Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Margaret Avison’s poetry, which catches us unawares sometimes through one of its distinctive notes – the use of dialogue and rhetorical (or not so rhetorical) questions as a means to break up and change a poem’s rhythm - also insinuates itself in our conscience in wreaths of absurd dreams.

From the shifting of gears through question marks in From Now-On?

"For him, is this disruption?
"An end and no beginning"
now his life's caption?
Ice on bright puddles, birds all singing
to mock the nothingness suction,
the spiritless direction,
his flattened pinions?"

used to snare the reader into a poetic ending that delivers an annihilating blow:

"And this "how many" is also,
for me, disruption."

we are led to discover a different sort of poetic creature in End of Day or I as a Blurry.

Here’s the poem’s beginning:

"I as a blurry groundhog bundling home
find autumn storeyed:"

And, as the burrow of an almost wintry season is uncovered, we find ourselves indoors:

“Indoors promises
such creatureliness as disinhabits
a cold layered beauty
flowing out there.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Geoffrey Hill: Mercian Hymns

Among the snippets of information available on the internet on the Mercian Hymns, Geoffrey Hill’s celebrated cycle of poems, I thought the article “Archaeology of Words – Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns by Louise Kemeny” to be a worthwhile read.
It provides the reader with a framework of reference that illuminates some of the characteristics of Hill’s Mercian Hymns: the verset structure, the Anglo-Saxon historic strata and the fractured introspection from which a series of stark, mutinous, pulverized and highly musical musings emerge.

To the writer of this post, the Mercian Hymns are the essence of a setting of a modern day Shakespearean drama about to happen, shifted on deeply set, introspective co-ordinates and tottering on the verge of the absurd:

“Exile or pilgrim set me once more upon that ground: my rich and desolate childhood. Dreamy, smug-faced, sick on outings – I who was taken to be a king of some kind, a prodigy, a maimed one.” 

(Mercian Hymns, V)

The landscape of the thirty versets that make up the cycle of poem in keeping  with a ‘name to conjure with’ is that of the:

“Heathland, new-made watermeadow.
Charlock, marshmarigold.”  
(Mercian Hymns, XI)

A ghost inhabits the poem: the legendary king Offa, believed to have reigned over Mercia (region situated sounth of the Humber river in England) at the end of the VIIIth century.

The opening of the poem invokes Offa and provides us with clues into the themes of the poem: 

"King of the perennial holly-groves, the riven sandstone: overlord of theM5: architect of the historic rampart and ditch, the citadel at Tamworth, the summer hermitage in Holy Cross: guardian of the Welsh Bridge and the Iron Bridge: contractor to the desirable new estates: saltmaster: money-changer: commissioner for oaths: martyrologist: the friend of Charlemagne.
'I liked that,' said Offa, 'sing it again.'"
(Mercian Hymns, I)
These themes evolve, in symphonic spurts of meaning, images and aural harmony,
 concocting a haunting poetic space that we feel compelled to visit and re-visit – yet again. 
“Their spades grafted through variably-resistant soil.
They clove to the hoard. They ransacked epiphanies, vertebrae of the chimera, 
armour of wild bee’s larvae. They struck the fire-dragon’s faceted skin.”
(Mercian Hymns,XII).

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Yours Forever, Your Marie Lou"...

..is the title of the play by Michel Tremblay, a play that is currently being rehearsed at Théâtre Français de Toronto (TFT) (Toronto French Theatre).

The play, one of the masterpieces of Michel Tremblay, will run from February 2nd to February 19th 2011 and English subtitles are available.

The TFT has started to post images from the January rehearsals of the play on its blog.

The cast of "Yours Forever, Your Marie Lou" is: 
Mélanie BEAUCHAMP, Janick HÉBERT, Marie-Hélène FONTAINE and Guy MIGNAULT and the direction belongs to Diana LEBLANC and Guy MIGNAULT - assistant Patricia MARCEAU. 

Last year's Les Médecins de Molière, was a memorable show, whose trailer (bande-annonce), interpreted by the Canadian actor Vincent Poirier, was an equally brilliant introduction:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Sculptures of Keld Moseholm

One of the artists whose work I discovered at  Art Toronto 2010 was Keld Moseholm.

The Danish artist, whose striking sculptures bear an air of enigma, brings forth strange, rubicund characters, who seem involved in vigorous efforts & in absurd, yet engrossing activities. 

At the time that Keld Moseholm's art was on display in Toronto, the artist was awarded 
the Balnaves Foundation Sculpture Prize at the Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi 2010 event.

Here is Keld Moseholm's website and a few pictures I took at Art Toronto 2010.
An interesting film on youtube narrates some moments from Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi 2010 and  Keld Moseholm's presence there.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

"Towards a blog poetics" - The Blognoscenti Project

Mr. Conrad Didiodato, poet and blogger from the Niagara Peninsula, Canada, has begun an interesting on line literary experiment, on his blog "Word-Dreamer: blognoscenti sources".

The tenets of this experiment are explained in this -->post .

I have been following the 'Blognoscenti' project closely and will continue to do so.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Poem in the Mirror

"All the qualities that we perceive through seeing can be reduced to six main categories which are: light, color, layout, distance, size and shape".
                                    René Descartes - The Discourse on Method

This seems pretty straightforward.
But what happens when a mirror - or a poem- inserts itself in the equation? How might our vision be altered then?

"Ms. Smith: Go, little Mary, go nicely into the kitchen and read your poems in front of the mirror...
Mr. Martin: I say, even if I am not a housekeeper, I also read poems in front of the mirror.
Ms. Martin: This morning when you looked at yourself in the mirror, you did not see yourself.
Mr. Martin: It's because I wasn't there yet."

That is one possible outcome as outlined in Eugene Ionescu's The Bald Soprano.

 There are, of course, multiple layering & mirroring effects in the act of writing a poem, if we but look for them, once the veneer of lyricism is peeled off. 

Here is the persona of a mirror, as it appears in the poem Mirror by Sylvia Plath.

"Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over."

The true purpose of the mirror in this poem is not to impersonate or codify an image within the realm of the six parameters proposed by Descartes, but to foster a transformation, an emergence. The act of seeing begets change, as it is a prelude to an unknown aftermath.

Here we have a second possible outcome, a metamorphosis in the vein of Ovid, that ends the poem:

"She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish."

One third possible outcome is suggested by the poem "Perseus" by Robert Hayden, a poetic re-enactment of the myth of Perseus.  Perseus uses the mirroring surface of his shield to watch for Medusa's movements in order to be able to sever her head.

 "Her sleeping head with its great gelid mass
of serpents torpidly astir
burned into the mirroring shield--
a scathing image dire
as hated truth the mind accepts at last
and festers on.
I struck."

I am not entirely sure how to best interpret this last outcome, so I decided to leave this post's ending 'open'.

Monday, January 03, 2011

"The Annotated Bee & Me"

...is the title of a recent book of poetry by the Canadian poet Tim Bowling. The book was published by Gaspereau Press Limited in 2010. 

The presentation of the book – its cover, layout and illustrations - is extremely enticing. It’s a book you feel compelled to browse – and for just cause.

“The Annotated Bee & Me” is carefully architected creation, a series of poems that aggregate around “the large themes of our lives –Birth, Death, Time and Memory” (a quote from the volume’s back cover) and an original poetic topic: beekeeping.

The idea of the book may have originated on ‘one oyster-colored winter afternoon” as the author found a family memento: his great aunt’s chapbook which was "a lighthearted, whimsical, occasionally dark, memoir” of the family’s beekeeping adventures in Alberta.

The poems grow out from a strong sense of family bonds grafted unto a bee’s universe, from which a tapestry of multiple registers and meticulously crafted narrations emerges. They read as a musical composition, with metaphors and sub-themes crisscrossing each other in various episodes.

Here is the beginning:

“The provenance is intimate, contained within a family,
The annotation is intimate, contained within a language.
The subject is not intimate, its is not contained,
as death does not contain the dead”

and some beautiful passages from it:

“A man is hammering a cabinet, a hive,
a coffin for the ineffable.”

“you must serve to survive, embalm in propolis
the corpse of the mouse, repel the robber bees,
kill the drones, scour the nectar,
comes a day when you get off at the floor
of your life and there’s no way up or down, no buttons
no cables, no great-grandparents named William and
Susannah, no city of grey streets and strip malls
to stagger into, dazed…”

“The Annotated Bee & Me” is a poetry book worth reading.

Of Love and Its Island

Embarkation for Cythera, is one of Antoine Watteau's most admired paintings; it evokes an allegorical voyage, about to commence, towards the island of Cythera, associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. 

In modern poetry the Embarkation for Cythera appears to be a theme of equally luxuriant mythologies.

Its various poetic avatars are steeped in the intoxicating scent of roses, feverish amorous states, a ritual voyage across the sea only to arrive at the realization that the island in question, blackened and in mourning, is at best a figment of  imagination, and at worst a place for the expiation of one’s sins.

I’d like to start off with Paul Verlaine’s "Cythera" (
Cythère) a poem that is part of his cycle of poems "The Gallant Celebrations" (Fêtes Galantes), a short poem that is best read within the context of the cycle.
The poem has an ascending, lurid sensual note, balanced off by humor in its ending:

“and love, overwhelming everything, except
hunger, sherbets and preserves….”

Jules Laforgue's "Cythera" (
Cythère) is an exquisitely ‘loose’ and modern poem:

“The florescence without comment
of this hermetical Cythera
nestled inside the sea as a grove”

“And the fauna and flora being as they were
we were as they were; the roses of the senses
and the blossoming of  the poses”

We owe two other stunning poems, each one of them a paragon of poetic art to the theme of the Embarkation for Cythera.

The first one is a perfectly crafted ballad (a poem written in a canonical form, in this case a three eight line stanza followed by an envoi –or refrain) by Théodore de Banville – "The Ballad of the Lost Children" (La Ballade Aux Enfants Perdus)

"I know very well that Cythera is in mourning!

No matter! Let’s go towards a fictitious realm
Let’s search for the beach where our idle desires
Will soak up the sacred mystery and joy
Cut out for a choir of contemplative souls:
Let’s embark for the wondrous Cythera!"

The second one is Charles Baudelaire’s "The Voyage to Cythera" (Un voyage à Cythère), a poem that has been translated into English in numerous versions and is likely the best known poem  associated with this theme.

"What is this sad, black island – It’s Cythera,
we were told, a realm famous in all songs
A banal Eldorado of old men.
After all, it is simply a barren world. "

The poem’s  imagery and metaphors evolve into a gruesome and poignant ending: a hanged man, whose decaying flesh is devoured by birds, is an impersonation of the poet's ego:

"And oh, enshrouded in a thick veil
My heart was buried in this allegory.

In your island, oh Venus! I had found standing
only the symbolic gibbet from which my image was hanging”

In his Ballads In Blue China, Andrew Lang has included a "Ballade of the Voyage to Cythera":

"Come, for the air of this old world is vile,
Haste we, and toil, and faint not at the oar;
"It may be we shall touch the happy isle."

I found an interesting poem titled "The Embarkation for Cythera" in an excerpt of David Ferry’s book “Of no country I know” online:

Here is its ending:

“…each lady
Fingered her necklace, and the sweet music tattled
from the spinet of her desire; each lord

Touched at his sleeve for the ace he has hidden there.”

Finally, a fragment of a poem by the Canadian poet John Glassco in an online article:

The embarkation for Cythera
Is eternal because it ends nowhere:
No port for those tasselled sails! And for our love
No outcome,
Only the modesty
The perfection
Of the flight or death of a bird."

It's only fitting that we end this post, true to the letter of a fête galante, with music. 
The piece, Embarkment for Cythera belongs to Francis Poulenc.

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