Showing posts from December, 2013

The Slow Animal of Silence: Reading Emily Dickinson on the Winter Solstice

While it isn't exactly about the winter solstice, this poem by Emily Dickinson locks down the wintry silence that comes after a storm, a stillness that contains only the slightest shifts. It's this felt but not seen movement of heat, of life, that links me to the solstice moment, as the solar year turns toward longer, warmer days. At the beginning of this short poem, we are outside a house after a storm, on a street that has been scoured by wind and snow. The house is battened down, but not quite perfectly; birds have gone into hiding; silence has moved in and occupied the whole place. By the poem's end, we are -- at least in our imaginations -- in the snug shelter of the cellar, where apples and presumably other foods are stored. The rhythmic pattern is very balanced in this little 11-liner: a tense, regular beat of two-two-three, two-two-three, two-two-three, four-three, the tight rhyme on the end of each three-beat line making the final slant rhyme strang

Emily Dickinson: A Poem

Because Solstice, because light and more light as we move into the hardest parts of winter, because Emily, a poem: Like Brooms of Steel The Snow and Wind Had swept the Winter Street - The House was hooked The Sun sent out Faint Deputies of Heat - Where rode the Bird The Silence tied His ample - plodding Steed The Apple in the Cellar snug Was all the one that played. courtesy of Red Edge Images (Poem 1241, from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin; also listed as poem 1252 in Thomas H. Johnson's edition of 1955) And I don't normally do this on my blog, but here's a link to " Solstice Night, " first published at Encore , later in The Rapids ( Brick 2012) and Best Canadian Poetry 2012 (Tightrope Books).              

In Conversation with Joe Rosenblatt

Joe Rosenblatt was one of my first poetry teachers, and the only one whose personal electrical force field was so powerful it once made the borrowed digital watch he was wearing go haywire. I recall him ripping the watch from his arm and placing it on the table; we all stared as the hours and minutes and seconds turned over at dizzying speed. I don't remember what happened next. Somehow we went on. Now Joe is about to celebrate his 80th birthday. He has generously shared some musings on poetry, painting and the spill between the two. Happy birthday, Joe! Susan Gillis: What brought you to poetry -- or what brought poetry to you? Joe Rosenblatt:  I was always the dreamer from Day One. In public school Mr. Scott my English teacher believed in Rudyard Kipling and I digested his poetry and of course the then British Empire and its virtues. If that's the right word. I guess the glory of the Empire. Canadian history wasn't in the curriculum back in the days when I was in

Joe Rosenblatt: A Poem

Joe Rosenblatt OLD AGE IS A TREE WITH DECAYING BARK Shadows are lurking in the daylight. Tentacles of my being stir and touch mottled spirits congealed in a wound. Old age is a tree with decaying bark where voices trapped in cellulose rage at sprouting rootlets in the earth.   Among unseen spores adrift in mildewed air I’d be reborn, nourished by the forest floor: I could become a child to some spongy mother   A hawk-eyed Horus awaits us in these woods. This bird of the Highest Order is in his roost. He’s there to snatch my soul and skyward bolt.   Shadows are lurking in the daylight. Elfin spirits stir under decaying leaves. We serve as food for famished fungi.   Or I could be mould on a crooked branch where woodpeckers drumming for grubs lay frantic claim to the same living tree. . Yellow tailed warblers gossip by a brook where spores of drifting memory desire Oyster mushrooms on a soggy tree trunk. Read my conversation with Joe Rosenblatt h

When the City Goes Dark: Xi Chuan's "Power Outage"

Morning, pearly-skied. A light snow marks branches, rooflines, overhead wires and hydro poles. Bright lights are twinkling in the distance over the elevated highway where it approaches the crumbling Turcotte Interchange. Traffic is gathering. I missed the famous ice storm that paralyzed Montreal in 1998, but still hear stories about how it brought people together in communities of friends, neighbours and strangers. I hear other stories too, about rivalry and greed, exploitation, isolation, but these aren't the ones that make it into the conventional accounts of the hushed beauty that lasted weeks and acts of generosity large and small. One thing that does come up, though, in any telling, is the sobering insight into just how dependent we are on the electrical power grid.   Living in the city, I depend on all the public services: snow clearing, garbage collection, clean water, heat and electricity. Paradoxically, the shared enterprise that provides them, the


_____________________________  Xi Chuan translated by Lucas Klein POWER OUTAGE A sudden power outage, and I’m convinced I live in a developing nation a nation where people read by moonlight a nation that abolished imperial exams a sudden power outage, and I hear wind chimes and a cat’s footbeats upstairs in the distance an engine stops with a thud the battery-powered radio beside me still singing once the power’s out, time turns back quickly: candles light up the little eateries the fat kid munching on crow meat notices crows gathering on trees and the pitch blackness before me like a seaswell womb a mother hangs herself from rafters each room its own special odor Power outage. I touch a slipper but mutter: “Quit hiding, matches!” in the candlelight, I see my own great big wordless shadow cast upon the wall from Xi, Chuan. Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems , translated by Lucas Klein. (NY: New Directions, 2012 ) By permiss