menu Arc Poetry Magazine

Topic: Canada-Scotland

Introducing Aislinn Hunter

There is a poem of Aislinn Hunter’s entitled “Everything Lost is Found Again” that is both short enough, and deceptively simple enough for me to quote here in its entirety:
the ring that lay for months behind the dresser,
the book finally returned by a friend,
apples reborn in the boughs of an old tree
and the years appearing suddenly
ripe fruit in the open hand.
The brevity of this poem is important, because it highlights Aislinn Hunter’s gift for poetic economy (which is not to say that her poems are always short; rather, that she is one of those poets who has an uncanny ability to say exactly as much as she wants with the most economical of means). What matters more, however, is the deceptive simplicity: Hunter is forever taking us into what we think of as familiar territory–whether it be familiar images, familiar ideas, seemingly well-worn philosophical notions–and revealing what was missed, in all that supposed familiarity: what we took for granted, what we didn’t want to acknowledge, or even–as in this poem–what we gave up on too soon….

Introducing Ian Hamilton Finlay

“Certain gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks.”
—”Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening.”

Introducing Don McKay

In “Fridge Nocturne”, a short poem near the beginning of Don McKay’s selected poems, the sleepless poet lies listening to the sound of his fridge, ‘the old/armless weeping willow of the kitchen’. The fridge’s “Humble murmur” brings to his mind several distant rivers–“the Saugeen, the Goulais/the Raisin”. The permeability of the border between the domestic world and the wilderness which lies beyond it marks a landscape whose vastness teaches early that, “Lonely is a knife whose handle fits the mind/too well, its oldest and most hospitable friend” (“Nocturnal Animals”). However, “There is a loneliness/ which must be entered rather than resolved” (“On Leaving”) and to enter the wilderness with Don McKay is to have the sharpest, most informed and responsive guide.

Introducing Robin Robertson

Misquoting Cromwell while reading Robin Robertson…
My father told me this one.
In April 1653 Oliver Cromwell–officially England’s “Lord Protector”, unofficially a military dictator, additionally a war criminal given to thanking God for his mercy but disinclined to show much of his own–dissolved the last vestige of Parliament, known as the Rump, with the following speech: “You have sat here too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, now go.” And the Rump dissolved. Cromwell had thirty musketeers with him, of course, and a reputation for savagery; he might have said anything and dissolved the Rump. Told a joke, if he knew one. Issued his order in Basque. But (my father said to me, repeating that one-breath speech) what is it about those twenty words that makes them so damn effective? (When I was a boy, he liked to be teaching me things all the time. Especially when driving me places.)
I scratched my nose. I can’t remember, now, if I came up with any sort of response.
Certainly the Lord Protector’s speech had been short. Had the Rump dissolved in sheer gratitude? That was an age of interminable speeches, wasn’t it?
Twenty words, my father said, and twenty syllables. Count them.
I did.
You see?
They’re all one syllable, I said.
Right! he exclaimed–[_one two three!_]–smacking his free hand on the dashboard, dust rising with each smack. Through the windows a span of amber prairie under lucid blue sky: the Trans-Canada Highway, westbound lane, the Rockies still tucked under the horizon.
Each syllable, he said, [_bang_], [_bang_], like the slam of a judge’s gavel after he gives sentence. Or–or like a musket shot from each of those soldiers he brought in with him. Cromwell.
I thought there were thirty soldiers, I said.
Thirty, twenty–the point is there’s no arguing with it. It’s strong speech. People think they can make what they say impressive by using a lot of big words. Words with Latin roots, Greek roots. Jargon. Argot. Polyunsaturated syllables. It’s those hard little fist-shaped Saxon words that really grab you by the lobes.