membership

Another old poem – I wrote this about a year ago, in response to a prompt to write something inspired by a song.

Have you listened to the river?
I mean listened – really heard it.

Lay your body down upon its caramel coloured banks –
Nestle in the cradle of its butterscotch swirling waves
And I promise, it will share its secrets.

Stories of ice fishing trips gone awry;
Earthy odes to house flies and flood plains;
Deep, slow songs of resignation, hitting the muddy bottom, rebirth.

And if you listen long enough
You may hear the river whisper your name.
Then you will know the river has heard your secrets, too –
You will know that you belong.

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poem

From circa 2004.  The Emily Dickinson influence, in metre and rhyme scheme if nothing else, is very obvious, to me at least.  I wrote this shortly before I discovered the joys of obsessive editing, and never calling anything done until I’d re-written it to within an inch of its life.  The imagery in the second and fourth stanzas still speaks to me.

I wish I were a beauty
To win you back to me
I wish I were a frigate
To sail us far to sea

I wish I were a church bell
Calling you back home
I wish I were the broken earth
Over which you roam

But I’m haunted by my ugliness
I cannot win you back;
I don’t know how to sail to you
I’ve never learned to tack.

I never walk into a church
But I feel that I intrude
And all I know of broken earth
I’ve learned in solitude.

yoga free verse

I’m procrastinating writing in my journal, so here’s something I wrote last week (and have been mulling over for much longer, and will no doubt continue mulling over for longer still).  I haven’t subjected it to my usual editing process yet, and probably won’t.  It’s not supposed to be pretty.

Yoga is not the Sanskrit word for mild pabulum.
It is not a hodge podge of poorly articulated feel good philosophies,
Nor is it a shopping list of bland platitudes.
Yoga is a fierce, intense practice
Of uncovering what is most difficult and frightening and necessary
And doing those things
Without avoidance
Or drama
Or shame.

poem

I know you won’t fall in love with me
But I tell you about the book
Of Leonard Cohen’s poetry
I keep in my glove box
Anyway

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson: A Novel, by Jerome Charyn – a review

As most of you know, I’m a very big fan of Emily Dickinson, so this book has been on my radar since it was first published last year.  I picked it up at the library a few weeks ago because I was hungry for something to read quickly while I waited for the other books on my request list to trickle in.  I had serious doubts at the outset about whether the author would be able to convey the sense of Dickinson’s writing, or whether he would fumble it with clichés and questionable prose.  Well, he did a fairly good job (and that is high praise coming from me, given the subject).  His writing does indeed invoke a sense of her, or at least something not wholly dissimilar to what I feel when I read her verses, though certainly it is a somewhat diminished version.  He did take certain liberties in the story; I suppose this was unavoidable given the relative dearth of information about her day to day affairs.  New characters were introduced, and this bothered me more than it probably should have.  I guess my main complaint is not with the execution of the book, which was very good, but with the premise behind it:  fictionalizing her life.  I prefer the scholarship and the mystery of conventional biography.  However, this is probably a very good read for someone who is fond of her writing, but not obsessive about it.

I do really like the cover illustration (how awful is it that I’m talking about the cover illustration in my review of the book?), though the more I look at it, the less accurate it seems to me.  I’ve been to the Homestead and the Evergreens, and I’ve seen a recreation of her famous white dress; this isn’t it.  And it seems unlikely that she ever struck this pose while writing.  Perhaps, though, it is the perfect illustration for this book – evocative, though slightly romanticized.

untitled poem

I submitted this poem to the Chronogram for November, and apparently it made the short list but didn’t fit in the final layout. The poetry editor suggested that I resubmit it in the future. Since it’s a spring-themed poem, I think maybe I’ll resubmit it in March. Until then, I make it available here for your reading pleasure!

I have known silence
luscious and austere, all coarse and rarefied –
louder than a drum
louder than any hustle and bustle
I could ever devise.

In the fractional pause
between ringing gadgetry
and digital embrace,
some quiet thought
pervades –
some kind, unfettered thing
softens the void.

I learned to listen
in north Ontario, early spring.
In that sharp, naked season of light
not so much as a bird chirping
nor wave lapping
stirs the cool, dry air.

and Sometimes
I can still hear
that raw Canadian landscape
creeping across my threshold
bearing treasures and trinkets –
Longing
and Release.

honoured

I spent last weekend in Massachusetts at the wedding of two dear, dear friends. It was a beautifully idiosyncratic ceremony (the ring bearer was their dog), and a great reception followed. If I ever get married, I too want to have a contra dance (or perhaps a Scottish country dance) afterwards.

Since the wedding, I’ve been thinking a lot about love. It’s never really what you expect when it hits you, is it? And sometimes you don’t see it until it’s gone. E and K are very lucky to have recognized it in each other. And I am lucky too – for T, for my family, and also for E and K. Friends like these make the world a better place, and they don’t appear every day.

Anyway, the title of this post – I was honoured (I can think of no other word to describe the feeling) that E and K asked me to read a poem as part of their ceremony. (I realized afterwards that I was, in fact, the only man with a speaking role in the ceremony.)

The Summer Day – Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?