Saturday 28 February 2015

Metaphorically Speaking

Eavan Boland doesn't like similes:
I've come to think of them as if they were like the appendix in the body, which is said to be an outdated physical part. In that way, similes seem to me outdated. They migrated from epic structures, and the great old similes in those epics were communally accepted in a way they never could be now. When Virgil says in the Aeneid that the young dead are lying on the bank of the river like the birds that fly from the warmth to the cold, it's obvious that nobody listening could have known what the underworld looked like. But everybody in Mantua must have known what those birds looked like. In poetry, with all its progressions, we're no longer always able to avail of those communal buy-ins. That poem "As" is intended as some kind of a critique of how we use similes.

I think of metaphor in a different way. Maybe like this, to give an example: Just supposing you and I went into a room. We're anxious to see a person there that we'd known as a teacher who was important to us. Someone we looked to as knowledgeable and exemplary. So we go to this plainly furnished room. There's not much furniture except a table and chairs and a beautiful old bowl that has a crack in it. The person we've come to see is there and we begin the conversation. But as it goes on, we start to notice things. The person is forgetful, is losing key words and names, doesn't remember what we shared with them. We begin to realize that some part of the core of this personality is impaired. But we have no way of exchanging that knowledge. We can hardly access it ourselves. And then we look at the crack in the beautiful bowl. Just for that moment it carries the meaning for us, when we ourselves are only starting to process it. That I think is the power of metaphor. It works through revealed meaning, not meaning created through comparison like the simile. I think of metaphor as essential, in a way I don't think simile can be.

Thursday 26 February 2015

The Re-Emergence of the Past

A Twitter discussion led Clive Thompson to take a closer look at Sara Teasdale's poetry:
Teasdale is like a remix of Tennyson and Robert Frost, obsessed with death and what the specter of nonexistence means to our earthly life, yet still slightly carrying the courtly/mawkish airs of Victorian poetry. One of the more intense sections of Flame and Shadow is an eight-poem sequence called “In a Hospital”, which is pretty clearly drawn from Teasdale’s own grim experiences of being serially hospitalized. One of the poems is bluntly called “Pain”; another compares her body to a broken field ploughed by agonies; “The Unseen” describes Death itself corporeal, drifting quietly through the corridors of the hospital, unseen by the nurses.

There are also quite a few poems devoted to war and its ravages, which makes sense when you realize she probably wrote most of these during World War I — the most brutal, horrific opera of death the planet had yet seen, when the new technologies of the tank, the machine gun and poison gas pioneered slaughter on an industrialized scale. Once I’d read and pondered these other influences on her life, “There Will Come Soft Rains” takes on a bunch of new shadings. Teasdale is clearly talking about the War, but she’s also thinking of her own war—her body against itself, the erasure that was coming when disease wore her down and the world went on without her.
Thompson muses on what his discovery of Teasdale says about how the internet has altered his reading habits:
Before the global information highway came along, I didn’t really have any easy way to stumble on Teasdale’s work. Hell, I’d half suspected she was a fiction of Ray Bradbury for decades. Now that I can look things up and scratch any itch of curiosity, I get led down some wonderful rabbit holes. But the deepest rabbit holes, I notice, have been in works of literature that are out of copyright—i.e. published before 1923—because they’re all there, not just in “snippet” format but the whole gorgeous lovely works, waiting to be read the moment I become interested.

So in the last few years, I’ve found my reading list is tilting more and more heavily to pre-1923 works. One night I stumbled across a mention of the 1706 book The Art of Memory, a wonderful description of ancient memory techniques by Marius D’Assigny. I discovered, hey,it was all there on Google Books, so I downloaded and read it. I heard about Wired Love, an awesome 19th-century novel about a woman telegraph operator who falls in love over the wires, and read that too. Last week I noticed a footnote in a book that mentioned a 1916 magazine article that claimed rural women were becoming so besotted with driving their newfangled automobiles that they were neglecting their hens. Whaddya know: That was online in full-text too.

Consider this one of the unanticipated pleasures of our modern age: The re-emergence of the past.

O Canada

Colin Coates mourns the slow death of Canadian studies:
The world of Canadian Studies, which according to the International Council for Canadian Studies includes some 7,000 scholars in 70 countries, is facing difficult times. Strangely enough, one of its chief opponents seems to be our own government. Since the 1970s successive Liberal and Progressive Conservative federal governments, along with various provincial governments, have supported the principle that targeted funding can enhance the profile of Canadian issues in academic institutions abroad. Most of the time, those governments respected the values of academic freedom, believing that scholars could research and teach about the country without attempting to control what they did. But recently, the current Canadian government has decided that it will no longer support such work.

In 2012, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), under the leadership of former Minister John Baird, entirely cancelled the “Understanding Canada” programme that cost $5 million a year, approximately 14 cents per Canadian. This programme funded academic activities abroad, helping to provide salaries for the administrators of some of the older and larger national associations (the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, the British Association for Canadian Studies and the Association française d’études canadiennes), subsidise scholarly conferences and publications, provide research grants, and in a few cases contribute to academic salaries of a few individuals appointed to teach about Canada.

Did such funds make a difference? To take an example I know fairly well, I can assure you that without external funding NOT A SINGLE academic in the United Kingdom would be hired to teach about Canada. Of course, many UK-based scholars may choose to teach and research about Canada—but NOT A SINGLE post throughout the entire sector would be attributed solely to the study of Canada. And it should not be hard to make a case, given immigration, cultural and economic links, for at least some British universities to hire a Canadian specialist. But the importance of Canada pales in comparison to the reasonable desire in the UK to focus on other parts of the world. It is easy to take Canada for granted.
(Painting by Nora MacPhail.)

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Back to Life

Years of sitting while finishing her 2010 novel Annabel took an unexpected toll on Kathleen Winter: her legs gave out. She decided the best remedy—for both her body and her writing—was to start moving again:
I knew about ideas coming when you get up from your desk. Annabel would still be a dead manuscript under the bed if I hadn’t budged to make soup or take a shower or walk to the café. The most important metaphors and plot developments and the novel’s deepest psychological structures came to me “out of the blue” when I escaped from my desk. I’d made those escapes as last resorts, when sitting and thinking had brought me to the end of my tether. But now, trying to keep moving to heal my ruined legs, I realized movement might be my new first line of action as a writer: I could write with the body.

I’ve always known writers walked. One of my favourite books is Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, in which Dorothy and her brother cover hundreds of miles of heath before collapsing to devour boiled eggs or meat pie against boulders. So I started using every hour of daylight as my personal body-writing time. When November hit and I took out my Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp as I always do in order not to become marrow-deep dismal, I realized I didn’t need it anymore: striding around the riverbank and the city streets in the daylight hours means I have so many ideas gifted to me by the light and the environs that all I have to do is spend an hour or so standing up at home in the night, scribbling it all down. My legs, after months of this, have come back to life.

Saturday 21 February 2015

The Happiness of Influence

Chad Campbell writes about six books of poetry that helped shape his debut Laws & Locks. (Read his interview here.)

1. Circadian—Joanna Klink: Penguin, 2007

Joanna Klink is stellar. The poems in Circadian limn a borderland between sense and sense impression; a series of maps that trace loss and intimacy equally through the winter landscapes of this beautiful collection. Unabashed and sonorous lyrics, the book is pure tonic.

2. Civil Elegies—Dennis Lee: Anansi, 1972

If the angel of history lost its wings and went for a walk in the wreckage left behind it, you might get something like Lee’s Civil Elegies. Tonally brilliant, this book, to me, is Lee at his most furious and vulnerable. Think the Canadian Heritage commercial version of Prufrock, but better. Even if I hadn’t grown up on Alligator Pie, I’d find this work irresistible.

3. Crow—Ted Hughes: Faber & Faber, 1970

“Imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it…turn yourself into it. When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic”, Hughes once advised. Here, in Crow, I think we see him perform his own best magic—a lucid re-envisioning of the crow into which Hughes pours his preoccupations with myth, sex, and violence in a fallen world. Not to mention the rich, rhythmic textures of the work. It’s like watching a pot of oil boil.

4. Elegy—Larry Levis: University of Pittsburg Press, 1997

Edited posthumously on Levis’ behalf by longtime friend and mentor Philip Levine, Elegy is a masterwork. Like Roethke’s Far Field, here you get the sense of a poet achieving the formal and thematic concerns they hunted for a lifetime—the result is stunning. A touchstone of a book.

5. Land to Light On—Dionne Brand: McClelland & Stewart, 1997

In terms of a poet with something to say, and a way to say it that matches, poem in and poem out, the vehemence of that something, Brand’s Land to Light On is a knockout. At once a scathing account of a continued history of racism in Canada and a refusal to settle for anything less than a fully chosen and lived identity, the book always reminds me that just as it uplifts, poetry can indict.

6. Four Quartets—T.S. Eliot: Faber & Faber, 1943

Take or leave the philosophy, Eliot’s Four Quartets is, to my mind, a tremendous performance. When you see one of those evolution of dance videos, that’s how I feel about this work—Eliot links so many of poetry’s roots in this sequence: lullaby, incantation, prayer, a dizzying combinations of meters. The shifts, formally speaking, are stunning. Not to mention the feel of relinquishment in the work, a coming to terms, as best a person can, with the prospect of death, and the terms and conditions of posterity.

Ice Cream Poetics

In conversation with Laura Bast, Molly Peacock tries to define the "Canadianness" of her new book Alphabetique:
MP: Why would you call this book “Canadian”? Other than the fact that it was written in Canada. I think you could call it Canadian because of the contract with the reader. There’s a certain faith on the part of Canadians that the writer is going to lead the reader somewhere. This is opposed to the quick culture in the United States. In the quick culture, if you don’t see what the author intends immediately, you don’t have time to stop and find out. A reader’s reaction can almost be anger at that.

LB: Where do you think that difference comes from?

MP: How about an ice cream analogy? In New York, the number of brands and flavours of ice cream in a supermarket will be extravagant. Here, the economy doesn’t support the terrifying multiplicity of that variety. A person doesn’t have so much pressure on the choice button. So what has really interested me is that the reviewers of Alphabetique got it right away. Because there isn’t the same kind of pressure, because they had time to process this unusual, beautifully illustrated abecedarian book for adults.
(Painting by Wayne Thiebaud.) 

Mentored by Example

Damian Rogers' friendship with the late poet Elise Partridge taught her some valuable lessons:
Sometimes I feel burnt out by how marginalized the poetry world seems and how fractious it can be. It’s easy to feel trapped between the poles of online sniping among those within the community and the apparent indifference of those outside it. But watching Elise work on what she knew would be her last book was an absolute inspiration. She didn’t compromise on a comma. And she maintained that integrity while expressing only kindness and warmth and appreciation for everyone involved throughout every stage of the publishing process. I said this somewhere else, but she mentored me by example. I didn’t realize how much she taught me until it was too late to thank her.

Friday 20 February 2015

Marjorie Perloff's Five Rules For Writing Bad Poetry

In a recent podcast, Marjorie Perloff lays down the law:
1. Don't assume free-verse is just about line-breaks.
2. Don't take yourself so seriously.
3. Don't underestimate the importance of a sense of humour.
4. Don't play the victim card.
5. Don't forget all poems are written with an eye and ear to earlier poetry.

Bad Mom

Margaret Christakos ponders the place of the "Bad Mother" in culture:
A culture that truly cares about women must care about our full range of selfhood, bad and good, errant and recuperating. Tonight, I am reminded of this while watching a Nurse Jackie rerun, the Showtime harrowing late-night comedy about a working mother whose painkiller addiction has ground itself so brazenly in her older daughter Grace’s face that Jackie’s actions have taught the girl never to believe her, no matter how sweetly Jackie explains or apologizes. Mother’s disastrousness becomes a role model, though, when teenaged Grace rebels by using pills and lying in bold face right back. This contemporary feminist script allows us to look deep into a dysfunctional mother-child dyad, and see the pained humanity and ugliness of its complicated hall of mirrors. The treacherous bond between the two generations yanks and torques, but never breaks, and as a woman viewer I am spellbound.

This outright Bad Mother flips the formula we have so often seen in popular culture, where an uptight, convention-locked normative mother strains at the rebellious antics of a rule-breaking, sensation-seeking daughter or son, shoring up a mythology of the artistic personality: Repressed middle-class mother gives rise to explosive boho-artist intellectual. I thought about this the other night while watching (yes, more winter TV) the movie adaptation of Susannah Kaysen's teenage psych-ward memoir Girl, Interrupted, with its crisp, detached, proper 1960s mother wobbling with embarrassment at her bright, disaffected daughter’s suicide attempt. Individuating in the shadow of a creepy-upright-remote mom offers a child a vacuum in which to flail about for feeling, meaning, and unique point of view. It’s comforting to deal with the Absent Mom, for we never get to know her—she remains a powerless cipher who runs through a very short list of scoffs and whinges, eeks and scowls. But what about the Bad Mother who seriously misconstrues boundaries, and overwhelms her offspring with an omnipresent stream of interfering intrusion, erotic effusiveness, endless commentary, and overstepping physicality?

Thursday 19 February 2015

Alpha and Omega

John Reibetanz reminds us why P. K. Page’s glosa “Planet Earth” remains one of her most popular poems around the world:
It addresses so definitively two of the most pressing needs of our age: to put ourselves into meaningful and productive dialogue with each other, rather than unreeling our competing monologues, and to try to establish a caring relationship with our environment before it is too late. The poem pursues each of these goals with all its heart, and by the time we reach its last line we realize that both ends involve the same experience: so intense a recognition and realization of otherness as to merit the word that occurs seven times, a word present in the first sentence and the last, the poem’s alpha and omega: love.

Jump-starting a Poem

Robyn Sarah believes that collage—the assemblage of diverse elements or fragments—is at the root of most poetry:
Poetic logic is nonlinear; it makes leaps; on some level it is improvisational, free-associative. One of the things a poet does intuitively is to discover/uncover unlikely connections between diverse particulars by placing them next to each other (e.g. last night’s dream; today’s weather; something heard on the news). Whether these particulars come out of one’s daily life, out of one’s head, or out of somebody else’s written text, the poet is doing the same thing: choosing, highlighting, and juxtaposing things that have caught attention. It also doesn’t matter whether they are freshly observed or remembered/rediscovered. I keep notebooks where I jot things down as they come to me—physical or sensory particulars, random thoughts, words or phrases, words heard or read, stray memories. Why did they catch my attention on the day I noted them—who knows? Some jottings begin growing immediately into poems-in-progress; others just sit there, waiting to catch my attention again. They ripen as I get older. They accrue. After four decades of keeping notebooks, there’s a wealth of such material to draw on for inspiration on a day when I need a jump-start.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Flash Interview #8—Chad Campbell

A finalist for the 2013 Malahat Long Poem Prize, Chad Campbell’s poetry has appeared in Maisonneuve, The Puritan and Arc, among other magazines. Originally from Toronto, he is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives and teaches in Iowa. Laws & Locks, his first book, is due out from Signal Editions in April.

The following interview was conducted by e-mail.

Carmine Starnino: Tell me a little about your family and why you decided to tell the story about them.

Chad Campbell: We started out, eight generations ago, on Islay, one of the small Isles off the west coast of Scotland. There was a detour in North Carolina, but the family abandoned the farms there and settled—after being sung a pretty song about the opportunity of land north of Toronto—in Eldon, Ontario. I know all that because my grandfather, in his retirement, started the thirty years of research it took to trace our family back into the mists. I stand in his debt. This book wouldn’t exist without the foundation of research that he laid out.

The decision to tell the story, if it came at all, started with my time caring for my mother when she had her first serious manic bout. When things settled, I was left with questions. My life wasn’t free of mental illness, I’d struggled with and, at the time, continued to struggle with addiction. That and the illnesses, obsessions and thirsts that seemed to flourish in my family left me asking what the fuck is happening.

So I started going back. Not looking for some grim root of madness in the family, but instead to try and get a sense of the shape of the mind that seems to have been passed down through the generations. And that’s what I found. Not a singular madness or anything of the sort, but a sort of potential that was more pronounced in some lives, and less in others. Though, at least within the confines of my family, the madness and addiction never appeared out of nowhere, but flourished in the presence of grief, loneliness, and isolation. The first of which is a part of life, the second two became more and more impacted in the family’s experience as they cut ties with farming and more communal living, and took up desks across the country.

But telling the story become important to me. There is so much silence, and fear, around issues of mental health and addiction. The idea that these are weaknesses, to my mind, is a part of what keeps these things unaddressed, tucked away, loathed.

CS: Robert Frost—"No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." What surprised you most when writing the poems in Laws & Locks?

CC: I think it would be just how much we share as a family. Some of this had to do with livelihood. A couple of generations after the farms were up and running in Ontario, people were able to exercise a bit more choice in terms of livelihood. The Campbells started teaching—school, university, church, tailoring—and I had absolutely no clue when I shakily taught my first course at the University of Iowa, that I would be the sixth generation to get up in front of a class.

But more even more than this it was the shape of the mind I was mentioning before—a nervousness about life, a reverence for books, ways of speaking in letters, mannerisms and illnesses of the mind that persisted across the generations. And of course, the sheer, almost baffling oddity of having gone for treatment at the same asylum that one of my family had gone to a hundred and seventy years before me.

In terms of the writing, I think it would be just how much the material demanded that I learn to modulate my voice and perspective from poem to poem. I felt absolutely thwarted at times, struggling with issues of witness and how, exactly, to approach and write towards some of these people. Whether I succeeded is another matter.

CS: Why all the love for the ampersand?

CC: I started using them when I was writing "February Towers," the poems that deal most directly with mania. Not in the first drafts, but once the poems started to settle into the textual blocks they’re written in now, I began to get a better sense of what the form was trying to get at—the sense of something fraught happening in a cramped space; mania in a small house. As the drafts progressed I started looking for ways to turn up the volume on what the form was driving after. Ampersands can quicken lines & oddify things somewhat—that’s the way I see them working in "February Towers": quickenings, traces & tracers in service of the dislocation the poems were born from.

After that sequence I backed away from them and used ampersands only when the poem or poems seemed to do better with them. In the case of the more historical poems that start the book off, I liked the way they call attention to themselves, how they alter the norm a little. For poems that draw as heavily on other people as those do, a bit of otherness, even from ampersands, felt right.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Sunday Poem

Well. Here we are. Where we have always been,
of course; and sometimes recognized as such.
I wonder that the cosmos can survive
the theme and variation of your touch. 
Well, there you go, where we have never gone:
off course, but something understood at last.
I doubt that even God remembers, Dear,
the paths that we have scrambled in the past.
Well this is it. At least we think it is,
or may have been, or may be at the close
of any narrative of passion and reprieve.
My God you are redemptive in repose!
Well. Just as well. The others never got
beyond the starting gate; and if they won
the velvet pisspot, with rosette, so what?
By God Sweetheart you always jumped the gun!
Well that is that. Finito. QED.
Wrapped up in greaseproof paper. That's show biz:
"Styx nix hix pix." Okay, I know it ain't
all over till it's over. Then it is.
Well, what the Hell. Or Heaven. Which is where
we came in Love and which is where we leave.
Earth to earth, the sure and certain earth,
earth Incorruptible. I shall not grieve.
From Where The Nights Are Twice As Long (Goose Lane, ed. by David Eso and Jeanette Lynes) by Richard Outram

(Illustration by Pedro Pezte

Rare Books, Ctd

When David McGimpsey makes the rounds of Montreal's used bookshops, he always turns up interesting discoveries. Here's his newest haul. (You'll find some of his other acquisitions here.)

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Tweet of the Day

Monday 9 February 2015

A Sniper's Bullet

According to Seamus Perry, T.S. Eliot wasn't a fan of biographies:
He was an intensely private man and his greatest works revolve with a sometimes appalled fascination around the impenetrable secrecy that shrouds the innermost self, both others' and one's own. But his opposition to biographical speculation was down to more than the desire not to have his privacy violated. Eliot repeatedly expressed scepticism towards the view that knowing about a life brought anything important to an understanding of the poetry that emerged from it. True, an author might have insider information about the raw material of his poems, the stuff that, as he once put it, 'has gone in and come out in an unrecognisable form', but the meaning of the poem lies somewhere other than an informed theory of its genesis: 'what a poem means is as much what it means to others as what it means to the author'. He was unmoved by F W Bateson's interpretation of Wordsworth, a minor academic scandal in its day, which attributed unacknowledged incestuous feelings in the poet towards his sister. 'Well, he may be right', was Eliot's response. 'But the real question, which every reader of Wordsworth must answer for himself, is: does it matter?'
It might not. But Robert Crawford—whose biography Young Eliot: From St Louis to The Waste Land is published this month—reminds us that Eliot's breakthrough will keep readers curious about his life:
So why does his work still matter? The reasons are hidden in plain sight—or, more accurately, in plain sound. Prufrock’s opening words say it all: “Let us go then, you and I … ” People often say that the poem begins with a buttonholing, vernacular tone: its voice sounds as if it has just sidled up to you. This is only half true. If the poem started by saying “Let’s go”, it would sound more vernacular: “Let us go” is slower, more stagey. If you say not “Let’s go”, but “Let us go”, you’ll sound less urgent, more mannered, more self-conscious. What “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” introduces into English poetry more intensely than ever before is an acute fusion of modernity and self-consciousness. The modernity hits you like a sniper’s bullet when you encounter that mention of “a patient etherised upon a table” in the poem’s third line. From childhood, Eliot knew the Boston Public Gardens that contained—and still contain—the weird and wonderful-sounding Ether Monument (late 19th-century Boston was a pioneering centre for anaesthetic surgery); but nobody until Eliot had put such modern surgery into a love song. The wording of “Let us go” is subtler, yet perhaps more profoundly impressive. Those three words initiate the acute self-consciousness of modernist poetry in English. Every poet who writes in English inherits that self-consciousness that has insinuated itself into the language.

Saturday 7 February 2015

Oratorical Perfume

Matt Petronzio vents about the "poet voice":
When I was in grad school I'd meet my thesis advisor, Catherine, on Tuesday nights at a café on New York's Upper West Side. We'd sit together at a small table, where she'd have me read my fresh, newly written poems out loud.

It was an exercise to hear how the poems sounded, a way to help pinpoint any hiccups in the rhythm, line breaks and so on. (It also taught the regular café-goers that, yes, poets gather over black tea and read poems about death, just like you imagined.)

One particular night, I started reading a new poem—but I only got through two lines before Catherine stopped me.

"Don't read it like it's a poem," she said. "Read it like you're talking to me." In other words, read like a human.

Without realizing it, I had been talking in "poet voice"—that affected, lofty, even robotic voice many poets use when reading their work out loud. It can range from slightly dramatic to insufferably performative. It's got so much forced inflection and unnecessary pausing that the musicality disappears into academic lilting. It's rampant in the poetry community, like a virus.
Rich Smith describes the voice as "a thick cloud of oratorical perfume":
Poet Voice doesn’t just mess up the relationship between music and meaning at the local level of a poem. In the style’s unwavering wavering, it steamrolls tonal variation and charges every moment in a poem with the exact, same, energy. This sonic flattening happens in Natasha Trethewey’s poem, “Theories of Time and Space.” (Start at 11:00 to get a sense of the difference between her speaking voice and her reading voice.) When one reads the poem in the rhythm offered up by the sentences themselves, the tonal shifts that move us from the wise-but-jovial beginning to the foreboding-epiphanic conclusion are revealed. The Poet Voice rhythm doesn’t fluctuate with the poem’s nuanced tonal changes, but rather sets the poem’s metronome at “high lyric” and lets it tick away.
Michael Carbert wonders more generally why readings have become something to be "endured instead of enjoyed":
The tiny, self-conscious audiences; the improperly set up sound systems; the readers who don’t know how to project or crisply enunciate; the forced laughter; the sheer tedium of it all. When readings are well-organized and the authors good performers, the result can be memorable. But this happens so rarely that I’m compelled to ask: what’s the point?

Friday 6 February 2015

New Way of Saying

Kevin Young celebrates the achievement of Langston Hughes' 1926 debut, The Weary Blues.
Hughes was in fact the first to write poetry in the blues form. He was the first to realize the blues are plural—to see in their complicated irony and earthy tone the potential to present a folk feeling both tragic and comic, one uniquely African American, which is to say, American. The blues made romance modern; modernism borrowed from the blues a new way of saying what it saw: Hughes made the blues his own, and ours too.
Lynell George agrees:
Hughes wasn't just a voice for "Negro America," but an ear—one finely tuned and sensitive—trained on some of the country's most remote and forgotten corners. For five decades, he listened: recording the rhythms, reach and richness of the black experience with the dedication of an anthropologist and the nuanced rendering of an artist. His prose and poetry were the formal spaces— a stage—where black people across the social strata could speak frankly about racial injustice, economic inequity and strategies for uplift.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Elise Partridge 1958-2015

I was finishing up a short email to Elise Patridge when I was told of her death Sunday afternoon. The news wasn’t surprising—Elise was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer last February—but I had hoped to see her one final time. As her prognosis worsened, she and her husband, Steve, decided to rent an apartment in midtown Manhattan where, if her stamina from the “chemo tortures” held up, she planned receive friends and family off and on this spring. It was pilgrimage I was determined to make. But three weeks ago she sent around a message saying that circumstances had forced her to abandon that plan (with characteristic generosity, she also offered the New York apartment to whoever might like to make use of it). Clearly, things were escalating quicker than anticipated. Her email weighed heavily on my mind and I decided to send a note asking after her condition. That my email will now forever stay unsent is, frankly, intolerable. My friendship with Elise dates back to 2001, when I read two poems of hers in the summer issue of Fiddlehead and, after getting her address from Ross Leckie, invited her to submit a manuscript to Vehicule press. We published Fielder’s Choice, her spectacular debut, the following year. Ever since, not a month has gone by without a morsel of correspondence from her. She sent pep-talks, rants, reports, advice, updates and detailed responses on my reviews and poems. She inquired constantly about my job, family (and most recently mailed my 12-month-old, Matteo, a christmas package of clothes). The fact, emerging from the stories being told, that she was conducting similar exchanges with dozens of poets all over the country is staggering, and breaks my heart all over again for the tremendous loss of her passing.

I’m not sure I can add much more to the lovely testimonials that have already appeared online, and I’m going to husband whatever ideas I have about her poetry for a longer piece about her upcoming (and now posthumous) book The Exile’s Gallery. But I thought it might be helpful to collect the reactions to her death in one place and maybe provide some of them—Facebook and Twitter being notoriously ephemeral—with a slightly more permanent home.

Working with Elise Partridge reminded me what true passion, commitment, integrity, intelligence, and humility look like when combined in one massively talented artist. Reading her poems is being in the presence of a mind fully engaged. She will be missed.
Damian Rogers
Elise Partridge was the most amazing person I've ever had the privilege to know. Working with her on her book was an absolute professional highlight for me... I wish I could tell her how much she mentored me, especially in these last few months, on how to be an uncompromising artist and a beautiful, compassionate, loving person at the same time. Her integrity, her kindness, her bottomless support and enthusiasm and gratitude for the work of others, even when she was suffering... I will hold these lessons close for the rest of my life.
She would never have agreed with Larkin that "death is no different whined at than withstood." And she never succumbed to despair, facile or otherwise. Her oeuvre is full of poems about death, but they are playful, virtuosic poems, acts of resistance, testament to the size of her spirit, the defiance of her breath.
Gillian Jerome 
Elise Partridge died last night. What a talented poet she was. What a formidable person. The last time I heard from Elise was about a month ago. She wrote to apologize that she wouldn't make it to hear Helen Guri and I read. Meanwhile, she was dying. All that love.
Last year, when my friend Elise Partridge knew she was dying, she asked me to keep her memory alive by teaching her poems. Which was an easy request to honour since Elise's poems are exemplars on many subjects. Elise passed away last night. On Tuesday my 3rd year poetry workshop is set to discuss the elegy. I'd planned to bring this poem which tonight seems exactly as Elise would have wanted it--an elegy for someone else as a poem to remember her by:
Rob Taylor
Looking back, I am humbled to have been included among the lucky few (or many) that Elise connected with, and in awe at the scope of her giving even in a time of great illness. Or, I should say, in awe that the illness changed nothing, that this giving out of hers was not an expendable part of her daily routine but simply was her life. What could she do but live it?
Chris Patton:
My dear dear friend Elise Partridge passed away yesterday evening. She was a marvellous poet and an even more so person. Warm loving acute witty skeptical wry and humane. I am sort of reeling with it (though her death was known to be coming for a while) and don’t have much more to offer than that right now. Here though the first lines of the first poem (“Everglades”) of her first book (Chameleon Hours) —

Nothing fled when we walked up to it,
nor did we flinch

Not a bad note on which to open a life’s work. No fear and no frightening. God I’m going to miss her.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Tweet of the Day

Sunday 1 February 2015

Sunday Poem

Blackbird, give me back my dream!
the moon you woke me to
is misted 

From Death Calls (Anstruther Press, 2015) by Marc di Saverio