Dear poets, dear readers, dear citizens:
In my tenure as the 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate, I will curate the Poem of the Month as a “Gallery” space, to showcase the diversity of poetry being written by Canadians currently. I remain focused on featuring marginalized and/or under-represented voices, schools, and aesthetics. I hope that you will find the selected poems/poets compelling, inspiring, and exemplary. I also hope that you will seek out their works and read further or perhaps be moved to try writing in a similar style. I appreciate truly your eyes on this site.
George Elliott Clarke, OC, ONS, PhD
7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate
By: Serge Haïti Moise
From Moïku, Tome II
© by Serge Haïti Moise: All rights reserved
As my final choice for my “Poem of the Month” selection as the 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17), I am pleased to present Serge Haïti Moise, a Haitian-Quebecois poet, whose verses appear here in his native French. Indeed, M. Moise's pioneering of a quatrain that he calls the “moïku” – essentially a slightly longer and vehemently rhymed haiku – reminds us of the power of rhyme – as is clearly displayed in Rap, Calypso, Blues, and other Afro-invented musical forms – to capture succinctly politic and impolitic, political truths. I admire the snappy wit of this verse-form – as well as M. Moise's sly slang – and I encourage you, dear reader, to seek out more of his work. At this time of some fretting over increased refugee claimants from Haïti, I also think it's good to remind Canadians of the great richness that Haitians have brought to our letters – as evinced by Dany Laferriere's receipt of the Prix Medici and his induction into the Academie Francaise. I also hereby welcome – via these French verses – the 8th Parliamentary Poet Laureate, who will take up this position as of January 1, 2018, and who will be a Francophone – “mon semblable” (to quote Baudelaire). Merci.
Serge Haïti Moise is what they call me
And I am no rat: no church devotee
I dream of my promised land of Haiti
Which will stabilize ultimately
The slave master invented heaven
To reinvent its gods therein
And dominate the poor men
Unable their eyes to open
Watch out for all those rats a-
Cross the diaspora
Happy to have a visa
Of low blows they’re a dealer
Those of puffed-up cognition
Who talk of revolution
Sitting in their kitchen
Busy writing petitions
We yak and yak about things
While giving broad shruggings
We live through the bustlings
That signal the fight upcoming
The day the Negro intellects
Take after the wet blankets
And the gangs they do reject
Their honesty they can collect
Tell me if those appalling crimes
Are to our gods sacrifices
Those millions of poor lives
Wiped out before our eyes
English and Spanish you do read
But your Creole you would misread
So you make a great: clown indeed
City life you’re quite proud to lead
Words and still more words
That make us worse dullards
That cause us harm in hordes
Profiting those feudal lords
They know nothing of love
And every day dream thereof
When they come across love
They right away give it a shove
And if we listened to the poets
There would be no tempests
But the sound of trumpets
Celebrations, it requests
The poet who only of love is speaking
And “Alas” each day is repeating
Quietly in: his yard is sitting
Dreaming of a following
Serge Haïti Moise
As the grandson and the nephew of lawyers, the son of a notary, and a lawyer himself, Serge H. Moïse is truly “a lawyer’s lawyer”. He has loved fine literature since his early years. During his classical studies, he had to enter an essay competition organized by the country’s high schools, and, to his great delight, he won. Ever since, Serge H. Moïse has embraced two passions: law and literature, particularly poetry. He is the author of at least 250 poetic works and around 100 general interest articles for the pages of newspapers around the French-speaking world. He is also an innovator in short poetry with his invention of the “moïku”, two collections of which have already been published, with a third in preparation. He has also published Les Aphorismes de Me Moïse.
By: Adebe DeRango-Adem
From Terra Incognita, Inanna Publications, 2010
© by Adebe DeRango-Adem: All rights reserved
The poetics of Adebe DeRango-Adem are indebted to the vast, endless range of her interlocking identities: Canadian, Ethiopian, Italian. Excitingly, with much avant-garde brio, much edgy, take-no-prisoners, bravura daring, she explores her trinity of heritages — conjoining Tekahionwake, Dante, & Haile Selassie — to articulate the calamities of colonialism, imperialism, slavery, and war. She also registers — canvasses — struggles for Justice, for Just Societies — in Canada, Ethiopia, and Italy — and around the world. The poet's work is beautifully political, awesomely poignant, thanks to her committal of her ferocious intelligence (steeped in PanAfrican, Canadian, and European literature) to an absolute, unflinching interrogation of all ontologies, all epistemologies. To move us to recognize Truth.
unchartered seas/skins unknown
do not search for us in the ancient texts
or paraphernalia, we are terres inconnues,
have always been a people
to be discontinued
our body parts unknown,
thrown down to the mare incognitum,
we make our way to the remote corners
of the cosmos, worlds reserved
for the other, redraw maps
though we do not want to be fully explored
we want only to be remembered
instead of forced to enter the realm of incognito
gnosis, the realm of knowledge
that is merely teaching cognizance
of terra pericolosa,
of blackness, the trans-atlantic sea sickness
when our ghosts left Rome,
or the Pythagorean gore that preceded
our haunting and our lives—
the middle passage where I was born
where once upon a time maps
like skin meant nothing, the endangered species
was all of us, the mystery
not degradable, the Spirit
Adebe DeRango-Adem is a writer whose work has been published in sources such as The Claremont Review, CV2, the Toronto Star, Room Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue and Jacket2 (forthcoming). She is a former attendee of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (Naropa University), where she mentored with poets Anne Waldman and Amiri Baraka. Her debut book of poems, Ex Nihilo (Frontenac House, 2010) is a text that considers how art can respond to the annihilation of particular identities struggling to exist in an impossibly post-racial world. In the same year of its publication, Ex Nihilo became a finalist for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the world’s largest prize for writers under thirty. Adebe DeRango-Adem is also the editor, with Andrea Thompson, of Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out (Inanna Publications, 2010), an anthology of art & writing that explores the question of how mixed-race women in North America identify in the twenty-first century. Her most recent poetry collection, Terra Incognita (Inanna Publications, 2015), creatively explores various racial discourses and interracial crossings both buried in the grand narratives of history and the everyday experiences of being mixed-race. Poems from the collection were longlisted for the 2016 Cosmonauts Avenue Poetry Prize, judged by award-winning poet Claudia Rankine. Terra Incognita was also nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Adebe was called a «writer to watch» in 2016 by Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke, on behalf of the CBC.
By: John Lee
© by John Lee: All rights reserved
John B. Lee is so perfectly representative of the civil and the popular that he has been appointed Poet Laureate (for Life) for Norfolk County and Poet Laureate (in Perpetuity) of Brantford, both Ontario municipalities. His possession of a double degree of governmental immortality (as it were) reflects the public respect accorded his vision of local citizenship and global experience. The author of over 80 books, and the recipient of 100 awards, Lee is a meditative, profoundly philosophical poet, who is able to speak to and from the heart without an iota of sentimentality. "On Kindness" exemplifies Lee's ability to examine his own life and relationships and glean from personal emotion the universal elements that connect us all--even with irony and/or ambiguity.
write the word love on one side
of a single sheet
of white bonded paper
write the word hate
on a second
let each leaf drift loose
from the same height
at exactly the same moment
keeping in mind
the scholar’s parable of a pound
and even given the drop-weight of heavy words
you notice a sameness
fall through the invisible calipers of time
all the while wondering
at the value of loft
and the measure of ink
knowing how the wet wing
tips in flight to almost touch the rising wave
or the shadow
spreads in the brilliant gloom
of its own reflected worth
subsiding to soft grey in a second light
with a different source
or as it is
with the lucent green
of filmy water gulping a plunging stone
disappearing beneath the echo-rhythms of a radiant O
of the human heart
how it daps on the wrist then vanishes
like a pinch in silk
say your father
enters the story
and you are a boy
at his table
having trimmed the fat
and left it
oiling the plate
at the close of the meal
and there it lay
in white refusal
a greasy remnant of your appetite
and he says
“you shall not leave this table
until you have finished
and you lay your fork aside
cross your arms
on the cut lines
in the gristle
and the marbling of slivered meat
meanwhile the shine congeals
as it cools and scums the surface
and you wonder why he insists
you know you will not comply
you will stay forever if need be
what do you care
for love or hate
your grandfather enters the story
on a different day
he places his hand on your wrist
catching his breath
as you climb together what for him
is a difficult hill
and you want your father to know
how slowly you walked
how full of care
how light his hand like a breeze in the hair
how laboured his breathing
how heavy his old heart a stone beating in the breast
like the sorrowful drumming of black cloth
and the words land light
and the words land hard
and love lifts as it falls
and hate falls as it lifts
and the two together
play like the mating of gulls
and you are still at the table
and you remain forever
half-way up the hill
with the hand-weight of a ghost
you must carry
as a great tree carries the shade
In 2005 John B. Lee was inducted as Poet Laureate of Brantford in perpetuity. The same year he received the distinction of being named Honourary Life Member of The Canadian Poetry Association and The Ontario Poetry Society. In 2007 he was made a member of the Chancellor’s Circle of the President’s Club of McMaster University and named first recipient of the Souwesto Award for his contribution to literature in his home region of southwestern Ontario. In 2011 he was appointed Poet Laureate of Norfolk County (2011-14) and in 2015 Honourary Poet Laureate of Norfolk County for life. He has well-over seventy books published to date and is the editor of seven anthologies including two best-selling works: That Sign of Perfection: poems and stories on the game of hockey; and Smaller Than God: words of spiritual longing. His work has appeared internationally in over 500 publications, and has been translated into French, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.
By: Bruce Meyer
From Testing the Element, Exile Editions, 2014
© by Bruce Meyer: All rights reserved
Bruce Meyer's nearest-in-style contemporary is Richard Greene, a comrade poet whose consummate artistry is so fine that the reader seeking sensational, dazzling sunlight is likely to overlook the fierce gleam of the jewels before his or her gaze. Meyer's poetry meshes subtly intricately, erudition, aesthetics, and emotion. An intellectual, the author of sixty-plus titles of short stories, literary journalism, memoir, photography, and poetry, he is a witty, amiable polymath and classicist--a humanist who is also a humanitarian. The inaugural Poet Laureate of Barrie, Meyer is a poet for all Canadian seasons--and regions--and is an expert in our letters. My poem choice here includes a reference to yours truly (blush), but is most valuable as a recent Anglo-Canadian musing on Québec -- a necessary pondering for any non-Québécois poet who identifies himself or herself as “Canadian.”
Sunrise on the St.Lawrence
It is spring again in the country of my life.
The sun has just come up over Quebec City
in a land that drinks new days as if more will come
to cure amnesia.
George Elliott Clarke wrote about finding love
within this city's fortified stone walls
but all this, curtains drawn back on time,
is too easily lost.
When Northrop Frye sailed home to Canada
he felt jaws of headlands close like books,
swallowing him as if Jonah, all the way down
to port at Sorel.
I want to put out an open call for chroniclers,
not poets, and ask that someone make sense
of what we say: not the temple prophet but
the patient scribe.
Patience is easily lost in the name of culture,
patience to hear birdsong in the machinery
of hotel ductwork, a symphony in the gravel crusher
and speak critically
so that love in the name of poetry and poetry
for all the love in sunrises does not vanish from memory
as the miraculous light vanished to the east hours ago
and became poetry.
Welcome to a nation of silence. We speak it beautifully.
The silence of our hearts is the real secret we keep,
swallowed like stones by prophets to keep them from rising
to the light.
Bruce Meyer is author of more than 60 books of poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, literary journalism, memoir, photography, and pedagogy. His most recent books of poetry include the award winning “The Seasons” (Porcupine's Quill, 2014) which received the IP Medal in the United States and which was a finalist for the Indie Fab Award for best book of poems published in North America and the Cogswell Prize for Poetry; “The Arrow of Time” (Ronsdale Press, 2016) which was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Prize, and “1967: Centennial Year” (Black Moss Press, 2017). His poems have won the Gwendolyn MacEwen Prize for Best Poem in Canada (2015, 2016), and have been short-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. He was inaugural Poet Laureate of the City of Barrie, and teaches Creative Writing at Georgian College and Poetry Composition at Victoria College in the University of Toronto. He lives in Barrie, Ontario.
By: Anna Yin
From Seven Nights with the Chinese Zodiac, Black Moss Press, 2015
© by Anna Yin: All rights reserved
The inaugural Poet Laureate of Mississauga (ON), Anna Yin is also an avid translator of English-Canadian poetry into Chinese, and she is herself a fine crafter of poems in English, though it is her second language. Her free-verse poems are based on the haiku, even though many of her lyrics exceed the 3-lines and 17-syllables of standard haiku. Even so, what she brings to her longer poems is the same attentiveness to imagery and the mysteries resonant in what may first seem superficial or self-evident that she presents in her haiku. Chinese poetry extends back more than 3,000 years, and so it is inspiring to note how poets like Anna Yin and Rita Wong are meshing this formidable tradition with Canadian English, thus following, so to speak, the lead of the 5th Parliamentary Poet Laureate, namely, His Poetic Excellency, Fred Wah.
My Father's Temple
When my father rebuilt his house,
on each stair he carved
his and my mother's names.
My father is not a superstitious or rich man,
with all of us grown up and living far away,
his narrow tall four-floor building
rose with our criticisms of its waste.
My father rolled his eyeballs, broke his silence:
“Find your own floor and stay longer.”
He winked at us,
“At least none would buy.”
My father's wisdom was defeated by the city plan.
Officers came along with bulldozers and demanded he leave.
My father climbed up to the roof, and refused to move.
Holding his camera, my father shot his last photo
among the knocked down neighborhood.
I received a copy of the photo in the local newspaper.
My father looked so small on the top of the ruins,
It was titled, “The Last Temple.”
Anna Yin was Mississauga's first Poet Laureate. She has published four poetry collections, including “Seven Nights with the Chinese Zodiac”, 2015 and “Nightlights”, 2017 (Black Moss Press). Anna won the 2005 Ted Plantos Memorial Award, two MARTY Awards and 2016/2017 West Chester University Poetry Conference scholarships etc. Her poems have appeared on Arc Poetry, The New York Times, China Daily, CBC Radio, World Journal, Literary Review of Canada etc. She has received two grants from the Ontario Art Council for her poetry projects. She teaches Poetry Alive at schools, colleges and libraries. Her website: annapoetry.com
By: Richard Greene
From Boxing the Compass, Véhicule Press, 2009
© by Richard Greene: All rights reserved
Richard – “Rick” – Greene extends the classical, English tradition of Newfoundland and Labrador, a province that has known Viking, French (Basque), and English settlement, extending back 1,000 years – if one considers only the European presence. Thus, Greene's poetry takes its place beside Newfoundland's first fine poet in English, E.J. Pratt, but is also deeply in synch with the European masters, especially Dante Alighieri – a liking likely developed in the province's formerly church-run schools and then later through study at Oxford University. The winner of the 2010 Governor-General's Literary Award for Poetry in English, Greene is a superb poet – in cadence and content, in style and substance, but displays his talent with such grace and poise, it seems effortless. He is one of those poets who must be read more than once – not only to fathom his subtleties, but also to savour – more and more profoundly – the favour of his art.
At the College
Serpentine, the path unwinds its innocence
from building to building in flickering shade
where my students feed lazy raccoons muffins
and glazed doughnuts, as if to domesticate
the last wild things on this suburban campus,
though nothing can make the few deer unafraid
of engines, words, footfalls, the human rumpus,
or subdue the fox's wily nonchalance
and teach him not to kill anything helpless.
Here, among these fierce and sentimental students,
I stand on the edge of a world not my own,
snatching small goods from the large irrelevance
of what we do, making the old sorrows known
to children bearing their first calamities,
teaching solitudes to the newly alone,
explaining writers' exile to refugees
and notions of intrinsic worth to half-fledged
bankers, already driving smart Mercedes.
Yet they live by their hope, curiously pledged
to some afterness that will reward and bless
them for gifts that nature leaves unacknowledged
or earnest labours I grade at B or less;
they know some need of love that poets speak to,
and few can absent their hearts from every class,
however many dronings they may sleep through;
they will mark a perfect image or a phrase
and hear it years from now, wilder then and new.
Richard Greene, born in Newfoundland in 1961, is the author of four books of poetry. His collection Boxing the Compass (Signal) received the Governor General's Literary Award in 2010. His most recent volume Dante's House (Signal), published in 2013, was described by George Elliott Clarke as a 'masterpiece' and by the American critic Edward Short as 'revelatory'. His poem 'You Must Remember This' won the 2015 National Magazine Award (Gold). His book Graham Greene: A Life in Letters (2007) was widely praised in the international press, as was his biography of the British poet Edith Sitwell (2011). He is now writing an authorized biography of the novelist Graham Greene. A professor of English, he served from 2012-17 as director of the MA in the Field of Creative Writing at the University of Toronto.
By: Janet Rogers
From Red Erotic, Ojistah Publishing, 2010
© by Janet Rogers: All rights reserved
Janet Rogers is one of the most powerful Aboriginal woman voices in the realm because she is fearless in using every resource of English – Latinate, Anglo-Saxon, Indigenous, French-derived, “bad words,” “Bad English,” polysyllables, monosyllables, and onomatopoeia – to sing her songs and tell her truth. Also, she reclaims – for Indigenous people – the ecstasy of Eros. The former Poet Laureate of Victoria (BC) explains her poetics this way:
“My poetry provides, what I call, medicine; to me it takes the colourful and emotional gut-energies with the prickly and tricky-intelligence and forces them to work together producing a new voice almost like a ghost note when several instruments come together to play. And what it achieves, can be described as a pleasant ear-catching doorbell that is both musical and inviting. When that doorbell is answered, is when poetry contact is made.”
She says it way better than I ever could. Rock on & Amen.
Something for the Tongue
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate
Searching reaching melting
Chunky funky love
Kiss me kiss me kiss me
Bunnies chickens ducks
Cheeks breasts d—ks
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate
Chips bits fingertips
Chocolate chocolate chocolate
Chocolate chocolate chocolate
Gobs of chocolate
Stacks and stacks and stacks of chocolate
Chocolate chocolate chocolate chocolate
White light right
Cherries berries nuts
Chant chant chant
Ancient from the past chocolate
Great big c---k
Swiss chocolate Spanish chocolate
Cross the border at night chocolate
Big sugar Daddy
Chocolate chocolate chocolate
Janet Rogers is a Mohawk/Tuscarora writer from the Six Nations territory living on the traditional territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt peoples on Vancouver Island. Totem Poles and Railroads is Janet's fifth poetry collection developed during her term as UNBC's 2015/2016 Writer in Residence and OCAD's NIGIG Visiting Artist Residency in 2016.
Voice, sound and audio textures are an important part of Janet's poetry recordings and she can be heard hosting her radio program Native Waves Radio on CFUV FM and introducing the six-part radio documentary NDNs on the Airwaves, which she also produced.
Whether she is delivering a spirited spoken word presentation or letting the poetry speak for itself in her performance and media art, her impactful messaging is balanced by her soothing vocal tones producing a multi-faceted poetry experience reflective of the broad capacity of this artist.
By: Derek Beaulieu
First published as a leaflet (Calgary: APT.9 Press, 2017); and “Untitled (Kern)” was published in _ascender/descender_ (Achill Island, Ireland: Red Fox Press, 2016)
© by Derek Beaulieu: All rights reserved
The former Poet Laureate of Calgary (AB), Derek Beaulieu experiments with collage poems and concrete poems. He explains that his poem, “a readymade dictionary” takes inspiration from “Roland Barthes (whose essay 'La mort de l'auteur' was published 50 years ago) and Marcel Duchamp, who proposed that the 'readymade' could be art. This poem gathers the causes of death – direct from Wikipedia and the internet – of 50 prominent authors and artists, one per year, from 1967 to 2017” and transforms this catalogue into “a liturgy of loss.” Beaulieu also explains that the design piece, “Untitled (Kern),” is “a concrete poem – a poem where beauty and play is found in the letters themselves; where the balance, echo, visual rhyme and delicacy of typefaces, letter shapes and the smallest particles of language – the letters themselves – can contain poetry.” Only one more word need be said: Enjoy.
a readymade dictionary.
Alone. Of heart failure. Of internal bleeding and liver damage. After drowning himself in the sludge of the Seine. After losing grip on the slate of the roof, two weeks after la fête nationale. Of intestinal breakdown and abdominal swelling. Upon severing the ulnar artery after dismal sales and a lack of readership. From cancer. Of a heart attack. Four years after his wife. From bronchial congestion. From a perforated ulcer. At home. After being run over by a laundry van. From heart failure. From lung cancer. From heart failure. In Tel Aviv. After a cerebral hemorrhage. From liver cancer. From post-operative cardiac arrhythmia. After complications from surgery. Of Parkinson’s Disease. From AIDS. After a stroke. After a stroke. From lung cancer. From non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After a heart attack. From prostate cancer. From breast cancer. After a heart attack. Of old age. Of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. From complications from liver surgery. At home. From liver failure. From pancreatic cancer. From pneumonia. Alone in a garden. After complications from cancer. From heart failure. From prostate cancer. After a week in the hospital. From pneumonia. After a long illness. After a stroke. From cancer. Of natural causes. From pancreatic cancer. Of natural causes, alone.
Derek Beaulieu is the author of 18 books of poetry, prose and criticism. His most recent volume, a, A Novel will be published July 2017 by Paris’ Jean Boite Editions. He can be found online at www.derekbeaulieu.wordpress.com. Derek Beaulieu was the 2014-2016 Poet Laureate of Calgary.
By: Bänoo Zan
From: Songs of Exile , (Guernica Editions, 2016)
© by Bänoo Zan: All rights reserved
Iranian-Canadian poet, Bänoo Zan, incorporates powerfully the mystical traditions of her homeland's most famous poet, Rumi, but she is thoroughly post-modern, feminist, worldly (without necessarily being secular), philosophical-but-plain-spoken, and yearning to connect with whomever happens upon her words. She's a scholar of Sylvia Plath, but is simpler in diction, though just as direct in tone. Maybe the Canadian poet who resembles Zan most is Gwendolyn MacEwen, who shares Zan's classicism and mysticism, but is seldom as politically conscious. Zan is the organizer and host of Shab-e She'r (Poetry Night), “the most diverse poetry reading and open mic series in Toronto.” Her first book of poetry is Songs of Exile (Guernica, 2016).
This poem is selfish –
It cares about me
more than it cares about you
and here we are
But at least
it cares about me —
gives me voice
wants to know me
I don’t trust it, though:
Poems are the worst
the worst lovers—
Who knows what it will say
behind my back?
I don’t trust me, either
I am a poem
in my fists?
What if I don’t know
what I want this poem
What if this poem
is not selfish
but doesn’t know
how to end?
Ending a poem
is not ending a poem’s life
though, I am killing it —
making it about me
while all it wants
is to be
Poets are suicide bombers:
Poets are poems
I accuse this poem
yet capital punishment
is no longer
in the headlines
This poem is selfish,
It begins and ends
where it wants
tells its own story
cares about poetry
more than it cares about
any of us
It holds us hostage
to its dreamless
knowing that nightmares
Bänoo Zan is a poet, translator, teacher, editor and poetry curator, with more than 120 published poems and poetry-related pieces as well as three books. Song of Phoenix: Life and Works of Sylvia Plath, was reprinted in Iran in 2010. Songs of Exile her first poetry collection, was released in 2016 in Canada by Guernica Editions. It was shortlisted for Gerald Lampert Memorial Award by the League of Canadian Poets in 2017. Letters to My Father, her second poetry book, was published in 2017 by Piquant Press in Canada. She is the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), Toronto’s most diverse poetry reading and open mic series. It is a brave space that bridges the gap between communities of poets from different ethnicities, nationalities, religions (or lack thereof), ages, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, poetic styles, voices and visions.
By: Micheline Maylor
From Little Wildheart, University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, 2017
© by Micheline Maylor: All rights reserved
The Poet Laureate of Calgary and a Mount Royal University prof, Micheline Maylor is a non-status Métis, whose negotiation of her identity has made her exquisitely sensitive to the conundrums and contradictions of appearance versus roots, of being an invisible “visible minority” or an unrecognized Métis. In “Detroit Zoo Bathroom 1977”, Maylor recalls a true childhood incident, wherein, in a visit to a nation that is openly defined by racial difference, her dual heritage, represented by her grandmother and herself, occasioned the venting of the ugly epithet that prefaces the poem and also the beginning, for herself, of the self-questioning that leads to, as Irish poet William Butler Yeats insists, “poetry.”
Detroit Zoo bathroom 1977
“Hey, Nigger, Where’d you get that kid?”
Pale as an anaemic and holding hands with a goddess,
I learned the word racist, in the grip of my grandmother.
Bronzed like a Queen of the Huron, mixed-breed, multi-lingual,
lady of St. Clair lake, she tanned dark as curses.
Me, bleached to blend in Prairie snow, white like a winter hare,
hadn’t yet moulted into my golden summer skin. Photoperiodism
not yet complete. Call it too much Anglo-breeding
with fair-haired men. Call it what you will,
call it nights in my teenage years
asking my brown eyes and black hair: why?
Only one Mattel Barbie coloured like me, unglamorously named Skipper.
Skip her. Where is my blonde hair, my sun-in, my glacial eyes?
I check the box on the government forms: Caucasian. No box
for colonized, for the 1/16th bred. Just the double helix of my DNA,
my ability to sun-brown, and my own green-eyed children
of the voyageur, river visions still caught in their irises.
We’re born out of a long ago season.
Everyone is sure of place and race. Blood and semen
mixed in dirt and cervix, convex and enchanted by muskrat’s eerie smile,
dark truth furred and matted, stroked by a river paddle.
Let that long tooth bite now in the land of the race riots,
negro, and redskin, the underground railroad,
and the Indian village.
Let the name Pontiac take new form and hit the road,
the righteous mile where judgement and boundary blurs,
especially on matters
on the composition of blood, bone, and relations.
Dr. Micheline Maylor is Poet Laureate of Calgary. Her collection Little Wildheart (2017) was short-listed for the Robert Kroetsch award for experimental poetry is with U of A Press (2017). She teaches at Mount Royal University. She was the Calgary Public Library Author in Residence in the fall of 2016. She serves as poetry editor at Frontenac House Press. She serves as the Past-president and co-founder of Freefall Literary Society and remains a consulting editor.
By: Wayde Compton
From Performance Bond, Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2004
Occasionally a DJ who rocks the mic, Wayde Compton is an African-Canadian poet and professor of English at Simon Fraser University. He's noted for his research into Afro-British-Columbian history and literature. “Declaration of the Halfrican Nation” is, however, Compton's meditation on what it means to be mixed-race in Canada, a nation where Métis heritage is both honoured and pondered. For African Heritage Month in our Sesquicentennial, the poem reminds us that Canadian Negritude is a polychromatic identity and/or “lived experience.”
Declaration of a Halfrican Nation
hazel's so definitive. is the window
half open or half closed? is a black
rose natural? is it indigenous to this
coast? my grammar teacher said a semicolon
is just a gutless colon; yellow. coconuts
get eaten from the inside, the sweetness
and light from the milk and the flesh, not
the husk, so skull-like. one
friend said she's white except
for having this brown skin and sometimes
she forgets it until a mirror shatters
that conclusion casting blackward glances sideways,
askance processions of belonging, possession. mirrors walk
on two legs too sometimes, saying hello to you cause
you are brown
as we pass. what is britannia
to me? one three continents removed
from the scenes my mothers loved,
misty grove, english rose,
what is britannia to me?
ain't no negroes on the tv shows we
produced in playground theatres; now
there's so many on screen a white acquaintance of mine
thought the us population was half
black! one drop rules aside and all
things being equal, I'd say that signifies
an inexorable triumph of mlk's dream. we number
a dozen percent, in fact, south
of the border; in canada, I really couldn't
begin to guess our numbers crunching
through the snow on shoes of woven
koya. black hippies; black punk rockers;
black goths with white masks literally
multiply like flesh-eating bacteria on the west coast. racism
is a disease, the ministry decrees to me in my bus seat
from an ad, and I could add
that this is just the latest stage in race management. canada all
in a rush to recruit more brown whites; entrepreneurs
only, no more slaves or railroad builders,
iron chinks or tempered niggers. the wages
of empire have yet to be spilled. oka. all
I halfta do is spell it and the settled snow shivers. one settler,
one bullet, south africans sang, palestinians sing; the tune
is boomin. is the mention
of bullets too american? the best way
anyone ever referred to me as mixed-race was a jamaican
woman who said, I notice you're touched. to
me sounded like she meant by the hand of god
(or the god of hands), and not the tar brush. made me
feel like a motherless child a long, long way
from my home. feel like history got me
by the throat. sometimes I feel like frantz fanon's ghost
is kickin back with a coke and rum having
a good chuckle at all this, stirring in the tears, his work
done, lounging with the spirits. oh, all
my fellow mixed sisters and brothers let us mount
an offensive for our state. surely something
can be put together from the tracts, manifestoes, autobiographies,
ten point programs, constitutions, and historical
claims. I know more than enough who've expressed
an interest in dying on the wire just for the victory
of being an agreed-upon proper noun
Wayde Compton is the author of two books of poetry, 49th Parallel Psalm (Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize finalist) and Performance Bond. He also edited the anthology Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature. His non-fiction book After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing, and Region was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award, and his first work of fiction, The Outer Harbour, won the City of Vancouver Book Award. Wayde is the director of the Writer's Studio and the Southbank Writer's Program at Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies. He lives in Vancouver.
By: El Jones
From Live from the Afrikan Resistance!, published at Roseway-Fernwood, Black point, 2014
Municipal Poet Laureate of Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2013-15, El Jones is an unqualified star of Spoken Word or Performance poetry, which she wields wittily and dexterously to speak truth to power and to represent marginalized Canadians in their struggles for equality. Jones is also a doctoral candidate in English at Dalhousie University, and, in “Shakespeare,” she unites her scholarly training and her social activism to make us wonder, “What if Billy Shakespeare had been black and had to struggle to survive a depressed and violent neighbourhood?” That Jones asks us to consider this question in flexible and inventive rhyme reminds us, again, that this technique remains a viable--even essential--element of poetry, whether spoken or read silently.
If Shakespeare and Marlowe were like Tupac and Biggie.
This is the story
Of a little nigga named Shakespeare
Born in a town
In the middle of nowhere
No one would have thought
That such beautiful language
Could come out of the ghetto
And a yard filled with garbage
But no one knows who
The Gods choose to favour
And so poets come
In all colours and flavours
The gift of these Gods
Can be strange and capricious
But when Shakespeare spoke
Man, his words were delicious!
He knew the whole dictionary
He had beats in his bonnet
His mind was visionary
And he thought in sonnets
His friends hit the mic
But they was just amateurs
Our boy spit his rhymes
In iambic pentameters
Some couldn’t hear
And some got offended
And some covered their ears
When his words descended
They thought the only poems
Were locked up in the libraries
And written by dead men
In towers of ivory
And some thought his rhymes
Must have happened by accident
Because he wore baggy clothes
And he spoke with an accent
But some opened their hearts
And they listened to Shakespeare
And they heard true words
Like they came from the Creator
He went away to the city
With some pens and some paper
The only other thing in his backpack
Was a spare pair of underwear
Man, the city was huge!
And the scene was dope
There was this ill little club
By the name of The Globe
But the gift of the Gods
Can be strange and suspicious
It don’t always end well
When a brother gets ambitious
And a whole crew of criminals
Would try to steal him silent
They was lying in wait
To get their hands on his talent
There was pimps and drug dealers
And leeches and agents
Waiting to pounce
When he came down off the stage
Cuz he shone like a lamp!
And his talent was huge
Some thought it was only good
If it could be used
The big game in town
Was this brother named Marlowe
With a diamond grill
And a big sun afro
Two poets in town?
People thought it impossible
At least one of those poets
Would end up in hospital
And some thought that poets
Should never grow old
And turn into ashes
What was once made of gold
And the gift of the Gods
Can be strange and malicious
They can punish a poet
Who goes against their wishes
Damn it was tough.
It never was easy.
In a world like that
I don’t know how he succeeded
And who would have thought
That such beautiful language
Could come out of a world
So filled up with anger?
The human heart
Was aching and broke
But you felt it expand
When Shakespeare spoke
He knew the whole world
And he spoke true things
And everyone who listened
Was turned into kings
Well, I think he died broke
People stole his vision
One of my boys told me
He saw him in prison
And the poetry Gods
Can be strange and suspicious
But the ones that they love
Always get their forgiveness
I don’t know if y’all remember
He used to be illin
You should have heard him
I think his first name was William
He was born nowhere special,
When he died he was dead
But the rhymes spun like planets
All night in his head.
El Jones is a poet, educator, and activist. She was Halifax's fifth Poet Laureate from 2013-2015. El is a two-time national poetry slam champion. She hosts Black Power Hour, a radio show on CKDU 88.1 that centres the creative work of prisoners and is dedicated to prison abolition and advocacy for prisoners in her life and writing. She writes Saturday Morning File for the Halifax Examiner, described as &ldqup;scathingly brilliant” news commentary on local Halifax events. Her book, Live from the Afrikan Resistance! was released by Roseway Publishing in 2014. She teaches Sociology/Criminology, English, Women's Studies and Creative Writing in universities around Halifax.
By: Paul Zemokhol
From A River at Night, Quattro books, Toronto, 2009.
The academic or Ivory Tower bias in English-Canadian poetry, has discounted or counted against poems that are simple and poets of simplicity. Egyptian-Canadian poet Paul Zemokhol is startlingly accessible, closer to Alden Nowlan than Al Purdy in his directness and his passion for sincerity of tone and feeling. “It's not” is exemplary of his style: Unaffectedly poignant, it's a pared-down lyric that's about honouring the sharing of memory, which is, after all, the root of identity and the leafing out of genealogy.
It’s not the three living rooms
or the mezzanine room
between the first and second floors,
or the shared garden you crossed
to go to your grandparents' house
to have supper with them,
till your grandfather,
pulling his pocket watch out,
observed, ‘c'est l’heure’,
and you went home to bed.
Or how your grandmother
couldn’t stand to be alone
in that big house after he died
and finally moved
to be closer to her children.
It’s not any of those things.
It’s how you sound
when you tell it.
Like a swan,
your head up,
Paul Zemokhol is the author of the chapbooks Apocrypha and No Hope, No Help, No Tea. This poem is in honour of his mother, the late Simone Marie Zemokhol (nee Ghalioungui), b. 1934 in Cairo, Egypt - d. 2016 in Montreal. Her stories, part genealogy and part history, in(form) the book and the author.
By: Giovanni Riccio
From Strong Bread, published at Quattro Books, Toronto, 2011, pp. 79-80
“Between the Covers” is beautifully witty in its tongue-in-cheek likening of publishing poetry to romancing a hard-to-get or standoffish lover. The extended metaphor becomes a mini allegory, a sassy and sexy send-up of the angst of the poet attempting to seduce--or interest--a reader. The poem is metaphysical, ultimately, in the tradition of Anglo-Canadian poets like F.R. Scott and A.J.M. Smith. But Riccio is Italian-Canadian, bilingual (English and Italian), and so her poetics is also indebted to her Calabrese heritage of balladry and le mot juste proverbs.
I’m not sure I should be writing this,
maybe I should have called instead. Poetry
is an oral art after all. What I want to say is
I’ve been obsessing, wondering if
you really care about us. My poetics
have been searching for a meaningful
relationship for years and I’m still
not convinced about your level of interest.
Sure, on occasion, you gaze deeply
into those inspired opening phrases
I anguish over and, from time to time you hang
on my every word because I wowed you with a long leggy line
or a low-cut stanza revealed
Sometimes my voice feels too one-sided
As if I’m in a dramatic monologue without
much feedback. Despite adjusting my verse,
taking it up to a haiku, letting it down
to epic style, and asking myself
should my theme be blunt or layered,
it’s always the quick read with you.
Do I spend too much time setting
the mood or creating suggestive allusions?
Because I’ve been careful not
to overdo it—there’s nothing worse
than becoming a pathetic fallacy.
Not to beat a dead horse but
there’s also the matter of attention
to basics—lacy cuts that fashion transparent
meaning, internal rhymes so artful
they need a slow read to fully peak.
Finally, there’s the fit form I keep
inside all that free verse.
How about staying
between the covers a little longer?
Giovanna Riccio is a Toronto poet whose work has appeared in newspapers, journals, magazines, and a number of anthologies. She is the author of the chapbook, Vittorio (Lyricalmyrical Press, 2010) and Strong Bread, (Quattro Books, 2011). Her poems have been translated into Romanian, Slovenian and Italian. She is a former co-organizer of The Not So Nice Italian Girls reading Series and is presently a member of the team that hosts the monthly Sheb-e Sh’er poetry night.
By: Cyril Dabydeen
From Hemisphere of Love, Tsar Publications, Toronto, 2003, page 33
The former Poet Laureate of Ottawa and a proponent of Indo-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean cultures, Cyril Dabydeen seems to answer here the question that is often put to Newcomers and/or Canadians "with accents" or Canadians "of colour," namely, "Where are you from?" But Dabydeen's "Declaration" is not a customs-form report of goods purchased abroad. Instead, the Guyana-born poet asserts his simultaneous citizenship in the national imagination of the Canadian wilderness and in the global--yet personal--domain of the imaginative utterance of a dialect.
This declaration of possibilities,
it is the way of metaphors,
weighing reforestation like antlers.
this bush camp's sweat,
hewing out of solid wood
Or being up at five in the morning
and preparing to take
the woodpecker by surprise.
All sound without fury—
I am hardly at rest
by Trapper Lake
Believe it or not--
as I am pigeon-holed
a prairie poet by Revenue Canada.
I am prouder yet of my heritage,
and those who came and listened,
the Lakehead University scholars—
Who have eased the anger
out of me since the beginning,
now find me mellow
Like Suknaski's disdain
with harmonica strumming,
he being less Ukranian.
I succumb for a while—
this style being all
I am left with
Eager as I am to read on;
my dialect's best--
even as I pretend.
His recent books include God's Spider/poetry (PeepalTree Press, UK), My Multi-Ethnic Friends and Other Stories (Guernica Editions, Toronto), and Beyond Sangre Grande: Caribbean Writing Today (TSAR, Toronto). Previous books include: Jogging in Havana (1992), Black Jesus and Other Stories (1996), Berbice Crossing (1997), My Brahmin Days (2000), North of the Equator (2001), Play a Song Somebody: New and Selected Short Stories (2003), Imaginary Origins: New and Selected Poems (2005), and the novels Dark Swirl (1989, rpt. 2007), The Wizard Swami ((1989, rpt. 2007), and Drums of My Flesh (2007)-- Guyana Prize winner, and nominated for the IMPAC/Dublin Prize. Cyril's work has appeared in over 60 literary magazines and anthologies. He's a former Poet Laureate of Ottawa (1984-87). He also worked for many years in social justice issues with federal and municipal governments. He teaches Creative Writing at the University of Ottawa. He was born in Guyana, S. America.
By: Diana Manole
From B & W published at Tracus Arte, Bucharest 2015. In the bilingual (Romanian/English) edition, pp.79-82. Translated from Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Diana Manole
Dr. Diana Manole's poetry explores Canadian civilization by pondering politicized identities--Eastern European immigrant, female, "white," and intellectual--and how these self-perceptions are processed by other Canadians. But there's a special emphasis here too: On the unheard and invisible prejudice that born-and-bred Canadians visit upon some Newcomers sometimes, and that is "accentism," which is one of the last bastions of blunt discrimination. Dr. Manole's poem asks us to note this fact, even as it also reminds us that our Official Languages have served--and may still serve--at times imperialist and/or globalist agendas, while also being tongues of love and of sharing.
1. Mating. Across Cultures
I clumsily deflower the English language
word after word
with my rough accent,
my chronic inability to remember the proper
place for modifiers
and the mysterious distinction between
"a" and "the."
Revengeful, English betrays me
when I ask for cigarettes at the convenience store
and the young sales clerk with hot chocolate-coloured skin
and the face of an angel born into the wrong race
winks at me just because
I pronounce "Hello!" in a funny way and
carry a backpack –
reminding me that ESL classes are more effective
and cultural differences are no biggie anymore.
My computer scolds me, "Check spelling as you type!"
even when only trying to message my landlady
who asked me–no, ordered me–to move out:
"On Wednesday," she said on Monday, "I want you gone!"
I've smeared her house with peasant smells
(who knew pork cabbage rolls could be unpalatable?)
and the chatty noise of my unnerving enthusiasm
(for almost everything all the time, damn it!).
Between the landlady and me –
seven generations of good British subjects proudly claiming
her right to kick me out (no notice)
despite cold weather and tenants’ rights.
But off I go,
a few pots and my IKEA bookshelf on my back
like an overloaded turtle shuffling from hostel to hostel,
with no language to call home.
("There" is where I’d like to be but "their" wherewithal is
always in the way.)
Still typing until the screed to the landlady shifts
into a poem
(the biggest blasphemy of all)
written in a voice borrowed from retired
public library books
bought on Amazon for almost nothing
plus shipping –
the authors, torn between the exile from the bookshelves
and the chance at a second life.
Language gets fraught and my besotted computer screen
shows clear proof of the accidental embrace
between a suspect Eastern European landed immigrant
and a centuries-old enslaving device – English
proudly conquers the globe one more time,
the miracle of a never-ending post-colonial
Thank God for imperial history books and sci-modern medicine
that evaporate white guilt and renew virginity with plastic.
2. Something Borrowed, Something Black
Still typing, then crying
(so loudly that I worry that my neighbours
will call 911
to save me from "domestic abuse")
until I meet you – less, and yet more alien than me,
slightly black but not lightly black enough –
a double act of rape and enslavement.
Our words –
observing, sniffing, courting, fearing each other,
like a young tiger and a young tigress innocently circling
during their first mating season,
until my syllables copulate with yours
breaking the sound barrier between
two languages and two people without much in common –
an unlikely meeting at the crossroads of millennia
and fallen empires.
Our thoughts and accents contaminate English
like a common childhood disease
easy to ignore if not for the small discomfort
still hard to discount.
(but how can a word ignore its own accent?)
Our words twine around each other in a wet embrace,
condemning us to be forever lost
among the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico,
the temple of Diana (mind you, the real one!),
the Theatre of Dionysus,
the Great Wall,
and a few ramshackle huts on the outskirts of the Sahara,
constantly reinventing the past,
stereotyped in the present,
deflowering and revirginizing the English language,
incarcerated in its white-hot core,
the medium and the baptism for a redemption
we’re not ready for –
over and over and over.
As a native Romanian writer, Diana Manole has published nine collections of poems and/or plays and has won fourteen literary awards. Since making Canada her new country, her poetry (translated from Romanian with Adam J. Sorkin or written in English) has appeared in literary magazines in Canada, the US, the UK, and South Africa. Her poems have also been translated into and published in French, German, Polish, Spanish, and Albanian, while her translations of Canadian poetry were printed in major Romanian magazines.
By: Len Gasparini
From Collected Poems, Guernica Editions, 2015.
The greatest cliché about Canadian culture, in both official languages, is that it's all about Nature, all about Wilderness: Even the Sovereign finds her image "backed" by a beaver, an elk, a loon, a polar bear.... Too, The Group of Seven artists and Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, plus Indigenous artists like Norval Morrisseau, accent this popular impression of Canada as being about forests and oceans, mountains and prairies, glaciers and lakes, flora and fauna.... In his poetry, Len Gasparini avoids a cliched approach to our Great Outdoors and Great White North by deploying unusual and/or scientific images and/or verbs. Gasparini is, to my mind, a Canuck "Beat" poet. But, in "Field Trip," he's half-black-leather-biker-jacket and half-white-lab-coat.
Greenly peninsular, with limestone cliffs--
this ancient index of waters merging,
eroded to an island relic—
the glacial fingernail of an escarpment
that raked the wind’s back
from Niagara Falls to Manitoulin Island.
Off Tobermory, silvery scrolls of waves
slap against the channel’s fossil reefs,
and shoals gurgle shipwrecks.
Time is measured by minerals
precise as a chronometer.
The centuries sink into sediments.
Fishes flash among the mussel-encrusted bones of ships
that foundered long ago :
the barque Arabia wrecked near Echo Island, 1884;
the schooner Golden West wrecked at Snake Island, 1884;
the schooner Lady Dufferin wrecked near Cabot Head, 1886…
A crayfish scuttles across a rocky pool.
What blue silences, what green solitudes!
Fish hawks coast the peninsula’s sand dunes and cedar swamps.
The headlands of its eastern shore
stand brooding over Georgian Bay.
Gulls nest on small islands spiked with pines
against the evening sky.
Evening anchors in an island’s cove.
Under this bristly crowfoot, walking fern, lady’s slipper
a dynasty of glaciers advanced and receded,
shaping the Great Lakes.
Beneath cliffs crowned with white cedars,
caves yawn like giant clams carved in limestone.
Beyond Beachy Cove
three shiny young garter snakes weave their way
along a wet grassy bluff.
Flowerpot Island’s outlandish pillars
were once caryatids that balanced the moon
on their heads.
Halfway up the peninsula
filled with yellow birches
and with black spruces,
the landscape hangs in the lake.
This is the granite perimeter
of the Precambrian Shield, encompassing
a wilderness so vast and awesome,
that its smallest rock forms a horizon
whose roots reach down to the planet’s core.
Len Gasparini is the author of sixteen books and chapbooks of poetry, including Collected Poems (2015); five short-story collections; two children's books; and a one-act play. In 1990, he was awarded the F.G. Bressani Literary Prize for poetry. Mr. Gasparini lives in Windsor, Ontario.
By: Ayesha Chatterjee
From The Clarity of Distance, published at Bayeux Arts, 2011.
Ayesha Chatterjee observes, not only the immediate and ironic dislocations of centuries of colonialism followed by “abrupt” independence, but also the withering away of imperial symbols as well as the efforts to replace them with brash or garish, nationalist icons. Being an immigrant from one decolonizing nation to yet another (our own, arguably), she voices the angst of new citizens to be accepted as they are--and where they are, rather than always being asked, in a sense, to prove their Canadian identity. Her poem is political, yes, but the politics is in the imagery, not in bare statement.
The Last Generation
We will be the last generation to speak
in voices foreign to everyone but ourselves.
A nation slyly swaggers its name
and we watch through windows and from the safety of newspapers,
eating the bitter fruit of the truly dispossessed.
Our homes are in the dry dirt of the missionary schools
that taught us guilt in peppermint paper and disinfectant,
that changed history to change us, turning
and turning us until we believed
we were better than our quicklimed, bloodburnt selves.
We dropped like flies in the independent sun,
through shiny-badged cracks back
into the world we fell from, over and over.
But the red stone benches are crumbling now
and the long-bladed ceiling fans stir other tales.
Our homes are in the phantom, rasping streets
mapped in yesterday’s rain and half discarded
even by us. In the sweeping maidans and foaming racetracks,
in the cinema halls with the laced names—Elite,
Globe, Majestic, New Empire—in the double-tongued
clubs and the temple walls, in the tinsel and the bhang,
in each of these we claim our stake. We carry our umbilical cords
with us, coiled in our pockets for comfort.
But at every open door, we will be asked where
we are from. We will be the last.
Born and raised in Kolkata, India, Ayesha Chatterjee has lived in England, the USA and Germany. She now resides in Toronto. Her poetry has appeared in several online and print magazines including nthposition, Autumn Sky Poetry, The Guardian online and Magma Poetry. Her first poetry collection The Clarity of Distance was published in 2011 by Calgary-based Bayeux Arts. She is currently President of the League of Canadian Poets.
By: Jeff Derksen
From The Vestiges, Talon Books, Vancouver, 2013, page 69
Jeff Derksen's poetry, as represented by The Vestiges, recalls the experimentation of Ezra Pound, in using poetry to remind us of the often hidden facts of history, and to call them back to our attention, review, critique, and/or repudiation. I consider it one of the most important books of English-Canadian poetry to emerge this decade.
BUT WHAT OF THE CITY ITSELF
For Neil Smith
In Buenos Aires in 1985, it was no longer possible to buy
anything at night for what it had cost in the morning.
So what, exactly, happened in 1848 in Paris?
Visiting Las Vegas in the mid-1960s was like visiting Rome
in the late 1940s.
By the Middle of the 1990s, large chunks of Toronto sat
expectantly waiting to be developed, reused, and recycled in
the boom that had started in the real estate industry.
Before the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s, New York was
possibly the most egalitarian of any American city.
In June 1956, the city of Poznan witnessed Poland’s first
use of the mass inter-enterprise strike combined with street
I had not planned on coming back to Vienna, but a lot
had happened between the summer of 1933 and the
autumn of 1934.
The Woodwards building was opened on Saturday,
September 14th, for free housing by a small group of
housing activists and squatters from all around Vancouver.
Jeff Derksen is a founding member of Vancouver's writer-run centre, the Kootenay School of Writing, and worked as an editor of Writing magazine. Derksen's poetry and critical writing on art, urbanism and text have been published in Europe and North America. Formerly a research fellow at the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the City University of New York, he currently works in the English Department at Simon Fraser University. He collaborates on visual art and research projects (focusing on urban issues) with the research collective Urban Subjects. Derksen's Down Time won the 1991 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Award at the BC Book Prizes. A selection from Dwell — "Host Nation, Host Society" — was nominated for inclusion in The Gertrude Stein Anthology of Innovative North American Poetry: 1993.
By: Soraya Peerbaye
From Tell: poems for a girlhood, published at Pedlar Press, 2015
Soraya Peerbaye's poem, “Enough,” reminds us that poetry is always public, always “political,” if not necessarily partisan. In this vivid and arresting poem, Peerbaye meditates on both a murder case and the implicit violence of the language necessary to apportion guilt and responsibility. It is an uncomfortable and disturbing lyric, but it achieves its purpose: To help us recognize the subjectivity-infused “objectivity” of the most forensic and clinical language that dissects Injustice and cross-examines the Victim(s) and Accused.
Grace is the girl who cradles her knuckles, the uttered cuss,
the upper cut
grass stains, streaks of green on a boy's jeans, he who
delivered punting kicks to the head
until his best friend jerked him away, pushed him
down against the hill
Grace is the hierarchy of girlhood that lets some girls reign, lets
one of the say, She's had enough
Grace is breath returning, and with it, spasms of pain,
the seine of it, tightening against torso
Glimmer above, stars or rivets, she can't be sure. Rivulets of
moonlight below, in mud
Murmur of cars passing overhead. Grace is knees, hands and
knees, knees and hillside
She said, “Help me. I love you”. One girl wept while her boyfriend
Grace is enough, cruelty casual enough it can be called to an end
Her first collection of poetry, Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names, was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award. Her poems have appeared in Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Women Poets (Mansfield Press, 2004), edited by Priscila Uppal and Rishma Dunlop, as well as the chapbook anthology Translating Horses (Baseline Press, 2015). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Peerbaye lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.
By: Bertrand Nayet
ravens on the grass
gulping down earthworms
from the end of the great hall
echoes of voices
waves on the sand
soothe a child
brought back by the sea
mist over La Salle
from one shore to the other
crickets and tree frogs
at the entrance of the old monastery
ruins of a church
the young mother breastfeeding
her baby in the shade
on the doorstep of the chapel
an old woman is mopping
a bench at sunset
a mom two grandmas
baby on the lap
wind in the poplars
the shadow of an herb on the
willows in the wind
on the banks of La Salle
dry grass trail
I was a horse child
galloping full speed
after all these years
I still am
Translated by Howard Scott
Bertrand Nayet publishes short stories, narratives, poems and tales. He writes plays, creates scenery, acts with Manitoban theatre troupes, draws, paints and illustrates. A founding father and secretary in perpetuity for the Collectif post-néo-rieliste, as well as the founder and director of Kukaï Rouge, Bertrand is the writer in residence at Maison Gabrielle-Roy, in Saint Boniface. His most recent works are Contes de fils et d’eaux, Sur une même écorce, Les lieux de l’amour/L’amour des lieux, and Voix.
By: Sébastien Bérubé
I have agreed to be only a monster
To let you build stories
And associate them with my name
With my face
I have listened to your words
In order to understand them properly
To give them life as honestly as possible
I have become what you wanted to fear
That ignoble creature
It feels good to throw stones at
I have become that beast
So that you can avoid the mirrors
To let you embrace your egos
I have hugged your mutterings
The double-barreled words
And your inquiring looks
To allow you to sleep
So that there is always something worse in my direction
I have agree to be only your shadow
To be the ugliness that makes you pretty
To feebly parade among your lusts
So that your fingers can shine
I have run toward your demons
To make you believe in your gods
I have become the opposite
Of what I had been promised
So that you felt good
Giving me enough for a coffee
Translated by Howard Scott
Multidisciplinary artist Sébastien Bérubé hails from northwestern New Brunswick and graduated from the Edmunston campus of the University of Moncton. In 2012 he released a novel (L’œil de papier) and the following year recorded his album L’encre des saisons. His first collection of poems, Sous la boucane du moulin, was published by Les Éditions Perce-Neige in 2015.
By: I.B. (Bunny) Iskov
a host of Starlings frolic
on a dull grey cloud-scape
with wings unfurled
like black orchids in bloom
in formation fashion
rings and hearts
over the inter-section
entertain a crowd of cars
I.B. (Bunny) Iskov is the Founder of The Ontario Poetry Society. Her work has been published in several literary journals and anthologies. She has three full collections and lots of chapbooks. In 2009, Bunny was the recipient of the inaugural R.A.V.E. Award - Recognizing Arts Vaughan Excellence, in recognition of outstanding contribution to the cultural landscape of the City of Vaughan. The award is for Art Educator / Mentor in the Literary Arts.
By: Glen Sorestad
An early March morning and you arouse
to a shivering thermometer, whimpering to you
that outside your insulated walls the world,
drawn from darkness by the early-rising sun,
is silent and still at -34 Celsius and you are
prepared to resound your oft-repeated
and familiar theme: will this winter never end?
Even though your rational mind recognizes
the sun is so much higher in the sky, warmer now,
so strong that snow begins to melt
long before the temperature climbs above zero,
still, the intense longing for Spring seethes
inside you like unrequited love.
Two days later the mercury soars above zero
and the snow begins its wondrous mystery
of unmaking itself before your eyes, sighing
in on itself like sunken cheeks on the famished.
The hundred variant songs of water in the eaves
is an evocation that vibrates the urgent air,
setting messages astir in dormant aspens.
Glen Sorestad is a well known Saskatoon poet whose work has appeared in over 20 volumes of his poems, in over 60 anthologies and textbooks, in literary publications all over North America and in many other countries. His poetry has been translated into 7 languages to date.
Sorestad is a Member of the Order of Canada.
By: Randy Lundy
This is how it begins,
not with a word, but
with a single breath.
Something our bodies do, not
involuntarily, but without
the intervention of our wills.
Something our bodies do
to save us
from consciousness and death.
Still it is there—death—in that still
moment between inhalation
and exhalation, in the time between
the separate beatings of our separate hearts, in the infinitesimal time
our minds allow our bodies to be.
But, of course, it is our bodies that allow our minds to be,
for a brief time, and always, it is there
death like a bird that preys
upon another bird
By: Pierrette Requier
one late September night i finally decided just to slip from Mom’s womb that’s how i was born because that afternoon Mom had laboured too much to be in labour she’d finished digging tout le grand champ de patates had bagged our supply for winter i was thin-skinned and skinny so skinny i was nicknamed manche à balai and i had this dread of rester stuck we lived in gumbo country and in rainy weather the rutted roads became impassable and before moving to that house on the edge of the village where there were no sidewalks and not even a streetlamp we’d had to live on the farm again for spring and summer and part of fall because after the seventh child we’d outgrown our tiny house on the other side of the tracks and when it rained for three days i saw fear build in Mom’s eyes when she looked out the window when Dad wasn’t coming back home with les commissions Mom just knew he’d stopped at the bar again and she’d busy herself try to hold it all together and she just didn’t know how long he would be and what she’d do if she ran out of formula for the baby or if one of ses p’tits got sick with a high fever and that’s when worry hung in the air like static electricity
By: Marie-Belle Ouellet
There will be very little space despite the cold. I will stand at the source.
There will be footsteps of men. Very few beaches for new beginnings.
Very little in the way of shells and childhood.
There will be that woman. The page lines her with its foam.
There will be a few stars. On our lips, trees that crash down.
There will be a lot of words, your fall will drink from our memories.
And the icy imprint will kiss the empty dawn of our lives.
There will be very few of us. The silence will be a dream-covered house.
There will be few faces and books, too few bodies to love.
There will cliffs and remains.
There will be this nothing. This poem on my tongue that I will begin.
There will be the stone I will bring to my mouth.
In the arms of a rough sea, we will be alone.
Standing, close to the bark and the wind, like ink on snow,
legs tangled in seaweed, we will be born in silence.
Translated by Howard Scott
Marie-Belle Ouellet was born on the Gaspé Peninsula in 1978. At a very young age, she began reading and writing poetry. In 2004, she received the Arcade award for her collection of poems published under the title Nature morte. She was the first artist in residence at the Maison Félix- Leclerc in Vaudreuil in 2011, where she composed some of the poems that were published in her volume of poetry Je promets d’être là . Since 2006, she has published a number of volumes of poetry through Éditions David. Her most recent volume, Le son friable de l’étreinte , was just released.
By: Annick Proteau
The news is the same
Only nature explodes
The deserted park
Not even a bird
Routine grows distant
Stop a little
To hear the trees
Stunned by the town
Far off I see another city
That I don't know
Who is she?
Horizon or the next day
The mills seek abandonment
Blown by the wheat
On a glass wall
The seeds vanish in the heavy air
Long ago, I would have shouted
Now the silence of birds embraces me
I am in my belly
Nestled in a hollow
Sheltered from the rain
I watch the wind
The clouds drift
It's all so peaceful
But where are they going?
In search of time
translated by Howard Scott
Annick Proteau was born on April 24, 1970, in Québec City and grew up in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier. At the age of 18, she moved to Québec City, where she is now raising her two daughters and pursuing a variety of endeavours. She has been employed as a health and social services aide at the CSSS de la Vieille Capitale for the past 11 years. Annick is always driving around the city for her work and when she has a moment, she writes poetry from her window on the world: her car.
By: Michel Létourneau
The sun ventures
an approach along the curve of fruits
the morning inspects where it dips its feet
the blinds let in
the world in small doses
(which have kept their composure)
reverberate deep in the bowls
the sky in its striving
burns the birds one by one
which drag it
like a sheet by the corners
seditions line the walls
memory organizes its mishmash of images
a day like any other
in which we record
the hours drained of any resilience
the street folds us into its basket
we eagerly seek
the miraculous morsels
in the hollows of our palms
small conservation of the species
will we ever finally meet up
blindly in the vastness?
translated by Howard Scott
Michel Létourneau was born in Quebec City in 1959. He has lived in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region for some ten years. He has to date published seven collections of poetry with various publishing houses. He explores themes such as childhood, hardships and the search for meaning.
By: D.S. Stymeist
With the last days of spring, my morning walk
over the Highlevel has become unsettling,
as bird carcasses now litter the roadside—
poor hapless tufts of feather and bone
that have washed into the rain-gutters,
the dark rinds of their flesh resinous,
like the catacombed holy men of Evora.
Then all at once an omen appears,
full of sudden dread, a portentous sign:
four wings beating together as one,
linked in horror like a forced coital act.
This sight was surely not meant for my eyes,
for those talon hooks have sunk deeply
into the soft crop of a shock-eyed pigeon
that flutters, spins, twists, and turns
as it is swept along the city-canyon walls
by the greater pulse of pinion and gear.
The peregrine’s scream comes so piercing
that it turns children at play to stone,
for its lone expressive syllable is honed
sharper than the gull-winged Stuka’s drop
over the war-torn ghettos of Warsaw.
This falcon then wings its way straight up
to the tall concrete of corporate tower
and high-rise urban condominium,
banking away from the abyss of erasure,
a survivor of our toxic alchemy.
The Highlevel bridge in Edmonton crosses the North Saskatchewan river. The vertical drop from the walkway measures 164 feet.
There are currently 8 nesting pairs of peregrines in the city of Edmonton. In 1970 there was only a single nesting pair in the entire province.
D.S. Stymeist currently teaches poetics and aboriginal literature at Carleton University in Ottawa and has published poems in Prairie Fire, Steel Chisel, Ottawater, In/Words, and ByWords. His essays and reviews have appeared in journals such as Studies in English Literature, EIRC, R & R, Cahiers Elisabéthains, RQ, Mosaic, and Genre. He is the editor and founder of the micro-press, Textualis. He grew up in O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation (South Indian Lake, Manitoba) and is presently revising a collection of poetry entitled Dead Reckoning that explores the intersection of language, culture, and history.
By: Dominique Lauzon
Gone is the bitterness rounder the wine of promises
the irony of necessary reassurances slips by
his complaint whispered among the knots of yesterday
fugitive tomorrow hides from all longings
state of distraction in the incoherent succession
of paintings of wars that never stop abstracting
A whole list of imaginaries welded with burning
no need to know
bodies barely begun
at the perfectly inaccessible edge of living
The autonomy of thought barely enough to thwart
the most committed plans to muddle flesh
in the name of evidence already formulated
by the erosion of breath absolutely
Plausible restructuring of time
through brief betrayals
imperfect legacy of repeated hesitation
the bare thought of his strictest frameworks
the most stubborn clichés
The disappointment of choice remains a dead-end to explore
Here is the child of the unbearable error of the heart
transparent his neck eroded by misunderstanding
white his destiny cut off from the rest
between air and shadow
So he had to be born on the threshold and voiceless
but will share new balances
expressions punctuated with accents of survival
translated by Howard Scott
Dominique Lauzon was born in Montreal in 1951. He has actively shared poetry through his work as writer, editor, proofreader and bookseller since the 1970’s. He also participates regularly in public readings. He is a member of the poetry magazine Exit. He is the author of nine anthologies, of which two have been translated to Spanish. Most recently at Écrits des Forges : Un livre une fois, published in 2006 and Lettre du Coeur et autres paysages in 2013.
By: Martin Thibault
I hear you coming from afar the air is full
and I opened them my ears my thoughts
leap like squirrels
chasing each other in the yard
blue-tinged in your eyes already
or greenish brownish shiny black
and on the balcony
I stacked chairs and table I saw
under a flight path
perhaps chance and my desire
will do things well will make you
jump from a plane
hanging like a smile on a face
on a damned beautiful parachute
translated by Howard Scott
Poet and novelist Martin Thibault has given writing workshops and published poetry and short story anthologies, novels and an essay on poetry (with philosopher Pierre Bertrand) with the publishing houses Le Noroît, Liber and Trois-Pistoles. His anthology Les yeux sur moi won the Jovette Bernier prize and was read in its entirety on CBC’s French-language radio network. His play Il poussera des ailes aux perchaudes was performed at La Chapelle Theatre. He is currently Montreal’s poet-in-residence.
By: Vivian Vavassis
If we had known it was going to be our last trip
we would have planned it exactly the same way.
Climbing the Spanish Steps in Rome
there was the macabre curiosity
to see how the universe settled on his cheeks
and lips in the poet’s final exhale.
Some things aren’t meant to be witnessed
by strangers -- even admirers.
When my soul begins to rattle its pineheavy limbs
it is your voice that will tease it out
your thumb and forefinger that will place coins
gently on my swollen eyelids.
Vivian Vavassis is a Montréal ex-pat who currently lives in Ottawa and calls both cities home. Her poems and essays have appeared in several issues of Arc, ottawater, PFYC, Montage, A Crystal Through Which Love Passes: Glosas for P.K. Page, and Studies in Canadian Literature, among others. Once upon a time, she co-founded and ran a little 'zine called incunabula.
By: Nicole Gagné
if they only knew
the insistent call of mouthless voices
do they know
the so-slow ebb
of the waters of dream
and then the soul and its determination
to push back your boundless absence
do they only know
that I'm busy
holding back the last images
before an impatient wind
raises them and lets them fall
into the barbed wire of memory
it's barely the morning of your last shirt
it's barely the dawn of the first day without you
when the pain is consumed
I will return
to those places
where we went together
to gather the right breath
and a little wheat for the hungry
but little by little
I will regain my taste
for tree sap
and at daybreak
on the writing table
the pain will seem more distant
and my eye like a lamp
will add the right touch of heat
will be in season
because I'll have drunk
from another world
Translation by Howard Scott
Nicole Gagné was born in Montreal, where she still resides. Between 2002 and 2006 she received several literary awards, including an honourable mention from the jury of the Prix Piché de Poésie (2002). Her poems have been published by Écrits des Forges in its anthology Poèmes du Lendemain. In 2006 her work appeared in the poetry anthology Sunday Nights Blues et autres brumes published by Éditions du Vermillon. She has also published poems in various magazines, as well as haikus in magazines and anthologies. Ms. Gagné is a member of UNEQ.
By: Lyne Richard
In front of a worn brick house
you choke the darknesses come from childhood
what you seek lies instead in the light
the smell of fresh bread hanging on memory
you came this far to track down the racket
to under the planks of a rotten veranda
close so close
a child with eyes closed
hid his dreams under pajamas
between the lost tooth and a bird feather
close so close
you open your mouth to grind the shadows
that persistence you had
in polishing bleakness like an ancient jewel
images of childhood slip through your fingers
you want to recall your street
narrow corridor clogged with doubts
the end of the street Mom is it the end of the world?
patches of sky sewn to roofs
with strips of sheet metal
the noise of the wind in the sheds
the consent of the morning
to gather pieces of light
the taste of July in the belly of strawberries
clotheslines filled with memories of the body
you can burn the rest
appeal once again
to the simplest beauty in the world
Translation by Howard Scott
Lyne Richard was born in Quebec City and spends most of her time creating literary and visual works. She has published nine books of poetry, two novels, Le bruit des oranges and Ne dites pas à ma mere que je suis vivant, with Québec Amérique, two short-story collections, Il est venu avec des anemones and Hurler sans trop faire de bruit, with QA, as well as a young adult novel, La nuit Woolf, again with QA.
By: Joanne Morency
I expect nothing of colours
I expect nothing
patience under my arm
like an immortal loaf
This calm beast
at the table of futures
demimonde in preparation
even the clouds
their faces over the bay
the tea stays hot
like a lasting full moon
and the time to drink
all the sand yesterday
left in my shoes
there is no beginning or end
my ocean back
It stays there
we don't know which eternity to choose
I walk along spring
no reason for their dizziness
never the same sun
just a sketch of sky
under a pile of dead leaves
lots of space between the sounds
Translation by Howard Scott
Joanne Morency lives in the Gaspé region. Her fifth book, Ce bruit de disparition (Triptyque), was published in February 2014. Her first book, Miettes de moi (Triptyque 2009), won the Fondation d’entreprise L-A Finances award for best first poetry collection in Paris and the Jovette-Bernier–Ville de Rimouski award. A former psychologist, Joanne Morency is also interested in poetry as a vector of discovery and well-being, and she teaches writing workshops to that end.
By: Pierre Chatillon
I live in the heart of a lost country
yet one I've never left
I was born here I'll die here
a country that is no more
but follows me everywhere
I'd like to get out
which I couldn't do
they'd like to drive me out
which they couldn't do
sometimes it's so small
that despite its great river and its lakes
it's no bigger than a teardrop
and sometimes so huge
it goes on forever
I took possession of it at birth
proud discoverer out of my mother's womb
like a caravel
come from far beyond La Rochelle
a country like the one
I built in my childhood
on Lake Saint Pierre
among the cattails and reeds
I put down my roots
in the soil of legends
so that the tree of my life
draws the sap of poetry there
a country of summers where fire my friend
comes down from the zenith to swim with me
a country of autumns where my inner forests
sang flames of all colors
a northern country with frosty eyes
ice storm suns burning on snow
a country where big flakes of snow geese
melted into the pure air of spring
in my country we're so crazy for beauty
that meadow flowers turn into swallows
and fly off on feathers of blue fragrance
so crazy with music
the icicles on the eves
sound like a glass keyboard
under little mallets of cold
so crazy with magic
that we see trees in January
turn into great snowy owls
under their down of frost
so crazy for love
that we stroke the skin of days
and every river is a naked woman
smiling on a bed of light
no one dies in my country
at every family gathering
some of my most distant ancestors
even those from 1663
from St-François du Havre de Grâce
turn up with their instruments
and start dancing
if it happens one day
I lose my lost country
I'll become like the haggard homeless man
who on winter nights
at the end of a blind alley
among trash and garbage cans
makes his only home
a dirty cardboard box
Translation by Howard Scott
Pierre Chatillon is a writer and classical composer. He has published some forty books, including La mort rousse (published in English as Wild Red Love), L’homme aurore, L’enfance est une île and Le château de sable. He has recorded four albums: Air pour Claire, Les oiseaux, Le soleil and La victoire. In 1998, he created the literary park L’arbre de mots in Nicolet, Quebec.