims, high praise. But we can take the heat and welcome the conversation. For Today's book of poetry - Undiscovered Country is simply one of the best books of poetry we have read.
He Talked In His Sleep
she wishes for a morning with wet snow
and the birds' flagrant disregard
their beaks stuffed with bits of straw
as they shuttlecock
between their peep-a-peep & the falling
she lets her eyes drift
once again the house lifts off
rising up to meet the snow
if only the only thing she could hear
was the clock
the inner works of the furnace
and the eternal hum
how he wore the shirt of his uniform
and played his old songs
how he would shudder alone downstairs
with the record player
the aura of the streetlamp pouring in
a sickly illumination
how he would carefully hang the shirt
back in the dark closet
scuttle crabwise into his side of the bed
as if under trip wire
Today's book of poetry is in pure poetry pleasure heaven and Al Rempel's Undiscovered Country has taken us there. These poems burn honest as a mother's promise, deep as a father's legacy, and yet always remain approachable, even tender, no matter how real/rough the world gets.
Undiscovered Country moved us. Today's book of poetry thinks these poems will move you too. Undiscovered Country is a delight because every poem works, as Dennis Cooley suggested, Undiscovered Country is "a rinse to the clouded soul."
Our morning read was held out on the front porch today's as our offices were taken over by a book club meeting. The Today's book of poetry staff could all hear the city humming behind us, the weather muggy but still nice. Maggie, our Jr. Editor, arranged our order and cleared the runway.
Al Rempel's Undiscovered Country sailed out into the cosmos, off of our front porch, with an enthusiasm matching these extraordinary poems.
I Thought I Saw Her In The Water
in territories of the mind, in middle distances I can't reach
with outstretched hand,
in dreams inlaid & lidded with a ceiling of leaves, some dangling
on threads, rear-tail swimming
in the air above me — we're all guppies you know, we're caught
on our backs
wordlessly gulping at what we cannot say
or at night, the grass a dewy halo around my head, like a chalk line
drawn about my arms & legs,
the stars are swimming too, unglued from the sky, they slide
past my vision
when I need them the most
could I reach into the depths of a lake at dawn, or a quiet river,
even in a flat-bottomed boat, I'd hardly dip further in than my elbow—
I know you're not down there, slipping between my fingers
bubbling through gills
or up here, skidding across the sky pell-mell with the stars, with leaves
on empty streets of morning, filling up with hours & hours
but I want you to be here, somehow, closer than dreams that clear off
leaving only the hard outline of crooked trees & a road that curves
out of view
Al Rempel talks about love lovingly, he mourns with authentic dignity and he observes and understands it all.
You, dear readers of Today's book of poetry, never see and/or hear about the four books we read for every book that we write about. You don't have to weigh through those empty pages, eat that burnt toast. But Today's book of poetry will willingly endure mountains of dross to get to books as charming and fulfilling as Undiscovered Country.
Thank you Al Rempel, this is what today's book of poetry lives for.
from Once Around The Sun
one night I left the sliding door too far open, my love,
the house went cold,
cold as the world is
each morning, when we went outside,
we could feel its chill
pressing on our pant legs,
and we blew into our cupped hands to warm them
every evening darkness arrived
a few minutes too early
as I sit here, the last flurry of seed fluff
drifts by my window like a parody of winter,
and when I walk through buildings,
I stop in the sunlight & its heat
and let if fall on my face
and blind me
what is this narrow band of heat
that keeps us alive, this fire we scoop on our plates
and pour into cups, again & again?
one day my eyes will close for the last time,
and my breath will leave as if through an open door
and I will grow cold
as the earth waits to cover me
ABOUT THE POETAl Rempel’s books of poetry are This Isn't the Apocalypse We Hoped For, Understories and two chapbooks: Four Neat Holes and The Picket Fence Diaries. His poems have also appeared in various journals including The Malahat Review, GRAIN, CV2, Event, and Prairie Fire as well as in anthologies such as The Best Canadian Poetry in English, Rocksalt, 4Poets, and Half in the Sun. He was awarded Prince George's Arts & Culture Award for Poetry in 2012 and Shortlisted for the Fred Cogswell Excellence in Poetry Award in 2013. One of his poems was shortlisted for Arc's Poem of the Year Award in 2015 and his poems have been included twice in the Poetry in Transit project in Vancouver. Rempel has also had some of his poems translated into Italian by the poet Sandro Pecchiari. Rempel has also created a number of videopoems in collaboration with local artists. “Sky Canoe” was screened at the Visible Verse Festival in Vancouver, 2012, and at the Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar, Scotland, 2013, as well as Liberated Words in Bristol, UK, 2013. Three of the poems in Undiscovered Country have also been made into videopoems. Al Rempel currently lives in Prince George, where he teaches math and science at a high school, but grew up in Abbotsford and loves to visit the Gulf Islands.
"It is impossible to be unmoved by this book. Rempel hears 'the earth, the rain saying/fatherless, motherless...' and admits, 'I wish I could say I'm less afraid, now a father'—and we know the pained bewilderment in making our ways through the 'undiscovered countr[ies]' of our own lives. He sees the abysses that open within the details of the everyday; and at the same time, allows us to observe 'small green birds...circusing in the aspens,' and though he speaks of 'the stars...not meaning anything except/what we make of them,' Rempel sets us where "we sit aswirl in light.'"
- Russell Thornton, author of The Hundred Lives
"Undiscovered Country is extraordinary in its focus. Rempel skillfully moves from internal landscapes—of grief, loss and mortality—to the external with crisp, fresh poetics: 'the moon was a giant rock/hovering up there in the sky/and ready to fall.' Undiscovered Country is about shifts in place, shifts in time, shifts in perspective—child turned adult, adult turned orphan, orphan turned parent. Rempel is beautifully pragmatic, yet hopeful: 'you could be anywhere—/but you're not, you're here.'"
- Kerry Gilbert, author of Tight Wire
"Wow! A rinse to the clouded soul, tonic to the torpid. The poetry rejoices, grieves, muses. It moves and amuses and delights us, dares brazenly to embrace the palpable world and to love the words we provide it. In affection and anguish and deft comedy. Undiscovered Country celebrates extraordinary moments in our ordinary and temporary lives. An absolute joy to read."
-Dennis Cooley, author of The Home Place: Essays on Robert Kroetsch's Poetry
Al Rempel reads from Undiscovered Country
Video: Joanna Smythe
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