Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

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A Poem is Disruption: Reading it Brings a Measure of Order

When a poem is written and then read, it moves both away from and toward the reader, and the mind follows, converting the free flow of reading to the linguistic equivalent of Cubism; its sounds and shapes rearrange and reintegrate themselves until the poem is continuously on the move. The American poet Kenneth Rexroth describes Cubism in poetry as "the conscious, deliberate dissociation and recombination of elements into a new artistic entity made self-sufficient by its rigorous architecture." The key in this is in a poem's structural arrangement and scheduling, the design and planning that emerges from both a free flow of emergent content and the composition of its form.

A Poem Has No Choice But to Avoid Itself

To get at the centre of a poem, you first have to get very far away from it, so time and distance need to be constantly in play. The experience and interpretation of a poem is not entirely cumulative, but cyclical, and, to a certain degree, repetitive and recursive; it is repeatedly interrupted and rearranged by new, iconoclastic diction and syntax. A poem acts as a kind of social substitute; it is a mediated world in which our comprehension and emotional attachments are remade, re-formed, and integrated into a new perception of our world and our place in it. In uncovering thoughtful meaning in the obvious, a poem needs clear communication as well as distortion and deception; it is also seductive in that it reaches out to those things we fear and crave the most: loneliness and intimacy.

Poetry Auspices (Literally, Looking at Birds)

Like a flock of birds, a poem is often anti-narrative, obscuring its sense of beginning, middle or end, reflecting its own internal momentum and evolving emergent contours and forms. A poem seeks simultaneous order and disorder in its structures and aesthetic mix, filtering through its diction and syntax both the simple and complex, seeing both what belongs as well as that which appears not to belong.

All words in a poem have unintended interpretations.
All syntax in a poem has unexpected repercussions.
All juxtapositions in a poem have unvoluntary outcomes.

Opposites in a poem co-exist, and so co-evolve.

The Snare of Poetry (a trap for catching birds or animals)

Poetry can be thought of as a snare for thinking. Offering neither clear answers nor resolutions, its puzzle/riddle-like quality has the form or force of a question where the answer is contained within the question. It doesn’t provide directions, but rather presents predicaments the reader must alone encounter and interpret. What a poem does is find itself from the inside out; its centres of thought draw together its periphery, giving birth to the force of reciprocal influences. The complex of words and syntax of a poem rearranges fixed ways of understanding what is happening by actively undermining and then re-building relationship and presence, time and perspective. You can’t understand or think about just one thing for long; your mind must wander endlessly in search of a way out.

Something Out of Nothing

One of the great joys of poetry is that much of the time it is made up of nothing at all. Like physics or good conversation, that which is most elegant, intelligent and entertaining in a poem depends as much on what is missing as what is actually there. The ambiguity of empty space defines what must occupy that space, while the silences embracing our words create questions and teach us the luxury and balance of knowing little while assuming much more. Inside a poem, the illusion of space is created in the arrangement of the words. That syntactical arrangement is as important as the words, always bringing us either closer or further away from the satisfaction or disappointment of understanding. Poetry emerges as a kind of practical optical illusion.

Review of "Sharawadji" by Brian Henderson (Brick Books 2011)

Brian Henderson and I have been friends since the 1960s, so in a way I have both a unique advantage as well as disadvantage when it comes to his poetry. But I have to say that with each of his ten books of poetry, he has always surprised me in ways I couldn’t have imagined or anticipated. From Paracelcus to The Alphamiricon, from The Expanding Room to Year Zero to The Viridical Book of the Silent Planet, he has consistently searched out new boundaries, combining an uncommon sense of innovation and invention with a surgeon’s or anatomist’s love of language.

In Henderson’s last book, Nerve Language, which also was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, he writes:

What You Won't Read in The Globe and Mail

True value in government can only be created at the interface between those who serve and those to whom they serve. Given the increased size of the recently appointed Harper cabinet, as well as Mr. Harper's well established habit of driving all decisions through the PMO, it's unlikely Canadian will see much improvement or recognition of their needs.

The values needed most in the coming years are those more closely associated with a digital, web-and-cloud-based world in which we find openness, flexibility, collaboration, innovation, and ease of group or individual communication. The opportunity for meaningful change seems to have slipped by the Conservative this time around. Change has changed, but our governments seem not to have noticed at all.

What You Won't Read in The Globe and Mail

What it a surprise it must be to Canadian voters to suddenly learn the much promised budget surplus won't arrive after all (see The Globe and Mail:"Tories back off pledge to show surplus by 2014-15"). The reality is a surplus won't arrive for at least ten years. Mr. Flaherty hasn't got a budget or economic forecast right since his billion-dollar deficit days in the Ontario legislature or since his most recent pre-recession predictions when he was six months late even noticing the economy was heading south, and then repeatedly got wrong the size of the coming defit as well.

What You Won't Read in The Globe and Mail

With the election of a majority Conservative government, Canadians have opted for what must have seemed to many of them to be the promise of political and economic stability. Much of this will turn out to be an illusion. We are challenged to ask what the next several years are likely to bring as Harper extends his command and control approach to governing this country. To begin, the deficit will take at least a decade or more to be eliminated, as opposed to the four years being put forward. Harper also will appoint four of the nine members of a progressively more conservative Supreme Court. All the opposition parties will be ignored since a majority gives Harper a completely free hand to do as he pleases.


To contribute to Edward Carson's Virtual Sonnets project, sign in to your Open Book account and post your two-line stanza in the comments field below.

So begins the first three stanzas of a sonnet we can write together . . .


What represents you, waiting upon the desire to find
you here, the image of spring, wishing for what might be

before seeing, the sensing prolonged into ripple effect
of you who might be havened or helled in such whetted light.

Then it was you who danced through dawn’s silvered blades
warming the song of greening shoots with your willing step

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