Monday, November 5, 2012

It’s the style for poets to be inspired liars, insane prophets and tormented human beings.
Miriam Waddington,
All nature into motion, 1969
A Canadian poet is a man who gets snowed on.
Elizabeth Rodriguez,
A Report, 1970

He invented a rainbow but lightning struck it
shattered it into the lake-lap of a mountain
so big his mind slowed when he looked at it

Yet he built a shack on the shore
learned to roast porcupine belly and
wore quills on his hatband

At first he was out with the dawn
whether it yellowed bright as wood-columbine
or was only a fuzzed moth in a flannel of storm
But he found the mountain was clearly alive
sent messages whizzing down every hot morning
boomed proclamations at noon and spread out
a white guard of goat
before falling asleep on its feet at sundown

When he tried his eyes on the lake ospreys
would fall like valkyries
choosing the cut-throat
He took then to waiting
till the night smoke rose from the boil of the sunset

But the moon carved unknown totems
out of the lakeshore
owls in the beardusky woods derided him
mooshorned cedars circled his swamps and tossed
their antlers up to the stars
Then he knew though the mountain slept the winds
were shaping its peak to an arrowhead

And now he could only
bar himself in and wait
for the great flint to come singing into his heart
Earle Birney

Keine Lazarovitch

When I saw my mother’s head on the cold pillow,
Her white waterfalling hair in the cheeks’ hollows,
I thought, quietly circling my grief, of how
She had loved God but cursed extravagantly his creatures.
For her final mouth was not water but a curse,
A small black h ole, a black rent in the universe,
Which damned the green earth, stars and trees in its stillness
And the inescapable lousiness of growing old.
And I record she was comfortless, vituperative,
Ignorant, glad, and much else besides; I believe
She endlessly praised her black eyebrows, their thick weave,
Till plagiarizing Death leaned down and took them for his mould.
And spoiled a dignity I shall not again find,
And the fury of her stubborn limited mind;
Now none will shake her amber beads and call God blind
Or wear them upon a breast so radiantly.
O fierce she was, mean and unaccommodating;
But I think now of the toss of her golden earrings,
Their proud carnal assertion, and her youngest sings
While all the rivers of her red veins move into the sea.
Irving Layton

The Country North of Belleville

Bush land scrub land—
Cashel Township and Wollaston
Elzevir McClure and Dungannon
green lands of Weslemkoon Lake
where a man might have some
opinion of what beauty
is and none deny him
for miles—

Yet this is the country of defeat
where Sisyphus rolls a big stone
year after year up the ancient hills
picnicking glaciers have left strewn
with centuries’ rubble
backbreaking days
in the sun and rain
when realization seeps slow in the mind
without grandeur or self-deception in
noble struggle
of being a fool—

A country of quiescence and still distance
a lean land
not like the fat south
with inches of black soil on
earth’s round belly—
And where the farms are
it’s as if a man stuck
both thumbs in the stony earth and pulled

it apart
to make room
enough between the trees
for a wife
and maybe some cows and
room for some
of the more easily kept illusions—
And where the farms have gone back
to forest
are only soft outlines
shadowy differences—

Old fences drift vaguely among the trees
a pile of moss-covered stones
gathered for some ghost purpose
has lost meaning under the meaningless sky
--they are like cities under water
and the undulating green waves of time
are laid on them—

This is the country of our defeat
and yet
during the fall plowing a man
might stop and stand in a brown valley of furrows
and shade his eyes to watch for the same
red patch mixed with gold
that appears on the same
spot in the hills
year after year
and grow old
plowing and plowing a ten-acre field until
the convolutions run parallel with his own brain—

And this is a country where the young
leave quickly
unwilling to know what their fathers know
or think the words their mothers do not say—

Herschel Monteagle and Faraday
lakeland rockland and hill country
a little adjacent to where the world is
a little north of where the cities are and
we may go back there
to the country of our defeat
Wollaston Elzevir and Dungannon
and Weslemkoon lake land
where the high townships of Cashel
McClure and Marmora once were—
But it’s been a long time since
and we must enquire the way
of strangers—
Al Purdy

Yonge Street Saturday Night

Except when the theatre crowds engulf the sidewalks
at nine, at eleven-thirty,
this street is lonely, and a thousand lights
in a thousand store windows
wouldn’t break her lips into a smile.

There are a few bums out,
there are lovers with hands held tightly,
there are also the drunk ones
but they are princes among men, and are few.

And there are some like us,
just walking, making both feet move ahead of us,
a little bored, a little lost, a little angry,

walking as though we were honestly going somewhere,
walking as if there was really something to see
at Adelaide or maybe on King,
something, no matter how little
that will give us some fair return
on our use of shoe-leather,

something perhaps that will make us smile
with a strange new happiness,
a lost but recovered joy.
Raymond Souster (1921- )

I’ve tasted my blood

If this brain’s over-tempered
consider that the fire was want
and the hammers were fists.
I’ve tasted my blood too much
to love what I was born to.

But my mother’s look
was a field of brown oats, soft-bearded;
her voice rain and air rich with lilacs:
and I loved her too much to like
how she dragged her days like a sled over gravel.

Playmates? I remember where their skulls roll!
One died hungry, gnawing grey perch-planks;
one fell, and landed so hard he splashed;
and many and many
come up by atom by atom
in the worm-casts of Europe.

My deep prayer a curse.
My deep prayer the promise that this won’t be.
My deep prayer my cunning,
my love, my anger,
and often even my forgiveness
that this won’t be and be.
I’ve tasted my blood too much
to abide what I was born to.
Milton Acorn


I am half-way up the stairs
of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Don’t go down. You are in this
with me too.

I am leaning out of the Leaning
Tower heading into the middle distance

where a fur-blue star contracts, becomes
the ice-pond Brueghel’s figures are skating on.

North Magnetic pulls me like a flower
out of the perpendicular

angles me into outer space
an inch at a time, the slouch

of the ground, do you hear that?
the hiccup of the sludge about the stone.

(Rodin in Paris, his amanuensis, a torso ...)
I must change my life or crunch

over in vertigo, hands
bloodying the inside tower walls

lichen and dirt under the fingernails
Parsifal vocalizing in the crazy night

my sick head on the table where I write
slumped one degree from the horizontal

the whole culture leaning...

the phalloi of Mies, Columbus returning
stars all shot out –

And now this. Smelly tourists
shuffling around my ears

climbing into the curvature.
They have paid good lira to get in here.

So have I. So did Einstein and Bohr.
Why should we ever come down, ever?

And you, are you still here

tilting in this stranded ark
blind and seeing in the dark


Phyllis Webb
(1927- )

The Only Poem

This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
I didn’t kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn’t turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

Leonard Cohen
(1934- )


You tell me that silence
is nearer to peace than poems
but if for my gift
I brought you silence
(for I know silence)
you would say
This is not silence
that is another poem
and you would hand it back to me.

They eat out

In restaurants we argue
over which of us will pay for your funeral

though the real question is
whether or not I will make you immortal.

At the moment only I
can do it and so

I raise the magic fork
over the plate of beef fried rice

and plunge it into your heart.
There is a faint pop, a sizzle

and though your own split head
you rise up glowing;

the ceiling opens
a voice sings Love Is A Many

Splendoured Thing
you hang suspended above the city

in blue tights and a red cape,
your eyes flashing in unison.

The other diners regard you
some with awe, some only with boredom:

they cannot decide if you are a new weapon
or only a new advertisement.

As for me, I continue eating;
I liked you better the way you were,
but you were always ambitious.
Margaret Atwood
(1939- )

Pa Poem 6: Among the Glads

when the pain got bad pa’s nerves went
couldn’t endure squabbles at the table
he’d leave pale and sweating for the garden
where he’d kneel among the glads and go through his ritual
whatever it was he did touching or stroking stems
something to soothe him I guess assure himself he was really there

and sometimes he’d strike out with an uncoiling rage
hit my brother once with his belt gouged flesh with the buckle
an accident pure and simple he never thought of the metal
but it was a rage that made ma speak out
it must have scared her to make her turn on pa like that
in front of the kids telling him he was wrong

what pa said or did after that I don’t know
but I think the man must have holed up
probably in the basement standing near the furnace
wondering what it was he was doing
how he could flail one of his boys like that

and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t remembering his dad
and whatever lay between them
the boy aching alone between steinbach and la broquerie
his mother something shadowy beneath the blankets
slipping toward her death that night
words rasping in his father’s throat
harrowing his life away in stone fields

grandpa and pa I could confuse those men if I thought too much about them
and how he could thrash me as if I was someone else
he usually had control of himself
thrashed me in the basement for something I did
pa my dad teaching me across his knee
ma said it hurt him more than me it must have

Manitoba Poem

In Manitoba, a farmer will prepare
for spring and contrary to popular notion
women are not foremost in men’s
minds: the new warmth has made them
aware of trains and hills and such things
that would make them leave women completely:
something else keeps them. And the women
are just as glad for the rest.

Summer comes in from Saskatchewan on
a hot and rolling wind. Faces
burnt and forearms burnt, the men seed
their separate earths and listen to the CBC
for any new report of rain. Each day now
the sun is bigger and from the kitchen
window, it sets a mere hundred feet behind
the barn, where a rainbow once came down.

Four months later this is over, men
are finished. Children return
to school and catch colds in their
open jackets. Women prepare
for long nights under 6-inch goosedown
quilts. Outside the trees shake off
their leaves as if angered by the new
colours. And without any more warning
than this, winter falls on the world,
taking no one by surprise. No one.

Dale Zieroth
(1946- )

At Nootka Sound

Along the river
trees are stranded
bare as witches
and dark as the woman
who never learned to love one man.

(In the north
a woman can learn
to live with too much sadness.
Finding anything could be hard.)

The river is haunted
with the slippery black eyes
of drowned pika –
you fish for something quite improbable
expecting those thin dead eyes
to begin to see.

Sometimes along the way
the water cracks
and Indians must mend the river
after every other net-
men with fat dog’s eyes
and humps
who cast themselves
toward fish in stone.

What could only be one lifetime
(who can go on pretending forever?)
is when the ground turns cold
and the night is so still
and you can’t remember having anything to hear.
You lose yourself
and off into the distance
the last birds are throbbing
black and enormous
down towards the sea.
Susan Musgrave
(1951- )

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