Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gargoyles of Shakespearian Poetry

Gargoyles, I’m told, are spouting objects, used to funnel rain water out from the entrails (or roofs) of a building  or – in some instances – are simply rich architectural add-ons. 

Similarly, it can be argued that there are passages within Shakespeare’s plays that serve as relief mechanisms, where the tension of the play is channeled and shaped through a special type of verses.

 These short poems act as relief valves  & spouting devices of the rhetoric kind in the overall architecture of a Shakespearian play.

The  “gargoyle” interludes are made of verses that fall under the domain of what may be called fantastic poetry – a poetry of  highly imaginative  ilk, in a hyperspace filled with surreal  regna. 

Queen Mab, in Romeo in Juliet is perhaps one of the obvious and best known examples:

“She is the fairies’ midwife; and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies”

 “her whip, of cricket’s bone” – precedes Mercutio’s suspenseful lines on dreams…”begot of nothing but vain fantasy; Which is as thin of substance as the air”.
(Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene IV)
The use of fantastic poetry is present throughout Macbeth, in the apparitions of the three witches and Hecate.  

 These apparitions are a counterpoint to increasingly gruesome deeds. 

Here’s a gargoyle effect (a passage of fantastic poetry) from Macbeth:

“I am for the air; this night I’ll spend
Unto a dismal and a fatal end.
Great business must be wrought ere noon:
Upon the corner of the moon
There hangs a vaporous drop profound;
I’ll catch it ere it come to ground;
And that distilled by magic slights,
Shall rise such artificial sprites,
As by the strength of their illusion,
Shall draw him on to his confusion:”
(Macbeth, Act III, Scene IV).

And to conclude this post, a passage of fantastic poetry from The Tempest sung by the ‘dainty Ariel’:

“Where the bee sucks, there suck I
In the cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily:
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”
(The Tempest, Act V. Scene I).

Monday, October 22, 2012

As if, glissando

As if glissando is the title of one of my poems included in the October 2012 issue of Salamader Cove.

I'm very glad to see it included in the issue.

Here is the -> link.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

A Bird of The Genus Poetica

Bridget Bird, published by Serengeti Press, is a poetry book whose author is the Canadian poet, poetry blogger and educator Conrad DiDiodato.

Bridget Bird was launched in June 2012, at the Puddicombe Farms in Southern Ontario in an idyllic setting for poetry readings and nature musings.

Against the dulcet backdrop of verdant orchards and luxurious green-dappled shade cast off by passing clouds over the Niagara Escarpment, a very modern book of poetry, Bridget Bird, took its flight.
Mr. DiDiodato’s verses, constructed with informal and poignant poetic overtones, introduce us to a creative landscape distilled from both scenery and artful interrogation.
In several poems in the volume, a backdrop reminiscent of a lake shoreline, of exuberant and eerily mysterious fauna and flora converge to anchor the reader in its atmosphere:
“Fidgety, exuberant time of the year.  Sweet earth tones
of a primal dinky Eden,
a yard that’s losing its green; scented suns, dews still
on late lilacs, fuzzy mists”

 (From Mostly A Squirrel)

Quintessentially Canadian, this dreamy aria that speaks of “late lilac and fuzzy mists” reaches out into a larger literary context that insinuates itself once we set down the book for a couple of seconds.

W.H.Auden’s Look Stranger, On This Island Now unfettered a similar frame of mind:

“Here at a small field's ending pause
Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges
Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide,
And the shingle scrambles after the suck-
-ing surf, and a gull lodges
A moment on its sheer side.”

This frame of mind is tinged by the rustling of critters and lake waters in Bridget Bird:

“I felt the heart of a lake say to me, just me
‘Harvest the little things, filmy-eyed
 like shiners & spiders;’”

(From At Heart Lake)

The somewhat deceiving stillness in Mr. DiDiodato’s poetry is punctured by dramatic episodes, in which, in a friendly and ironic tone, the poet continues to engage his readers:

“A leaf pressed into the red thirsting beak
          of a bird!

The harder the catch, leaf, slug, the harder you spin
          like a Bridget bird!

(From Bridget Bird)

A thoroughly enjoyable part of Mr. DiDiodato’s poetry lies, in my opinion in the utterly modern/post-modern manner in which Mr. DiDiodato crafts his lines, in his use of the punctuation and syntax and in a lush and far-ranging vocabulary:

“A fatal drop of Verlaine, dead yet
like white anise
     Verlaine, a
blanket of ash over Montmartre”

(From Poet)

Knowing that Mr. DiDiodato is an avid reader and translator of Dante, I looked for clues of this benefic influence in Bridget Bird.
I thought I found one here:
“As if a belief in the wind and a twig armed for weak stringy nest
weren’t enough, I made a dash for the lake
with a leaf in my cap, billowing out into autumness.”

(From Into Autumness)

On second reading, though, I thought the fragment above more closely matches a snippet out of a Wallace Stevens book, whose poetry – I’m guessing – Mr. DiDiodato also likes (and quotes in Bridget Bird.)  Or perhaps a poem by John Donne.  Or - Theodore Roethke.
And the list may continue to grow.

 Such is the gift of good poetry: it takes us back and it moves us forward, through an array of distant and familiar metaphors that dazzle our imagination and makes us want more of the same.

Read Bridget Bird by Conrad DiDiodato.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

A Night Awash With Poetry in Toronto


Whimsical rain and a few grey clouds, punctured in the distance by the tip of the CN Tower, ushered in the evening of the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Readings and the presentation of The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s 2012 Lifetime Recognition Award at the Koerner Center in downtown Toronto. 

This year’s Readings attracted as was the case in the past, a keen audience.

Yet in spite of the humming crowds milling about the book stands and the hallways, a comfortable serenity hovered over the premises on this night – an auspicious preamble for poetry and for what would be, as I was about to find out, a genuine poetic coup de théâtre

Mr. Griffin’s introduction preceded the first reading by an international finalist. 

David Harsent, author of Night read poetry of a translucent and harmonious resonance:

“It sings they say, and so it does: something like the note
that fractures glass or gets so far below
the range of human hearing that it shakes your heart;

and the glass it breaks is blue”

(from Blue)

Yusef Komunyakaa, read next from The Chameleon Couch. Here is a fragment from the poem When All Eyes Are on Me, a string of surprising metaphors:

"I walk big-shouldered, my head raised
Proudly. I smell the blood of a king.
The citizens can see only a minotaur in a maze.
I know more than a lion should know."

Sean O’Brien began his reading from the book November with the poem Europeans, and an injunction:

“Now we are in Europe let us take
To selling mushrooms by the roadside,
Broad-brimmed platefuls and uniform buttons
Plucked before dawn in the forest of birch”

The last international finalist to take the stage was Joanna Trzeciak, the translator of Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Różewicz.  Różewicz’s poetry quaintly resembles Chagall’s paintings:
"fallen angels
look like
moons wedged beneath
the green fingernails of the dead"

(from Homework Assignment on the Subject of Angels)

With this -  we reached the intermission. 

After the break, the announcement that The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award in 2012 was awarded to a poet of significant literary stature, whose name, revealed to an enthusiastic audience, was none other than Seamus Heaney.

Nothing had prepared me for the fact that I would see Seamus Heaney, an author whose poetry has played a specific (albeit secret, for the purposes of this blog) role in my personal life. 

Readings from the books of Canadian finalists came next.

Ken Babstock read from Methodist Hatchet, the superb poem Avalon, Helicopter; a glimpse into this poem below:

“If Berkley, as we hope misfigured the contents, and ideas
Are like other things, here, on a porcelain toadstool
Sprouted from powerlines, is the sum of all past assertions
On essence.”

Phil Hall read from his book Killdeer, where he notes the following:

“Like Yannis Ritsos I have put poems in jars & buried them on
Islands in Greece”

“Oddly – confession has figured in my writing – I have populated
 my poems with real people who would resent my use of them if
they knew”

Jan Zwicky ended the Readings with poems from the book Forge. Here is a passage:

“ There is a sound
That is a whole of many parts,
a sorrowless transparency, like luck,
that opens in a centre of a thing.”

(from Gigue)

A night replete of poetry and inspired introductions by the three judges - Heather McHugh, David O’Meara and Fiona Sampson - had come to an end.

 I strolled back to the subway entrance at Bloor & St. George, glad for this night of words.

I was also glad for the chance to see Seamus Heaney, an event that had me, a Canadian, swathed in the luck of the Irish - even if only for a couple of seconds, even if for the duration of a verse.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 Griffin Poetry Prize finalists

The 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize finalists have been announced. 

Authors' bios & excerpts from the books can be found here:

Link to the lottery to win the Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2012:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Blinded by Snow

The Book of the Snow by Francois Jacqmin, translated by Philip Mosley (shortlisted for the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize) is a book of highly-distilled poetic essence and a literary accomplishment of importance.

(Superlatives, should be added, do not come close to doing justice to the book's content.)

Read this book, whether your interest lies within the realms of poetry and poetics, literature, philosophy, meditation or if you find yourself out on a limb ready to explore a new creative perspective.  

You will not be disappointed; for your enjoyment the discovery of Jacqmin’s surprising poetic vision can progress in two parallel linguistics registers – the original French version is paired up with its English translation.

The Translator’s Preface by Philip Mosley and the Introduction by Clive Scott are well thought out guideposts (and delightful reads on their own merits) that trace a path through Jacqmin’s work and provide insights into his artistic temperament.

The simple act of opening the book at random equates with being sucked into a vortex of meaning, the projected elegance of white in Jacqmin’s unique reverberation of thought, void and everything else in between:

“There is neither forest nor thought
of the forest,
but an inner distance worsened by branches.”

Where exactly does the blinding beauty of Jacqmin’s “Book of the Snow” stem from?  One possible answer may be in the 10-line format of his poems, and the aphorism-like construction of his metaphors. 

The aphorism platform acts as enhancer to his 'one-two' poetic 'punches':

“Would it be a pardon too bitterly craved:
that perfect,
unassailable non-suit of the self?” 

“We see nothing except
that whiteness verging on a scissor stab
in the eye.
the gaze feeds on its own pulp.”

Jacqmin’s poems can also be read as a never-ending exordium into a poetic discourse on the precariousness of meaning and its putative boundaries:

“What we understand
complicates what is already disjointed.”

“And infinity oozes torment.”

It is this sweet infinity and its white torment that make The Book of the Snow a memorable read. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Counting on copper"

If you ever needed a quick refresher on what copper can be counted on for, here is a link to the article  "Counting on copper" published on March 22nd, 2012 by

The article was a winning entry in the magazine's writing competition and its author is a  student at the University of Toronto.

To access the article you would need to register with - which is free - and to search for "Counting on copper" in the Search box.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Poetic Sprezzatura

“I have found quite a universal rule which in this matter seems to me valid above all other, and in all human affairs whether in word or deed: and that is to avoid affectation in every way possible as though it were some rough and dangerous reef; and (to pronounce a new word perhaps) to practice in all thing a certain sprezzatura (nonchalance), so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” 

(Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of Courtier, apud wikipedia)

Sprezzatura, then, is something that can intuitively be linked to the act of writing poetry.

 Some poets appear to be graced with an innate gift of poetic fluency which allows them to effortlessly move from one metaphor to another in a most surprising manner.

It’s a context that we’ve often found ourselves in, taken aback by the blandishments of an author’s imagination and his/her ability to tinker with vowels and consonants.

I’d like to move through the paradigm of sprezzatura in poetry in step with the verses of two Canadian poets:

"This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skull"

-          the beginning of the poem Siren Song by Margaret Atwood

"The Black Spruce
point to it: clarity
becomes us, melting into ordinary morning. True
north. Where the sky is just a name,
a way to pitch a little tent in space and sleep
for five unnumbered seconds."

as an illustration of the courtly & mesmerizing affability of poetry. 

An affability which we can carry with us, with nonchalance, into everyday life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Connectivism the title of a poetry anthology published by Variety Crossing Press in January 2012. 

Two of my poems are included in this anthology: Island and The Music Pavilion.
Island is a poem that sort of cobbled itself together from notes & a previous post on this blog on the matter of the Embarkation for Cythera.   
As the thought of writing my own version of the Embarkation presented itself, one other thing became apparent.
The poetry previously written on this topic was likely to put a severe damper on the enthusiasm with which one might have originally welcomed the idea of a new Embarkation: standards were high.
So, to start off my poem, and to keep moving ahead through it, I used Watteau’s painting as a vehicle: I projected myself as a character inside his painting. This helped me focus on the issue at hand, rather than on what others previously wrote of Cythera.
The character’s brief monologue was subsequently used to develop the ‘destination’ of the journey and a secondary theme that spun off the embarkation theme.

In the supremely interesting Afterword to the book Orpheus, Don Paterson notes the following:
“Granted its uniquely expressed sense, the poem must be then interpreted, if we are to work out what it means; and by the time we work out what the poem means, no one has any energy left to discuss what that meaning might propose.” 

I subscribe to the idea that explaining poetry is an utterly pointless exercise - hence no such attempts in this post.
Writing about the “mechanics” poetry and the challenge of staying afloat through its vagaries is, however, a more palatable chore. 

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Salamander Cove

Salamander Cove is an art and poetry lit-mag, in a blog concept.

One of my short poems is included in this issue. It's a poem in French (11th from the top).

I'm grateful to have this poem translated into English by Mr. Conrad DiDiodato - Canadian poet, teacher and poetry blogger. 

Click here for the  Salamander Cove, January 2012 issue.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rembrandt and the Darkness

It’s been quite a while since I had the opportunity to look at a painting by Rembrandt close up and personal, but last week, quite unexpectedly, I ran into one, in an art gallery.

I’ve always viewed Rembrandt’s paintings with curiosity and respect, from the distance where the seemingly glacial veneer of his brush met me, halfway (or so I thought) in what appeared to be a rather forced  intellectual dialogue, akin to a conversation carried out of a social obligation.

Last week, on an icy winter day, I found myself in front of the Portrait of an anonymous musician and my old opinions of Rembrandt slowly disintegrated.

I was struck by the smoky, pitch-dark black of the musician’s doublet and the enigmatic aura it projects onto the viewer. Fused darkness, all encompassing, drawing us in. Inescapable.

I was equally carried away by the white froth of the ruffs, working my way up towards the eyes of the musician, who gazes back at us, with a look that’s both sensual and anxious.

However, the focal point of the painting appeared to me to be the paper roll with the musical notes that the musician holds carefully, as one would hold an offering.

A question insinuated itself: and the musical sketch inside the paper roll, whatever became of it?

It must be, I thought, an unfinished tune, to which we are compelled to come back, again and again, once we have run out of words. 

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Year of the dragon & a marble steps complaint

The Chinese New Year is celebrated on January 23rd.

In this post we begin the year of the water dragon with a link to an amazing poem:

Marble steps complaint by Li Po/ Li Bai -(701-762)

Vase with tiger and dragon - Gardiner Museum, Toronto, Canada

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter and its tintinnabulations

Ah, winter - the complicated season.
All wrapped up in snow and nowhere to go.
Perhaps the time has come to flip through some poems of the affable, fluid and imaginative variety.

And what exactly is the mark of this variety?
Basically the kind of poetry that writes itself, finds its own rhythm, adjusts its length of verse, tweaks the appropriate figures of speech in a balanced, off-hand and self-deprecating manner, to yield a mini-masterpiece without worrying too much about footnotes.

Might this be the one? -the opening stanza from Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem Nature,That Washed Her Hands in Milk:

“Nature, that washed her hands in milk,
 And had forgot to dry them.
Instead of earth took snow and silk,
At Love’s request to try them.”

Or perhaps:

"  This morning of the small snow
I count the blessings, the leak in the faucet
which makes of the sink time, the drop
of water on water as sweet 
as the Seth Thomas 
in the old kitchen"

(from Song 3 by Charles Olson)

...if not the ending of A.M. Klein’s poem Winter Night: Mount Royal?:

"One would say the hidden stars were bells
dangling between the shafts of the Zodiac.
One would say
the snowflakes falling clinked together their sparkles
to make these soft, these satin-muffled

And then again?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The common cold

 ....browsing through the book Abimes (Abyss) by Pascal Quignard I found the following  quote from a letter by La Rochefoucauld to Madame de Sablé:

"The craving to write spreads out like the common cold ."  

credit Wikipedia 

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