My Inner Cities: Thirty Landmark Books In My Personal Poetic Geography

Excerpt from Feature Essay: L’Abbé’s Top Thirty

… The other morning my friend Reza and I were on a bus in Vancouver, and as we turned from East King Edward onto Kingsway, he told me that when he first came to the city he had taken a room in one of the houses nearby. “This,” he said, indicating the small, boxish bungalows and stamp-sized lawns we were passing, “is my first impression of Canada.” He has been in B.C. for four years, I for less than six months. Strange, that a relative newcomer from Iran should be showing the Canadian around East Van. Reza has also been on several Transcanada trips, as far as the Maritimes, all the way up to Labrador; I have never been east of Quebec city. Which of us can say they know Canada?

I wonder if my sense of Canadian poetry isn’t the same: a handful of neighborhoods I know well, vast swaths of landscape still untraversed. Ondaatje’s _There’s A Trick With a Knife I’m Learning to Do: Poems 1963–1978_ is like my Pearson airport: where I first touched down, where I’ve returned many times: a busy, well-trafficked entryway with gates labelled _Dainty Monsters_ and _Rat Jelly_ that led to Gananoque, to Colombo and to outdoor storms and moonlit bedrooms. Lorna Crozier’s _Inventing the Hawk_ taught me a proper Canadian literary diction, “The Garden Going On Without Us” showing me that if you said it coyly enough, you could get away with talking of carrots as fucking the earth. I got lost in Erin Mouré’s [_Search Procedures_]. Traces of language cut straight across the page like someone had dragged a rough slab of stone across a polished surface; something angrily feminist in the mere complication; Mouré was like a seedy side I first shunned, not yet arty enough to love, then kept coming back to, discovering, cherishing its raw edges.
In my random mappings, I have stopped in the small cities of words built by Paul Vermeersch, P.K. Page, Lynn Crosbie and bill bissett. Sat listening in landscapes with Don McKay, John Steffler and Jan Zwicky. Played in the queer dollhouses of Sina Queras, Margaret Christakos and Stephanie Bolster. Picked imaginary turf fights with Ken Babstock, Karen Solie, Chris Banks and George Murray.
Most profoundly, though, it was Christopher Dewdney’s _The Immaculate Perception_ and _The Secular Grail_ that struck me like a sudden view of the mountains, that opened up language as a proximate and unpoliced landscape, his worlds enfolded within wor(l)ds; a sense of human consciousness that was bio-logical, like a wired intelligence made of earth, a visceral-television, his dreams as information science, trilobites and satellites sharing his sense of time. Dewdney made me forget nation and seek to explore the spaces of consciousness. Still, I might never have found him had he not lived, in the mind that collects geographies into a Canadian nation, in my own neighborhood.


fn0. _Arc_ 60, Summer 2008.
See issue for Sonnet L’Abbé’s full essay and 30 books she couldn’t live without.

Skip to content