5 Canadian Books That Will Make You Fall in Love with Poetry
I sometimes think the real reason people don't read poetry so much is that they don't know how to find or select it. There aren't lists of poetry read-alikes, as there are for fiction. And even though a single poem, these days, may go viral, what we need to do is pass along whole books, and the names of poets. One of the great comforts of my life has been my book shelf devoted entirely to poetry. (Granted this has now spilled over and takes up closer to two shelves). The pleasure of being able to go to a shelf and find an old friend, and to reconnect with thoughts, to revisit a poem I haven't read for a while, and to measure my own thoughts against it, is a great one.
Toward that, I give you five books from my collection that I love. There are many more, of course, and so there may be more posts like this one.
The Burden of Snow by Heather Simeney MacLeod is no burden at all. The language is sensual, full of delightful images and words. The writer is a traveller, seeking to understand all of who she is and where she comes from. I love her poems of affection: for example "Affection for the Appaloosa" which begins:
Because you came to me as a child,
brought to me by mother's father,
and when he asked what I'd name you
because I'd dreamt you for so long,
I said I'd name you Dreamer.
Read this book for the descriptions of snow, for her understanding of the 'astonishing winter.' For the way Macleod makes winter sexy and warm:
He is the sight of winter when it is arriving,
the smell of snow on the air. The way men in plaid
will say, Snow is coming and sip their coffees,
cups resting in their large hands.
Light Light by Julie Joosten is subtle and contemporary and quiet and also very readable. The poems are in nature, are part of it. You will return to the book and come alive to see beauty again.
"The green of the field felt so unforgettable winter could never again exist."
"In place of winter a field emerged, carving beauty's furrows,
entrenching muck-splattered beauty into the valley."
We are all of us interconnected with nature, as in the poem "Touch / The radicle thus endowed":
Tenderness is a kind
of touch. When you touch me
and I'm looking at the orchid
tenderness moves between us
as an electrical current.
The orchid may respond
with infinitesimally small
movements as it moves
in response to light, gravity, heat, moisture, electromagnetic
flux, and wind.
The book ends with a series of "light fragments" which are stunningly lovely.
The pieces in Killdeer by Phil Hall are part essay, part poem. They're conversational, they tell it like it is. I fell in love immediately with the series "Becoming a Poet," which describes the writing scene in Canada starting in 1973 when the writer visits Margaret Laurence and how she "risked a generous grace."
In another poem, Hall imagines a daughter:
Before my daughter was born - I made up this whole legend about her
She would lead a band of women resistance fighters - dressed
in furs they would roar across the tundra - on flame throwing snowmobiles.
And on writing:
I tinker at long sequences - & stay close to notebooks - mostly when no one is looking
Am increasingly filled with hopelessness - but sometimes when
I'm up to my elbows in a line's perplexities
Confidence lands its flocks upon me & I feel - inside the poem - unafraid
Cloudy with a Fire in the Basement by Ronna Bloom is one I return to often. Bloom has become known as a 'poetry doctor' who has dispensed poems in her role as Poet in Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Poems, Bloom reminds us, are useful. In "Use These Poems," she writes:
Use these poems as breaks in meetings that become tense
and threaten. Use them to alter
the wind in the room, the sail in the boat can fill
and go a different direction.
The poems ends:
Take it, if it works, use these poems. Or leave them
on a plane, in someone else's bed, in an envelope
on the table, across the sentient grid.
Why read poetry? Look no further than the poem "The Vicks Vaporub of Poetry."
I open the loving book
and put it face down on my heart.
The words go in.
A compassion lick.
Camphor, mentol, eucaplyptus.
Light by Souvankham Thammavongsa is one of those books I keep pressing on people, saying, just read it, you won't be sorry. The first poem is titled "Agnes Martin, Untitled #10" which might give you some indication of the aesthetics of this book. Sparse, clean, careful but also surprising within formal restraints.
It's the plot and path
of a small single letter,
the face of a country you can make yours:
the lines, the grids, the marks are here
The poem "Perfect" will break your heart. It begins: When I am fourteen, my father will quit / his job and sell our home." And goes on,
In the mornings, I'll brush my teeth at school
and comb my hair so I'll look like nothing is wrong
with me. I'll wander the empty dark halls
before the students fill them, and sometimes
I'll sing and dance like a star in a Broadway play.
The poet looks at how the word light is translated into other languages and how that changes our experience of it:
I thought light always had something to do with the eye, a thing you see when
I never thought it could be something you could reach out for, pluck out of
its place in the universe and its order
What if the sun tasted like orange sorbet? The kind served on a single glass