January 27, 2019

NEW YEAR, OLD MOSS


I've spent much of January clearing detritus from my filing cabinet -- yes, a physical, old school, steel legal-size monster that dominates a corner of my closet. It's painted deep red, a colour that made me love it for being the loud thing in my home office when it was out in the open, and I still feel fond of it. But I have completely lost touch with what's inside it, especially the bottom drawer.

So that's where I started. Cards, letters, photographs, newspaper clippings (remember newspapers? and clippings??), a few recipe notes, poems from my mother, pieces of my father's handwriting....you can see why it's taking awhile.

And this is the easy drawer. The other three are stuffed with notebooks and papers -- early drafts of abandoned poems, piled-up drafts of half-remembered dreams, notes toward nothing, thick drafts of work that flared into the world for awhile like bonfire sparks before falling back into oblivion. The bonfire is likely where a lot of this will end up.

Somewhere in one of those drawers is a yellowing page with a few lines scratched on it about what happens to great plans like the one about going through papers; it mentions a length of ribbon I'd bought years earlier with the aim of tying it around bundles of cards and letters I couldn't bring myself to throw away. Which of course, kept piling up, unbundled, till most things went digital, and even a little after.

I haven't found that page yet, though I remember writing it. What I did find was the ribbon.


November 13, 2018

TRANSPORT & COMMUTE: TESS LIEM'S OBITS.

One thing about Tess Liem's debut collection Obits. is recurrence. Names, acts, journeys keep coming around, in newly familiar contexts.


Connected with this is a lot of moving around underground: transport in the form of escalators, trains, inner pressure.

Liem captures the commute as daily process and as language, frequently changing one thing for another: "I am allowed distance        I am a loud distance" ("Obit. [A distance    & I am allowed]").

The poems I enjoy most in this book play with variations on the aptly named "Obit." or "Obit." In these, Liem's intensely personal and yet -- or therefore -- weirdly recognizable narrator is riding an escalator or stepping onto a train or jostling or waiting beside the many others of the moving world.

Here's one:

Obit.

An exit,
though I notice

many of the fire escapes
in Montreal duplexes

are stairs within storage spaces
leading to lower storage spaces

& I fantasize about riding the metro
all day, as if

its motion might
move me. 


Tess Liem's collection Obits. was published by Coach House Press in 2018.

September 22, 2018

LATTICE: MOLLY PEACOCK IN CONVERSATION

The force of poetry known as Molly Peacock has brushed my life in several ways over the years, most recently in her thoughtful and moving essay "The Plexiglass Wall and the Vital Verb," from Judith Scherer Herz's 2017 anthology John Donne and Contemporary Poetry (Palgrave). (This anthology brings together essays and poems by scholars and poets in surprising and wonderfully resonant ways -- highly recommended.) Molly graciously and generously agreed to explore with me some of the various paths that brought her to poetry, that essay, and beyond.

SUSAN GILLIS: How did you first come to poetry, or it to you? 

MOLLY PEACOCK: About the year 1200, a speaker of Old French wanted to separate the distinctive from the ordinary, something beyond the general category of species (kind or form).  The word especial was born.

About 1955, an eight-year-old girl, the first-born in her working-class family in Buffalo, New York, was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up.  Teacher?  Nurse? Answer: Something special.  Especial.

That was the beginning of poetry for her—well, for me, though it’s she I see though the telescope of seven decades. I was a girl for whom the forces of class, nature, socialization, and politics (that is, sexism and classism) were a great obscuring gale.  All I knew was:  I wanted to be.  To see.  (And be seen.)

People complain that poetry is sidelined in schools, but to that girl, poetry was special because it was sidelined.  It came at the end of the school year, always after the winter gales; it wasn’t graded; you could let your imagination spark words you’d never say aloud; and utter truths you couldn’t say aloud except in metaphor.  Poetry was small.  You didn’t even have to turn the page!  Giving up picture books with just a few words on them for more grownup books with nothing but a stream of words in paragraphs set up in her a longing for the visual with a few rhythmic words full of images.

My maternal grandmother, a country gardener, wrote me letters, enclosing poems she had cut from the local newspaper, The Perry Herald.  In the summer she walked me around her garden and repeated the common names of plants:  Bleeding Heart, Sweet William.  I loved this slow learning by walking and repeating.  All this, outside of school, began the task of the poet: naming.

August 4, 2018

SLOW TIME



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

July 5, 2018

CATCHING UP & REREADING

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

May 24, 2018

SARAH DESROSIERS-LEGAULT: I AM MADE OF THIS

Sarah DesRosiers-Legault
I AM MADE OF THIS

After another one
dies, they'll tell me: don't
avoid being alive.

But - my body is worn

by the in-between.
My skin knows that cold place,

April 26, 2018

BOB CHURCHILL: A POEM



Bob Churchill
AN OLD SURVIVOR CALCULATES HIS RECOMPENSE

I’ve let the backyard go to jungle
again.  Not like “The Bush” in Vietnam—
after fifty years still the place
of nightmares, with lime-green pit vipers
nestled in lianas, blood-sheened

April 24, 2018

SUSIE OSLER READS FLEUR ADCOCK

For Poetry Month, ceramic artist and steward of the land Susie Osler offers this poem by New Zealand poet Fleur Adcock.
Fleur Adcock by Caroline Forbes/British Council
WEATHERING
Fleur Adcock

Literally thin-skinned, I suppose, my face
catches the wind off the snow-line and flushes
with a flush that will never wholly settle. Well:
that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young for ever, to pass.

April 21, 2018

SANTŌKA: THREE POEMS


sakura sakura saku sakura chiru sakura


cherry tree
cherry blossoms
cherry blossoms scatter
cherry tree


April 19, 2018

SANDRA DE HELEN: A POEM

DRY SEASON
Sandra de Helen


There's an arroyo seco right next to my
littoral zone. Crazy right? Dry bed adjacent
to an area so rich in love and light, plants
and animals, it could make a person