For Elise Partridge 1958-2015

There are many people more qualified than me who could speak to the life of the poet Elise Partridge. I was a friend on her periphery. We ran into each other at readings, shared the occasional meal and corresponded by email more frequently in the last year of her life than in the almost ten years I knew her. But even though we didnt see one another that often, I definitely felt a kinship with her when we did meet. She was always so glad to see you and find out how you were; and she was so fierce and kind and quick to offer real help if you needed it. She was wonderfully opinionated, yet humbleshe once confided to me that she was so shy about asking Paul Muldoon to sign a book for her she couldn’t even meet his eyes when he shook her hand in farewell. I would like to tell her again that she is such a very good poet. Every bit as wonderful as Paul Muldoon! I am glad I had the privilege of printing her work at EVENT magazine during my editorship and of hosting her at a reading at the CCWWP at UBC in the Spring of 2014. This, I understand, was her last public reading.

I can tell you that Elise was as gracious and self-effacing that afternoon as I have ever known her to be. She was unwell. So much so that I wasn’t at all certain that she would be able to make the reading. But then there she was at the last minute, enthusiastically looking up at me in that peculiar way she had, literally almost bent over backwards, an alarmed expression on her face, as if simultaneously delighted and appalled by praise and attention. I know that she was keen to attend the conference. Keen, as always, to know what other poets were up to. She was truly sorry to have to leave early and miss seeing certain other panelists; she expressed this with sincerity, though she was clearly exhausted and had gone well out of her way to come to the university at all. Of her reading I will say this: she sat patiently and listened with interest to the four other panelists, all of whom were talented but green writers who had either just published or had yet to publish their first books. She spoke kindly to each of them and to each of their poems before she read, and when she finally did read, she read brieflyperhaps five minutes?but those minutes were exquisite. The reading was sparsely attendedby students, mostly, and none too many of those, but I well recall her fellow Poetry Dogs Stephanie Bolster and Barbara Nickel sitting rapt up front and I had the distinct impression that wed all had a moment of grace here with Elise, as in fact wed had.

It seems fitting that this humble event would be one of Elises last. As long as I knew her, Elise was always the first to comment on other peoples work. She didnt like praise as far as I could tell and was far happier to talk about what you were up to than the other way around. It seemed to me that her gaze in life was as it is in her own poetry, perpetually engaged, mindfully turned outward.

There is a poem dedicated to her partner Steve called Ways of Goingthat I like from her first book Fielders Choice. In it she writes,

Will it be like paragliding
gossamer takeoff, seedlike drifting down
into a sunlit, unexpected grove?

Or skijumpingheadlong soaring,
ski-tips piercing clouds,
crystal revelations astonishing my goggles?

Maybe Ill exit with the nonchalance
of a ten-year-old skateboarder,
down-the-hill my bravura farewell.

Or shimmy into the afterworld.
salsa dancer on a flatbed truck

maracas coda, bangles flashing
as the parade lurches around the corner.

With sudden relief: a tortoise that had scrabbled
over a stony beach, flippers slipping and flailing,
splashes home in a graceful slide.

Skittery flicker of a glare-weary lizard
startled into the sheltering wings of a leaf,

rusting frieghter with a brimming hold
shimmering onto a crimson edge

Sad rower pushed from shore,
ll disappear like circles summoned
by an oar
s dip.

However I burn through to the next atmosphere,
let your dear face be the last thing I see.

Dear Elise, I hope it was just like that for you. For all of us.

Sending love,

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