Sunday, May 16, 2021

A MEANDER DOWN THE COLUMBIA WITH FRED WAH AND RITA WONG

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This morning I found myself returning to a poem to do with the Columbia River I started writing a while back. It's form, if it has a form, is kind of a departure for me. It starts out like a "regular poem" and then morphs into a series of words beginning with the letter n in an attempt to suggest the inexorable flow of the river as it makes its way to the Pacific. Yesterday on a Zoom call I read it to a small group of fellow writers and one of them had a great suggestion, namely to return to the beginning of the poem after I go through all the n stuff. 

After fiddling with it for some time this morning, doing a little fact-checking online and so forth, I wanted to see a picture of the whole river so I got out my copy of Rita Wong's and Fred Wah's 2018 book, beholden: a poem as long as the river. And I did something I'm always telling other poets they should do; I read it aloud. To myself. First Fred's poem, then Rita's. 

One of its authors, Fred Wah, talked about it at a symposium about upstream benefits in 2017 and I mentioned this book here a couple of years ago. I referred to it as "gorgeous", and it is, a visual tour-de-force from Talonbooks in Vancouver. I remember seeing it displayed in its 1x114-foot-long glory at Touchstones Gallery in Nelson—a stunning piece of work by artist Nick Conbere where the entirety of the two poems is displayed in such a way that you can imagine yourself walking along the river itself.



Recently I've been part of a small group of us who are reading Nathaniel Mackey's Double Trio aloud, each of us taking turns, and that has reminded me how much more powerful poetry IS when heard as opposed to simply read. (In the case of Mackey, I can't say I understand it all but the sound, people, the sound!) I have looked at beholden many times since I got it, read parts of it (as I tend to do with most poetry books, to be honest), but today I read it, out loud, start to finish, and it was such a different experience I want everybody to do it! 

Of course, it doesn't hurt that both poets are masterful with words. Listen to Fred Wah here: 

...the River's voice is the sound our body makes when we're sleepwalking through the abyss of our own presence in the world... (p.80–81)


or Rita Wong, when she says:

...Imperial delirium silences salmon abundance   chokes Kettle Falls' joyful convergence that cannot be forgotten, cannot be unseen, unheard, unspoken since recreation that wrecks creation leans to dazed stupor that isn't fun for anyone... (p. 57–59)


They go on like this throughout, starting where the Columbia begins as a tiny spring coming out of the ground at Columbia Lake up near Invermere in British Columbia (here's a 2 ½ minute video that gives you an idea what it looks like there) until the River arrives at the Pacific Ocean, when, to quote Rita Wong again, it ...takes over the page as the ocean accepts the river.


It's easy enough to follow who is writing which poem because Wah's is typeset while Wong's is in her own handwriting. They weave in and out of each other, crossing over bridges to get to the other side for awhile, then crossing back. If you look carefully at the way I've situated the next two pictures you will see two such crossings, first over the Robson bridge where I go when I want to walk the Waldie Island Trail and then over the Kinnaird bridge which is the one I cross from Ootischenia, where I live, to get to Castlegar. In the middle of the circle of words is the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers, and Zuckerberg Island. As you continue south on the Columbia you pass Genelle on your way toward the border, that serious-looking line that bisects the bottom page at ...remember the Smoke Eaters whistled offside for years of pollution flowing south across the border as tainted as at the signature of Treaty  /  and all the forked tongues whispering Doctrine of Discovery... (Wah) and a riff on global warning—...the incomprehensible speed & scale of logging, unforestry, turning pines into poles and matchsticks, burning us up faster than the  /  glaciers could cool us down. (Wong)



So yes. Get this book. Read it aloud, to yourself, to anyone who'll listen. You'll be glad you did. And you'll have to excuse me now. I'm going for a walk. As it's late in the day, I'll head for Waldie Island to catch the last of the sun—it got up to 30C/86F today, the hottest so far this year. I'll be walking on the north side, see if I can catch some more of my own poem, the Columbia having been sneaking into my work on and off for a very long time. This year will be year 15 for the annual August postcard poem fest. The first card I wrote, back in 2007, began with the words Let it begin with a river... 

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

One Thing

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NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 29:

Ah! The penultimate prompt for this year's NaPo "is called “in the window.” Imagine a window looking into a place or onto a particular scene. It could be your childhood neighbor’s workshop, or a window looking into an alien spaceship. Maybe a window looking into a witch’s gingerbread cottage, or Lord Nelson’s cabin aboard the H.M.S. Victory. What do you see? What’s going on?"

Yeah well, this prompt ain't speaking to me either. I see nothing.

Instead, let us have a small poem to do with this picture, one I took in the mangrove in La Manzanilla a couple of years ago.



one thing
only one thing is true
sometimes you're the bird
and sometimes you're the fish


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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

WhoWhatWhenWhereWhyWhereWhenWhatWho

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"Our prompt today (optional, as always), is to write a poem that poses a series of questions. The questions could be a mix of the serious (“What is the meaning of life?”) and humorous (“What’s the deal with cats knocking things off tables?”), the interruptive (“Could you repeat that?”) and the conversational (“Are those peanuts? Can I have some?”). You can choose to answer them – or just let the questions keep building up, creating a poem that asks the reader to come up with their own answer(s)."





WhoWhatWhenWhereWhyWhereWhenWhatWho


Who was I in a past life and if there is a past life is there a future life?

What does it matter?

When will my mother die and when she does will she really be dead to me?

Where are the answers to my life's big questions? 

Why do I keep picking at them as if at a scab that as a consequence will never heal?


Why is it so difficult to write of this?

Where will I find the truth to the story of my father had two wives?

When did I realize it is possible to have three fathers?

What is the point of even asking about life's big questions?

Who are all these people and why do they keep invading my poems?

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Nodus Tollens

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Today's prompt takes me to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Who knew there was such a thing? 

From the dictionary, which has some marvellous words for less-than-marvellous feelings, we have:

nodus tollens

n. the realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore—that although you thought you were following the arc of the story, you keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t understand, that don’t even seem to belong in the same genre—which requires you to go back and reread the chapters you had originally skimmed to get to the good parts, only to learn that all along you were supposed to choose your own adventure.

trumspringa

n. the temptation to step off your career track and become a shepherd in the mountains, following your flock between pastures with a sheepdog and a rifle, watching storms at dusk from the doorway of a small cabin, just the kind of hypnotic diversion that allows your thoughts to make a break for it and wander back to their cubicles in the city.

keyframe

n. a moment that seemed innocuous at the time but ended up marking a diversion into a strange new era of your life—set in motion not by a series of jolting epiphanies but by tiny imperceptible differences between one ordinary day and the next, until entire years of your memory can be compressed into a handful of indelible images—which prevents you from rewinding the past, but allows you to move forward without endless buffering.

moriturism

n. the insomnia-borne jolt of awareness that you will die, that these passing years aren’t just scenes from a dress rehearsal, rounds of an ongoing game or chapters in a story you’ll be telling later, but are footprints being lapped by the steadily gathering tide of an unfathomable abyss, which still wouldn’t wash out the aftertaste of all those baskets of Buffalo wings you devoured just before bedtime.

vellichor

n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.


From me, a poem for the Bradley/Thelwell pair. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night. Safe travels. We will miss you so much. 



Nodus Tollens
    for Robin and Rebecca

    who knew 
the day your door was knocked upon
and the person behind the knock 
—trumspringa having brought them to the hood—
arrived with eggs and a smile
wondering if you were the person they'd found
in a google search for writers in Ootischenia— 
    who knew 
in this keyframe
that a friendship would arise
cats would be cared for
weddings of children attended
a decade of drop-ins and dinners and laughter
deep discussions of moriturism
that can only happen as you age
pandemic bubble shopping
trips to the dump
wild turkeys in the yard
vellichor and gin
    would ever end
but now 
a page is turned
a door is closed
kenopsia descends


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Monday, April 26, 2021

I SEE A FULL MOON RISING

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NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 26:

"Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a parody. Besides being fun, writing parodies can be a great way to hone your poetic skills – particularly your sense of rhyme and sound, as you try to mimic the form of an existing poem while changing the content. Just find a poem – or a song – that has always annoyed you, and write an altered, silly version of it."

What?!!? A song that has always annoyed me? What have I done to deserve such a gift?

That's how I felt last night when I first saw the prompt. But the only songs I can think of that annoy me are so darned popular I just can't.

I Am Fed Up

I am fed up to the core
please don't play it any more
and I know that some will argue this ain't true 
but this song is such a bore
I can't take it anymore...

So instead, for today we're going to play "Can you guess the song?" and I don't care if you can or not!

And I couldn't decide which song by Cat Stevens annoys me the most so I fizzled there, too.

I think what this means is, it's time for April to be over!

Full moon tonight. Just a few wispy clouds near it, the sky is ever so clear. 




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Sunday, April 25, 2021

On the Occasion of My Own Eventual but Still Impending Death

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I'm at the "will this month never end" stage. Today I wrote two drafts of new poems for an online course, got one off to CV2's 10-word/48-hour contest, and just finished watching a poetry reading. I was about to slink off to bed or something when I remembered I haven't yet done today's poem.

An occasional poem. As in, for an occasion. (After Michael McClure's Death Poems)




On the Occasion of My Own Eventual but Still Impending Death

who in the mirror is that exactly
inching ever closer
to the end
the fence in the curtilage disintegrating
to the point there is no longer a curtilage
and the neighbour 
has put up
a fence of their own
suggesting in a passive
if slightly aggressive manner
they'd like mine to go

I'm 

g
o
i
n
g

a
l
r
e
a
d
y

don't need reminders
will stop the damned clock
before it stops itself
before the battery 
runs 
                                                                                                                                out

(all our batteries 
running out)

refrain from looking in mirrors
take down fences
that curtail life

exactly who is that in the mirror
who thinks this way
talks this way
wonders yet doesn't 
about how
where
why
it will end
this life

don't fence me in
goes the song
and I'm transported to a house
babysitting for a baby
who always slept
bless it
while I listened to Frankie Laine
on the old record player
don't fence me in


mirror mirror on the wall
who the fuck is that

remember when 
her hair was black
now 
her face is gaunt
her eyes are blurred

*

remember when nothing ached
not
a finger
or 
an ankle
or
a heart

now I'm headed for the range
and still 
there are fences
to mend

w
h
o
'
s

t
h
a
t

p
r
e
t
t
y

g
i
r
l

in the mirror there

whose clock is that

who started it

and

who is changing 
the batteries


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Saturday, April 24, 2021

A New Boreality

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Well, this was fun! And quick. This is the weekend of Contemporary Verse 2's 10-word/48-hour contest so I've been spending time on that, too. 

Today's prompt, which I helped along by drawing words from my Personal Universe Deck"Find a factual article about an animal. A Wikipedia article or something from National Geographic would do nicely – just make sure it repeats the name of the animal a lot. Now, go back through the text and replace the name of the animal with something else – it could be something very abstract, like “sadness” or “my heart,” or something more concrete, like “the streetlight outside my window that won’t stop blinking.” You should wind up with some very funny and even touching combinations, which you can then rearrange and edit into a poem."




A New Boreality

 

Meringues are cold-adapted mammals. 

Taps require habitat with adequate edibles.

Ankles travel among different habitats with the seasons.

Slivers survive hot weather by accessing shade or cooling wind.

In hot weather, caramels are often found wading in ponds.

When heat-stressed, fear may fail to adequately forage in summer. 

Pulpmills may not calve without adequate summer weight gain.

In late-winter, salt prefers river valleys.

Guilt requires access to young forests.

Fire and logging promotes the growth of fodder for penises.

Glue selects habitat on the basis of trade-offs. 

There was some concern that melons would worsen the population decline of mirrors.

Tenderloins also require access to mineral licks. 

Saxophones prefer sub-alpine shrublands in early winter. 

Crocodiles avoid areas with little or no snow.

 

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