Sunday, 31 August 2014

Sunday Poem

Earth abides. And the sun also rises.
But nothing could prepare me for the shock,
Vanity of vanities, the crisis
Of Arnold beamed down nude between two trucks,
He who had prophesied his endless cycle,
And now was back, and up to his old tricks.

He needs your clothes, your boots, your motorcycle,
But instead gets a cigar to the heart,
Which goes and goes, cold as an icicle.

Dad and I sit in air-conditioned dark,
The popcorn melting like communion,
And the cinema sits in a car park

On a Florida night hot as a kiln.
A molten abstraction becomes a man,
T-1000, who looks like anyone,

Even a Midwestern police officer,
Or your foster mom with a sword for an arm
Who skewers your dad for drinking from the carton. 
The devil’s in everything. Laid as linoleum,
All he has to do is touch her skin
And then he’s her. But something of her charm

Is lost in his cold impersonation.
You catch him by the tingle up your spine—
Her smile inorganic, reptilian,

Too saccharine when she says Woolfie’s fine,
Woolfie’s just fine, dear. John, honey, it’s late.
Please don’t make me worry. Slamming the pay phone,

Schwarzenegger says: Your foster parents are dead.
Your saviour too is cold, born with a gun,
And will deglove his arm to prove a point: 
Not only is evil steel. So is good,
A solid machine forged in fire and quenched,
Austempered to be your personal god,

A real badass, pure Old Testament,
Who’ll kill a man for looking at you weird.
I stare up at my dad, whose temperament 
Could quicksilver, and hold our tenuous world
On his mercurial surface. Even I,
Annealed with his blood, beaded and bobbed 
Across his mirrored pool. Reflecting light
From the screen, T-1000’s changes ring,
Weltering upon Dad’s human face.

The wind changes direction, rivers run
From the sea, and they’ve travelled time for you,
The troubled child who might save everyone 
With his own cold resolve, on Judgment Day,
August 29th 1997,
When the nascent machinery awakes, 
And nukes humanity off to heaven,
Their bodies blown like leaves in the swelter,
Sheltered in a boy’s Ferris-black pupil.

Armageddon roars in a smelter—
Schwarzenegger pours liquid nitrogen
Onto the shape shifter, who falters 
Then freezes. But a fire in the projection
Booth erupts, as from a SkyNet warhead,
And the film flares and melts at ignition—
Judgment Day. The visible scorched to tephra,
Fusing pyroclastic lapilli white,
The disembodied soundtrack playing on.

The night is igneous. It isn’t right.
And in the car, I’m not sure why, I cried.
Dad jokes WE’LL BE BACK, shifts into drive,

And rolls the windows down and then we ride
Down US-41, to the tin sea, where
The sun also sets. And the stars abide.
From The Scarborough (Signal Editions, 2014) by Michael Lista 

A Grave Man

The September Quill & Quire is out of the gate with the first review of Michael Lista's The Scarborough (issue not available online)Micheline Maylor is wowed ("technically brilliant, precisely researched, and formally astute") but is also struck by the poet's "concentrated eye on evil":

Right from the devastating cover image, Michael Lista’s The Scarborough is rife with craft and cultural implication. A VCR-tape masks a grinning skull with a sickly smile evoking Shakespeare's Mercutio: “Ask for me / tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.” The visual rhetoric is only the first indication that the poetry collection, which takes place on the 1992 Easter weekend of Kristen French’s disappearance and murder at the hands of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, will layer metaphor, geography, psychology, mythology and pop-culture... Lista’s intentions are not to mollify or explain, but to catalogue and signify an ugly time and place in Canadian crime history with the precision of the obsessed.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Predator Franchise

Jason Guriel calls Michael Robbins' sophomore effort, The Second Sex—his second book in as many yearsa "rush job."
If the American poet William Carlos Williams was right, and poems are machines, then Robbins’ best are like those drones Amazon proposes will one day deliver our literature and toilet paper: sleek content delivery systems that ruthlessly zero in on, and engage, our attention. But the poet should take note of his predecessor, Seidel, who waited sixteen years to follow up a scandalous debut. The more effective move after making a statement like Alien vs. Predator—and the more provocative prank—might’ve been to appropriate the one strategy a successful poet can afford, but which Robbins doesn’t seem to have much considered: a little bit of silence.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


In a new interview, Evan Jones asks Elise Partridge about her lines “let me be a waterfall / pouring a heedless mile” and how the wish squares up with her self-possessed and scrupulously controlled poetry. Her answer:
The wish I mentioned here was about trying to be authentic, unencumbered and generous—to live headlong without clinging to things I might sometimes think I wanted, much less to the trivial—about life being constantly unpredictable, and wanting to live with as much spontaneity and vitality as possible. The poem did grow out of the illness, though the wish had been there before; I think perhaps the illness made it stronger. After wondering whether or not my life was going to end much earlier than it might have otherwise, naturally, I had to think about how I wanted to live from then on. Things I had wanted to happen were not going to happen because of the cancer, and this at first seemed catastrophic; and yet other things that turned out to be important did happen because of the cancer. This put paid to the idea that one can always trust what one wishes for. Nobody would wish to have cancer, yet it undeniably brought things to my life that were, to my great surprise, valuable. Also, after having been so ill, I found I wanted to be bolder about many experiences. Fearing one might be deprived of chances can of course motivate one to take more chances. The heedlessness was about being freer—not constraining oneself in any defeating way—and simultaneously about being ‘freer’ in the medieval sense of the word: open-handed, generous. As far as not being heedless in terms of writing poetry, I sometimes wish I could work faster, but most of the poems I eventually publish take me a long time to finish. There are a couple of remarks I keep in mind about being heedful. Szymborska was once asked why she hadn’t published more. She replied, “I have a trashcan in my house.” And then there’s Théophile Gautier: “Anything which is not well-made doesn’t exist.”
(Painting of waterfall by Hiroshi Senju.)

Sunday, 24 August 2014

“Why the heck didn’t they just say so!”

In an excerpt from his upcoming collection of essays. Echo Soundings, Jeffery Donaldson flags an important truth about the art.
Poems are made of words, words that are everywhere outside you and inside you. We are in the midst of words. They do things, tell us things, tell us to do things, convey information, cajole, argue, and convince; they lie and feint and finesse; they go before and between; they explain and justify; they are well nigh indistinguishable from our thoughts and perceptions, our mindset, the culture we inhabit. The poem sits in the midst of all this verbal noise. It is hard not to assume that poems are trying to do the same thing in the world as other linguistic conveyances. So much of our criticism about literature and our teaching of it falls back on the assumption (often useful, as far as it goes) that the task of a poem, just so, is to convey information, convince you of something, argue a truth, compel or command, sway a disposition. But it can seem to do so very poorly, since it often makes so much fuss about the business. It seems coded by nature to make its own kind of trouble. Keep the teachers in business. Confronted thus, a young student thinks, quite reasonably: “If that’s what the poets meant, why the heck didn’t they just say so!” Poems are out of their element, in over their heads when they try to do the work that an instruction manual, a conceptual argument, a treatise, a political speech, a weather or news report, a science experiment will do much better.

Sunday Poem

After we thinned out we joined clouds
darkening cleared land and then
we were the shadows of those clouds
crossing open heaths. 
Our green breath had to continue
till we were lingering
molecules causing mild headaches
among Flemish cattle. 
When parts of our advancing front
united with water,
we converted damp wagon tracks
to pickling vats. 
We had no wish other than to float
past tatters of swans
a half-mile above our objective
in the scored earth.
The one who housed us in metal
had a chemist wife
who shot herself with his pistol
upon our dispersal. 
If only a huge ventilator, poised
to buoy us skyward,
could have been deployed
by top-flight sappers. 
But wrists had to go awry as wind
stroked us northwest
through sandbagged parapets
into scorched lungs.

From Bit Parts for Fools (Goose Lane Editions, 2013) by Peter Richardson

“Song of the Canister’s Contents” contains a reference to Clara Haber (1870-1915) who shot herself not long after learning of her husband Fritz’s success at putting chlorine gas into cylinders and supervising its dispersal at the Second Battle of Ypres.

The Murderer

In June, the Nickel Film Festival in St. John's screened the results of the first-ever cinepoetry project which paired local filmmakers with local poets to create short films. One of those films, The Murderer, was based on the same-titled poem by Shoshanna Wingate that's included in her debut, Radio Weather.