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95books in 2015: list 9: Keying In On Details

I mussed up my numbering system, not transferring all from spreadsheet to twitter or visa versa, so this will be at odds with what I had on twitter. Bah.

Overall, past this particular list, for 2015, 27% of books I read were published this year or last. 14% are a century or older, higher than before and I’ve been pushing more towards older things.

Of those finished, 43% females, 42% male and 15% both or genderqueer. My Canadian content has dropped compared to last year to 36%. Poetry is the lowest year on record at 56%. I’ve been hitting non-fiction hard and I have half a dozen more non-fiction underway. Queer writers are at 9% but always a problem getting that accurate since I presume hetero if I don’t know. As Tania Israel points out, people who behave as bisexual or are attracted to either gender or anywhere on the gender spectrum, could be 40% of the population. People of Colour are 15% which is the highest rate to date.


72. The Tree It Was by Sandra Fuhringer (Hexagram Series, King’s Road Press, 2002)

The poem sometimes needs to be shaken clear of its chaff. Then you come to something exceptional and want all the rest to be more diligent. This was exceedingly diligent. A book of the week at the Haiku Foundation, The Tree It Was, has an eye for astute telling moments. Too bad I didn’t mention that sooner. Sandra died earlier this year.

There is this chapbook and 1 broadsheet from 1996 that I know of her poems collected up.

morphine mothwing

Minimalist poem and yet with volume. Some of the poems are concrete. Some differently direct.

midnight rain
the vacancy sign
is turned off

It’s always a race to read the living as they disappear like fireflies.

73. Pail in Hand: 25 Haiku, Angelee Deodhar (privately published, 2000)

Book of the Week: Pail in Hand. One of the most prominent promoters of haiku in India this was produced there from poems that had been previously published in various journals. Particularly striking are the the keen level of details. From one aspect, you can picture much around it.

p. 9

sharing an umbrella
your wet left shoulder
my right one

A sample is hard to choose. The collection is not a rewriting, reexploring of the same idea repeatedly.


from the shadows
ceaseless as the song of cicadas
sex-show sex-show

It sheds light onto the cicada as well as the human lifespan of cycles of pursuing sexual and being underground, as individuals and society. It unpacks with its comparison in a way that complements both elements.


his saffron robes
pale before
the nasturtiums

It is so sharply sensory. The shift of perception goes with narrator and reader in lockstop. You picture the monk but then resharpening the colour once you have the contrast so the poem completes itself in the reader.

74. the blue, blue there by Marilyn Irwin (Apt 9, 2015)
Good? Hands down. Hands up. We are not worthy.

Jeez. Making the rest look bad.

The humour and unique vantage point of a 22 point list “for when you make friends with a turtle” is charming and and comic. For example “fourteen: never resort to baby talk. they’re better than that and so are you.”

What else can a list do?


a red Bic
a safety pin
a receipt for Greek

it is unseasonably cold

nightmares accelerate

the comfort
of your collarbone

When you don’t feel verbal and yet this tight list fast forwards thru time and gestures to getting by through sparse times. Each physical object is emblematic. The lighter causes the poem to loop but withholds it from clicking shut because it loops and then continues. It breaks the trope of long poet against the universe because there is an other there and supportive. And although simple, the last 3 lines pivot back and forth on the middle line for dibs.

Even as a short poem “the mice were alright” does more work than some longer pieces that absolve themselves of guilt by blaming others. It steps up for culpability as a narrator which seems to me a way to resolve rather than entrench

and then we gave them cancer
turned their genes blue
science is helpful
we are right
we are sorry

From the title that calls up “the kids are alright” to the Canadianism of apology it seems quintessentially characteristic of Canada now. Understated rather than overworked and overwrought, they are poems with dignity and yet not holding up SWAT team shields. I could go on but buy it yourself while they last.

75. Eight Shades of Blue by Denis Garrison (Modern English Tanka Press, 2000)
Eight Shades of Blue Denis M. Garrison (Modern English Tanka Press, 2000)
As a book of the week, inside the downloadable pdf is an essay on “The Need for Experimentation”. He posits about the 1st culture tradition: “it is always to futile to attempt to control what one has given away.” He raises the question of how season words can convey something now that we are disconnected from seasons for harvest, survival in our non-agrarian lives.

He also talks about the crystalline which encourages euphony, the development of haiku noir as well as ideas of poetry broadly. “The rules of poetics are not for writing the poem; the rules are for forming the craft of the poet.”

It’s been said before but bears repeating for any form: “If a western poet is to write haiku, and if that poet is going to go beyond the traditional boundaries of the art form, then she or he had better know where the boundaries are. There is no merit in freedom by virtue of ignorance.” The thought structures or lack of them behind poems are visible in the energy of the poem as much as a person nattily or sloppily dressed.

At risk of quoting all 90-odd pages well, largely most is poetry not the essay parts that I enjoy more than the poems. I’d rather talk about poetry than read it sometimes.

…One more sample, “The technical criteria are really very simple. The hard part, the fun part, the real art, is developing a good ear for a euphonious verse. Nothing works here except practice. Of course, for those who are already accomplished poets and have highly developed ears for a pleasingly modulated line, the challenge may be simply in fitting a lovely line to this strict form.”

Although taken with hi essays, his poems, not as much. They seem expected and overly wordy.

2 A.M.

sitting in her chair
the silence

Or these Chrystalines,

The mural on the mall’s facade
is festooned with butterflies at rest.

Why do we need the word facade? To indicate outside? To go with festooned which seems a rather odd poet-ery word. Would this be better? But the form constraint wants 17 syllables. Not enough content so it feels padded. If I re-write it’s 14 syllables,

on the mall’s orange mural
wind moves butterflies at rest

but feels, what, less joyous. Maybe that adds some zip. When a poem annoys taking it apart to tinker can help see why the choices were made.

At the bottom of the wishing well,
a thank-you note lies bleeding ink.

Why is that comma there when a pause is already enforced by the line break? Why not a comma after lies? Why is the word bleeding in a poem? The syntax is mussed. It makes a turbulence in reading in order to play off “lies bleeding”. Was it worth the payoff?

Why would a wishing well have water? Aren’t must the wooden decorative jobbies for kitsch appeal the most common? Or it is just in the rain? A thank you lies bleeding? So it deeply wounds not to honour a thank you note and cherish it forever? I find it disproportionally confusing for its length.

Some books I’m not on the same wavelength as but it’s odd that the essays ring so well and the poems so far off my radar.

76. Handful of Sand by Stanford M. Forrester (Bottle Rockets Press, 2001)
Online are a few of his haiku, including these,

spring morning—
the breeze
in one curl of her hair


summer afternoon—
the first drops of rain
on my bare feet

They key in on the smallest detail of sensation or motion which is where all the immediacy is. Noticing the quiet beauty is a defiant act in a society that sells conflict. They don’t deny what is outside the poem so much as recognize by countering.

77. The Perils of Geography by Helen Humphreys (Brick Books, 1995)
Bit of a slog for me. It’s against my bias of proper sentence structure, story as poetry. Why not just save paper and present as fine memoirs. Or we need another word.

If you aren’t improving you should try something else. And she has improved over 20 years. I heard her read at festivals from her novels. This was written how many tens of thousands of words ago? I liked Flood, p. 21. It has a musicality to it.

Helen Humphreys

The anecdotes aren’t often to my taste as they traipse about in inaction. I suppose it is made of vignettes, still life rather than a short story arc. Plod not plot. There is season. There is ground. There is water. Just as one starts to come to something, the poem closes so that it feels like the content is turned away from. The foundational work is laid but then. It seems the sketching on characters to come, like the eldest daughter dancing in the pig trough on her sister’s wedding day to be blessed with enough luck to also to be married, to feel oneself foolish in brokering in such myth, then at some point just enjoying the dance.

78. Histories of the Future Perfect by Ellen Kombiyil (Great Indian Poetry Collective, 2015)
A few poems in this shone out. In the third page of “How I came to Love” there’s a scene sharp with details

bare-chested men played pool, where light spilled
like arctic light, weak on exposed flesh.

their eyes on my eyes, balls coming to rest,
yet no one spoke, their round bellies seeming

to suggest they swallow meals whole.
my feet cobbled to the spot.[…]

an escaped parrot among sword leaves

dropped her fruit, and I’m astonished
by colors streaking sky, the knowledge

hat fuchsia can look grey in photographs.

The poem goes thru dream-imagery hoops. (Isn’t it funny how life is discontinuous but we need to speak dreams to recognize the non-sequitur of it all?)

To my eye the stongest poem is “They will [not] speak of” of p.77 which like Cheryl Clarke’s Narratives works around the unspoken, the coercively silencing moments. From the middle of the poem,

What was once quiet pasture becomes
voices shushed in latticed pie crusts.
That’s all behind us now, the civic
leader rings out, naming it wild female
. It’s still happening.

They will speak of forgiveness, They will not
say violence

It’s got some lovely movement “Insert your horror here [ ].”

“If you won’t forgive God/ won’t forgive you” says the minister in the poem. Heard that. Implicit blame. To forgive too soon isn’t to lip service while remaining unheard.

This one I will call out because it was striking to read intercut with Nowlan’s.

Her’s, p. 62
p. 62


Daughter of Zion

Seeing the bloodless lips, the ugly knot of salt-coloured hair,
the shapeless housedress with its grotesque flowers
like those printed on wallpaper in cheap rooming houses,
sadder than if she wore black.

observing how she tries to avoid the sun,
crossing the street with her eyes cast down
as though such fierce light were an indecent spectacle:
if darkness could be bought like yard goods
she would stuff her shopping bag with shadows,

noting all this and more,
who would look at her twice?
What stranger would suspect that only last night
in a tent by the river,
in the aisles between the rows
of rough planks laid on kitchen chairs,
before an altar of orange crates,
in the light of a kerosene lantern,
God Himself, the Old One, seized her in his arms and lifted

     her up and danced with her,
and Christ, with the sawdust clinging to his garments and

      the swear of the carpenter’s shop
on his body and the smell of wine and
garlic on his breath
drew her to his breast and kissed her,

and the Holy Ghost
went into her body and spoke through her mouth
the language they speak in heaven!

So in A, a woman is indoors, in a porn-shop office, a private session with God and nothing sexual happens despite expectation. All the power is with her, and the god is a needy waif. God is colorless and surrounded by river rock of office equipment. He looks like nothing and is turned away from. The poem moves from openness to closure and a colouring of contempt and dismissal towards god.

In B, written in another time and space, a colourless woman is outdoors on the street. She looks like nothing but is attended to by the narrator. She is more than she seems. She had a passionate sexual encounter with a trinity of god by the river. She has that power within her. The poem starts harshly but takes a omniscient second look. There’s an urging to look past the superficial and a compassionate gaze.

79. Selected Poems: Alden Nowlan (House of Anansi, 2011)
Ah, and this is how poetry can be effective. It has story, a beauty to ear and tongue not falling to sweet because of the brutality of life force related. There’s a worldview with an axis, a moral fibre of hangman-strength, a point to the utterance known to the writer before it begins that unfolds with the reader filling in blanks which are not impossible to traverse. It is no riddle. No you-had-to-be-there-cultural-reference. I don’t know fishing life in the Maritimes half a century ago. The drama is human universal and transcends the details with the details.

“July 15th” I read as part of last week’s Literary Landscape. “He Attempts to Love his Neighbours” I shared on FB as part of 5 poems for 5 days meme.

He Attempts to Love His Neighbours

My neighbours do not wish to be love.
They have made it clear that they prefer to go peacefully
about their business and want me to do the same.
This ought not surprise me as it does;
I ought to know by now that most people have a hundred things
they would rather do than have me love them.
There is television, for instance; the truth is that almost everybody,
given the choice between being loved and watching TV,
would choose the latter. Love interrupts dinner,
interferes with mowing the lawn, washing the car,
or walking the dog. Love is a telephone ringing or a doorbell
waking you moments after you’ve finally succeeded in getting to sleep.
So we must be careful, those of us who were born with
the wrong number of fingers or the gift
of loving; we must do our best to behave
like normal members of society and not make nuisances
of our ourselves; otherwise it could go hard with us.
It is better to bite back your tears,
swallow your laughter,
and learn to fake the mildly self-deprecating titter
favoured by the bourgeoisie
than to be left entirely alone, as you will be,
if your disconformity embarrasses
your neighbours; I wish I didn’t keep forgetting that.

“He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded” was also a lovely poem. “How Beautiful Art Thy Feet with Shoes” is the sweetest love poem I’ve read in a good long while. I bookmarked rather a lot “Great Things Have Happened” and “A Pair of Pruning Shears struck me so a feather could have toppled me the rest of the way. “The Secretive Fisherman” was a wonder in how it revealed without revealing, as if by recording the audience, the central spectacle’s impact is felt but without knowing the what or who yet still being impacted. He has a concrete, direct language.

I should think I’ll re-read with a paper copy since trying to re-read is bearish, only from a technological point of view as it is my first foray into “overdrive” a public library lending of a file. Which really as a concept I don’t understand. I can’t copy or paste, highlight or make any notes like other digital files. The library doesn’t auto-delete at the end of borrowing. I have to “return it” somehow. I can bookmark poems. Yep, I’m getting the paper version.

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  1. […] July 2015 | Pearl Pirie: “Good? Hands down. Hands up. We are not worthy. Jeez. Making the rest look […]