The CBC Poetry Prize has announced its 2015 Long List and I’m thrilled that my poem “The Liberation of Prague” is one of the 25 on the list. It’s a thrilling day for poetry across the country. I’m thrilled that my poem gets to share company with all the poems of all these great poets.
That’s the CBC’s image of the poets on the long list. You’ll find an image of me in there. What the CBC hasn’t shown is all the other poems, and the writers they have brought to light, who aren’t on this list. If we had that image, I think the perspective would be something like this:
That’s not white space around our little group of 25 poets, by the way. That’s what all the colours of all the poems of the country come to when they shine out all at once. Yeah, you thought that was winter snow? Na, it’s poems. It’s great to be in that company, too. I know some of those poets, and some of those poems, and I admire them no less than the ones who have made the list. I’m sure it’s the same way for the judges. Judging is hard, as you can see from these birds eyeing my feeder from my cranberry carageena hedge this afternoon.
Almost a year ago, it was a lot colder than this. I was flying back from the maze of mirrors, the old Jewish cemetery, and all the ghosts of Prague. I wrote this poem on the plane, with Kafka in mind, all my Bohemian ancestors, the years behind the Iron Curtain, and a half hour I spent with Maria in a black church on Kafka’s square, thinking of my mother, Dorothy, who was on her deathbed back home. I was going home to her.
Here we are together, back in 1958.
The trip to Prague was a break in the middle of editing my new book of ghazals, Two Minds, which came out this September. It’s a Sufic work, inspired by Khezr, the Green Man of Sufic tradition. You can read the surprising story about that encounter here. In Prague, I encountered something else. I encountered my Doppelgänger. I even got a picture of him. Look at the guy!
A ghazal is a poem that works in unseen ways, to lead to illumination. I didn’t know that I’d met this guy in Prague until I saw my image among those of the other nominees and went looking through my files to find an image to share with you. There he was. He looks like he’s looking for a poem. And the lion? Holding his portrait? I don’t know about that yet. I bet Khezr does, though.
I am thrilled to show you the work of thirty years: Two Minds, a book of playful, spiritual poems in the Sufic form of the ghazal. She’s beautiful. To welcome her readers, she wears the mask of the Green Man I found in a ruined pleasure palace deep in East Germany, on my pilgrimage on the Northern Camino.
This a book of finding the hidden country between seeing and dreaming. I kept finding it in the act of turning away, which I realized, with time, was the real way to turn towards light. I learned that if I turned around in the thickets of the everyday world musically enough, there it would be, for a moment, revealing itself yet holding still, like a deer in the willows. The ghazal form I’m following here is the Canadian one, pioneered by John Thompson in At the Edge of the Chopping There Are No Secrets and Stilt Jack (1973 and 1976). Here’s a great little essay at ARC Magazine, in praise of Thompson’s pioneering work in this exciting form: click to read about the Canadian ghazal. In this tradition, a poem consists of pairs of ideas, usually five pairs, which only tangentially relate to each other, yet succeed in creating a new, unified, living presence that supersedes them both. This is the way a child is the result of the union of its parents, and soon walks on its own. What I discovered in the long process of writing and then honing this book was how these techniques form both a writing practice, a unique set of editing interventions and openings, and a spiritual practice beyond black & white thought. The book also honours the tradition of epigram and wit I learned from Robin Skelton, and the trickster tradition that I have been writing in for twenty years. These are poems of presence in the world. Here’s what poet Nancy Holmes has to say about these dances with the world, from the back cover:
Poet Laurie D. Graham picks up on another motif of mine — the act of writing from the world itself, beyond the Western idea of the nuclear self. This is also from the book’s back cover:
We’re going to be launching the book in Calgary on September 13, as part of this year’s Quartet of poetry from Frontenac House: four books, related by vision, across widely varying styles and themes.
I am working up a BC tour for the fall, and hoping for a national one in the spring, in both literary and spiritual communities. If you have an idea of how we can share a moment in the world of Two Minds, drop me a line. I’d love to work with you.
As part of the national Mayor’s Poetry Challenge, I will read a poem about steam punk at the Vernon City Hall Council Chambers on Monday, April 13, 2015, at 1 pm. Everyone is welcome!
What is the Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge?
Regina Mayor Michael Fougere challenges his fellow mayors across Canada to have a local poet read a poem at the opening of their Council meetings in March or April. The challenge is a celebration of UNESCO’s World Poetry Day (March 21) and National Poetry Month in April. The purpose is to celebrate poetry, writing, small presses and the contribution of poets and all writers to the cultural life in our communities. It also celebrates libraries, and the work of so many mayors and municipalities to promote the Arts, culture, and literacy and reading. Click here for the FAQ.
Come and Hear about My New Steam Punk City Project. Vernon from the ground up!
Poet at Work
I am thrilled to announce that my book of ghazals, Two Minds, will be released, possibly in September 2015, by Frontenac House as part of their Quartet 2015. As part of the quartet, it will be linked in a dynamic sequence with Basma Kavanagh’s Niche, Zaid Shalah’s Clockwork, and Cassy Wellburn’s Changelings. Two Minds is a collection of poems written in the North American ghazal form pioneered by John Thompson, Phyllis Webb and Robert Bly. This non-rhyming variation of the classical persian and Urdu song form much beloved of Rumi and the sufic mystics coalesces out of the intersection between expressed and intuitiive logic into moments of simple clarity only achievable, perhaps, by such a dance. We haven’t settled on a cover image yet. Until I have one to show you, here’s the Green Man of Görlitz, an old companion, to hold the book in mind.
I have the good fortune of being a part of Christos Dikeakos’ new photography project documenting and deconstructing the death of fruit growing as an aesthetic and cultural response to land in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Here’s a handsome photo of windfall apples on the cover of the book:
They look rather like Empires, one of the varieties I grafted a lot of back in the 1980s, as we tried to save this industry from the death wish caused by existence in a non-agricultural nation. My role in the book was to write the text, which I call “Okanagan Delicious”. Here are Christos and I meeting at the reception.
Photo: Pauline Petit
And here I am with Kelowna Art Gallery curator Lyz Wylie. It looks like she’s trying to rein me in, but, really, it’s her tricksterish intelligence coming through.
Photo: Pauline Petit
Here’s a tiny sample of the text:
The summers [in the Okanagan] are dry, yes, but what makes them so is not so much the sun but the seasonal weight of the air. The rain that drizzles out of heavy air in November or March, or which pours in day-long floods in June, or dumps down in five minutes of lightning-induced hail in the nearly weightless air of August, all adds up to about five centimetres a month. That’s not all the water there is, of course. Much more than that falls from the clouds, but it’s reabsorbed by the pressurized dry air long before it strikes the ground. The effect makes for sensational sunsets, with red, orange, yellow and deep purple light undulating in watery sheets against pastel blue mountains. It’s easy to watch it mesmerized for hours. The plants that thrive in these conditions of vanishing water are adapted to cold, heat and drought; they survive by water conservation, careful choice of location or season, speed of maturing, or special cell structures. The Turkish, Georgian, Armenian and Chinese fruits that were spread throughout Europe by the monastic cultures of the Middle Ages — grapes, apples, quinces, pears, cherries, peaches, apricots and plums — lack these adaptations. The vineyards of France, Switzerland and Germany, for example, aren’t planted in the heat; they grow in the fog. Apples thrive best in humid New York, England, Denmark and Germany, not here.
You can get a full introduction to the show at the Kelowna Art Gallery website, or by skipping across the street from that cultural district anchor, the Casino. Here’s a link. The beautiful, full-colour exhibition catalogue is available at the gallery, or at Art Books Canada. Here’s the link, where you can purchase your copy. This is a very beautiful work by a great Canadian photographer, with texts by Jeff Wall, Claudia Beck, Liz Wylie and Harold Rhenisch.