Skip to content

95books, list 11: Poetry & Non-fiction stacks

I’m adding where the books come from to each title because sometimes I do wonder how they all get here. It can’t be gnomes.

To read different stories from the same era at once gives a richness to history. This list will continue into the next with more books of the era. The same names turn up in different contexts.

89. A Book of Kells by Margaret Kell Virany (2002)
A find at the Ottawa Small Press Fair.

Taken from first hand accounts of living in Canada’s North by an HBC outpost, the stories go from the early part of the 1900s to the middle of the century, so spreads across 3 generations to see what can worked out about psychology and what formed self and family dynamics. Pretty neat inquiry and peeks into what it was like to live far north where mail came by canoe over a few days from an outpost.

Did you know Tim Horton’s name wasn’t Tim. Her sister Enid dated the boy Miles, and felt the name didn’t match him so dubbed him Timmy who would go on to play hockey then found Tim Horton’s. (p. 139).

History is so interconnected. She took a class with Northrop Frye. (p. 157). Earlier, in her class as a kid was a 15 year old who was just starting school then, sink or swim, thrown into the school with no literacy. He would become a member of The Boyd Gang of bank robbers.

An elegant perception of growing up in a one-horse town: p. 137 “The display of china and pretty paper serviettes were my art gallery.” It makes sense.

p. 147. “Grandmother was such a teetotaller that “the wets” teased her by throwing empty whisky bottles in the lane. She picked them up and filled them with her homemade chilli sauce.” (Harsh way to live, way to turn the lemons!)

p. 161. She said of her mother “She could get along with anywhere if she had a cleaning woman, a hairdresser and a historical novel. The latter kept her mind from whipping itself up to enervating spirits.” (Sounds like me, and especially, mom.)

It passed on an insight that could apply to how various couples work p. 161 (before his wife was hospitalized) “I had never noticed father was subject to high and low moods…mother’s naggy presence relieved him of the compulsion to scold himself….her type of attention exasperated onlookers but kept him evenly cheerful.”

90. Strangely Marked Metal by Kay Ryan (Copper Beech Press, 1985)
A find at a community garage sale.

I love the density of things I don’t feel I’ve read before “Your worst losses/warm angels; despair puts/a glint on God’s hair.” (p. 18). The advantage of a collection over a collected or selected is visible. This is quite different from the previous couple I read of hers and the one read in parallel. She’s definitely not repeating herself. The poems are punchy and jettisoning and resisting religion from within Christian myths yet tangling with them, p. 44.


She’s harsh on Satie suggesting (p. 35) that abstract art is decorative copout when it could be more. Or is she saying, it not the thing but how we ignore its power as we (mis)use it?

yours longueurs are
loungeable, your soussouirs
rearrangeable to suit
a walk-up flat or suite,
your coeur screws into
any lamp […]
Your passions in the whimsical
colors of cushions please[…]
knots you gave your eyes to
are a saraband of lace.”

A good read and a good re-read. There’s an eye for beauty and a measured step of an ordered mind that shows what years of practicing to be articulate can do.

91. Chronicles of the Hostile Sun by Dionne Brand (Williams-Wallace, 1984)

Found at a used bookstore in Toronto, Ten Editions.

An older collection but with a sharp eye for details such as seen in the series “Old Pictures of the New World”

1. They show tourists rolling
on beaches in Barbados
someone told me that this island
is flat and inescapable
just right for american military transports,
this same someone said,
the topography of the island
lacking in gradient or thick forest
gives historical witness to the abscence
of salve rebellions,
the salves having owhere to run
adopted n oily demeanour.
How history slaps us in teh face,
using our own hand too.


3. They show a little grenadian boy
eating an orange
with an american soldier
this is the new picture postcard
the new commercial for the new right
the new look for the new colonialisms.

I haven’t seen that postcard but the more things change…

While looking at ads for travel I was struck by how much of the Caribbean was populated by white people sailing, eating, shopping. Looking at Wikipedia for the same countries, black and Indian populations are 80% upwards black and East Indian. But not in the ads. Invisible in their own majority populations.

There’s a certain chagrin and a a certain humour. p. 66. Book tour time:

I am now in Saskatchewan
on a bus passing through Blackstrap
I doze off watching the snow
interrupted by grain silos
I must explain imperialism again
in a library in Saskatoon
thankfully there are some old CCFers
in the crowd.

91. Noon, issue 9
Noun: Journal of the Short Poem has some gorgeous items in the hop over from hand-bound to digital. So glad Rowland keeps it going in some form. (I have a bunch of the paper issues.)

Some interesting angles on the world, like

A demon sits
in the corner
of all poetry.

Scott Honeycutt makes an interesting scene. Something like idle hands are the devil’s workshop except the devil is busy and innocuous which leaves the task of making problems to the poetry which crowds him out. Or what is the relationship of the parts. Fun sort of puzzle.

Jim Kacian has a gorgeous concrete poem in there. Eve Luckring has interesting one as well. Economical.

Nick Ravo has a wonderfully elegant elagaic concrete poem.

light handcuffed to wet cobblestones

by John Levy is a show-stopper. If it were in a long poem, it would be the takeaway image. Why not have it stand on its own as a linguistic artifact of experience.

93. Elephant Rocks: Poems by Kay Ryan (Grove Press, 1996)
These were seriously rhyming poems but they don’t iambic dance into bad verse.

“The Vessel and the Cup: From a Hasidic story”

What cup knows the distress
of the large vessel, knows
any more than two inches
of the purple? for the cup,
everything that fill it up
is equal—the little jug,
the pot, the large vessel.
Beyond its own meniscus
nothing’s knowable for a cup.
But the vessel wishes
one something
could use it up.

She came back to this image of a vase and how its contents fill it. I know exactly where I read it, sitting on a deck at dusk by an Ontario Lake 3 years ago. It was half smaller. Can I find it? A perfect poem with nothing extraneous and something true. And the alphabetical order of my book has gone a bit alphabet soup and I can’t lay my hands on it just now. And so, to silence, or almost, p. 55.


Silence is not snow.
It cannot grow
deeper. A thousand years
of it are thinner
than paper. So
we must have it
all wrong
when we feel trapped
like mastodons.

Minimalism but not the expected path. Ends stop with syntax and breath but continue with a pivot that is appreciated and appreciable.

94. Duende poems by Tracy K Smith (Graywolf, 2007)
Smith was just named director of Princeton’s Creative Writing Program after winning a Pulitzer with the book that followed this one. She’s since written a memoir. (My age and writing a memoir. Am I memoir-old?) I’ll have more to say when I’m done reading her next book. And do a more compare and contrast then.

95. There is a Season: A Memoir by Patrick Lane (M&S, 2004)

I’ve had this book for years, bought used at Salvation Army or St. Vincent, but it go set aside. This was a gorgeous read, read entirely aloud. Beautiful sentences. A gorgeous slow unfolding, structured over the months of a year.

The attraction of beauty detailed out, offset by the ghosts of early life, sorting out in sobriety all that happened in the 45 years of being high and drunk. Making a garden, what does it mean to make a memory of a life?

p. 148, on the hermit thrush,
p. 148

Before halfway through the book, wanted to re-read, didn’t want it to end so read slower.

96. Moving by Jen Frankel (Jen Frankel, 2014)
Found in a Free Library where poetry is pretty rare. (Mostly it seems to be crime fiction or old tomes of non-fiction.) With a spine but at the cusp of book and chapbook.

I liked the visuals better. They didn’t usually relate to the poems but I liked them.

The writer is a novelist, playwright and these poems are fragments of life. They feel like a new poet, rough but vigorous at the edges. (The following is right justified which I don’t think I can do in html). Nice observation,

“She reminds me a little of Glenn Gould,
below the wrist at least. Always her hands
are held just so—just so— and Estelle
conducts the empty air as if the
world were her music.”

97. The Sustainable Vegetable Garden: A Backyard Guide to Helathy Soil and Higher Yields by John Jeavons and Carol Cox (Ten Speed Press, 1999)
How did this come to me? Oh yes, a box of books marked free at the end of someone’s driveway.

A good scavenge. This was immensely informative. Who knew we knew so much as a species about effects of gardening. Basically by this guide my parents did it all wrong. No compost, no rotating of crop, no nitrogen fixing plants, rototilling to chop up the earthworms, ruins soil texture and create a hard pan just below the surface that prevent deep roots. Never did any deep digging. Next spring I’ll be new and better.

Saving seeds from lettuce you need a sample from at least 5 plants to keep genetic diversity but for buckwheat you’d need 15. Dry beans are viable for 9 years but our carrot package are duds by 3 years. Which would be why they didn’t sprout. Some of their tables are scaled for massive scale of home gardening. Sprouting and transplanting 250 of any given species but the principles are good.

98. The Beech-Woods by Duncan Armbrest (William Briggs, 1919)
Found in a free library.

If you’re in the US you can read it online for free. Otherwise there seems to be a lot of copies floating around.

His first book, and dedicated to his mom, the records remaining online of this Toronto fellow rest in his painting career. He quotes through the book part of poems from his neighbour Ethelwyn Wetherald such as the one describing the bird that “might live ten years among the leaves,/Ten—only ten—of all a life’s long day”

Enroofed with apple buds afar to roam,
Or clover-cradled on the murmurous sod;
To drowse within the blessed fields of home,
So near to earth—so very near to God.

The Globe declared her 1907 book of sonnets and other poems, The Last Robin flowing and harmonious. She wrote half a dozen books, The Dictionary of Literary Biography calls the best of her poems “musical, restrained, and precise,” and “equal to much of the work of her better-known Canadian contemporaries such as Archibald Lampman, Bliss Carman, and Duncan Campbell Scott.” Those are touted in every direction but who has heard her name now? Her 1902 book can be ordered and printed on demand from New Delhi, India. Odd, small, big world.

But the book at hand is prose. It is a walk through the season in the Beech grove and surrounding fields through the seasons, and with 2 last walks, one chapter of the day, and one chapter of the night. The prose is lovingly rendered by the Neighbour as the narrator terms himself.

I wonder where exactly in the Toronto area these Beech Woods would have been? Are they under a parkway? Retail shopping space downtown or big box parking lot? The first chapter ran as an article in Canadian Magazine. With the right loop-jumping you can read all the issues of that online.

Here’s a bit about the crows,


99. Tamarack & Clearcut by Marianne Bluger and Rudi Haas (Carleton University Press, 1997)
One of the last book of the press before it was folded into McGill-Queens and expanded from poetry into all kinds of social studies and arts books.

Marianne Bluger is a respected name in haiku. Here’s one I admire (p. 38):

down the night ward
interrupting my pain
a nurse’s flashbeam

That in very few sounds brings the scene, hospital, many beds, and how pain can suspend or be displaced by a shift in attention or fear. Likewise on the ext page

in a shoebox of seashells
a few grains of sand

Season is often there but the pivot isn’t always so pronounced. (p. 82) “one loon calls/across the lake/— a light”. While there’s the ambiguity of ownership over line 2 that tugs back and forth or rests tied between L1 and L3, how to unbundle the poem. The loon call itself is like a form of light, a form of hope, connection, familiarity, home. L2 is more a conveyer than a content. Loons don’t call across anything else, not rivers, not office towers, not space ships. If the loon calls, words have already situated the poem on a lake. L2 is like a cracker to convey the dip on both sides.

Despite naming the season explicitly it gets at the doldrums of waiting out winter and how the smallest things allow us to grasp at hope and verify that summer wasn’t a figment.

Sometimes the sense of season is gentle as a breeze. p. 83

a breeze
through the wisteria lifting
hairs on his chest

Again, L2 tugs between the two lines. The syntax can hop tracks. Or it can be one straight run as if I one line poem. The wind is giving more role as an actor than usual on a poem. It runs like a laundry line lifting the wisteria and then the chest hairs. Wisteria is a lovely word. A flower with a longing built in to point forward to the chest.

I’ve seen and flipped through the book over the years. The photo record of Ottawa is quite striking. We live in a beautiful spot.

100. Simplified Holy Passage by Elizabeth Robinson (above/ground, 2015)
Got as part of my above/ground subscription, this was a pleasure to read and re-read. Teasing apart ideas, returning, squeezing and tugging again. Meditation/reflection over a couple dozen days. As a long thought, turned over and over, how to excerpt? Part of the beauty is in how it moves, doubles back, picks up some thoughts from before, re-examines and finds new things. It suggests walking along a beach looking for the best shell, assessing the pocketed ones, throwing some back, upgrading, and walking more.

day 5

The question is how can one pick up a process and continue it after an interruption. If that is even possible.

Interruption being, after all, the most holy passage.

If not the most simple.

A bit fey and may not make sense when feeling expedient yet with a bigger view and slower mood, it seems a question that’s reasonable. It’s similar to someone admonishing “you can’t do that” while it is in the process of being done— it’s rhetorical more than real inquiry. There is only interruption and continuing. What are the holy passages in life? Can we step outside any? Some seem more soft-box and Seeming to Signify. If we are rushing past the glorious and peeved at the beautiful it doesn’t erase the beauty, just eclipse it for us by our gestures. In the garage, day 7

The man says that he thinks they can repair the leak soon.

I am not sure where I want to go, except away from here
(and that’s a metaphysical issue). Sitting beside an
as for a car battery called “Power Pro”

Being aware of the moment we are in with peripheral vision of what’s coming in, where we’ve been and self-aware enough to distinguish between inward and outward, that’s doing good work in poetry.

101. Noon, issue 8
Found by a google search Noun: Journal of the Short Poem

I liked the one liners best but I am on a kick of one-sentence and one line poems. There’s one by Lee Gurga

alphabetic culture turning to snow

Economical and evocative of that moment when walking that language disappears into the motion of walking and into the motion of wet snowflakes.

an ashen language in the drive-by of our bones

by Cherie Hunter Day. Koanic and abstract yet feeling somehow concrete because of how it tethers to specific touchstone words.

under a wheelbarrow a snake absorbing grace

Susan Diridoni. It seta a scene, a season, and a position in the world.

The magazine doing what magazines do best, showing samples to inspire you to seek out more.

Related posts:

  1. 95books for 2014, list 11: Classic to Classy to New I haven’t updated the list in a while so I’m a month or two behind my own curve. I think I’ll post in segments rather than a mega-post. Throwing a...
  2. 95books for 2014, list 9: Edges of Poetry So, the next edition of my reading, the 10 most recent books that are poetry/lit. bottle rockets, issue no 30 has all kinds if things in issue. Haibun is a...
  3. 95books for 2014, list 8: Non-fiction Angela Gair’s The Beginner’s Guide: Acrylics (New Holland, 1994) I have a distinct memory of telling you all about this book but can’t find any digital evidence. So, I’m writing...

Categories: Currently reading.

Comment Feed

No Responses (yet)

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.