October 27, 2014

In Conversation with MEDRIE PURDHAM

A small, smoky basement cafe (in the not-so-distant past when cafes could be smoky). Singing (Esma, Queen of the Gypsies) and poetry (various, with throat-clearing and shouts and whispers). I was introduced to a quiet young woman along the back wall, whose smile made me feel I could say anything. I'd heard about her poems -- luminous, resonant -- but hadn't read any. And I wasn't going to hear any that night, because she was there to listen. That's Medrie. She really listens. And when she speaks, in poetry or conversation, the most wonderful things come out.

SUSAN GILLIS: What brought you to poetry in the first place?

MEDRIE PURDHAM: When I was eleven, I got a daily paper route. It had to be completed by 7 a.m., which meant that for the greater part of the year, it had to be done in the pre-dawn dark, in the long shadows of our quiet suburban streets. My mother let me do this route only as long as I didn't come home through the park, even though it was a shortcut, which persuaded me that I was doing something totally hazardous every day. I had bought myself an old anthology of poetry from the used bookstore near our house, and I read it from cover to cover, mainly because it smelled amazing: I have never known paper to decay more sweetly. I started deliberately memorizing poems that I could recite to myself on my paper route, for no other reason than to keep myself company in the morning and to give myself something to think about other than what was lurking in the park. By the time I gave up my route (at thirteen), I had an enormous repertoire of memorized poems, and, looking back, I think that somewhere in my mind there was an association consolidated in my mind between reading a poem and walking out into the wide and dangerous world. I still make an effort to learn my favourite poems by heart because I feel that internalizing poetry completely is what made me want to write in the first place.

SG: The rhythms and feel of poetic language--it seems you internalized
these, by memorizing and reciting, and externalized them, as you
walked your paper route. In fact, paper itself seems to carry some
weight in your poetic engagement. Reading your poems I often hear a careful,
thoughtful calibration as they develop. Could you talk about structure
and pacing in your work—how you approach it, how conscious you are of
it, whether it’s something you feel your way through or deliberately
engineer, and/or any other thoughts on the subject?

MP: Thank you for that observation. Your question has got me thinking
that I should start taking poems for walks again for rhythmic control or
respectable leash-training. I do really appreciate fine rhythms and
sonic effects in the poetry I read, because poetic rhythms and other
internal patterns underline that poetry is a temporal and moving thing.
That's how these effects help us love and mourn what the poem wants us
to love and mourn. Sound is where the intuition of the poet meets with
the body and life of the reader. For me, achieving a suitable sound
and pacing is the hardest part of poetic composition, and I have to do
it both by "feeling my way through" and by conscious arrangement after
the fact.

SG: What's inspiring you these days?

MP: There's a particularly random antique store here in town where a
person can get lots of inspiration and up to three accordions.

Medrie Purdham is a former Montrealer who lives and writes in Regina. Read her poem "You Call Your Next Child" here.

October 16, 2014

Medrie Purdham: A Poem

Image by Angela King-Jones, courtesy of Red Edge Images

Medrie Purdham

Yes, work now at pinning matter to spirit; do it
even if you think it’s just a quibble with the wind.

If it would make something happen, you’d
jettison this poem into space. You’d moor it
in the hollowed bone of an animal you’d spoken to softly.
You’d say it by rote in the presence of celibates.
You’d mar it in the May fires; you’d burn it to bits.

       Your first son, two years old, says time is not angry.
       He thinks numbers are girls, he thinks he’s a vowel.
       A forkful of cake makes him think he’s turned three.
       The compulsive priest of his own magic, he
       alters even his own likeness in a slow cascade.

Listen, we all know better than to name the thing we want.
The year is moving like treacle. All its birds are ghosts.

Is there a way to invite that other body? Throw a stone
from a cairn but save its replica. Plant a pear-tree in
the shade, as a life-index, maybe. Take an umbrella
into the shower and try not to sing. These are the rules of
the mind’s personal longing. These are the
rattles in which the green heart’s all stitched up.

First broadcast on CBC Radio's Sound XChange with Kelley Jo Burke, a show now sadly defunct. reproduced by permission of the author.

Medrie Purdham is a former Montrealer who lives and writes in Regina.

October 2, 2014

Karen Enns in Conversation

When Karen Enns took the stage to read from Ordinary Hours, her newest book, in a small bookshop in Montreal on a hot evening--or was it cold? That's what happens when Karen Enns takes the stage with her newest book, and it's anything but ordinary.

SUSAN GILLIS: What brought you to poetry in the first place?

KAREN ENNS: I think reading or writing a poem is a way of savouring some very elusive, very private tension. That’s probably what drew me in when I was young, although I wouldn’t have articulated it in quite the same way. You could really live in that small space, it seemed to me. The tension was partly a musical one, something to do with consonance and dissonance, but it was also connected with the way words worked on the page. What was included and what was left out.

SG: Words on the page: the space they make, and living in it--what you say here resonates with how I read your poems. They feel like rooms with good proportions. There's a spaciousness, a kind of generosity, at play in poems like Yellow Chair, Suite for Tools, William Street Elegies, to name just a few.  How do you go about designing and constructing that space?

KE: I wish I had something really breathtaking to offer as a response but your question has me thinking about my years working as a chamber musician. Often in rehearsals, someone in the group would try to explain a way of shaping a particular phrase or line until someone else would break in and say, “Just play it the way you want it so we can hear what you mean.” Everyone would listen and nod, put a few marks in their scores, and the rehearsal would continue. As far as explanations go, it was a humbling experience.

Although poetry wraps itself around language, there’s always a mysterious space, it seems to me, a kind of no-man’s land, between the two. Translation is very active in that gap, just as it is between notes on the page and actual music-making. There’s a certain amount of chaos that doesn’t always lend itself to explanation. Lines of poetry, good solid lines, are something to hold onto, as is the shape of the poem and its momentum. I'm aware of these structures as grounding when I approach a poem and also as a wonderfully distracting way of dealing with the real poem in the middle of it all. I think there’s a bit of force involved, at least sometimes, in the translative wrestling. Or maybe a better word is simply energy; making the undefined thing into a defined thing takes a real charge. I wonder if this period of sorting through the complications non-verbally (and sorting and sorting) stays in the poem somehow and becomes the quality we can't quite define or reproduce but we can hear.

SG: What's inspiring you these days?

KE: I’ve been reading the poetry of Tomasz Rozycki and Francis Ponge, and riding my bike around Victoria. All very inspiring.

Karen Enns has published two books of poetry with Brick Books, That Other Beauty (2010)  nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award, and Ordinary Hours, released in the spring of 2014. She lives in Victoria. Read her poem "At First" here.