August 4, 2018


There's a moment in Louise Glück's poem "In the Plaza" (A Village Life) when time slows almost to a stop. The poem-speaker is contemplating a man who is looking at a woman. The woman is unaware of being watched and admired. She is perfectly herself, absorbed in whatever small thing she is doing.

The poem describes her innocence as a form of power. The man knows, or imagines -- or the man knows, the poem imagines -- eventual change: she will notice his watching, begin to expect it.

          But he hopes this will not happen immediately

Glück offers up this period of time -- days? weeks? -- like something stable, something objective and physical that we could examine. Desire and innocence, normally fluid, are pinned to it.

It gives me chills. But they're nothing like the chills the poem's last lines drop on me, when in the speaker's imagining -- after the time of watching, after the man and the woman become lovers, after the woman withdraws, as the speaker (firmly lodged in the man's imagination) predicts she will, into "that private world of feeling women enter when they love," loses herself -- the woman becomes

          in that sense, so little use to him
          it hardly matters whether she lives or dies.

In contrast to this species of (as I read it) breathtaking callousness, Sue Goyette holds up a moment of compassion in the poem "Persist" (from outskirts).

A boy has run into the street and is nearly, but not, hit by a car. The stopped-time unfolding of the driver's wild imaginings is one of the best illustrations I know in contemporary poetry of a mind in a split-second of pressure.

          Forgive this enterprise of engine and fuel...The beast in my 
          hands has escaped and gone feral. Listen to me blame the weather ...
          Are you the child chosen to draw satellites ... to draw water ... Or do you
          simply draw the level of video game that is the present challenge?

Later, the driver recalls the boy's face and the way he looked at her "in that second. The joy" of seeing his father across the street, "slurred with sudden panic" when he sees the car. The remembered movement of a face is seen as though through a lens: slowed down, filmy, "slurred." It astonishes me, no matter how often I read this poem.

Image: Igor Starkov, Pexels Photo

Louise Glück, A Village Life. New York: FSG 2009
Sue Goyette, outskirts. London Ontario: Brick Books, 2011


July 5, 2018


It's been a season of so much to catch up on.

For instance, this fabulous interview with Ben Ladouceur, this year's Dayne Ogilvie prize winner, at Open Book.

I always find reliably wonderful attractions at Andrew Ray's Some Landscapes, and need to drop in more frequently at Clarissa Aykroyd's The Stone and the Star.  I found Thomas Whyte's great little Volksy bus of an interview site when he asked me to answer a few questions -- visit Billeh Nickerson, Cassidy McFadzean, Sennah Yee, Joelle Barron and many more there.

Two of the many books calling me back for re-reading are Darren Bifford's False Spring, a breathtaking collection of arguments and conversation with poetry and the world (Open Book also ran a great interview with him), and Allan Cooper's luminous Everything We’ve Loved Comes Back to Find Us. (Full disclosure: I was the NB Book Awards judge who chose Cooper's book as the 2018 winner of The Fiddlehead Poetry Book Prize.)

Judith Herz's John Donne and Contemporary Poetry charts a kind of life and afterlife in essays and poems that roam, study, live with, and inspire, with contributions from Carl Phillips, Steph Burt, Alicia Ostriker, Molly Peacock and more.

The to-read list grows ever longer -- AF Moritz's The Sparrow, Amanda Jernigan's Years, Months, Days, Steve McOrmond's Reckon, even some not yet made into books, like Sonnet L'Abbé's Sonnet's Shakespeare (see three at Numéro Cinq), due this fall --

-- as does the dipped-into-will-return: Roo Borson, Cardinal at the Eastern Red Cedar (so quietly persistent, these poems), Brenda Hillman's Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (notes on every page so far) … I've even had to put LitHub on pause …