Last week my writer’s group surprised me with a surprise poetry reading in honor of my University graduation. The members of the group brought my favorite poets as well as their favorite poets and I noticed something startling. Almost every poetry book that was brought was Canadian. I have often pondered this idea of what we represent as a culture and as I stared at the poetry books strewn across the table and listened to the words ease out of the tongues, I knew. Canadian poetry has a specific flavor that I cannot quite pinpoint. It is almost as if it is close to the ground. Earthy and colloquial. A language and cadence that reminds me of wheat fields, simplicity and northern breezes.
One of the members of the group, a children’s writer, whose first language is not English had some trouble reading the likes of Ann Scowcroft. It is almost as if she expected the rhythm to zig instead of zag. The key she needed to read it was to just let it flow and allow the language to take her where it wanted to go. As I scan around my house, my poetry section is overwhelmingly Canadian. Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson and Rumi are a few names that stand out among a sea of Canadiana spines. Because I have trouble figuring out what makes Canadian poetry Canadian, I decided to create a mosaic poem province to province, coast to coast and maybe you could help me figure it out:
In deep sand a beetle shoulders
her way toward paradise
I think moth and the Miller moth
appears out of my mind
it sits on the kitchen windowpane
between pieces of smutty wings
I’ve smashed on the glass.
Maybe it was the way we became animals.
The rusty smell of turning meat on the grill,
the private urges of the bedroom, memory
the summer heat and the women arriving
in his truck night after night.
Obviously, if you’re suffering from what that old Negro woman
in one of Faulkner’s stories called “the mizry,”
better stay away from the hives.
Canadian bees, especially (like Canadian men), are comfortable
with three periods only (and occasionally a fourth or fifth in the spring),
but not one of these is menstrual.
The Mackenzie’s mouth became
it’s own channels.
The beluga whales swam into the
as if to watch a river boat wade
out to salt sea.
We could ascend
For a sky dive drive, convertible down
Down the west coast fault line
Big Sur, down the magnetic incline
For a joy ride on the edge of tectonic cataclysm
Abysm deep as a sorcerer’s paroxysm
At eleven million miles a minute
We could hang onto precarious cliffs like a couple
of unresolved endings.
India opened zero and gods
crawled out. Then everything else
fell in. Became, in falling, infinitely lovely, lit
with presence. Light in the still-life, spark in the field
we angle toward, odd-numbered
in a wonky sorrow, sight-lined to the vanishing point
with no end to speak of.
Everything about the place
In Edmonton, they are cursing
ancestors and old Volkswagens, shovelling
themselves into cardiac events.
snow is an animal.
That hollow, hurried sound
feet on polished floor
and in the dollar store
the clerk is closing up
and counting loonies trying not to say,
I hate Winnipeg!
and your geezerly sofa slouch and snore bring to mind
Greek men sunning themselves on
Parc Athena benches.
In the long open Vancouver Island room
sitting by the indoor avacados
where indoor spring light
falls on the half-covered bulbs.
When I think travel, I think shed–
As in this skin into which I pour my life
by drop or downfall away away with the day-to-day,
the uninhabited rituals of morning,
the neediness of even a coffee cupm
with the hardened dust of fine grounds
just beneath its rim where milk foam lifted
but did not deliver them to your waiting mouth this morning.
This is the way of heaven and I try not to forget
as two miniscule clouds drift by almost motionless
carrying their single glass of water afraid to spill it.
In close-up, and in memory,
the tree frog wasn’t really credible,
a translucent elf from some outer space,
splayed, finger pads extended,
on the porch screen. I gaped at it,
it gaped into the wide night.
The tao that can be spoken
is not the true Tao: so the sage,
who probably did not exist, and with
exquisite paradox, began.
I slipped off to fetch the camera
and when I got back it was gone.
An offering of my collection. A mosaic poem. Stanzas from Patrick Lane, Lorna Corzier, Rosemary Griebel, Tim Bowling, Robert Kroetsch, Sheri-d Wilson, Karen Solie, The Weakerthans, Carmine Starnino, Michael Ondaatje, Ann Scowcroft, Don Domanski and Don McKay respectively. Perhaps you, too, can see why I devour the Canadian stuff.