Thursday, August 03, 2006


The poetry world in Canada is small...but much larger than it used to be. If you want to know about poems, you have to read, of course. I thought today I might tell you where you can find some poems and poets I recommend for your contemplation. Some of these poets have accumulated numerous awards, including the Governor General's award for poetry, or perhaps the CBC Literary Award, or the Griffin Poetry Prize, along with provincial recognition. Some have been published only a few times; some are becoming household names for those who read poems. I share these links not only if I 'like' a poet, but also if that poet makes me think, teaches me something about using words, and mostly, feels like somebody who 'knows' what it is to struggle to make a poem.

Perhaps no poet is more inclined towards philosophy than Tim Lilburn, whose work I first encountered during Brenda Carr-Vellino's Master's class in the long poem, at Carleton University. His work, Kill-site, had just won the Governor General's award (2004) and our class read the poems as almost a final sampler of the course. I can't claim to have 'understood' but something responded to this person who had conflated nature, philosophy, and narrative with something grander: perhaps the exploration of the soul, all done in the context of the Canadian prairie, which I consider my other home in Canada. I may live in the Ottawa Valley and have worked most of my life in British Columbia, and I like both of these places, but Saskatchewan has a hold on me.

I was deeply blessed when I produced a chapbook after my journeys through Saskatchewan last year, wild blueberries, and the illustrious poet, Margaret Avison, allowed me to use an epigraph from her "Prairie Poem": " on the Saskatchewan praire is/choosing to find out that/space calls, to a reshaping/of person. This above and/beyond the going to, the choosing."

So Lilburn, though he now teaches in Victoria, embedded himself in the Saskatchewan ground, and grew a tree full of poems. Or, as he says on the McClelland website, "Kill-site is a long poem about prayer..." Maybe that's one of the reasons I keep going back to it; the times for poems tend towards the secular, so something in my spirit responds to the sense of soul embedded in a work.

Lorna Crozier is another prairie poet who is now teaching in Victoria (the weather's better out there, friends). I don't yet own all of her works, but I have Whetstone close at hand. Given the date I am writing, the heat, I can offer you no better sample than this, "The Weight of August":

The exhaustion of flowers, midafternoon,
the stale sun's spill and stutter
across the lawn, a sprinkler lifting
its tired arc and letting it fall. All things
moving to an end. Soon
I'll go in, wake you from your nap
and start our supper, anything
the garden's greens have left to give,
lettuce and chard, that undertaste of
bitterness. We live with who we are and not
what we once wanted. Late August,
its weight on my shoulders, my hand
not on your skin. I turn back
the page and start again,
not sure if I've read
this part before.

Here she writes a story of garden, time, marriage...and here she writes a world:

"...We live with who we are and not/what we once wanted..."

This is a woman who, like me, is coming to terms...and taking in the details, the small senses attuned to a pulse in the world. She writes, elsewhere, that "what is holy/is how the light falls on the tomato" and I have just come up from our garden which is full of, August 2, ripening on the vine. I do not know if my children have eaten many, if any, vine-ripened tomatoes, and this will be their year to do so....we have already begun on the yellow beans Melodie planted, I used the cilantro Maya planted yesterday in a soup, and on one plant, this morning, in our Gatineau garden, a tomato ripens.

On a garden note, I cannot believe how fast a pumpkin grows, and how widely the leaves range.
That particular soft yellow of flowers offering a foretaste of fall. Hallowed evenings.

And back to poets: I spoke to you the other day of Anne Compton. The websites about her are not overly comprehensive: I think she deserves more coverage. I guess you just have to buy her books! Processional is lovely.

Also, Don McKay: I found an interesting article by Stan Dragland, epigraph from Robert Bringhurst (poets on a poet) from UTQ, and some stuff at the University of Calgary site.
You can hear McKay read from Camber, at the Griffin short-list prize site. The Dragland link takes you to Brick Books, one of Canada's foremost poetry publishers. If Brick has the book, it is poetry worth reading. I can also say this of Buschek Books, whom I'm glad to promote. A local (Ottawa) small press, the books from this company are also lovely, and a wonderful representation of Canadian poetry at its best.

A word for the poet who was the main subject of my Master's work, Di Brandt. She is also a writer who has worked through, and continues to do so, the powerful influence of religious belief and family in one's adult life. (For fiction, in this area, I turn to Sandra Birdsell).

I have offered you only a short beginning. Another day, another poet, another poem. I shall finish with Lilburn: "Everything takes a religious pose." Amen.


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