Sunday 31 July 2011

Sunday Poem


Drawing a treble clef
on the wall with my eye,

squinting at a chandelier
till each bulb in its red fez sprouts
vibrating bristles,

counting flies in a museum cafeteria
next to a table
where two lovers are coming apart
with long talk and whole minutes
of horrified silence:
they are doing this terrible thing,
unwrapping their sadness
and showing it
to one another.
It is so awful how their voices
but notice
the idleness of their hands
stacking coins,
pushing crumbs with a bank card,
breaking chunks from the rim
of a disposable cup
and placing these inside the cup until
there isn't a cup to contain them,
just a small pile of styrofoam chips.
From Facts (1998) by Bruce Taylor.

Thursday 28 July 2011


Quill & Quire covers the second installment of Fish Quill Poetry Boat, a nine-day canoe-powered reading tour down the Grand River, travelling from Elora to Ohsweken. (Organizers embarked on a similar trip last year. Write-up here.) The eight-poet team includes Signal authors Linda Besner and Asa Boxer. They get paddling August 4th.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Sunday Poem


It was quite the rigamarole—
first the report of the broken boat
found high and dry in a bed of petunias,
then the tale of how it had sailed down
out of the heavens on a cold rainy Tuesday—
out of the great galvanized bucket of the heaving sky—
each of us knew what to make of it.
The mayor proposed a stern letter be written;
the councillor shuffled his ordinances.
The police dogs searched it for drugs.
The priest prayed for the drowned crew.
The biologist listed the worms and the sea-lice.
The woodcarver filled out some forms for the planks.
The camera man assembled his sepia lenses.
The psychologist warned of a wave of hysteria.
The evangelist read signs of the pending apocalypse.
The love-sick boy notched her name in the hull.
The real-estate agent cooked up a deal.
The historian ransacked his files for parallels.
The artist dreamt of a cottage conversion;
the politician sized up the tourist potential.
The carpenter said it was a big job to fix her;
the hardware men boxed up all sizes of nails.
The poet tossed off an exquisite ode;
the adman was sure he could mount a campaign.
Axe in hand, the fire chief rose to the occasion.
The pigeons were glad of a new perch.
It was quite the ballyhoo. Then,
while they were arguing among themselves
the boat lifted itself up out of their element,
into the blue—its battered planks clattering,
its twisted keel an inward grin—
and moved crazily on.
From Red Ledger (2006) by Mary Dalton

Saturday 23 July 2011

Chicks With Swords

Chief among the highlights of the July/August issue of Poetry (which includes a lovely poem by Amanda Jernigan and a ferocious essay by Joshua Mehigan) is A.E. Stalling's translation of Plutarch's anecdotes on Spartan women.
A woman who had sent her five sons to war waited anxiously outside the city and asked a man approaching which way the battle was going. When he replied that her sons had all perished, she retorted, “You sorry slave, that’s not what I asked.” When he said Sparta was winning, she said, “In that case, I gladly accept the death of my sons.”

Another gave her son a shield as he set out for war, saying, “Your father always saved this for you. Keep it safe, not yourself.”

Another, when her son complained his sword was too short, said, “Step forward: add a foot to it.”

(Painting by Edgar Degas, "Young Spartans Exercising.")

Friday 22 July 2011

The Already Said

Over at The Atlantic, John Barth provides a reality check on originality:
When the eminent Italian critic and novelist Umberto Eco visited Johns Hopkins some decades ago, he spoke of the problem, for contemporary writers, of the “already said”: the circumstance that because Homer, for example, spoke so memorably in The Odyssey of the “wine-dark sea” and of “rosy-fingered Dawn,” nearly 3,000 years’ worth of poets and storytellers have had to find other images for sea and sunrise—a task that must become increasingly difficult as the repertory of possibilities is exhausted.

Monday 18 July 2011

Sunday 17 July 2011

Sunday Poem


Not only the moon but the stars too,
these hand-fasting rings.

The first a promise pulled from the sky
and tied to my hand like a balloon—

lovelorn ghost, luminous and round.
The second a circle

of workaday vows plucked
from a universe of needs

and fixed
for the ordinary orbit of years.
From The Crow's Vow (2010) by Susan Briscoe.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Tick Tock

The $50,000 Montreal International Poetry Prize has extended its deadline to midnight, Monday 11 July 2011.

Sunday Poem


the clothes out to dry: sore arms. A shortage
of pegs. High winds. Underwear trimmed
with lace. A snapped line. That feeling of unease

that arises when you see acrylic sleeves (yesterday
they held your own arms) emaciated, unable
to contain their nervousness. Mud. An absence

of nostalgia in your veins. You are shy and under
five feet. Tattered underwear, waistbands drawling. Bylaws
that forbid colourful displays of household chores. Fear

of stiff joints. Fatigue. Nightmares of being
dismembered. An addiction to the feathery smell
of fabric softener. Airborne pollution (orange, clinging

to cotton). Drizzle. Some misunderstanding with Sabine,
your cat. Lightning. Laziness (an automatic dryer
in the basement). Age. A lost button. You believe

in the roundness of the planet but don’t
trust it. The Wham! decal on that t-shirt you wear
only beneath other clothes. Freezing rain. Nightmares

about boys stealing your clothes off a rock
while you swim in the limestone quarry
at Hagersville. Sunburn. An unwillingness

to venture outdoors: You are nude, all your clothing
in the wash. A broken pulley. Squirrels. An inability to appreciate
old-fashioned labour. You eat corn chips and salsa

on Mondays. You hate to see the faithful upended in one long row,
fluids rushing, airheads pounding. It makes you want to cry.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Saturday Poem


You have to look past my felt-tipped eyes,
my lolling tongue drawn by the granddad
or uncle who has talked too long at lunch
and knows he must entertain the toddlers
with his jabbering, magic-markered fist.

I am the last item on your list, the puppet
that costs nothing to make: the bogeyman
couched between worn index and thumb,
my snarl converted to a hayseed's guffaw.

Admit that I bear traces of inbreeding,
that my face and body must always be
an abomination to children of any age,
that it twists me up inside to hear them

clamour for more of my troll's antics.
If you like hearing cracker bromides,
say that I also favour arenas, imperial
banquets involving human sacrifice,
oblations to the god of spewing lava.

Demand for me rises as I'm washed off
another hand in another suburban sink.
Others are waiting in need of laughter.
It is time I dusted off my Punchinello
and swam out into a little sea of faces

with my disfigurement at stage center:
winded, bleary-eyed, yet discovering
after each pratfall, a dropper's-worth
of the bile which keeps me going.