December 22, 2020


This poem by Susan Buis from Gatecrasher might be more explicitly a praise poem than some others in this striking collection (Invisible Publishing, 2019). Its active soundscape makes it, for me, one of the most pleasurable.
Susan Buis
For the dive, for the strike and clutch
muscles shiver in communion
to hold a hover through gusts 
bending air to arc, wavering
a spread fan, wings tensile
as spring branches. In the gap
before the articulate plunge
all trembles but the eye 
fixed on a brackish creek upwelling
with sweet eels that thrive
in briny confluence and streaks
of red weed swaying in the gullet -- 
weed that's weft for a scavenged
wood warp, mass of nest
to weave another stick through.

From its first line, this swift-moving poem makes the osprey visible. Precise verbs and the repeated word "for" signal a praise poem in the tradition of Hopkins; a poem dedicated to the osprey's majesty and power. By line two, "for" shifts reference to what's purposeful: the "communion" of shivering muscles in service to those actions and "to hold a hover."

At the midpoint, there's another deft shift, this one of focus: from the osprey to its target; and the "trembles" move from air to ground. Everything the bird needs -- food, nest materials -- is provided there in the "brackish creek upwelling." We see everything but the plunge itself; that action happens in a "gap."
The closing image shifts from the present moment to a more general observation about osprey-style nest-building, and for me at least takes some careful (and slow) untangling. What guides me through that is the way Buis's word choices and sonic effects intensify and then in that last line fall away, in the clipped sound of the word "stick" and almost-not-there "through." 
Yet that "through" is fully realized; the osprey's dive is not the end of the osprey's story, in any sense of finality (though it is an end in the sense of purpose). The poem closes with a gesture that moves through the present moment to the nest-building that's happening offstage, as surely as the "spring branches" the birds' wings are likened to are leafing out.

December 1, 2020


Storage pyramids at McInnis Cement. Mary Soderstrom photo 

In this post, Concrete & River makes a brief departure from poetry to chat with Mary Soderstrom about her most recent book, CONCRETE: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future (Regina: University of Regina Press, 2020).

SUSAN GILLIS: Thanks, Mary, for talking about your book Concrete in this slightly unconventional context, a poetry blog. When I saw the advance notices, I couldn't resist following up with you, and I'm glad I did. 

In the book's first chapter, you recount thinking and writing about roads, both literal and metaphorical, and “as one thing leads to another,” you began to consider concrete as a material. Can you pinpoint a moment you knew you were going to take concrete as the subject for a book?

MARY SODERSTROM: I came up with the idea in the fall of 2016 when I was finishing up Road through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move. I like to have a project on the go always, and concrete seemed to be the logical next step, pun intended. It seems to me that the working title occurred to me at the same time: "Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World As We Know It." I really liked the word play in the title, and so did the main editor. But when the book was done, others at the publishing house argued that a different title would work better. I think you have to be a Protestant to get the semi-pun of Rock of Ages, and obviously there are a lot of potential readers out there who wouldn't have the cultural baggage to get the joke.  

SG: The central chapters are titled Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. How did you decide to shape the book around the classical four elements?

MS: This was one of the things that took the longest to arrive at. As it turns out, not only does each of these things go into making concrete, concrete is essential to their modern use. 

Take water for example: concrete is composed of up of about 30 per cent water, while the material is essential for producing the pipes, canals, dams that make water available for our use. Try to imagine a world without hydroelectricity, or drinking water piped long distances, or crops irrigated by water flowing hundreds of kilometres through concrete canals, and you get the connection.