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Showing posts from January, 2014

A Bit of Speaking: Carolyn Forché's "Elegy"

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 Carolyn Forché, in the end note to her 1994 book: " The Angel of History is not about experiences. It is for me the opening of a wound...." Paul Klee, Angelus Novus (1920) For awhile in the late '90s I carried this book around and wrote passionate, deeply personal responses to the poems in it. Although at the time I was attending more to the racking anguish Forché was reporting than to the events at its source, the book gave weight and substance to the idea that the personal and the political are intertwined, an idea that had so far been, for me, largely theoretical. In " Elegy ," Forché places in conjunction two of the book's deeply resonant questions: "To what and to whom does one say yes?/If God were the uncertain, would you cling to him?" I said yes to the lyric back then, clung to it as a possibility, a redemption, just what in the end note Forché seems to say it is not. Redemptive or not, they are poems I return to, and not j

Carolyn Forché: A Poem

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Carolyn Forché ELEGY The page opens to snow on a field: boot-holed month, black hour the bottle in your coat half vodka half winter light. To what and to whom does one say yes ? If God were the uncertain, would you cling to him? Beneath a tattoo of stars the gate opens, so silent so like a tomb. This is the city you most loved, an empty stairwell where the next rain lifts invisibly from the Seine. With solitude, your coat open, you walk steadily as if the railings were there and your hands weren't passing through              them. "When things were ready, they poured on fuel and touched off the fire. They waited for a high wind. It was very fine, that powdered bone. It was put into sacks, and when there were enough we went to a bridge               on the Narew River." And even less explicit phrases survived: "To make charcoal. For laundry irons." And so we revolt against silence with a bit of speaking. The page is a charred

In Conversation with Steven Price

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Last October Steven Price and I talked through the whole flight from Fredericton to Montreal, and I enjoyed it so much I forgot my fear of flying. That's how it is with his poems, too; things get sorted. SUSAN GILLIS: How did you come to poetry? STEVEN PRICE: By accident; I didn't seek it out. I was a student at the University of Victoria and found myself unexpectedly drawn to it. I blame the excellent teachers there. SG: Your poems, especially in Omens in the Year of the Ox, resound with a sort of bell-clarity that comes from well-tuned language and a supple strength in the poems’ images and depths. Many of the poems begin with words like “so,” “because,” “as,” “if,” “in,” and other prepositions and conjunctions, almost as though in counterweight to the way the poems sound. Could you talk about lightness and weight in how you compose, and how you decide when the poem is done? SP: Interesting. I don't know. I suppose any poem begins as an interruption. That must ac

Steven Price: A Poem

Steven Price THE EXCURSION Once on shore we shuddered to see it: like panic pouring over the dead       shale, the shellfused rockpools, it oozed       its hooded head under a barnacled block       in a smooth crush of coils, was flushed       black-muscled back through the cold flail       of its beak, a soft vent murking a current;       then gulped a bell of ink against the glassed       surface and fell still. Each slow gasp welled       up strange to us where we crouched. Smaller than       we'd thought it, it slewed, limbs knotted       like knuckled hands wrung white, a sight       we saw and shrank from -- who had not come       for this. The sea light wimpled like banged steel       in the beyond. We rose. Reeled stunned       in a reeking squall of sandflies, saltburnt decay;       then, like appalled reflections of half-recalled       lives, turned away. "What was it?" asked       one; "a fish?" "Not a fish

In Conversation with Eleonore Schönmaier

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Every now and then one of Eleonore Schönmaier's luminous images turns up in my computer's screen saver slideshow, and I recall the summer afternoon we shared a piece of cake and a cool drink and talk of poetry in a backyard in Halifax. The conversation continued after we both left town for our homes in other places. SUSAN GILLIS: How did you come to poetry? ELEONORE SCHÖNMAIER: I grew up in a tiny northern wilderness settlement, and my sister says I was writing before I was doing anything else. In my early twenties I bought a literary magazine and on the back page there was a creative writing ad; I immediately signed up for the university poetry course. My teacher provided me with enormous inspiration and encouragement. I was a young northern nurse and my teacher helped me to discover that I was also a strong poet. SG: You're a poet of great sensitivity, and also a skilled photographer. Could you talk about the visual sense and how it informs your work? ES: I c

Eleonore Schönmaier: A Poem

Eleonore Schönmaier WHAT WE DON'T THINK OF PACKING but take along anyway:  the shoes on our feet, the fifty-four bones in our hands, the memory of the colour of the sheets on our beds.  We prepare for flight as if we and the customs officers are the only ones who will ever open our baggage.  Nightshirts close to the suitcase’s zipper so when we arrive we can quickly begin to restore what we thought we’d lost.  Certain kinds of loss we bargain for in transit:  eight hours of sleep, the memory of where we parked the car— In Canada a man stands at the end of his driveway talking to a neighbour:  I received the call—search and rescue.  There was no screaming, no arms hanging loose.  The helicopter shone light on the water and we picked up what there was— When I walk the beach with the kids I know what I’m looking for. I found a piece of plane and slipped it into my pocket. Didn’t tell the kids—a scrap the size of a two dollar coin. Loss jangling, except it’s in a cu