Last but not least I would like to talk about the poetry of the third judge in this year’s panel for the Griffin Prize.
Born in 1950 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Tim Lilburn is the author of critically acclaimed poetry books and essays and the winner of the 2003 General Governor’s award for the volume Kill-site.
His latest poetry book, Orphic Politics (2008) is a superb work of poetry, a multi-layered creation in which the author’s forays into linguistics and philosophy seconded by a no holds barred poetic imagination take the reader on a roller coaster of amazement and delight.
As is the case with all seminal poetry books, there are multiple ways of approaching the reading of Orphic Politics. Given the symphonic nature of this book, my aim is to provide a few notes that capture my understanding of it on the first go around.
The context, provided by the cover of the book:
“…utterly compelling exploration of the body’s fall into illness, an Orpheus-like descent that serves as the unexpected basis for a new way of taking in a world and signals the emergence of a contemplative politics.”
(“Contemplative politics” is explained in this fascinating interview with Tim Lilburn).
the book is divided into several mini chapters, an introduction that sets the stage of the sick man, located at the center of a cosmogony of healing whose meaning and intent emerges as we progress through the book:
“I’ve been pensioned a shield of bees
below my chin, under earliest skin: a bridge, a sleeve of industry.
The MRI tech asked if I like country or classical.”
The introduction provides us with some clues: the title of one of the poems is “If metaphor is theurgy, it must form”.
Verses talk of
“Roman-candling around the henosised ear, towering nose,
pheromones of the aquatic cat; a squirrel plays dead in the green cloud, bottom dipped smell.”
“I camp between the bricks and the wood
of the house of this pleroma, the fizz-treed emanation ground.”
where the highlighted/linked words are an indication of the pervasive powers of invocation, ritual and magic and of poetry perhaps clad in its least known archetype: the healing one.
Several quotes from Socrates and Iamblichus, act as partitions-theme bearers for the next three mini chapters: a hyper space of eros, Acherontic despair and magic of the minutia in the surrounding space.
“Someone wearing a vest of radon implants
coaxed my tongue to be sweetly laid out in a kurgan of rain.”
I found the following chapter, prefaced by a quote by Henry Corbin and Muhyiddin ibn ‘Arabi an interesting vision of recitals as a healing trajectory towards the next chapter in which I thought (guided by its opening quote from Suhrawardi) was the step towards renewed energy.
“Sunflowers, wet sparrows,
grind in their throats into a vinegar fog over the ground,
where Pythagoras lies, stroking the bear”(Late Summer Energy)
These signposts, hidden within verses or the arbitrary confines of the sections in the book, cannot however break the continuum of the poems, nor their essence.
An essence I would describe as a linguistic adventure set against a uniform yet shifting, tundra-like landscape, reminiscent of the Canadian expanse, a stretched-out musical hieroglyph extracted from the archeological pits of words, history, geography, natural sciences, philosophy and yet again and most significantly from those of the pits of words. Words, words, words – the enduring beauty of Tim Lilburn's book.
The poem: Under North America in Walrus
An interesting review that quotes the poem A Surgery against Angelism
Based on my reading of this last book, I would like to amend the “composite sketch” of the unknown winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize to:
Look for a book of poetry:
- in which green is a key visual component
- has the viewpoint of an ash, soot and snow covered universe
- stretches timid tendrils into experiments in the absurd.
- where the memory of teen years and young adulthood plays a role.
- is likely to make use of a language with little forays into prosody
- is likely to present a prose poem structure, averaging >18 lines per page.
Tomorrow the shortlist will be announced and it’s likely to indicate how far out this composite sketch was.
We will investigate the huge discrepancies in the next posts.