Showing posts from June, 2017

A Convergence of Gazes: Gjertrud Schnackenberg on "Afghan Girl"

I was enjoying my second coffee on a quiet morning some time ago when this message from Gjertrud Schnackenberg arrived in my inbox.  Dear Susan, At last I’ve finished the poem I’ve been working on day and night since October, 2012.  When I began the poem I was overjoyed because I thought it would be a short poem, and I always want and hope to write short poems — but as weeks turned into months and years, the writing began to feel like a dream in which I was using magic scissors to cut into it and cut into it,  and with every cut, the poem grew longer and longer.  She had attached a file. I put down what I was doing and opened it, and began reading. And re-reading. It was, to put it simply, astonishing.  “Afghan Girl” ( New England Review , June 2017) pays tribute to Steve McCurry's iconic photograph of a young woman, later identified as Sharbat Gula, in an Afghan refugee camp. Her arresting gaze is the starting point for Schnackenberg’s interrogation of conflict,

A Most Anticipated Kindness

Another most anticipated 2017 collection: Susan Elmslie's Museum of Kindness , Fall 2017 from Brick Books. Why are there so many museums devoted to acts of war, instruments of torture, all manner of atrocity, but not to acts of kindness? This is essentially how Susan Elmslie explained her new collection to me when we chatted one day last fall. It's wonderfully affirming, the thought of honouring kindness this way. It also sparks something slightly chilling: is kindness so strange to us that it needs to be set in a museum? But museums are not the only places the things in them inhabit.... Museum of Kindness , cover image by Ren├ęBolduc As the publisher's website says, in this book Susan Elmslie's is "a sober and unflinching gaze that meets us where we really live and does not look away." Read "In Praise of Hospital Cafeterias" here and more from Museum of Kindness at Numero Cinq


SUSAN ELMSLIE In Praise of Hospital Cafeterias Water, is taught by thirst. — Emily Dickinson Not exactly an oasis in the desert, but as you bide time before the biopsy or loosen your watch to let the news sink in, good to avail yourself of the $2.22 coffee & muffin combo or Fairlee pulp-free OJ and bagel, benign beige plastic chair, dusty plant languishing on a ledge: a single bloom, reaching toward the window’s frosted glass. On another day this plant would be giving God the finger.   The food service worker’s skirt argues with her butt.   Luck sounds like a word a baby might say, trying out her tongue.   So what if you have forgotten the common names of trees, the taste of a carrot with the dirt just rubbed off, which bird says, youcheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburg . There is ordinary comfort in wrapped straws. A lady is scraping a muffin paper with her teeth, so beautiful.   For now there is no