Category Archives: UncategorizedImage Image Image Image Image Image Image
Silver Birch Beach in Toronto feels like a neighbourhood beach, sparsely populated with families and dog walkers, as well as a few lone beachcombers and gazers deep in thought.
This relaxed beach tells a story of the ancient geology of the Canadian Shield, formed of igneous and metamorphic rocks, some of them billions of years old. Ancient gneiss boulders from the Canadian Shield have been piled up to form jumbled and massive jetties that project into the lake. Windy days create Gothic dramas of waves slamming onto rocks with an unimaginably long history. Deep within the earth, these gneiss rocks had been under tremendous pressure for eons, and their minerals became separated and squeezed into alternating bands of black, red or pink, and white. Now, the lake slowly erodes them, and their particles continue the rock cycle by laying future sedimentary beds.
This morning, the lake was placid and still, a place where it’s possible to find a slow rhythm within the deep time of rocks.
Below is “Velleity” from Blueshift Road. Please let me know in the comments section if you’re interested in receiving a copy of the book.
As promised: my gratitude post for Sheila E. Murphy, whose poetry has been a constant in my life as a poet, starting in the 1990s. Murphy’s multi-disciplinary work in both poetry and visual art, and her many collaborations with other poets, speak to her open and generous approach to creation.
I recently received Golden Milk, Murphy’s latest book, and soon lost myself in this quiet, self-aware, and inviting work. I admire the way she subtly interweaves realms of knowing and perceiving, and of self and other, with the greatest of ease. In some of the poems of this book, Murphy explores with a sure yet fluid hand various traditional forms such as sestina and pantoum, as well as her signature haibun. Murphy is also a flutist, and the musicality of her poetry shows a transfer between the two fields. The writing in Golden Milk possesses both a porousness and clarity that comes with a mature vision. This is a book to savour slowly and to treasure.
It was difficult to make a brief selection of poems from Golden Milk – I wanted to include many more than this space would allow. Besides, I want to encourage any who read this to buy the book and see for yourselves. So much here to be grateful for!
Below are three poems from Golden Milk.
As a prelude to my gratitude post for poet Sheila E. Murphy, I wanted to share a memory of the time she honoured New Orleans with her reading for the Lit City series in the mid-90s. One of Sheila’s favourite novels (and mine) was John Kennedy Toole’s carnivalesque A Confederacy of Dunces, which recounts the raucously comical misadventures of Ignatius Reilly, an unlikely medievalist and one-time hotdog vendor living with his mother in New Orleans. We set about touring some Ignatius landmarks, including the ubiquitous hotdog carts in the French Quarter. I treasure my photo of Sheila standing next to one.
To continue my poetry gratitude series: Ken Babstock. When I returned to poetry this past summer after a long hiatus, I picked up Babstock’s book Swivelmount (2020) and headed for the rooftop of my building. Opening the book at random, I began reading a sonnet, “Beached Squid and Ideas of Order” and knew that this is what I wanted once again: to lose myself in unruly and expanding realms, and to get my hands inky, one poem at a time.
Yesterday, I picked up “Beached Squid and Ideas of Order” again and decided to do a deep dive into that poem as well as the source of its parody, Wallace Stevens’ “The Idea of Order at Key West.
”Stevens’ poem is in the form of an argument hinging on the relationship between art and nature. The speaker concludes that the singer’s voice heard along the beach is transcendent and transformative, and he asserts that “song and water were not medleyed sound.” Instead, the solitary heroine/muse has become a shamanistic creator, a changer of perception, even a colonizer of nature.
And while the influence of the singer’s “rage to order words” becomes more powerful, meanwhile the water, sea, and sky recede into the darkness after sunset. The song casts a spell on the lights of the anchored fishing boats, which seem to shine more brightly. These lights, thus intensified, have “mastered the night, portioned out the sea.” Musical language subsumes and transforms the world of the sea and of humans through the power to assert order by means of the song’s “keener sounds.” And even as those worlds are born into impermanence, the singer’s voice, her imagination, makes “the sky acutest at its vanishing.”
There’s something sacerdotal about the role assigned to the singer-poet, who effects a transubstantiation (or sleight of hand, if you prefer): keen sounds assume the power to invoke bright lights, even as the world vanishes into darkness. Song and singer order words in “ghostlier demarcations,” as if the “blessed order” of the words takes on a magical power.
I’ve never felt quite comfortable with Stevens’ idea of order, or with a priestly role for poets. So I found it refreshing that Babstock’s “Beached Squid and Ideas of Order” dissects Stevens’ shamanistic “rage for order.” He also dissects with his scalpel of words the carcass of a beached squid, which itself assumes the agency of creating music, if one gets close enough and plays it like an instrument, for “earth’s percussion” is “always lonely for an instrument / as abraded, contingent, orphaned, intermingled / as itself.”
As to the singer, she may have been “born with a sound in her head” that she lives to release. However, “a singer could live to her own end and never get it out, / the sound, itself a late addition and not, in fact, innate.” Whereas Stevens elevates the singer’s “keener sounds” to a sublime urgency to order the world, thus making her in turn his own instrument-muse, Babstock’s singer is an earthly instrument – and a very recent addition to the world at that. And her art is, like that world, “abraded, contingent, orphaned, intermingled.” Lovely.
Here’s Babstock’s poem:
Below is “Snipe Hunt,” a poem from my recently-released fourth book of poetry, Blueshift Road.