November 30, 2016

The Certainty of Poetry

This week I find myself returning, not for the first time, to Kate Hall's shivery-perfect 2009 book The Certainty Dream.

A young writer is standing in my office. She barely knows she's a writer. She has materialized from somewhere down the hall and is standing there practically giving off sparks of electricity, sputtering and catching like a combustion engine, talking about poems and other things writers make and do.

I pull down this book and show her the poem "Dream in which I Am Allowed Twelve Items." It's a poem I return to often. I can't help reading parts of it out loud.

Let me let me let me the poem pleads.

The young writer doesn't know quite what to do with it, but that doesn't stop her.

The Certainty Dream is full of poems like this, poems that erupt into my consciousness and take up residence there, poems so sure of their desire and unknowing they change me.

Let me have and let and let and let and let, the poem urges, its lists becoming ever more intricate and complex. And let it all count as one thing.

There are so many books I want to read that have yet to arrive. Kate Hall's next is one of them (though I understand it may be close). This young writer's is another. She stands there almost out of words, ready to break into utterance.




November 9, 2016

On Poetry & Teaching after Nov 8, 2016




In my Cegep class Poetry & Wilderness we're reading Sue Goyette's brilliant book Ocean.
 
As usual, I’m asking myself, what do I want my students to take away from our time together today?

My answer is the same as always: Respect for ideas, for each other, for themselves, for the planet; for writing that demands they open their minds; for receptivity. Moments of joy, or at least pleasure, in learning and discovery. Courage when faced with challenges. And the courage not so much of convictions but of doubt, of expression of doubt. Of the usefulness of doubt. 

This American election shows that none of this, for now, is of value.

I don’t know how to model this. I don’t know how to respect this election. 

Today I have nothing. To contemplate a world in which none of this matters is anguish. To accept a world in which none of this matters is impossible.

But despair, the real despair I suffer as a human, is not useful. 

Therefore I continue.