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Issue 9: Imagine the God of the Garden by Micheline Maylor

Dr. Micheline Maylor was Calgary’s Poet Laureate 2016-18. Her latest poetry collection is The Bad Wife (2021), and Little Wildheart (U of Alberta Press) was long listed for both the Pat Lowther and Raymond Souster awards. She recently won the Lois Hole Award for Editorial Excellence in Alberta. She teaches creative writing at Mount Royal University and has been recently translated into Farsi.

*

Teach me mortality, frighten me/into the present. Help me to find/the heft of these days. That the nights/will be full enough and my heart feral.

  • “I Imagine the Gods” Jack Gilbert

A spark of moonlight and horn in the thicket

tames a wild-heart as jackrabbit curls his body

around my ankles in the morning blue-light.

Cernunnos commands predator and prey, stay,

together in the frost blown-glass dawn. 

Three of us lost: woman, god, and rabbit.

Three seek brighter ideas, destinations in this

world of work and blurred lines between creation

and created. God of the Wild Places, tell me,

teach me mortality, frighten me,

startle me out of complacency: the biggest crime.

In the shadow, the glint of his horned head,

tricks light into sparking as starlight or hope.

A beard of moss tangles as the uncivilized,

unordered as human thoughts or actions. Rabbit

maws a winter apple, blossomed from shadow side.

Peaceful communion at six thirty-nine, morning time.

Natural enemies here, in the watching, protected.

A fig forms firm and real in my hand, brings

me back into the present, helps me find

my phantom heart in the haunted gold-magic

of his torc. Spun wires circle his heaving collar-

bones head-to-head we reveal ourselves,

rabbit and me, face-to-face in gold rested there

on a god’s torso. Why hadn’t I noticed this before?

A heaving diorama of life and dream in replica.

The cycles at play once more. Cernunnos

turns back to the river valley, a paddle in

his right hand, a sundial in his left, shows

the heft of these days. That nights

open gateways between spirit, nature, and me.

His skin morphs to fur, the antlers stay,

and the torc moves to dangle on his left

horn. Under the cloak of a deer, my rabbit

friend grows bored of this proximity,

scuttles into the underbrush, uncertain

if any of this has transpired at all.

In the east, the light rises up over the Bow,

and the dream promise delivers: Gratitude

will be full enough and my heart feral.

*

A mini-entree by Catherine Owen

Dreams, as I’ve certainly previously noted, are a challenge to write poems about. They can’t be so insular in their symbology that they don’t invite a real audience and yet, they need a mysterious energy that compels. Cernunnos, the god of wild things in Celtic mythology, is possibly perfect as a sigil of the subconscious, containing both a translatability and an aura of the unknowable. And Maylor’s making of the poem as a glosa, that medieval Spanish form popularized in Canada by the now-deceased poet from Victoria, BC, PK Page, increases the lyric’s absorption in the psyche through its structure, rhymes and of course, the cabeza whose quatrain of lines end each of the four ten-line stanzas, from the elegiac American poet Jack Gilbert.

Maylor is freer with the typical 3,6, 9, 10 end rhymes of the traditional glosa, as likely befits a piece from the mind’s underworld, but she sprinkles overt or subtle rhythms throughout in prey/stay, frost/lost, side/time/find, there/before and Bow/feral. “Startle me out of complacency: the biggest crime” (evoking – or invoking? – Yeats) is perhaps the most powerful line as it sums up the whole need for the poem’s magic ritualizing of this woman of reverie, the rabbit, the spirit of the inhuman. Amid the real of the moss-beard, figs, a winter-apple, the torc of gold wires shimmers on an antler, borders between selves vanish. There is metamorphosis, noticing where nothing was before.

As Maylor borrows from Gilbert as guide in the poem, so Cernunnos is her Virgil in the dream. With that dual cynosure, she ends with a twinned revelation: back in her Calgary river reality, Gilbert’s “nights” are elided and replaced with Maylor’s “Gratitude.” Her pagan dream life entwines with the precious metals of the day’s reading to create this spell of new knowing.

Issue 8: Steve McOrmond’s Snakes & Ladders


Steve McOrmond is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Reckon (Brick Books 2018) and The Good News about Armageddon (Brick Books 2010). He was the 2018 recipient of the P. K. Page Founders’ Award for Poetry for his poem “Proof of Life.” A native of Prince Edward Island, he calls Toronto home. Visit him online at www.stevemcormond.com.

The race to the top is child’s play, a game

so old we call it timeless, the rules

as simple as simple gets—and as ruthless.

The die alone decides. We overvalue the human mind.

When the board steamed to England in the belly

of a merchant ship, the Indian virtues and vices

were replaced, colourful illustrations of gods and angels

brought up to date. A constable in a custodian helmet

drags away a red-faced boy by the scruff of his neck.

Covetousness leads to stealing, laziness to the slum, etc.

The pursuit of moksha morphs into a late Victorian

pilgrim’s progress. We’re meant to believe

that our half-decent deeds and jerk moves

are counted and weighed, the ox-plow

path to fulfilment complicated by black serpents.

But it’s just window-dressing. Dumb luck

our cradle. How else to account 

for those who need no ladders, lofted

into the upper tier as though their entitlement

were a noble gas. This we know: what goes up….

Everything was going so well, says the pub bore

to anyone who will listen. The politician’s slide

comes, not because he can’t keep his cliché in his pants,

but a lavalier mic clipped to the lapel of a crumpled

suit coat happened to be hot. The mob

celebrated as liberators, now labelled thugs.

When a snake sheds its skin, it is still a snake.

And there are more snakes than ladders.

Mini Entrée by Catherine Owen

As a child, I adored this game. I was raised on both the 1950s version that my Nana and Granddad owned with the moralistic verbiage and the 1970s one that still had the snakes, not the sanitized chutes, but had ditched the judgy words for simpler representations of sin and virtue, mostly referred to by then as bad vs good behavior. For instance, the 50s version featured a gluttonous boy who fell desperately ill as a result of his overeating or a girl who lounged indolently (with pen and paper!), thereby tumbling into becoming a poor street urchin (would this indeed happen to me as a writer?), while the 70s one depicted a boy beating a pig who was later thrashed by the farmer for his misdeed. A tad less extreme? Or at least more just?

I was haunted by the original game and am still kicking myself at having lost it along the way as it’s now impossible to locate a copy. Alas. So thanks to Steve McOrmond for bringing this memorable pastime back into my memory in a poem that not only takes on the history of this form of play, but leaps it into the corruptions of contemporary life in a resonant, stirring set of descriptive and musical lines.

I won’t list ALL the consonantal/assonantal echoes but here are a few of my favorites: timeless/rules/ruthless (like a chess move!), die/decides/mind (which effectively underscores the meaning in the statement that we overvalue our brains, as really it’s luck in this game and in life that makes the final difference), pursuit/moksha/morphs/pilgrim’s progress (also a very taut summation of the shift between the original Indian notion of transcending samsara and the Christian one of avoiding hellfire), and the scrumptious lavalier/lapel with clipped/crumpled and happened/hot. How can we ever underestimate the value of sounds in poetry, not just in creating a sonorous base but in both underscoring and even unfolding the sense of it all?

To sum up the content is banal without the tune carrying it in a poem. Often. Ok the game lies. It doesn’t matter in the end what we DO because a random roll may lead us to the top of the ladder (which always stays the same no matter what century) or slip us down a snake (which isn’t slippery and remains equivalent in old or new skin and becomes an innocent chute or playground slide in our Disney-fied era of concealments). In the past yes, as the last line states, there were more snakes than ladders. In the game at any rate. Now? The reality is more serpent, indubitably. The ladders have been placed in the warehouses of billionaires and now how will you rise, young child, how?

Issue 7: Love has Nothing to Do by Robert Priest

Bio

A literary poet in the tradition of Neruda and Mayakovsky, a composer of lush love poems, a singer-songwriter, a widely quoted aphorist, a children’s poet and novelist, Robert Priest is a mainstay of the literary/spoken word/music circuit both in Canada and abroad. His words have been quoted in the Farmer’s Almanac, debated in the Ontario Legislature, sung on Sesame Street, posted in Toronto’s transit system, broadcast on MuchMusic, released on numerous CDs, quoted by politicians, and widely published in textbooks and anthologies.

Love has nothing to do with the stars

except that I see them as symbols of distance

and love can be distant


It has nothing to do with rivers 

but I see the river staying and going

and I remember that love leaves and remains


Love is not much swayed by the moon 

but who can view the moon

and not think of love’s satellite tendencies

its shadowy diminishments


True fire – the flame is not love

but in its dance, in the light it sheds

we see what we become

when love is in us

A mini-entree on Love has Nothing to Do by Catherine Owen

Sometimes I like to keep it simple at THE THE. And yet, is a love lyric ever really lacking in complexity beneath its seemingly pure surface? Let’s think about Cavafy, Neruda, Cohen. Robert Priest’s Love Has Nothing to Do first lets the reader linger in the concept of love’s lassitude in the title, then with each of these four stanzas, twists this apparent negation into an affirmative action. Love may be a nebulous concept but the speaker retains his relation to the feeling through the initially three line, then four line stanzas, enacting the deceptive movements of metaphor. What love is not like (stars, river, the moon, fire) and yet, how love relates to each of these celestial, watery, romantic and temporal elements. And it twists the typical in love, which we want to think of as implying closeness, consistency, accessibility and durability, into what is distant, mutable, unstable.

Yet, at the close, we are turned again, this time towards what love does, not what it is. The dance and the light are not tangibilities of love; they are traces within the lover themselves, evidence of love not from what is beyond, what is abstract, but what is concrete and inside the one who claims to love. Love is like a word one says over and over until it becomes incomprehensible and the poet is here to revivify our bond with what lies at the core of all.

Issue 6: Fleeting Concern by Katherine Autio

Katherine Autiö was born to a Finnish father and a Scottish mother in Kirkland Lake Ontario, in what was then a predominantly Finnish community.  Since then, she has been a professional clown, a folk singer, an actress, a director, and a playwright.  She is currently a surrealist oil painter, poet, and for the past 30 years, a teacher of English, Art and Drama. This is her first publication.

*

She abhors Courtney Love; pities Carrie Fisher   

while licking liquid-gold, like laudanum   

from salty palms, stumbles toward the dance floor,   

repositions stockings for maximum thigh,    


bullet belt, a line of sharp silver incisors,   

metallic jaws biting her in two,   

cartridge tips pointed to leather sheathed cleavage,   

motionless alabaster orbs riding shotgun  –


“I need to pee!” she yells into the air,   

toward her crew, vaguely, lurches to the Ladies, nods   

to the genderless goddess who is violently backcombing  

a blue Sigue Sigue Sputnik over the jail house sink.   


“I love your hair,” the goddess says- instant soulmate,   

forcing a peek at her own sweaty black liquorice twigs,   

smeared mascara, sex-doll lips, mutters “love yours too,”   

and only then-


the careening launch into the only working stall,   

dizzy ass slams deadweight onto scratched plastic throne,   

she regroups –  

graffitied walls spinning a centrifuge:   


pornographic offers, insights into who is a cunt, 

scrawl of Platonic dialogues in ball point or Sharpie   

arching wildly, shrinking to the floor, remembers,   

ensconced in her skull purse, that mickey of generic malt  


 masquerading as whiskey, downs the dregs,   

fights panicked pounding heart: how much was that?   

6oz? Plus, plus, what? No clue.   

Finds herself sitting clothed, on a toilet,  


would rather climb Everest than peel   

a thousand black layers to pee,   

and some Olga is pounding the door anyway, cursing,   

“You done in there?” She stumbles out mid-knock  


ducking her head, avoids eye contact,   

opens the bathroom door, sound hits like a heatwave,  

strobes pulse like a stroke, silhouetting a cityscape   

of bodies moving, fists plumping,  


cloven hooves, fleshy totems flailing lust,   

everyone’s flying hair is triple outlined,  

and she thinks 

her heart will stop for the billionth time,  


battles the need to flee, Helen Chandler running,   

stage right, but chased by ghosts, not vampires,   

forces one shiny stiletto crow’s foot then the other   

toward the undulating mass until the music takes her,  


familiar arms enfold her, sweaty friends  

touting bleary stock concern in a chorus of, “You okay?”   

wrinkling by-the-book doll brows in pouted worry.   

Their embraces paid with the requisite lie,


  “No worries.” she says.  

Mini Entrée on Fleeting Concern by Catherine Owen

It’s amazing uncovering a new, as in formerly-unpublished, poet. Autio is a neighbour-friend and I knew she wrote but reading a poem like Fleeting Concern reminds me that many people possess excessive talents that they don’t feel the urge to do public things with. They create for private pleasure not just first, but possibly last. And that’s dandy. Yet I’m still happy that this poem will find a few other readers now because it’s a freaky gem. In twelve stanzas of four lines each plus a final line that repeats the well-worn response we are all supposed to give to any query, a banality that barfs out everything that preceded it, slamming it as an utter lie, this poem takes us inside the punkish world of boozy youthfulness. It’s not easy to write a poem about drunkenness and its social medium: the club or bar, and have it be so danged vivid, visceral, torrid and tawdry. Bukowski tried. And failed?

Maybe this piece is so potent because it revolves around the female inebriant, their tipsy circle, their bathroom rituals of weird politesse and woozy negotiation – a rare subject. And conveyed in such loopy allusiveness: from the Sigue Sigue Sputnik band and their hairdos to the actress Helen Chandler in 1931’s film Dracula along with diction as sharp as a ringed punch to the nose: laudanum, incisors, sheathed, centrifuge, undulating. Assonance blurs words together, linking need and pee and flee, strobes and stroke, pornographic and offers. Many of us have been somewhere close to here and now we can revisit that black-out zone from the safety of our imaginations, led by Autio’s doer more than speaker, in this poem of a time and a headspace that she conveys so blatantly with her precise pickings of sound and image. Brava. I’m proud to be your break-out printed poetry venue!

Issue Five: Chet Baker, Falling Out a Window (1988) by Chris Hutchinson

Chris Hutchinson is the author of four poetry books as well as the speculative autobiography in verse novel Jonas in Frames. His most recent poetry collection, In the Vicinity of Riches (Goose Lane Editions / icehouse poetry) appeared in spring, 2020. Catch him online at: chris-hutchinson.com  

Chet Baker, Falling Out a Window (1988)

It’s true, I used to tell lies about going straight.

Before I was dumped and disowned

I knew how to purr, how to serenade



how to skim over moods of thin ice.


You said I nursed before killing my spirit

that I softened my voice before scorching my breath.

I said I left the army right where I found it


to croon love ballads in sub-basement dives.


I used to pretend I was born out of wedlock

indebted to gangsters, for better or worse.

It was kill or be killed in the Front Room in Newark


where I first pawned my horn for that China White lie.


There was a time I pumped gas for a living

after a beating smashed all my front teeth to stubs.

Lost wages, arrhythmic courthouse proceedings—


they carved my innocent bones into dice.


Let’s not forget how handsome I was

a classic, square-jawed cock of the walk.

Pinched outside Lucca, I mailed you my mugshot—


you, my future Goldwater Girl in disguise.


Yes, I whipped myself raw with the silkiest riffs

feeling myself heavy-aggrieved. So what?

I’d learned by then the best way to worship


was the worst way to use––without thinking twice.


So I chased gut-rot with sips of Chablis

and Seconal, and grass, and milk from the poppy––

detached from Santa Monica’s ugly side, before it squeezed


and cracked the head of my youth in its vise.


Did I worry I’d end up alone

that I’d die, almost blue, in my sleep?

No. I’d go out swinging on the outskirts of Rome—


all those tunes in my head, catchier than lice!


I used to feel I was somebody

somebody else, the fool who only aimed to be

and maybe I would’ve stayed somebody


if I’d have kept clean, and just womanized.


Yes, I once feigned love, forged scripts, and dreamed

of spiking my mother-in-law’s gin. But tonight, I’m free. 

I’ve unloosed a new kind of gravity


because a dream is what I am, falling from the sky—


So spare me your delicate scowl.

I’ve been where you are, I know where to go

and I’m on my way now.


Spare me your words of advice.


Spare telling me again how I sang

but never wrote the lines (though now I wish I had, for you)

my sweet comic valentine.


Thank-you. Thank-you. Goodnight.  

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Chet Baker, Falling Out a Window (1988): A mini-entrée by Catherine Owen

The essential word for every trumpet player, embouchure, comes to mind immediately when I read this gut-twisting poem, homage, narration near a hagiography of flaws and their genius. Every poet needs an embouchure too, a way of shaping their mouths to the sounds they emit, a training of their physiognomy to make music bodily as well as mentally. Did Chet Baker commit suicide when he fell out of his hotel window? The facts suggest a possible otherwise but this piece enters another kind of likelihood in which addiction, dental tragedy, divorce, and further downfalls led to this slip out the second floor and down to the pavement where he died at age 58 after a stellar and checkered life devoted to his art.

It’s tricky to write a persona poem. In the first person no less, but Hutchinson achieves the realness with style and believability. I hear Baker utterly as he addresses his third wife, recounting the tawdry and stirring trajectory and bidding her farewell with the repetitions of “spare” and a closure befitting a performer at the culmination of a show. As usual, it’s the poet’s ear that makes the content matter and Hutchinson is a master of form as he bops between the triadic stanza (Baker’s three wives?) and the solo line (the trumpeter finally alone and reminiscing?), torqueing vital echoes like the equivalencies of “free”, “Chablis” and “gravity,” the bounce from “wedlock” and “Newark” to later the idiom “cock of the walk” or the slant rhymes of “vise” and “lice” (and dice, lie, disguise, womanize) and how they prefigure the final word, “goodnight.” I love the tweaky oxymorons of “delicate scowl” and even maybe “comic valentine” too, resonating with one of Baker’s most famous collaborations with Stan Getz. It’s not a sonnet but it sure has a middle twist: “the best way to worship/was the worst way to use––without thinking twice,” a wisdom that will keep me thinking for a long time. That’s what the best poets and musicians do – they give you songs that make you imagine another way of being in the world.  Thank you. Thanks.

Issue Four: Wednesday’s Man by Penn Kemp

Penn Kemp has participated in Canadian cultural life for 50 years, writing, editing, and publishing poetry and plays: 30 books and 10 CDs. Penn is the League’s Spoken Word Artist (2015) and inaugural recipient of the “Muttsy” award! Her collection, A Near Memoir: new poems (Beliveau Books), recently launched.

Of the old poets, the one I most
often call on is Creeley.

That singular
eye. That dear
clear voice.

That. Oh, and
this. Odin, move

over.

*

Catch as catch can.
Stand your staff
by. Wander, Wotan,

over new terrain where
words no longer
count.

      Where you wonder
why. Or rather why
not, when over form.

Understanding.

When the deep-sighted
eye opens
worlds, no need of
catchphrase to recant.

                   Why funnel
many dimensions down
to one small realm of
print?

*

Bob, have I
lost you in clouds
of northern gods?

Not foreign to you but
absent. Irrelevant, off-
beat.

And you. Are you still on track,
your once-mortal remains
dissolved into ineffable frayed

strings radiating, some (not you) 
say, glory, off 
the beaten—

Stop. You’d scoff. Back
up. Back to where the line
tangled as loss abstracted.

“The poet casts, wait for it, wait for it….”

Reel back the real, back
to the little wicker basket carrying trout,
Creeley.

Browns. Or is it Brooks?

Ah, cut-throats.

*

If I call, would you call back?
Can you?

Really, don’t be shy of
the door that opens,
closes. It does not reify presence.

It realizes
it.

*
Sound trumpets—

The poem dead ends.
Intractable. The poet
undeterred keeps on.

*

Wednesday, the crow
caws as if aspiring
to raven croak.

The old one-eyed guy
on the corner gives me
the eye, the
creeps. “Jeepers, weepers
where’d you get those?”

Peepers start up in
the pond, hidden under last
leaves’ detritus. Look. You
have the eye,

remember. “The eye altering,
alters all.”

*

You flout the obvious.
The call can’t go through.

Really, I hoped to channel Creeley.  

Too trite to summon the purloined
letter. Let us rather locate by
echo. By design.

By ruse.

By crook and hook. By
ways. By rose.

Bye-bye.

*

Wednesday is hidden mid-
week, mid-term, mid-life
ignored

smack between war gods.
You yearn for Freya, say
it: Friday, the Beautiful as

if to close the week, tune
out American Gods.

Deep depends on this, that.
Miles never let you down, nor
Buffalo blues. But now.

Cast your warm eye/ On life, on death.
Poet, pass by.

Wednesday’s Man: A mini-entrée by Catherine Owen

The Poetry Foundation describes the American poet Robert Creeley’s prolific work in these words: “much imitated, often diluted minimalism, the compression of emotion into verse in which scarcely a syllable is wasted.” I saw Creeley read with Robin Blaser the year he died (2005. He was born in 1926) at the Vancouver East Cultural Center and I remember his taut play with language, his bear-gruffness as the sprite-like Blaser pranced about him grinning. His solidity that sung.

Penn Kemp, long known for her auralities that lunge over the gaps between nonsense verse, onomatopoeia, sound poetry and honed lyricism, here pays essential honouring to a mentor with “Wednesday’s Man.” In seven sections like a week of varying daily rhythms and stanzaic acts, Kemp begins and ends with Nordic gods, Odin the one-eyed wanderer at the start, bearded and wise as Creeley himself (also named Wotan who appears in the second stanza) and she concludes with the goddess Freya, a week ending (not a weak one!), who perhaps is Penn in another guise, companionate and mystical.

            In between, repeating Wednesdays, the mound of mid-week that is often hard to surmount, but crucial to the temporal flow, Kemp references Sinatra’s Jeepers Peepers, Brooks (shoes, waterways?), the show American Gods and Miles Davis. More key than content however (as always for me) are the musicalities of this piece. It literally beseeches you to read it aloud with its alliterations and assonances, its nursery rhyme buoyancies, its short lines that bop down the page and well let’s look at the last half of the final stanza to see!

“Deep depends on this, that.
Miles never let you down, nor
Buffalo blues. But now.

Cast your warm eye/ On life, on death.
Poet, pass by.”

There are the punchy beats of each line, the repeated d and t and n sounds, the periods that stop your ear in its ploddings, the shift from enjambment to a slash to conjoin ideas and then the declamatory order in the last homage-blast from Yeats’ tombstone telling the reader not to linger on any stage but to keep moving, continue to create in the ghosts, mostly, of the masters, and happenstance, fascination, breath.

Issue Three: Chris Banks’ 40


 Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of five collections of poems, most recently Midlife Action Figure by ECW Press 2019. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada.  His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review, GRIFFEL, American Poetry Journal, Prism International, among other publications. His next collection Deep Fake Serenade is forthcoming from Nightwood Editions in the Fall of 2021. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.

40.

Desire, love, longing and happiness, all are tempered in middle-age’s 

forge. We surge forward after these titanic forces with all the fervor 

of youth, then cry theft when they retreat from us, not realizing until 

much later, when we are much older, they underlay most things. Jack

Gilbert knew it. He sat on a Greek island, until he felt the unusual heft 

of his contentment overtake his thoughts. Twenty years ago, I wanted

to write about great things, but now, it is enough to feel them waking

in me, the light in my yard revealing my own bright hungers. The fence 

shall be mended. The spirit shall remember its agency. Dandelions poke 

through fresh grass like yellow bulletins from another world. How am I 

happy, whole again, after years of sadness? The sadness makes you fine

I hear Gilbert’s poems whisper, and I remember waking years ago, on 

Naxos, the blue and white of the buildings, places hewn from ancient 

volcanic rock, thinking the Aegean had sewn its blue allure into me.          

40 by Chris Banks: a mini-entree by Catherine Owen

Well, this poem makes me wet. Let’s be blunt. When you’re a poet, you get seduced by sounds and this long-limbed sonnet is richly singing with them. How versatile a form the sonnet is. It can even handle being busted out of its iambic pentameter and compelled into oceanic tempos; it can have the most subtle of twists or turns in the last two lines and leave its grand revelations for other positions in the poem. Banks has a hard grasp on what these epic fourteen lines can accomplish in their tight room of words. Being a mid-life poet myself (whatever that means I know it has something to do with perspective, different modes of focus, a dash of earned cynicism), I get this content utterly. But mostly what affects me is the compacted rhythms.

            Let’s just take line two: “forge. We surge forward after these titanic forces with all the fervor.” An enjambment leading to another one. Forge echoing with the alliteration of surge and with the consonance/assonance of forward and forces and later, fervor. Or, or, or the sonnet declares. Its sounds bouncing the subject matter into deeper comprehension. And that word titanic? It comes from the Greek and so leads us into Gilbert’s Greek island and the Grecian images at the end, of Naxos and the Aegean’s delectable blue allure. All is interwoven, delicately perceptive.

            But go back again. The reference to Jack Gilbert, a name most poets would know. I myself have been moved by his elegies and turned the dog that his wife Michiko “became” into the fly that my deceased spouse inhabited in my collection Designated Mourner. And that dark hair around the avocado pit in The Great Fires! Banks draws from Gilbert’s “heft of contentment” as he arrives at that particular time of life where one is not driven by the same urges and thus must derive solace and smaller spurrings from tinier hopes, simpler yearnings. The dandelions are the “bulletins” of what comes next; not one’s loins or heart, perhaps. They are the “bright hungers.” And what’s wrong with this? Nothing. They are gift-plants, as renamed by the spirit, not weeds. The Biblical assertions of shall and shall ensue. The ocean is a tailor of fluidity. Who are you? You’re just a grown, closer-to-whole self, poem-maker, listening to the elders and the seasons and moving with the pulse of what is now.

Issue Two: Elana Wolff’s How Alteration Works

Elana Wolff is a Toronto-based writer of poetry and creative nonfiction. Her work has recently appeared in The Dalhousie Review, Canadian Literature, Vallum, Arc, and Sepia. Her poem “I really liked your reading last night”has been chosen for inclusion in Best Canadian Poetry 2021 by Souvankham Thammavongsa for Biblioasis. Her collection, Swoon (Guernica Editions), is the 2020 winner of the Canadian Jewish Award for Poetry.

How Alteration Works

Fence & gate, the swing & hedges—blue:

the biophilia-blue in green.

Bird-poop white as eye in edelweiss.

Conscience, can you cogitate on personhood

dispersed: identity with any eyes,

this woman mirrored in sink. She washes hands:

They feel like scales & fins, the

gills of kinship.

Can’t tell you quite how alteration works.

Treadmill whirring in the basement—

near (almost) as hearing sea-in-a-shell. Real enough to leak …

We take to reading K. aloud in various translations. Eventually

we fall asleep & dream & let our souls go—       slumber

for as long as they want, the duvet-

cover soft as rumpled lumps of flanneled flesh.

Elana Wolff’s How Alteration Works: a mini-entree by Catherine Owen

This is a poem about our human relationship to nature, or the desire to address, enter, immerse oneself in objects by finding their through-bond, or what Edmund O Wilson called a process of “biophilia.” We want to feel at home with the entities that surround us by connecting with our shared organic origins. The ampersand itself is a mode of usually joining two sources that possess a known kinship like “scales & fins” though here Wolff extends relational twinnings by duo-ing the domesticized “swing & hedges” or creating an evolving triplet-ship of being asleep then dreaming then letting our souls go. Soul, of course, a currently risky word in a poem. What is a soul? What is conscience? Can we cogitate on ourselves without pretending our borders are fixed, immutable? What if they are “dispersed.” Poop is not just a flower it is like a body part or a sound. With the simile, and even more with the metaphor, everything is entwined. A woman’s hands are all the elements of fish. The treadmill, a human machine, sounds like the sea in a shell. The fusion of the seemingly tangible and the ineffably ephemeral. Lines are unfinished, leaking followed by ellipses…or are the ellipses the droplets of knowing drip drip dripping away? Loose couplets fall into stark singular statements. At the close, the speaker can let go of the question and allow the duvet to become flesh, just meld with the world, not incessantly attempt to articulate. Alteration works by itself. We must just release our constant division making. This poem urged me to re-read it on a number of levels. It asked me to think. I like that.

ISSUE ONE: Expatriate by Steve Noyes

Steve Noyes has published two novels and six poetry collections. His most recent books are small data (Frog Hollow, 2014) and November’s Radio (Oolichan, 2015). He is currently marooned in Sheffield, UK, where, after finishing a PhD, he is working on another poetry collection, The Conveyor and Other Poems.

“I guess you’re off to the true center

Of all culture and civilization,”

My friend said, meaning England,

Bronze slave-traders thronging selfie backgrounds,

Inigo Jones’s greenswards and ponds.

And I had to admit there was a time

When the sceptered isle meant sculptured rhyme,

And I dreamed that we the educated would bandy

About the minutiae in rare colophons

And the naughtier bits in Tristram Shandy

But’s been more like being high

In an opera box listening to Die Walkure

While scanning a program for Kinky Boots.

Like hearing mop-top Boris recite ‘Mandalay,’

To dumb-struck Myanmar diplomats.

Where veterans and plucky matrons

Clamber–shedding clumps of sod–

From their graves to applaud

The NHS, overjoyed that Dame Kate Atkinson

Believes in forty-three they weren’t found wanting.

Like the undergrad at a seminar

on Canada’s Idle No More movement,

After absorbing the aboriginal genocide,

Put up his hand. “It’s like we’re civilized–

But it’s 1815 out there in the colonies.”

Or the Romantic Poetry Professor, who,

In my umpteenth hopeless academic interview,

Listened to me talk about British Muslim writers

And observed, “That’s very specialized,” in lieu of,

“Rather not the sort of thing we’re into.”

Or the clagg who got strong-armed

Out of the betting-shop. “Fuck off, you cunt!”

And dropped a torpedo-sized bottle of malt

That exploded. Foam surged up the pavement,

like a valiant landing on a beach in Normandy.

 Or the novelist dressed like a Teddy-boy

Who epically failed at self-deprecation.

It seems he once worked in a factory.

“There was I, pale and wan, among

The proletariat,” said he, not unironically.

Mondays the parks are an obstacle course

Of Styrofoam containers and strewn chips,

Crows hopping on half-eaten kebabs,

Beaking up and dropping milky condoms

And plenty of pavement Bolognese.

On universal credit day, the publican

Opens a little early, so gents

In their pyjamas and flat caps,

Ladies in their pilled housecoats can

Get a good start on their pints and Pimms.

The plummy hauteur of Oxbridge accents

Opening with, “These days we’re not allowed

To even say we’re English!”

If you disagree, they’re mum. If you agree

They start slagging all the blacks and Pakis.

The high culture of the mind!

The little old lady in a shower-cap,

Picks at her full English in a cafe,

Hunched over a Kray Brothers headline.

Where have the forty years gone?

The schoolchildren, prim in blazers, ties,

Tormenting their classmate on a bus.

As he winces and endures,

They crow into his face,

Drop their aitches, swear like stevedores.

You can find just as many boogaloo boors

Here in their Hawaiian shirts,

As in the USA. “I’m just an Englishman

Expressing my opinion in my country.

Why don’t you go back to yours?”

At the chain bookstore, the daily tally

Is James Patterson, Lee Child, Ian Rankin,

Joe Wicks and an Afghanistan

Special Forces Commando, 39,

Tolstoy and Shakespeare, 2. Call it even.

I cannot escape my accent. Soon as

My mouth opens, the English squeal,

“Not from round here! Canadian?”

 “Yes.” They’re glee itself, as if on the next level

In Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Hard bald lads wear shorts in winter,

Sport tattoos based on stadium disasters,

Moms, Chinese characters picked from a binder.

Meanwhile, the lasses vampire up their lashes,

And weave the closing-time cobbles on high heels.

“Why, yes, I am quite pleased to have landed

Within the vicinity of Nelson’s Column

And intend to view Holbein’s The Ambassadors

Once I have negotiated the tedium

Of explaining to everyone I meet,

“The estate-agents and the costermongers

Down the mews, the gent who trundles out the bins,

The Department’s resentful administrators,

And my barely literate undergraduates,

That I happen to be a British citizen.”

       

The Expatriate: a mini-entrée by Catherine Owen

“you’re living in a ruin as well, you just don’t know it yet”                                       

Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva in James Bond’s Skyfall

   

 Steve Noyes’ impressive poem in 19 quintains, “Expatriate,” expresses the awkward, yet persistently questing subject position of a speaker who simply doesn’t fit in, a Canadian living in England for graduate school, snagged somewhere between the hoity-toity myths (or perhaps favored narratives) of the British Empire (“greenswards,” “rare colophons,” “plummy hauteur of Oxbridge accents,” “prim in blazers”) and the rather more gritty, tawdry and racist reality of the l’homme of the streets. Noyes is a brilliant scholar and those of his poems I’ve read over the years often possess a richly allusive texture. But if you imagine you need to know every reference to relish one of his poems then please think again – yes, the poem abounds with nods to Tristram Shandy, Die Walkure, the NHS, the Idle No More movement and even the trashy TV show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire – but well you can Google anything if you must, and the few name-drops you didn’t cotton onto immediately? You get the drift of the gist regardless and, you see, a poem isn’t an information machine.

            The core theme of dislocation, discombobulation, dismay, an impoverished picture of a sapped culture where people pick “Chinese characters out of a binder” for tattoos while, at the same time, “slagging all the blacks and Pakis,” the vague and painful dissatisfactions of watching glowing literary dreams of glory dwindle within the brute detrital quotidian of “Styrofoam containers….milky condoms,” is undeniable. How does Noyes effect this grim witness? Through his precise use of British diction such as “clagg” and “cunt,” his sharp alliterative imagery in the gentleman with “flat caps” and “ladies in their pilled housecoats” swilling “pints and Pimms” (sounds which resonate three stanzas later with “prim” as the actual crow of one stanza earlier echoes in a different form in this one when the schoolkids “crow” into a tormented boy’s face), and his highly torqued and thrumming half end-rhymes in “backgrounds/ponds” or “sod/applaud.”

            “Expatriate” is powerful in content (I don’t think I’ll ever see young women the same way again after reading his line “the lasses vampire up their lashes” – listen to those whupping “a” thwacks!) but what makes it really resonate and prove a potent first poem for The The, are the collisions between idioms, the magnificent clashes of sound, the musics of being fooled and wakening to what is and (possibly) succumbing once more to England’s deleterious charms.

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