Kim Trainor begins with a TV documentary: “We watch bright / threads of her dna unwound / and read from left to right // and learn her history. But where is she, /in the blue-stained karyogram, / this desiccated woman // this Beauty of Loulan, this beauty?” “Karyotype,” an unfamiliar word that literally refers to the gene sequence of a species, opens with a series of poems that describe ancient mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin of China, from which scientists were able to extract and analyze dna, and imagines their lives. The poems unfold, a meditation on human life and suffering, moving back and forth from Loulan (and other mummies) to the one who watches: “She is past / caring, her body now a manuscript / of faded letters and soft words // of mourning… I think I may be of her kind…” The still-beautiful Loulan was found in 1980, some 3800 years after she died, along with remnants of a textile culture: “…at the line’s end / a selvedge is quietly formed / like a scar… // So are we formed // along such ancient human drifting lines.”
“I didn’t know which I’d find— / the father watching at the window / or the one in hiding / behind the mountain” writes Pamela Porter in “The River Asked Me”, an early poem in this unusually lengthy book (121 pages). The collection spins around an unknown but richly imagined birth father, with the occasional […]
~ by Barbara Myers Distinguished Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, favoured for years by readers, critics and poets worldwide to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, finally took the award this year. He’s 80 years old now and his disciples include Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, and Joseph Brodsky, all of whom have won in past years […]
Which came first: awards or great poetry? A chicken-and-egg review of the 2010 nominees for the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry Feature Review ~ Brenda Leifso Blaine Marchand. The Craving of Knives. Ottawa: BuschekBooks, 2009 Susan McMaster. crossing arcs: alzheimer’s, my mother, and me. Windsor: Black Moss Press, 2009 Barbara Myers. Slide. Winnipeg: Signature […]
To come to the end. To stop. Not necessarily the same thing, as far as poems are concerned. In fact, a frequent criticism of a poem is that its stopping place creates a “weak”ending or one that “doesn’t work.” I stumbled into this muddy field recently in asking poet-editors to read and comment on a book I was working on. Critiques of endings dotted the pages, rarely the same view, occasionally even contradicting each other. …
(How Poems Work, December 2004)
“Dark Pines Under Water” is a celebrated poem, one rich in symbolism and metaphor, often anthologized and justly so. What is this land that’s “like a mirror?” Is it Canada? It could be the earth itself–or a symbol for earthly life, the depths of human consciousness. A search on the Internet finds the poem claimed equally on a site about the boreal forest and one celebrating “Dreams, Wonders and Adventures Phantasmagorical.” …
MacEwen wrote these lines and published them in her award-winning collection, The Shadow-Maker in 1969, around the same time other Canadian writers (notably Margaret Atwood in Survival) were delving into Canadian consciousness and a national cultural identity. It’s possible that “this land” stands as much for Canada as for an individual persona….
(How Poems Work, November 2004)
Gwendolyn MacEwen was one of the most remarkable Canadian poets of her generation. Never associated with any particular school of writing, she arrived upon the poetry scene in Toronto in the early 1960s, reading her uniquely original work in the coffee houses of the day, such as The Bohemian Embassy. Throughout her writing life of approximately 25 years she published seven collections of poetry, two novels, plays, and stories for children, and won the Governor General’s award for poetry twice: first for _The Shadow Maker_ in 1969 and (posthumously) for _Afterworlds_, in 1988. She died in 1987.
MacEwen published her collection _The T. E. Lawrence Poems_ in 1982, attributing her first fascination with Lawrence to “sepiatone photographs … of blurred riders on camels riding to the left into some uncharted desert just beyond the door” pointed out to her in a hotel in Tiberias, Israel, in 1962. Some say she felt herself to be a twin in spirit to Lawrence. “The Mirage” is from this volume. Although all these poems are written in Lawrence’s voice, and this one–with its opening line: “This is the desert, as I promised you”–at first appears to be as well, the voice seems to waver as we read on … like a mirage. The desert may stand for existence, the mirage for–what? Our attempts to assign meaning on behalf of the “marvelous vessels”? The easy conversational tone rests securely on a well-honed framework: five quatrains, each stanza’s first and third lines in iambic pentameter, shorter lines woven around them….