80. Bipolar Bear by Catherine Kidd (Conundrum Press, 2005)
This book has a history with me. I nearly bought it the year of release but I had no cash and no idea of where a machine might be. I was too shy to ask if I could COD or something. The copy I eventually got had no CD in the back, only the marking of where it would be.
Now this was very rhymed in one section, Flying Lizard of lizard-sitting and losing and finding the lizard. Perfect rhymes make my head throb. And a short story in another which was surreal in a teenage dream sense.
But “Human Fish” about a Slovenian cave salamander was marvellous content.
81. The Good Bacteria: Poems by Sharon Thesen (Anansi, 2006)
Found fallen away behind a row of books. A finalist for the gg. I think if I read the book before (and without marginalia it’s hard to tell) I wouldn’t have remembered it any more than a pleasant day that blends without trauma or drama. Not objectionable. Not poorly done. Worthwhile enough.
They are quiet presence poems. Skies, birds, trees, hat, Lady Di, parking lots, drug stores. They don’t get a lot of purchase with me. Not aiming for density exactly, but they aren’t baggy. Each verbal step is carefully chosen.
The last section is a tribute to her dead friend. One can hardly kick one wanting to make an elegy of what used to be the everyday normal of companionship. Under Birthday Poem (p.50) “What I do is I make gleam/that which already gleams enough.” That seems true. Isn’t life enough without making a poem on top of it? To notice, to point. “The Rooftop Opposite” (p. 35)
social relations in the shrieking
jaded sirens of a 3 a.m. down on Esplanade.
But wait, I get ahead of myself.
It’s a nice evening. Still light and bright
at 6:30 just beyond the equinox. Just for laughs
my pink hibiscus aims her orange tongue
at the traffic roar, the heavy commerce on the water.
A sense of season and place, a tone and mood. Some self-modulation instead of the usual scree of leaving trauma in a cliffhanger of fear that is so popular to consume.
82. Painting Sunlight: A Trilingual Canadian Haiku Anthology (Wah, 2015)
Haiku in Punjabi, Hindi and English of Haiku Canada poet.
Bias alert, my haiku are in the volume. I liked leRoy Gorman’s p. 89,
the crow too
The too is an active little word. A plot twist of not knowing whether the crow was struck by a vehicle while eating the roadkill. Conflict to resolution in very few syllables. Densely packed we recognize that more highway traffic means more animals being killed. An odd sort of ending, unexpected but fitting to complete which holiday. We are rooting for the crow and then it’s extended further so we are happy that not only people get a special treat of extra feast in their extended families but the richness is extended to the neighbour animal, somehow causing forgiveness, turning one death into life betterment for the other. Suggesting with it that the sacrificial animal of Thanksgiving is also justifiable as we also are part of the chain of life.
Also exceptional and worthwhile p. 100 from Terry Ann Carter
across the border
While not a new idea, commonality across human borders while plants and animals crisscross our politics are have commonality, it’s a message I like and and this is particularly succinct. And because they are maples it suggests the politics and people in common. There’s continuity of trees and season and people. Canadians are loyal to the ideals of the nation, even if they live in the U.S. even though Canada has since removed their right to vote here and reduced those with dual citizenship to second class citizenship.
83. The Hearts of the Vikings by Lesley Yalen (Natural History Press, 2015)
Part of it was a reenvisioning of the creation story. And 38 pages of it double spaced then it stopped? That is about as off-point as caring about the font but why? And why each line sentence case but punctuation sometimes (by mood? To make a hard break harder?) It seems distractingly idiosyncratic. Which isn’t to say wrong. It bears up to re-reads to figure out why choices were made.
But that’s minor quibbles, like a typographical accent. The content matters more than form. From “Sea of Tranquility” (p. 15-19), “A lone gunman got to the moon/But was it the moon we suspected?/We try to donate the moon to/The Indians but they refuse its racist artwork/And grudging life-forms”
What is it about this talk of the moon. Is it “Asking for the moon”, meaning asking for a perfect society which necessarily is conceived in history with vestigial embedded hatreds? How can we start fresh? Blaming the moon for the gunman we put on it. p 18,
My mother says we never had a milkman
Then who was that guy
That buy who brought something white and glass
And what was that sound
When you told me about slavery
It was glass breaking or change dropping
It was dimes dropping and the servants bowed.
(We never had servants)
Then who was that guy
Standing at the skirt of an exchange
Trying to reconstruct a personal memory and disentangle it from cultural/collective memory and ascertain culpability in race relations? Were milkmen black in the US? In my children’s books they were white. Hired help here were white too but the book comes out of the U.S. How is a child learning about slavery like a dime? The coin drops. A small understanding. It’s a curious interrogation of history and self.
p. 42 I particularly liked,
To grasp the combinations of bracket, brace and radical
There are days when the close attention I must give to details chafes my spirit. When the testing of hypotheses makes nothing dear. There are days when I can’t revise fast enough, feeling quite alone. In the classroom I am of course practically alone. The small girl strings beads neatly. Her stutter is a break in meaning with meaning. Her necklace is for the pleasure of my neck.
Although it feels like a sketch, like a diary meditation, it resists being entirely understood. Yet the idea of stutter as signifying is interesting and there’s nothing I can say isn’t universally true nor anything I can say I’ve read before.
84. Wanting in Arabic by Trish Salah (TSAR, 2002)
The second edition came out 2 years ago and won and Salah was the Winner of the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction.
Like Bipolar Bear, it is an anthology of sorts with each section being its own separate thing. Some in Wanting in Arabic are diary-form, or kaleidoscope tumble of sex (leather, chains, heels), or trad ghazals. Mostly it aims to be harsh, at hard corners without blinders. It has moments of beauty like “pulled a cloud distance” (p. 62) or “she woke with blood on the narrator”. I’m not sure what would be representative sample. Here are 2:
Probably on the reading list of the transgender poetry course.
Oh, and TSAR, as you may have heard, has been recently renamed Mawenzi House.
85. Two Hundred Poems from The Greek Anthology, translated by Robin Skelton (M&S, 1971)
As I understand it, Skelton (1925-1997) was a renaissance man, a polymath of literature who wrote somewhere around 100 books. His translation of these Greek poems was foundational to the modern era.
The Greek Anthology in its original form is over a dozen volumes. He picked ones that he liked best and worryingly to my mind, made it “relatable” so sandals became high heels and Latin names became Jane and John. A flower seller in the street sells chocolates instead, which, while not an idea I oppose, I don’t think is more common. And it doesn’t update it any to have her lewdly harassed across millennia over whether it was the product or herself that was for sale.
So, when we translate, what to keep and what to pitch? He kept in the poems of Strato of an adult lover to male child lover saying, Why do you warm the stone wall with your splendid bottom when it could be me? (Now there’s a creepy scene.) In the preface he warns there are poems not in keeping with modern sensibility calling out homosexual poems. (Perhaps he conflates child love with that?) “Several of them would be completely inoffensive to our day were the sex of the protagonists adjusted a little” (The past is another country and they do things differently there?)
There are a lot of dismissive poems of prostitutes, and the foolishness of paying more than you have to, and how old women are ugly. Can’t say I found the book edifying.
He said he took pains to match the rhyme idea of the original but as with the Chinese poetry anthology read earlier in the year, matched rhyme scheme across time and place doesn’t necessarily yield the same impact. Take skipping rhymes for insults such as Demodocus’ “Take one, take all/the Turk’s a jerk/except for Paul,/and Paul’s a Turk”.
The closest I came to liking a poem was by Crinaoras, v.119,
Whether you toss this way or that in bed,
switch from right side to left, or left to right,
makes little odds, my friends, for if your head
is not beside Estella’s through the night
you’ll get no proper sleep, but, harassed, worn,
will wake, played out, in an exhausted dawn.
86. The Deuterocanonical Books/Apocrypha (Good News Bible)
Which closes a very long chapter. Back story: I discovered the Apocrypha when I was 15. I was feeling violently ill with a migraine and took to the high school sick room and wanted to read the old testament and only had a new testament on me so went to the school office across the hall and asked if they had a Bible. They kept a few on hand and handed me one. In the dim light I discovered there was more than one Bible. I knew there were different translations but was shocked that the Catholics had whole other books. As a sidenote while in there laying down, the light flipped on and another sick kid came in. It was the crony of a bully. He first startled that he wasn’t alone then in the flash, looked deeply worried, and sad and said, “she finally did it!” He was relieved when I said, no just a headache.
Did I read the book there? Fliped thru mostly. We each took a sick couch and rested.
The stories were wild. It felt taboo. In an Orange community where my father prayed with grief for the lost souls of cousins who married Catholics and converted to that, could I read it? Some things take decades.
Some stories were wild rides, like Bel and the Dragon which I mentioned in an earlier post of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems.
Some books were litanies of wars, tens of thousands of people killed, sometimes in detail of how, battle after battle for generations. Strategic ruses, details of battle formations and who did what. Which was destroyed, which countries allied with which. Who double-crossed. Who gave a daughter as bride to seal a deal then took her back and gave her to a different leader for a new pact. During rumours of war, people on the coast got their slave ships ready to take whoever was up for grabs on the losing end.
Some stories were plain but interesting, like two judges saying let’s do meetings as your house hoping to catch a glimpse of the wife they both fancied. Then over one lunch, finding her alone in the garden and propositioning their fellow judge’s wife. When she pauses, thinks about it then screams bloody murder until servants come, they lie and said there was a man attacking her but they prevented him but the young man got away. In trial, everyone came to gawk and they ordered her veil removed since she was a fallen women which made her ashamed and upset. 2:1 honourable men against a nobody who would get stoned for being raped. But a man in the crowd had suspicions, cried halt, called the proceeding unfair, and asked to speak the the judges separately. And in a separate room asked each, so what kind of tree were they under? Answers disagreed naturally. Small bush. Big oak. The punishment for false accusation and false testimony is to receive the punishment of the crime of the accused. So both already crooked judges were killed by stoning instead.
In another book there is how to live advise rather like Solomon except Sirach is perhaps wittier, say in 38:1, pray to god but call the doctor. 38:2 Mourn the dead for 2 days then put your mind on other thing because sorrow can kill you. 41:19 Be ashamed of leaving your elbows on the dining table. Jeepers, who knew that was an old rule. Or later. It is possible to sin by giving in to people too much. Don’t judge godless people. Don’t be cheap; share travel expenses with your fellow traveller. On the other hand some things don’t translate well like, never feel guilty about beating a a slave until the blood flows freely.
Lock up your daughters is biblical? Sirach 42:9-15. I paraphrase and condense. Keep her at home in a windowless room, not talking to men who might take her away and not talking with women because women damage other women as surely as a moth damages cloth. Your daughter is unmarried and you worry she’ll never get married and have children. Your daughter marries and you’re awake nights still wondering if she’s happy and if she’ll have children.
2 Esdras 2:4
1 The angel Uriel, who had been sent to me, replied, 2 “You can’t even understand what happens in this world. Do you think you can understand the ways of God Most High?”
3 “Yes, sir, I do!” I answered.
The angel continued, “I have been sent to ask you to solve three riddles about what happens in this world. 4 If you can explain even one of them to me, I will answer your questions about God’s ways and teach you why the human race has an evil impulse.”
5 “I agree, sir,” I said. Then he said to me, “Good! How do you weigh out a pound of fire? How do you measure a bushel of wind? How do you bring back a day that has passed?”
6 I answered, “Why do you ask me such questions? No human being could answer them.”
7 Then he said, “What if I had asked you how many dwelling places there are at the bottom of the sea? How many rivers flow into the waters beneath the earth? How many rivers are there above the dome of the sky? Where are the exits from the world of the dead? Where are the entrances to Paradise? 8 If I had asked you these questions, you might have answered, “I have never gone down into the waters beneath the earth, and I have not yet entered the world of the dead. I have never gone up to heaven.’ 9 But all I have asked you about is fire, wind, and the day that has just passed – things that you have experienced. Yet you have given me no answer. 10 You can’t even understand things that you have been familiar with since you were a child. 11 How then can your little mind understand the ways of God?
87.Reporting from Night by Katerie Lanthier (Iguana Books, 2011)
A lot of mom poems, out of the mouth of babes, or maybe those were the bits that stayed with me more. In Lullaby of Off-Off-Broadway, p. 32, “You said, ‘I hope his good mood/is coniferous,/not deciduous.’”
And course one after my own heart for embedded signs and love of snails, “Snail’s Pace” (p. 44) Nicholas pursues snails after the rain,
“You palm them, marvel,
then set them rippling,
athrill in a vegetable world.
Eight and in love.
“We put the ‘sigh’
in ‘science,’ you say.
Why athrill. It makes it a little more giddy. So snail ripple? It makes it a little technicolor cartoon. But sure. Language at its most vital is out of a child’s mouth and action. Let the children show how some of it can be done.
p. 47 “Demi-monde”
Marker rubbed off
when the kids wobble-traced
their hands and feet.
Now they wear drawings
of their hands and feet
on their hands and feet.
A simple observation but lovely. “wobble-traced” is just right.
88. Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe by Marcus McCann (Dusie Kollectiv, 2015)
Now these are beautiful poems. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing some live or in previous publication points but how sweet and convenient to have them bound up together to hold me over until his next book. There is no wasted breath, no wasted space.
And the production standards on this is better than most books in design and printing.
One poem, which was also part of the Two Things I’m Reading Segment at Literary Landscape last time,