Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

barrydempster's blog


In Stephanie Bolster’s “A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth,” the writing is acutely compressed, each word standing in for what in another poet’s hands might take pages. There’s no room for sentimentality. These poems have been tightened like the lug nuts on a racecar.

Why is this so exciting for me? I grew up on the Bible’s repetitiousness, the “begats” flying. I gravitated towards poets like D.H. Lawrence, Purdy and Ginsberg who threw so many words on the bonfire that sparks flew everywhere.


I gave a public performance the other night. It was supposed to be a reading from my recent novel, “The Outside World,” but I thought I’d sneak in a few poems from my “Invisible Dogs” as well. I made a joke about the poems, giving audience members permission to hide beneath their seats if they had come solely for the fiction, if poetry made their teeth grind or sent sickly shivers up and down their spines. Why was I dissing poetry? Why didn’t I just announce that they were in for a real treat?



Patrick Friesen is a true lyric poet, open and honest, singing more often than talking. His poems are almost bodiless, his words slowly turning into rivers. In “Earth’s Crude Gravities,” language pours from the page with such shapeliness and depth that I often find myself reading a poem again and again until it sweeps all sense of being grounded out from under me.

Why isn’t a new Patrick Friesen book a major event? I didn’t even know “Earth’s Crude Gravities” existed until it tipped off the shelf in a secondhand bookstore and I caught it between my fingers.


Maureen McLane’s book, “My Poets,” goes beyond poetics and criticism into a kind of channeling of the poets themselves: her versions of their work, her obsessions with their obsessions. She not only enters the spirit of poets ranging from H.D. to Louise Gluck, but gets inside their larynxes as well.


I’ve been thinking about the poetics of place: Tim Lilburn’s Moosewood Sandhills; Don Domanski’s wilderness of a cosmos; Karen Solie’s truck stops and motels; Tim Bowling’s fishing boats. It’s not just splashing about in details, I tell my students, but precision (like piercing an atom with an invisible pin) and ruthlessness. You have to make sure that nostalgia doesn’t clot the muse’s arteries.

What vehicle do we choose to take us in and out of landscape? Regret? Jubilation? Fear? Misunderstanding? Is there really such a thing as purely being here? The minute that the second hand notices that it’s being observed, it tears a hole in time, the future leaking out. You have to focus on what the “now” is doing to the “then” and how this creates a much more complex “when.”

Welcome to National Poetry Month

I always feel a bit uncomfortable when Poetry Month commences. It’s like I’ve had a secret for the last eleven months, no one really interested in how I’ve spent my days, successfully managing to pass myself off as an ordinary guy. But then the first of April, a month dedicated to outing poets and poetry, pops up like those first splashes of colour in my garden – pink crocuses, purple grape hyacinths, blue forget-me-nots – and people start to ask questions, to poke around in the dirt.

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