October 20, 2020


I'm thrilled to find Sarah Venart's fine new book, I AM THE BIG HEART, in the mailbox. I walk back to the house so absorbed in it I forget to check the pines that line the lane for the owl that sometimes waits there, watching.

Thrilled because it was fourteen years in the making, Sarah says, at times with much uncertainty over whether it would get made at all. Thrilled because I got to watch some of the poems taking shape (see Sarah's revision worksheets for four poems, from draft to publication, here).

The cover is unsettling and beautiful, and the book is thicker than I'd imagined - partly that luxurious paper all Brick's books are printed on, partly the hospitable distillation of a whole lot of thoughtful and passionate and sometimes resistant living.

Hospitality, especially when it feels like invitation, is one of the best things to find in a poem. When the poem goes "here's what this is like for me; how is it for you?" I feel a little more alive. Sarah's poems do this over and over.

       In earth years, my heart is ridiculously young.
       It blinks closed, it glistens open to herd the blood.
               ("Darling Citizen")

They risk and play and dare me to go in close.

       When she loved me, she got on with it
       in silence: she punched down the bread and salvaged
       the cold oatmeal on the stove.
       It wasn't what I asked for.

They're not afraid - or, when they are, they face it.

       At night I close my eyes and let my thoughts
       become my feelings, let my feelings point their corners
       into dark corners

They're faceted: tender, comedic, unflinching, bare. Some hold injury and manipulation up to the light for scrutiny (The Widening; How It Worked; Stun Guns). Some hold their own trembling, their own joy (Dénouement; Lambing Season), grief and love. 

       To go rogue, stop holding onto
       what hurts, indulge in this minute, make
       room for what's good.
               ("The Midwife Advises Me")
Poems and fragments found in her poet-mother's journals are folded in; family life and the individual life in all their bewildering complexity are folded in. 
And the poems are masterful constructions of pattern and variation, sometimes gathered in formation, sometimes roaming the page
       from domestic into feral

       just like that.
               ("The Chauffeur")

I look up: it's late afternoon. The owl is calling. 

October 1, 2020


"If you don't like what you wrote, don't think about the words, just remember it better."

I'm paraphrasing Robert Hass's advice on revision in a dimly-recalled Vimeo of a talk given in Rotterdam, a paraphrase itself of something Jack Kerouac once said.

The context was a discussion of the sources of poetry according to Rilke (memory, dream, art) and its subjects (joy, longing, grief). Hass had set up a quick exercise in noting a location for each of those emotions.

Just before this, someone in the audience asked about revision, to which Hass responded with an anecdote (about Robert Duncan and his poem "My Mother Would Be a Falconress") that suggested a poem only acquires the name 'poem' when all the writing is done, essentially another way of saying writing is rewriting is writing.

I recall, as a young person just beginning to find my own poems, asking a friend about her process and how she knew when a poem was finished. The question felt a little like the one my younger self asked my mother: how do you know when it's love? 

My poet friend answered that she played the poem in her mind's eye like a little movie, following it to its conclusion.

My mother answered that it's when you can't not be there, or, there's no conclusion.

          mid-day at my desk
          tea going cold
          milk going warm
          I've been listening to poetry

July 8, 2020


Concrete & River will be on hiatus for a season while I tune up my writing practice and give needed attention to my personal page where I share some of my work as poet, editor, and guide.

Thank you for your check-ins and shares, your reading and responses. It's been exhilarating. And, this is not the end--just a pause.

Today's Poem-A-Day pick from poets.org jumped into my heart and stayed with me this morning. I hope they won't mind me sharing it here.

Danielle Legros Georges
What is water but rain but cloud but river but ocean
but ice but tear.
What is tear but torn what is worn as skin as in as out
as out.
Exodus. I am trying to tell a tale that shifts like a gale
that hurricanes and casts a line
that buckles in wind that is reborn a kite a wing.
I am far
from the passage far from the plane of descending
suitcases passports degrees of mobility like heat
like heat on their backs. 
This cluster of fine grapes Haitian purple beige
black brown.

June 11, 2020


Yusuf Saadi writes: I had just finished reading One Thousand and One Nights, where, famously, Shahrazad must narrate a story to the king in order to entertain him all night so he doesn’t kill her. I was thinking about the interaction of language and sensuality, the kinds of sensuality on the surfaces of language and beyond language, and how the body incites language and vice versa.

Pleasuring Shahrazad

In rosewater I rinse
my final words, dip
them into your body.
Your slow, saline drip
on my tongue. You eclipse
Medinan dates soaked
in honey, saffron rice
with diced pistachios,
a single pomegranate—
surah carved in Kufic
on each ruby seed.
Camphor recites its being
inside a kerosene lamp.

Don’t plead, simply ask
for pleasure pleated
upon pleasure past
tongue-winding rinds
around words.
Damascus musk settles
on damask pillows.
Iced watermelon wine
gushes in crystal glass.
Hebron peaches blush;
sea-coast lemons
            cleave in halves.
My nails moonrake
damp thighs;
again, I dine on
webbed-wet fingers.

Lips graze lashes, kohl.
On each closed eyelid
my tongue practises
its patient whorl
before I cherish
your perfect pearl.
I gave my day
dreaming of your
myrrh’s mystique.
Now my tongue
is to caress—
not to speak.

Pluviophile, Yusuf Saadi’s first collection, was published by Nightwood Editions in April, 2020 and is available through Harbour Publishing, Nightwood Editions, independent bookstores, and at https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/pluviophile/9780889713741-item.html. "Pleasuring Shahrazad" first appeared in The Malahat Review and in Pluviophile

June 2, 2020


Sadiqa de Maijer photo by Cat London
Sadiqa de Meijer writes: This is the title poem from my new collection. I've always liked the riddle of how to get the fox, goose and grain across the river, when some will eat the other if left alone. Older versions of that quandary sometimes feature a wolf, a goat, and a cabbage. I wanted to ask, particularly from a multi-ethnic and diasporic perspective, what if we look at that cargo, and even the landscape of the river itself, as internal to the speaker?

Sadiqa de Meijer

I saw that I would have to cross the river,
and that it was the Rijn.
I had a fox, a goose, a sack of grain.

I said, I love the gay men in kufiyas on the Rembrandtplein,
and the muted half of me, from a land of five converging waters,
with an upstream alphabet—
so what makes me yours
every night, slow current, floodplain
of drowning grass?

Then the goose was in the reeds. It had an egg.
Twigs and quills, the ruckus of two pulses.
The grain had blown into my field. Someone was claiming it.
And the fox was a vanishing streak.

I could take my name, but not my papers.
I could take the swept air, but not my breath,
or not in one load. My promises, but not the child
I’d made them to, unless I could bring something back—
but the weather, the barges, the clouds turning orange and rose.

 The Outer Wards, Sadiqa de Meijer's second collection, was published in April 2020 by Vehicule Press.

May 22, 2020


Alexander Kokinidis/freeimages.com

Twice this poem, today's Poetry Daily feature, says "stay with me."

Don't worry, poem! I'm so there in your language I'm not sure I could leave if I wanted to.

Reparations Redefinition: Bond
Marcus Wicker

Noun: A uniting or binding element or force.

              The thing about facing your fears head on
is it only really works on TV. As an example, let’s say
              a clawfoot bathtub teeming with arachnids

is your garden variety anti-fantasy.
              Now, say the sitcom dad in you gets the itch
to do something experiential, something special

              for your 40th (stay with me), so you willingly
dive into a pool of 10,000 tarantulas, head-
              first. In the Fear Factor version

of this midlife episode, Ludacris is like
              Man, white people are crazy.
In reality, this sounds like a frightful fucking

              headache, six ibuprofen & stitches.

Read the whole poem here

I'm not sure there's a "sitcom dad" in me exactly but whatever is there gets "the itch / to do something experiential, something special" (there's an understatement, that "special").

There's also not that same kind of oak tree (read on, if you haven't yet), but the "aerial vantage" I'm getting all the way through is definite.

I'm saying "I understand what steers our national / stasis, our fossilized political animals, & I / forgive us" persuades me.

Stay with me? As if I could not.

As if this poem didn't keep talking, even after the last word.

May 7, 2020


Conyer Clayton photo by Grant Savage
Conyer Clayton writes: This is one of my favourite poems to read aloud in my entire book, and I was looking forward to sharing it orally with folks during readings. I encourage you to read it out loud. I feel that is where it shines the most.

This poem is a reflection on the thinness of the line between worlds, the ways we attempt to thicken that veil, dissolve it, reach through, and retreat.

I had several readings cancelled, including Versefest on March 26th, two Guernica launches in Toronto and Ottawa, and likely more to be cancelled this summer. My Ottawa launch with Riverbed Reading Series has moved to Zoom, on May 20th. Check out their website, riverbedreads.ca for details on how to register!

The Screen Comes Off Easily

You text me to say
you crawled out the window
to the balcony
of your hotel room
on the 26th floor,
the wind around the sides
of buildings tearing
your hair out, tearing you off
like the beetle you released
to starlight and concrete.

How efficiently we grieve

depends not on the body itself,
the colour coding,
the spice drawers.
Put it back
where you found it.
Put it back quickly
before I notice the gap,
the continuing nights spent alone,
the ones I asked for,

the steps heavy and shuffling regardless.


She left the long list of her leaving out plain:
            her body
            cigarette burned
            long list
            groups of letters
            tattered sweaters
            turquoise nightgown
            moles sun-spotted (palm backs and cheeks)

The tapestry behind her weighted down with
the smallest flower repeated,
the smallest flower, small and blooming widely.


We sit with our food
groups grouped
in thick bricks of colour
on our plates.
No need
to supplement this existence
with the slow release
of how much we know
once our toes are off the edge.

How little we know.

And the lightness with which
you come back inside.

Conyer Clayton is an Ottawa-based writer, musician and gymnastics coach. She has 6 chapbooks, 2 albums, and won The Capilano Review's 2019 Robin Blaser Poetry Prize. Her debut full-length collection is We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite (2020,Guernica Editions). Stay updated on her endeavours at conyerclayton.com.