There are books that sit on beside my bed or on my shelves that I leave for a while in the middle of reading. They perplex me. Their words are deep and introspective and I am not certain if they are good or bad. I have a hard time when I first start reading them that I decide I need to put them away for a while and review them again when I have a quiet moment. And when those quiet moments do finally come, I pull them out and read them and read them again. Then, in some cases, I find they are worthy of my time. And Kilby Smith-McGregor’s collection of poetry in Kids In Triage is just such a book.
Morphogensis (for Alan Turing) (excerpt) page 50-51
Yet every Cambridge, every set of oxfords raises a fresh god;
everything that is the case against you, the world broken
down to word between wars between words between man
and his mirror, the master. Anti-realist vet vs. Government Code
& Cypher School; Guys vs. Bletchley; dick-measuring sequence:
those high gilt zeroes and one run through to the hilt with logic’s
sharp. These days it’s seamlessness; embedded logic
of razor-blade apples, pills, chips slipped beneath skin to out-god
even the notional autonomic gnomic gnostic mimic – sequenced:
an evolutionary narrative’s lithe tail, forked and broken
over a war’s chair’s back, chained to pipes, to pixel-ratio, time-code
plus today’s paper evidenced in the frame-by-frame of X man
though known (or lost).
I admire writers that can make me think or question something in our society. The craft of sitting down and turning a careful phrase must take time to create. And the time to sit down and read that phrase and ponder it takes time as well. No doubt, Smith-McGregor must have taken time to reflect and write these phrases for her poetry. They are deep, sharp and introspective. And I feel guilty taking my time reading this book, but I wanted to give each phrase careful consideration and reflection. So for the past 5 months, I have read and re-read this book several times when I found myself a few moments solitude. And I found the experience worthwhile.
Chapter II: The Pool of Tears (Excerpt) Page 52
I wish I hadn’t cried so much . . . I shall be punished for it now,
I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears.
-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The river of my childhood is the Speed River. Starting near Orton, Ontario, it flows south through the city of Guelph.
Archivists have described it as wide, shallow, rapid, unnavigable – also: a source of power. That seems about right.
The river that runs just beyond the view of my window.The one where I have caught crayfish and cast sticks to watch them whisked away. Living on Rural Route Five
in the lower half of a large split-level which had once been a school, I sit at my small desk by this window drawing a series of trap doors in a green Hilroy notebook.
It is an illustration for the kind of Alice story that consumes a certain span of youth encompassing coming into the world, and is later returned to, looking for a way out.
I wish I hadn’t cried so much.
There is introspection and reflection here, and there is also some ponderings about the human condition. Smith-McGregor notes small items of society and enlarges them for us readers to see. Again, it must have taken time to think about these details and create the perfect phrase to describe her thoughts. But the result is what many readers crave in a good piece of literature.
Red (Excerpt) Page 27
Red is a reflection, a fetish, transgression. Red dresses
a theme of sharp points.
Red eyes: bruised wells, betrayal of the photographer’s flash
I’m sorry but it’s anger.
Red crosses. Even in love.
It is history and injury. The history of injury
I will not go on about wounds, scars protracting the red-white
continuum through time.
This is not a productive conception of time (toward white) –
it is a concession.
Someone else’s idea of healing.
Yes, the apple.
It was a Red Delicious. Even the flesh was red,
blood apple. They write that out of the Bible.
White is an invention of History.
Kilby Smith-McGregor collection of poetry called Kids In Triage is deeply introspection and reflective but is unique and enlightening. Although I felt badly for taking so long to read this book, I am glad I took the time to savour it. It is a read that should not be raced through.
Penn Kemp has been not only been a poet but a cultural icon around my home town of London, Ontario, Canada. Yes, her written words have inspired but her actions in a complex number of fronts have also been a source of enlightenment and engagement for numerous people. It was an honour a few weeks ago when she sent me an advance copy of her new work Barbaric Cultural Practice (Link to my review) but discussing it only seem to capture a bit of this thought-provoking individual. She agreed to answer a few questions for me here, adding a bit more insight into her and her work.
1) What inspired you to first write poetry? You have been involved in other forms of writing (including play writing). Does poetry hold any special traits for you that other writings don’t have?
My grandmothers were grand sources of inspiration. My Strathroy grandmother knew many poems by heart (that delicious phrase!) which she would recite to me in a kind of incantatory lilt. The sound transported me. My little Irish grandmother told me wild tales of legends that sparked my imagination into new realms of possibility, realms beyond my house and yard.
When my brother was born, my mother no longer had all the time in the world to read to me. So I memorized the nursery rhymes I loved. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted more. I tried to make sense of the black squiggles on the page until they slowly, finally, swam into meaning. What a discovery! It was pure magic to go from reading other people’s poems and stories to writing them myself. I would set up my dolls in a line on the couch and perform to this unfailingly attentive audience. Power to the reader! Power to the writer!”
What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds. I began piecing out the words to myself. I remember the thrill of pure magic when a word would leap into focus, into meaning. The black letters would assume a third dimension; they would dance. I could almost hear them speak to me directly. I was hooked. I wrote my first poem when I was six, excited and amazed at having created through apparent magic something out of nothing with marks on a page. I glimpsed a world in which words had a life of their own, just as toys did. I knew that if I could wake at the right time at night I would catch my toys at play. So too, I felt words could be surprised and fixed onto the page. If I listened closely enough, words would well up in my head and emerge as a poem.
Writing that first poem was the first time that I recall consciously feeling that I was doing an adult thing— creating something entirely on my own, assuming independence— growing up! I felt like the Little Red Hen in the nursery story: “‘I can do it myself,’ said The Little Red Hen, and she did.”
2) You recently sent me an advance copy of “Barbaric Cultural Practice.” (Thank you!) How long did it take you to write it? Is there any special hopes you have for the book?
Many of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice have been culled from performance pieces that have been honed over many years and produced on CD/DVD, but not in book form till now. I’m grateful for family and friends’ encouragement en route and ongoing during the evolution of these poems. The list is long and extends back decades.
Poetry needs to be heard as well as read, so I have concentrated in recent years on audio renditions and videopoems in collaboration with Bill Gilliam, John Magyar, Dennis Siren and (always!) Gavin Stairs. How exciting to be able to offer links to video and audio performances of some of these poems through QR codes!
Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice were provoked into being by political events; hence, the title. As an aging activist, I confront by words such issues as climate change and overwhelmingly new technologies. The poems juxtapose the stress of urban life as compared to nature’s round. The poems deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. Barbaric Cultural Practice pays tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. Poetry is my response to the unprecedented complexities of our time.
3) (These next questions is one I know draws fear from other writers when I ask it here but I know some of my followers are eager to know an answer from you.) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I read Canadian poetry and fiction, especially that which our library stocks. Daily, I scan “New Items” from London Library’s website! (Link to that page) Am reading a new edition of Mavis Gallant’s A fairly good time: with green water, green sky as well as Ann Carson’s Red Doc>. Then on to Margaret Christakos’s Her Paraphernalias: on Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies.
4) I know you have a reading event planned at Oxford Books on Oct. 11 but do you have any other reading events planned? Are public readings something you enjoy?
I do enjoy public readings. It’s a privilege to share the innermost source of poetry when performing. And I love to hear poets read their work: the timbre of voice precisely matches their written word. Once I’ve heard a poet read, that voice echoes in my mind when I next read the work.
Here are some upcoming events where I’ll be reading:
September 3, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. With musician Bill Gilliam @ 2pm. Vino Rosso Bar & Restaurant. 995 Bay St., Toronto ON M5S 3C4, 416 926-1800.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
My forthcoming play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, originated in a short piece for London’s PlayWrights Cabaret at McManus Theatre in 2013. Then it was produced as an hour-long processional play at Eldon House Museum, with one actor and two musicians (co-artistic directors of Light of East Ensemble). More information about the original production, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris is up on https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com/. There too are some reviews from the show. I am developing the play into a full length piece with ten or more characters for production at London’s Palace Theatre in March, 2017. The original musicians are participating in the play again.
Teresa Harris was born in 1839 at Eldon House and died in 1928 in England. She tells her amazing life story from her home here. Born the youngest of a prosperous pioneer family intent on bettering itself, Teresa married a Scottish military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts she had dreamed of all her life, sickly though she had always been. Teresa’s story emerges through her own voice and that of her protective mother and her two husbands. Research reveals that Teresa and her second husband St. George Littledale were the greatest English explorers of their period, travelling further into Asia than any Westerner had.
Hers is an historical life as mediated through my imagination. My visits to beautiful Eldon House brought the era alive. It was easy to write from Teresa’s perspective since I identified with her and admired her adventurous spirit. It was fun to imagine her desire to escape the strictures of family convention for more exotic locales. Having been raised in London in the Fifties, I felt the town hadn’t changed all that much from the colonial outpost it had been in Victorian times. It was still very Anglo and class-conscious, patterned upon London, England like a pale shadow of the Mother Country. At twenty-one, I too couldn’t wait to escape, to travel the world! And I did. I was also happy to return to settle comfortably back in the house I grew up in after forty years away from London.
6) You seem to be active on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those platforms in relation to your writing? Does your WordPress blog site also work well for your writing?
The platforms are a necessity for a working writer to spread the word… and sometimes they are an escape from writing: fun, as well! The virtual communities are engaging: who could have imagined being able to keep in touch with so many people at once. And folks can promote various causes on my (Facebook) group, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Cultures.
7) You have travelled around the world and still call the London, Ontario, Canada area your home. How do you like living here?
See #5. Yes, London is home. I was born in Strathroy and raised in London. I belong here.
Are there cultural institutions here that you consider unique that inspire your writing? If yes, what are they?
As the City of London’s first Poet Laureate and as writer-in-residence for Creative Aging London, I was very involved in different aspects of the community. Several occasions prompted poems. Other poems were commissioned by groups such as ReForest London.
Western U. gave me a great grounding in literature as a student there. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed teaching classes in Continuing Ed., and as Writer-in-Residence, and hosting a radio show, Gathering Voices, at CHRW. (Link to CHRW’s webpage for “Gathering Voices”)
This fall, I will be working on aspects of the play, including publicity and marketing, with students from Western in the course, Canadian Literature, Creativity, and the Local, with a Community Engaged Learning component. Working with me in this applied learning opportunity, the students will cultivate links with Eldon House and The Palace as part of the project. (Link to the course outline from Western University’s online calendar)
I first became involved in publishing when a local publishing house, Applegarth Follies, asked me to be their poetry editor in 1977. (Josiah Applegarth was London’s first settler). While I edited Twelfth Key, the famous Brick Magazine was published alongside. Another offshoot of Applegarth was Brick Books, still publishing glorious poetry nation-wide some forty years later and still based in London!
JonArno Lawson’s works has been endeared by both adults and children for it’s wit and whimsy. He has been a winner of numerous awards – including the Governor General’s award in 2015 for the illustrated children’s book Sidewalk Flowers. It was exciting for me to see that Lawson will be release a new collection called The Hobo’s Crowbar in October, 2016 and he answered a few questions about his new work here.
1) The Porcupine’s Quill’s website is calling The Hobo’s Crowbar a “collection of poems brimming with whimsical wordplay.” How would you describe it? What inspired you (if any) to write it?
The Hobo’s Crowbar was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them, and then explore or fill out later. There was no central idea, just a pile of poems that seemed large enough to make a book from after a few years! Someone told me years ago that bpNichol worked on many of his projects in a similar way – he had files for different manuscripts where he sorted his ideas and poems, and at a certain point he’d realize something was full enough, or finished enough, to make a book out of (if he was aiming for a book – in his case, it wasn’t always a book!). I liked that model of working, and I’ve tried to use the same method, though I think Nichol was probably more organized than I am.
2) The Hobo’s Crowbar is illustrated with woodcuts by Alec Dempster. (Click here for a link to his website) Was there much planning between the two of you for the book? How long did it take to create the book?
The oldest poems in the collection go back twenty years. But most were written after 2013. Alec showed me his work after he was done – he’s an amazing artist – I had no input as far as his images went. He came for dinner a few months ago, and brought the woodcut for the cover image to show me the actual size – they’re less than half the size of the images you see in the book. Very small. Which is funny, because the paper cuts he did for Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box were larger than the images you see in that book. He’s full of surprises.
3) Will you be planning any sort of book/reading tour for The Hobo’s Crowbar? (Or even a public launch for the book?) If yes, are there events you are excited to be attending?
I’m going to be reading from The Hobo’s Crowbar at the Fog Lit festival in Saint John’s, New Brunswick, at the end of September. I don’t have anything else lined up, but it would be great to have some kind of launch in Toronto. Porcupine’s Quill is pretty wonderful about promoting their titles, so I’m pretty sure we’ll do something here.
4) You still seem to be keeping busy with Sidewalk Flowers. Do you have many public events upcoming for it? How do you feel about the success of it so far?
Sidewalk Flowers has had a great run. (Click for a link to my review) And it does still seem to be running, in part because the foreign editions are still coming out a few at a time. Right now it seems to be doing well in Germany – I was delighted when someone mentioned the fact I was half-named for German writer Arno Schirokauer in a radio review (on Radio Bremen). Sydney Smith (the illustrator) and I will be going to Ireland in mid-September to take part in the Children’s Books Ireland festival – we’re supposed to talk about our collaborative process at a session there. It seems every time I think nothing else could happen with the book, something else happens! At first it was wonderful, then I started to find it distracting from other work I was trying to do, now I’m just going with the flow – it’s all good. Time passes quickly and it’s silly not to enjoy the good things as they happen. I’m not great with the unexpected – my nature is more to enjoy watching than to enjoy being watched. But we all need some of both.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I’m working on a few different things. Mostly I’m working very hard to finish up a book about playing cross-culturally with children. It’s a non-fiction book. I have to have it finished enough for the publisher to start editing it by the end of July, so it’s pretty close now. I’ve been working on this book for ten years! So many interruptions. . .mostly my own. It will come out in 2017 with Wolsak & Wynn (a Hamilton-based publisher). It’s tentatively called “Around the World by TTC”.I’m also working on a children’s picture book with Montreal artist Nahid Kazemi. Later in the summer I’m starting on an Arabian Nights sort of story cycle – this is a big project, I have a lot of work (and reading) to do for it, completely different from anything else I’ve done, so it’s making me a little nervous (but exciting to think about too).
Writers I’ve discovered since last time! That’s a good question. . . I’ve become a very big fan of Alison Gopnik. Her books about babies and children are fascinating. She has a book that came out just now called “The Gardener and the Carpenter” – well worth reading. Mark Winston’s “Bee Time” is a great read. “On the Move”, by Oliver Sacks. I’m part way through Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book “The Gene: An Intimate History” – very entertaining. He’s a fine writer.
History tends to be a biased cut-and-dry listing of facts. So it takes new interpretations to vault new perspectives upon us and open our minds to events that may direct still involve us today. Poet Laurie D. Graham has done that with Settler Education. Her reflections on the Frog Lake “massacre” and the Northwest Resistance has given some pause to reflect what our history texts stated. Graham recently answered a few questions on her latest work.
First, off, can you give a bit of an outline of Settler Education.
Settler Education travels west to the site of what’s called the Frog Lake “massacre” and, more generally, the Northwest Resistance. It stays in those places, in what’s now east-central Alberta and central Saskatchewan, immersing itself in what happened there 130 years ago and what remains of those events now. It then moves into the cities—to Edmonton, to Regina, to Toronto—keeping itself trained on the Resistance in these present-day places. Settler Education tries to say something about the violence and injustice that brought about the Resistance and the deaths at Frog Lake, and to see better the ways it continues today.
Did you do much research for the book, was it a product of ‘pure imagination, or a combination of the two?’ How long did it take you to write it?
I did a large amount of research for Settler Education. As the title implies, it involves a process of coming into knowledge of the places I come from and the places the book travels to, so I read an awful lot, I dug into archives, I went to look at sites, I got to know places, I listened to stories.
My first ideas about the book came before I finished writing my first book, Rove, the first poems were written around 2009, things started clicking into place around 2012, and (McClelland and Stewart) accepted it at the start of 2015.
You already have a list of dates where you will be reading Settler Education. Are there any events/venues that you are excited to be reading your work? Will you be adding new dates as well?
I’ve got two readings scheduled in London and one in Edmonton, and I just recently did a couple of readings in Toronto, one of which was M&S’s poetry launch, a very well-attended event. It was a great night. And I’m looking forward to all my readings: Edmonton because it’s my home and I get to read with Myrna Kostash, and my London launch at the Oxford Book Shop because I’ve wrangled Tom Cull and Jean McKay to read with me, and I admire their work quite a lot.
In a Q&A you answered for me about a year ago, I asked you if your jobs as an educator and an editor helped you with your writing. You wrote:
Being on all sides of the task of bringing a piece of writing to fruition has taught me a lot, but it’s hard to tell if teaching and editing influence my writing in any overt way. I know it has improved my eye. I’m more rigorous, more ruthless, more self-aware.
On the other hand, editing and teaching can keep me from writing, which ends up doing the opposite of helping… I teach out of necessity and I help put together Brick out of love, but I have to make sure these things keep to their “compartments” or else there’ll be no writing, and it’s writing that gave me these two gigs in the first place.
Now, one year later and another book published, do you still feel that way?
Yeah, definitely. I’m still trying to make enough time for all three of these gigs and to keep them all to their corners, and I’m still learning a lot from the teaching and the editing. Lately the pattern of my years goes that I work like mad through the fall and a bit less through the winter so I can have the summers more to myself and to writing. It’s been a good pattern, overall. Not perfect, of course, but utterly workable.
One of the most talked-about questions I always ask on my blog is asking a published writer’s views on social media. Are you still keen on using Facebook and Twitter?
I use them a fair bit, and they are really good for following issues you’re interested in and keeping abreast of or letting people know about readings or events or good things to look at or read. But I remain more of a listener than a contributor on those platforms (as in life, mostly), and there’s a point when I have to turn these things off and get to work already.
Have there been any new writers or any new books that you have read in the past year that have earned your praise?
I just read Tim Lilburn’s new book, The Names, and it is wonderful. He has a new voice in these poems, or at least it feels new to me. Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell have both been nominated to the Griffin Prize this year, and I think both books are highly deserving of this recognition. I recently read a book called Stolen Life, written by Yvonne Johnson, a descendant of the Plains Cree chief mistahimaskwa / Big Bear (along with Rudy Wiebe). This book was new to me, and it’s wonderful and wrenching. I’m reading Jenna Butler’s A Profession of Hope right now, and, as someone who enjoys putzing around in the garden, I am having a great time with that one.
Are you working on or planning any new works right now? If yes, are there details you can share?
I’ve got some new poems in the hopper, but I don’t know much about them yet. They’re multiple in their intentions and even in their voices. I don’t know how things will turn out, but right now they are about clearcutting, about suburban sprawl, about animals, about sitting beside water, about sitting beside a fire. Pretty vague, I know, but that’s how it begins for me: turn off the editor in my head and just proceed towards that unnameable thing.
We move too fast at times to take notice of things. We need a device for us to stop and refer to in order to take notice of where things are coming from or going to. That is what a good line of verse makes us do. Take note of something that we may have taken for granted. And that is exactly what Mark Sampson’s book entitled Weathervane does for us. Points things out to us to show us where things come from or are going too.
Daylight Saving (Page 11-12)
Time’s evil twin, this slow tick
toward spring and the wet
melt of snow slipping through
your fingers, aiming your day
toward a moment that lives
longer, feels longer than it should.
How do you find the new self
you crave in this city
when you can’t even stay awake
long enough to turn your clocks
ahead? It drains you to think
of the opportunities, the hours
that move without you. No sleep
could cure your body
of this exhaustion. You’re made
your choice; it purses your lips
like time itself, words you didn’t
speak but should have.
Easier to play the role picked
for you by someone else
when all clocks ticked in unison
Is there any way to see this slow
march forward as anything
but a labyrinth? Time is a collage,
not stark lineage. Take solace
as you move from empty room
to empty room, turning the clocks
ahead – it feels like a minor crime
against time itself and a leap
of faith that you’ll awake the next
morning perfectly aligned
with the world around you.
It breeds an unease that starts in
your toes and climbs all the way
to the cavity in your chest-
you need only to survive
another horrific fall to get that hour back.
Sampson has the ability here to wax profanely about things we would all take for granted or overlook. He notes thoughts we all consider yet we never speak aloud. And he points out what we consider mundane and makes us ask why we think that. He does all that in an elegant manner and still enjoys a simple glass of beer.
Pages 35-26 Choosing a Mattress
is about more than just he selfishness of sleep,
that blessed oblivion
resting between today’s
half failure and tomorrow’s vague promise
Consider your future lovers
Choose a mattress wide enough
to accommodate their desire for you
and one soft enough
for the afterplay of all your gentle words
You must also make your pick
with lovelessness in mind-
a mattress broad enough to give room to wars,
to withstand fifty years
When choosing a mattress
pick one worthy of the children
you will conceive on it
This will be their launching pad
This will be where they judge you
Pick one equal to your anxieties,
the unnamed worries
that loop around endlessly,
like a ceiling fan
A mattress must be able to hold
the regrets that keep you from sleep
the wrongs you have done to others
These are your true weight
A mattress must be forgiving
but firm enough to bear it.
But the really beauty in the book is when Sampson makes us ponder an item with a few simple words place in a unique manner.
Profiles (Excerpt) IV. Page 76
a photo of
that dead kid
from his parents
their backyard in Guelph
Weathervane by Mark Sampson is a profound and unique read. He points out things to us and shows us in which way they are going. A brillant and enjoyable read.
We have all experience moments around us when things are quiet. A hush surrounds us and we become lost in our thoughts until a little sound disturbs us. Or we are in a very noisy situations for a continuous period and we seek out a moment of quiet and solitude. Anne-Marie Turza has considered those moments and has placed them in her collection of poetry called The Quiet.
The Quiet – ii:i (Page 33)
We lived in that quiet, above megrims in second storey
windows, painted our mouths with ketchup, our eyelids
with sweet relish, wore singlets made from the dyed hair
of miniature horses. Evenings, we lit candles. Chanted
in Latin. Adsum, adsum, a capite ad cacem. Mostly we
didn’t know what we were saying. We lived there for years,
shared our beds with the mouths of beetles. In that quiet,
tender with attention, our faces swollen, the stung backs
of our knees, our bitten heels.
Turza has captured a universal experience for many people here but many may take those quiet moments for granted. She has collected her thoughts well here, easily having any reader capture the images she has created with their mind’s eye.
i:iii (page 7)
Within every city are unseen cities, intangible walls and alleys: a voice, on afternoon on the raido, addressed its audience. Rats too are historiographers, said the voice, the voice of a rat specialist. Come hydraulic hammers and hoe rams, come rubble, Rats thread the empty plots between ghost buildings, following old paths to their nests as if the walls still stand. In this city of brick and limestone where you and I are sleeping. Every night, traversing pathways that seem no longer to exist.
Turza also takes us down roads that seem strange to us, but then illuminates the way with familiar signs.
Anthem For A Small Country (Page 26)
In my country we admire the ambitious dust: long into the night,
for endless hours, it practices such gentleness on the window’s sill.
Our country’s flower is the rose in the curved bed of the fingernail
And there is a surreal-type of grace here in these words as well. It is a pleasure to read and to contemplate the thoughts surrounding the words.
On Sleep (Page 49)
Have you never met, in passing, a stranger who addressed you knowingly? “You can’t sleep well, in your language,” a woman once told me, pipe smoke seeping from the bowl of her vowels. I was reading a book with a soft cloth cover, a monograph on the water beetle, waiting for a train in the glass-domed station, the pages stippled with dust. The woman pointed to a table where a man sat eating almonds from a green bowl. “In my language I can put that table anywhere.” Pardon me?, I said. Already, the table, drifting upwards; tendrils of the man’s hair, on end; the smooth soles of his shoes, eighth notes rising overhead. A rain of almonds from the high dome where birdshapes turn millwheel in the gathered clangour of the trains. To sleep well, not in this language.
The Quiet by Anne-Marie Turza is a collection that is enlightening a filled with grace. A perfect read for a quiet moment.
Thank you to Brick Books for making this book available for me at the 2014 Toronto Word on the Street festival
We take way too many things for granted in our busy lives. Work, school, family and so on demand our attention that we ignore simple features that exist in our neighbourhoods. But Arleen Paré has noted the lakes near her and has recorded her observations in her poetry collection Lake of Two Mountains and has given us something to ponder in our own environs.
More (Page 6)
the lake’s surface calmed
trees displaying roots into roots
their upside-down selves
tree selves downside-up
in the water where their roots
touch their roots a surfeit of calm
redoubles the lake
Paré has given not only careful thought but also a great deal of research into this collection. She has organized her thoughts into careful phrases that the mind’s eye can clearly see how a lake came into formation and now exists.
Becoming Lake (Page 7-8)
Start early. Pleistocene.
3 a.m. Let the Laurentide Ice Shield
wrench surface snow, blast
great pans of pale frozen foam.
Thunder out. Cacophony of cold,
glacial-sour. Scoop a basin
five miles across.
Let the bowl corrugate.
Beneath the plain,
concavitate in slow ragged folds.
Sink potholes. Shove mountain tops
from below stony roots. Spall,
brinell, press walls whipped with sleet
Penance the ice. Endure
the murk, the minutes, millennia.
Empty the out the salt sea.
daily rains gelatinate the sky.
Conjure blue then,
olive-green, brown, streaks of violet gold,
precipitation’s long sombre hush. Rubble,
river mouth, almighty mud.
All things fall away, sink
ripple-scum and shore fog, water
grey-pocked – but moving,
currents, then caps of white,
the lake’s sliver face
scudded with wind.
Paré has also shared her insight into what others think of her lake. Again she is able to turn to observations in great phrases that a reader can clearly see.
Whose Lake? (Page 36-37)
My lake says the man
with the speedboat
because his uncle
once owned a camp at Riguad where the river
breaks into the lake
God’s lake says
Frere Gabriel because
he believes God owns
whatever He wants
and who wouldn’t want this particular lake
My lake you say
and the lake of your sister
because your grandfather
and mother and aunts
and your uncle
once owned thw white house up the road
and you stayed every summer
and swam every day
rain or shine
Our lake say the Mohawks
and the lake of our dead
because they lived
here or near enough here
and died here
if not from time immemorial
at least almost as long
My lake says the woman
who rents you the room
who owns the patio chairs
and the curved turquoise pool
and the long windy fore-shore
performing before you
and the house like a rock
or a deity
watching your backs.
Lake of Two Mountains by Arleen Paré is an insightful collection of poetry which opens the mind’s eye to the complexities of lakes. It is a pleasure to read and ponder over.
Life is a series of contrasts: light and. ark, air and water, dirty and clean, beauty and ugliness. And just how far apart are those contrasts in some people’s lives makes for a surprising observation sometimes. That is what David Groulx has done in his book A Difficult Beauty.
Half (page 56)
I run around the shack
stating to my mother
half of me is Indian and half of me
it’s straight down the middle
half of me is white
half of me is brown
I tell her Spock is a half-breed too
I tell her Jesus is a half-breed too
he’s mixed up inside
Groulx has an brilliant writing style. He is able to set a scene in a reader’s mind with clear words. Most of the scenes are uncomfortable, which is meant to show us the reality that he and most of his people are in.
Elliot Lake (Excerpt page 31)
Does anyone remember this place?
Does anyone remember what this place was
like before it withered away and died like my old man?
Does anyone remember the beer and the blood
dripping off the wooden bar,
the dirty cops and passers through
Does anyone remember this place
before the Tories moved in
planted flower gardens and picked up dog shit
and kept the money on Bay Street
they bought the miners’ houses for
sweet fuck all
and we all fucked off with our families
we’d raised on Steve Roman’s luck and fed
every parasite mayor
and Lester Pearson with our flesh
Does anyone remember this place
we built with our hands
and paid for with our lives
before the sun was up
we dug our graves and
climbed out after it went down
like vampires but we were men?
Groulx documents a sadness in people’s lives that needs to be documented. It is a personal sadness that isn’t documented in other forms of media but Groulx shows us that the realm exists for him and the people around him.
My Neighbour (Page 22)
The cops were here
took George’s five kids away
I saw George in the window
waving goodbye to his children
his 400-pound frame
looked like rain
it’s quiet and dark
I can hear George weeping
It takes a bit of reading and re-reading to see the contrasts Groulx sometimes talks about, and that is the beauty of his words. Yes the scene is sad, but it exists, and this is how he is going to explain it to his reader.
Passing By Your Place (Page 20)
Indians live there
with boarded up windows
and mattresses on the floor
its always dark and quiet
and the cops visit every once in a while
the landlord drops by on welfare day
brings in some industrial lacquer
he stole from the mill he works at
gives it to the Indians
he makes more money this way
on the day they
will carry your body
out of there Jimdadoikwe
and I will be quiet and dark
while the smell
sinks into the walls.
While life is filled with contrasts for many of us, Groulx has brilliantly described all the points between those contrasts well. He has described a reality for many of us that needs to be described and which other forms of communication have failed to tell us about.