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CONCLUSIONS THAT NEVER CONCLUDE

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"If you don't like what you wrote, don't think about the words, just remember it better."I'm paraphrasing Robert Hass's advice on revision in a dimly-recalled Vimeo of a talk given in Rotterdam, a paraphrase itself of something Jack Kerouac once said. The context was a discussion of the sources of poetry according to Rilke (memory, dream, art) and its subjects (joy, longing, grief). Hass had set up a quick exercise in noting a location for each of those emotions.
Just before this, someone in the audience asked about revision, to which Hass responded with an anecdote (about Robert Duncan and his poem "My Mother Would Be a Falconress") that suggested a poem only acquires the name 'poem' when all the writing is done, essentially another way of saying writing is rewriting is writing.I recall, as a young person just beginning to find my own poems, asking a friend about her process and how she knew when a poem was finished. The question felt a litt…

HELLO LITTLE CHERRY IF THAT'S WHAT YOU ARE

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The cherries pictured here aren't from my own trees, though at this time of year they could be. (The orchid is a definite outlier.)
The image was made in my backyard on an August afternoon six or seven years ago. Today, coming across it again, I'm interested in how the cherries are so shiny they reflect the sky, trees and shrubs, and the screen house. Each cherry catches a different facet of the scene and throws it back, curved. If I could enlarge it enough, and if the timing of the picture-making had been just right, maybe I'd even see the fly-past of a vee of geese, the first we'd seen that season. But I can enlarge it only so far before the image loses definition.What happens when it loses definition is that the cherry holding the reflected image starts to become something else, something that defeats my expectations and assumptions about 'cherry.' It becomes an anti-cherry. A so-you-thought-you-knew-cherries cherry. A ceci n'est pas une pipe of a cherry…

TWO GREEN LUNGS

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"Everything seems fine with the world though terrible things happen," I wrote in the poem "Fieldwork"  (Yellow Crane, Brick Books 2018).Lately I've been thinking about water, about the colour green, about the Aral Sea and the desert its shrinking has formed. Just a few decades of human intervention (since the 1960s: irrigation, reservoirs, dams on the rivers that feed it) changed everything.On May 1, 2020, the Sardoba Dam in the Syr Darya river basin in Uzbekistan collapsed. Lives were lost; lives and land were changed.
Today these two shimmering tracks arrived on my desk, from Galya Bisengalieva's forthcoming album Aralkum (this September, from One Little Independent Records).
The album cover shows the area as it looked in about 2000: two green lungs, taking their last gasp. Watch NASA's time-lapse of the lake from 2000 to 2018Haunting, heart-rending, beautiful.

Equinox, Solstice: Randy Lundy's Poetry

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Yesterday, the first day of spring. Today, large flakes of snow...

My copy of 2016's Best Canadian Poems falls open to this poem, Randy Lundy's "An Ecology of Being and Non-Being." It's the poem that introduced me to his work, and I go back to it for the way it keeps returning me to the physical world, and the way it clarifies the world that is from the world that is like. The way it restores me to a habitat.

I also go back repeatedly to Lundy's recent collection, Field Notes for the Self (UofRegina/Oksana), for many of the same reasons. With each re-reading, the poems keep renewing: me, themselves.

I wrote a short review of it for Arc Poetry: "Everything, This Near" (you can read it here). The title of the review comes from the poem "Meditation at the Approach of Solstice." After a long look at the world, from the vantage points of field and city, present and past, the poem pulls us into a burning wick of moment, in which "you feel t…

VIEW WITH CAMEOS

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View with Cameos

Above the calm air—immaculate, actually— a more restless, nervous air accumulates and knocks the highest limbs of the tallest trees startling birds, snarling invisible ropes of sky, I know it by the barely audible swishing sound over the rapids’ racket, which if I had my ears plugged like everyone else I’d miss, too. None of this however touches me, strolling gently the gravel paths down low by the river if by touches I mean on the skin, and if by skin we don’t include the eardrum. Little tympanum, I love what you give me in a typical day, wind I’d otherwise only know by chill or eye, birds deep in cedar. And who alert to the stink of arrival hasn’t heard a shadow? But look— this spring the standing waves— glassy-skinned, vociferous— push higher than ever into the air under the wind, into liqueous wind. The eddies gleam like rubbed shells, each with the shape of another dear friend lost or departed, carved in relief, full of intent and vortical pull, our lives.





from Twenty Views of the…

DODGE AND BURN: ON REVISION

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Eons ago, I took a short course in darkroom photography. Chemical baths, tongs, wires with thick photographic sheets clipped to them; the whook sound of the paper coming out of the tray and hung on the line to dry.

One of the techniques we practiced was dodging and burning: manipulating exposure during the print-making process. With dodging and burning, or tone mapping, the printer can reveal details or create new effects, increasing clarity and depth.

Sometimes I go back to a recent poem I thought was pretty good when I wrote it and see a run of words that strike me as a little muddy: over-familiar, or general, or in some other way not quite as pretty good as I first thought.

Doubt like this often turns out to be a portal into a deepening of the poem. It's not just that the language needs freshening. It's that the language is placeholder for something not yet written, an image or thought or not-quite-graspable shadow.

Not all poems are kin to pure photography. But bringi…

MORNING LIGHT

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MORNING LIGHT

Without mention of blossoms
Milosz gets the tree in the poem from translucent to laden with fruit.
Years passed, not months, while he slept, and that tree must have flowered many times.

In the same way, we turn over mid-dream or after love, those beautiful hours we know were passed in the company of genius but have forgotten in the particulars.

We know the tree stands for promise and for the desire, which comes much later, for atonement. We stand at the west-facing window and let the buildings opposite turn gold, then back to brick.
       (from Yellow Crane