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Topic: poets

You can never feel small: 2011 Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer

~ 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 […]

On A.F. Moritz's "What Way"

There is an apocalyptic streak in the poetry of A.F. Moritz, one composed of moments when he adopts the raiment of a prophet and comments upon our course in the world. This habit is welcome, as one of the functions of the poet is to interrogate our personal and collective means of being. But in this case, Moritz writes an interlocking poem that asks “What way should we proceed?” and, here, answers in terms of the cyclical.
This is a poem of opposites, of counterings, and it begins with an opposite: the table, where people eat and talk and enjoy their lives, and the grave, where people do their grieving. Moritz commingles the two words: the “they” of the poem do not know “whether to grieve or celebrate”, suggesting that both practices happen in both locales, table and grave, borrowing a trick of the elegy to mix the potent ingredients and create an effect that is complicated catharsis. The next pairing comes with “noon” and “dusk”; again, Moritz says that the two are sequential, or cyclical. The worth of either option is not rated; like seasons, these opposites turn into one another. Moritz then comments literally upon our century’s militarism and industrialism with the vowel-rich “locked stockade of heavy machines” but contrasts this dull and “heavy” line with an airborne blue heron–the poet, perhaps, surveying all?–which finds its own way and goes “farther on.” Thus the dead, deadening, grounded aspects of our society are contrasted to a coloured, living, aloft being. At this point, there are two things that are finding their way: the pronoun “they”, which the poem suggests is “us”, and the heron. But where are they headed?

On Yehuda Amichai's "A Precise Woman"

We are often told that poetry is “what is lost in translation.” But if that is true, why has my greatest pleasure so often been the discovery of poems in translation, poems I can’t understand in the original which nonetheless I experience as “original”: that is, as authentic voices unlike any of the other voices I love?
“A Precise Woman” by Yehuda Amichai is ostensibly a portrait, in 17 unrhymed lines, of someone whose tightly cinched waist signals the separation of her worldly concerns into the upper and lower spheres. The poem itself imitates this division, its first eight lines describing the imposition of order and the last nine representing its dissolution. The woman’s short hair and penchant for tidying drawers emphasize her orderliness but her sensuality is revealed in “cries of passion” that evoke bird-calls.

On Julie Bruck's "Sex Next Door"

Julie Bruck is that increasingly rare poet who insists upon using the poem, first and foremost, as a vehicle for communication and upon using it well. I love the compassion she feels for the people in her poems – again, a rare quality, and rarer still for being authentic. All of it is grounded by careful attention to how a poem can be made to communicate so that emotion no longer belongs exclusively to the poet but is transpersonal, evoking compassion in the reader, too.

On Alice Burdick's "Winter Here"

“Winter here” (p. 92) is one of my favourite poems in Alice Burdick’s second book, Flutter, and stands as a kind of key piece for understanding Burdick’s unadorned, yet complex and conflicted, aesthetic. The first lines, uncharacteristically, are wordy and romantic. Very un-Burdick, very ornamental. A lofty eye names the natural world with high literary […]

On George Murray's "Hunter"

In great poems, chosen words combine in ways which confer unique meaning memorably with resonance and power. The scent they produce infiltrates the mind, like body chemistry. I have good chemistry with this poem.
This poem starts with a blow which jolts the reader urgently from peace to panic. It is delivered by a narrator who says ominously ‘hush, this lion sleeps tonight.’ The wind no longer blows. A sombre, yet tense, insistent tone is set. The reader’s attention is dramatically gained; the opening is intriguing. Why the frozen stillness?

On Charles Bruce's "Back Road Farm"

Choosing to live a life on land instead of on or near the sea is a common theme in several poems from Charles Bruce’s 1952 Governor General’s Award winner [_The Mulgrave Road_]. Bruce is never entirely clear about why a life on [_terra firma_] should be privileged over one lived on water, but what is […]

On Adam Getty's "Yellow Grass"

Experiencing “for the first time” a sense of dislocation, the speaker of Adam Getty’s “Yellow Grass” promises a new understanding of his place in the world. And he delivers on this promise by envisioning another person and admiring the dynamism of that person’s imagination. Sustaining his initial “wonder” in the surrounding countryside by wondering who might know it intimately, the speaker conjures a person so familiar with the field that he has “named each one of these blades” and identified every “kink” in the grass…

On Dave Margoshes' "Latimer's Statement to the Police"

Writing poems based on journalistic reportage is perilous at the best of times. The poems risk becoming too freighted with the politics or moral implications of the event itself. Yet no poet, or poetic novelist, with blood in their veins can steer clear of the stranger-than-fiction events that fill the newspapers and airwaves. Regina poet and novelist Dave Margoshes takes on both the unspeakable and the ineffable in this poem about Robert Latimer’s decision to kill of his severely disabled daughter Tracy. The poem was written several years after the actual murder took place, but while news of the trial and its controversial verdict were very much in the public eye…

On Alfred G. Bailey's "Elm"

In one of the most famous pieces of poetic shlock ever penned, Joyce Kilmer muses that he “shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree.” “Tree” is not merely the first syllable of treacle, however, and trees–despite poets’ best efforts to abet deforestation through publication–are almost always positive emblems when they appear in a poem–even while forests are often dark and terrible zones.
A.G. Bailey seems to suggest that if all Kilmer and others can see is arboreal loveliness, then they probably can’t see the forest for the trees. “Look well,” this poet says, and he means it. Bailey inverts the old chestnut about the innocent beauty of trees by the bold device of comparing the elm’s “wittol” (witless; also, a knowing but tolerant cuckold) root to a rat–a neat consonantal rhyme–a trick which has the dual effect of making us question our usual assumptions about trees and of exonerating, or at least complicating, the voracious lusts and appetites of the oft-benighted rodent.