Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Happy New Year

On New Year's Eve we saw this owl sunning out of the wind deep in the tangle of a coulee draw. By the way it kept looking down, I'm guessing a cottontail did not see 2020.

I thought about the owl as the day went on and the sun set on the steep slope of my doings. Branches, trippers, knee-deep snow, deer trails vanishing in near impenetrable bush, a pulling of coyote fur stuck to the hawthorn. What to make of this many-textured mess? 

With an hour and a half left in the decade I started tapping out a poem, turning again to the sonnet form, a kind of coulee itself. This is what I wrote:     

Who would end a decade writing a poem
about writing a poem about writing
for years with no real clue about what poems
do when poets aren't looking? They're staying
home I suppose, playing bored. Games ha ha
See what I did there? says the poem before
I can shut it up. There should be some law
against this kind of time wasting. Hardcore
poets don't let poems win, do they? Maybe
try harder, says the poem. Be more patient
and stop with the clunky rhymes! 2020
calls for a visionary approach. Slant
the pen a little more and tell the folks
the owl too doesn't think much of this joke.

It's not great by any means, but the journey was. It felt good to push through to the end.  

Saturday, December 21, 2019

A Reading of Rail

Miranda Pearson
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019

A one-word book title, the word both noun and verb and rich with various meanings, essentially waves a passing language lover down. Such titling of collections of poetry is not uncommon; indeed, it has become a poetic form in itself, a shaping form perhaps already aptly named and in the midst of being explored by academics for all I know. For those deeply steeped in the reading of poetry for the joy of experiencing a universe of thought, a title like Rail surely is the dark matter, a form whose mysteries we yearn to uncover. Looking through The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms to see if the one-word book title is included (it isn’t), I encountered again these words by Mark Strand: “A poem is a place where the conditions of beyondness and withinness are made palpable, where to imagine is to feel what it is like to be.” Rail, abounding with mystery, is this most exquisite place.

Coming to this work, my curiosity was further piqued by Miranda Pearson’s percipient review in Event magazine of my work, which identified philosophical frameworks and lineage. I too like to follow a writer’s thinking around, or try. Pearson’s work in Rail nods to and grows around the likes of ee cummings, John Bunyan, Mother Goose, William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and so on, down a wide-ranging page of Notes, the allusions and quotes elegant and integral to the poems.

A Dickinsonian dash opens Pearson's six-stanza poem “Bowl,” and the shaping of a bowl on a pottery wheel begins, and so begins a feminist contemplation of politics, work, gender, and art, its circular depth and reach rising with each line, until in the fifth stanza the essence of hope is realized:

Clay forgives
but has its own soft memory
and when you handle it, it lives.

But what does it mean to be contained?  Pearson leaves us with this:

It cannot be false.
The finished bowl a nest
for the thing with feathers.
The italicized words are by Emily Dickinson.

Not one thing feels false in Rail. The sensual texture is extraordinary throughout. In the long poem “Alaskan Cruise,” the shaping experience of place and time is considered (“The wake converged like train tracks — dazzling / as death. You’re the vanishing point”) and reshaped considerably by the workings of memory (“Never think of this place as static, / says the guide, through static“).

In “The Hunter,” a familiar sight in many a closet here turns into an arresting image: 

A row of dusty handbags looks abashed and lopsided,
as if they all had strokes.

Three poems later in “Stroke,” the speaker’s “Mum” is without speech, trying to play Scrabble and struggling with words. “Put the letters away in their soft bag” goes the final line of the last three-line stanza of this six-stanza poem, the “soft” hearkening back to the clay, the bowl, the unnamed hope.

Grounded and resonant, Rail is as political as it is personal, as old world as it is new, its subtlety enviable and stirring. In “Marine Drive” Pearson says it best: “A beautiful shape is its own consolation.”

Monday, December 16, 2019

Seasoned Greetings

This holiday season has me rattled.
Short on doe. What can you get for two bucks?
Let’s face it. I’m tired of the battles
with bonehead after bonehead. Feeling stuck

in the dark, out in the cold, a cliché
away from a trophy, I see no point
in bleating, really. Politics betray
certain hungers, opposing standpoints

and everyone thinks they are right. I’m right
fed up with the focus on image too,
the clickbait, stink, hate, artificial light
dilating pupils left and right. Eschew

might be my favourite word. I’m not mean
by myself, after all. Thanks. I feel seen.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Who says you can’t

...have it?

Both jays.

Questions I ask myself:

1. Are those eight words enough?

2. Should a line break occur

3. after Who

4. says?

5. Do both

6. ways work

7. against what is

8. intended?

Question for you:

1. Are you wondering

2. what is with

3. this broken-

4. up approach

5. to posing

6. quest-

7. ions

8. ?

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Culverts reviewed in The Antigonish Review

I'm thrilled to see another thoughtful review of Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road, this time in The Antigonish Review Issue #196Thank you to reviewer Trevor Cook. Thank you to The Antigonish Review for publishing longer reviews like this.

It's a dream review: positive and engaging. Of course I went through it looking for parts I can use to promote the book. I chose this:

For Schmidt is indeed a poet. Readers can expect to encounter many visual and acoustic delights along the way, from internal rhymes to arresting images. 

In this book I take my experiments with humor further than I have before, which is a tricky thing. Those on social media who have been so patient with my pun habit and my ridiculous rhymes will vigorously nod their heads at this:

However, not all her jokes land.

That is the truth!

And here are the final words:

As Coleridge elaborated, the ability to carry the feelings of childhood into the powers of adulthood is what distinguishes poets from mere versifiers. And it is the prime merit and proof of true poetry to represent familiar objects in such a way as to awaken in the minds of others a kindred feeling concerning them, however mundane and rusted they might be. 

Friday, December 06, 2019

A Novel Approach

Bull is what it is, this search for a plot
so contemporary and delicious
that everyone will be hopelessly caught
up in the narrative. My ambitious  

side crept out one night and hasn’t returned
my calls. Afraid of a little conflict?
Seriously though, I’m growing concerned
yes, positively palmate, long-nosed, licked

salt from a wound or a block or a road
swallowed. Scene after scene, nothing happens
and I’m just babbling now. But it snowed
some that night and there was fog on the lens

so that’s a start, right? Bull! No, this is not
the flash the story needs. This is a rut.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Gilded Guild: 50 Years and Counting

It's a windy day. In its honour I've changed the title of this blog.

So. Last weekend I took part in the Saskatchewan Writers' Guild's 2019 Annual Fall Conference & AGM --The Gilded Guild: 50 Years and Counting, a wonderful, full and inspiring conference from beginning to end. I hadn't been to a conference in a number of years, so I went in intending to make up for lost time, but it was like no time had been lost at all. My community was there. I felt at home. It felt good.

The weekend flew like good things do. I attended as much as I could, including three excellent workshops on Friday: "A Treed Workshop" with Ariel Gordon which took place in Wascana Park, "The Novel: Where Poetry Meets Information" with Jeanette Lynes, and "Make Them Wonder: Sparking Curiosity, Surprise, and Awe in Our Readers" with Daniel Scott Tysdal. I learned a lot. All three took place on Friday and my head was buzzing anew by the end. As is the case with conferences, there were concurrent workshops that I wish I could have taken in as well.

After the last workshop we piled onto a school bus, the seats taller, more padded, and squishier than I remember (the seats probably felt the same way about me), and headed to the Bushwakker Brewpub to witness the launch of the limited edition anniversary beer brilliantly named "The Unreliable Narrator," the epically heavy firkin carried in behind a great bagpiper by past president (and incoming president) of the SWG Jack Walton and the sixth Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan and master open mic host Gerry Hill, and tapped with flair and aplomb by Jillian Bell, the outgoing president of the SWG. It was great fun and the food delicious as always.

Also on Friday, I took in "Sifting for Gold,"  a great talk by John Agnew, publisher at Coteau Books. Wayne Arthurson's lecture "Write What You Care About" was really interesting. Curious about his approach to fiction, I ended up buying his new book The Red Chesterfield.

Daniel Scott Tysdal hosted "Turning Paper into Gold: 50th Anniversary Celebration" where long-time members Robert Currie, Jean Freeman, Lyn Goldman, and Glen Sorestad shared poignant memories. This and the trivia competition the next night pulled at my heart. So many Saskatchewan writers have come and gone, their contributions to the writing community living on and evolving.

On Saturday I attended "In the Context of Canada: What Our National Organizations are Doing," an informative session by Rita Bouvier and Bruce Rice. I heard terrific readings by the winners of the 2019 Hicks Long Manuscript Awards. I took in the moving, thought-provoking "What We Would Rather Forget: A Creative Nonfiction Panel" with speakers Dr. Janice Acoose-Miswonigeesikokwe, Alexandra Popoff, and Trevor Herriot.

I was part of "The Nourishment of Nature: A Panel Discussion" with Ariel Gordon and Bruce Rice. It was a thrill to sit with them. Thank you to everyone who attended and took part.

I attended "From Pen to Page: A Poetry Panel Discussion" and heard inspiring stories from Raye Hendrickson, Paula Jane Remlinger, and Chelsea Coupal.

I enjoyed the Spoken Word Feature hosted by Saskatchewan Youth Poet Laureate Alasdair Rees, who I had the pleasure of meeting. Featured were Austin Ahenakew aka The Noble Savage, Daniella Mercedez, and Tai Reign. They all gave stirring performances. 

After that Mark Abley delivered the Caroline Heath Memorial Lecture: "The Warmth of the Sun Swooping." I expected it to be a tremendous lecture and it was.

The always fun open mic and social followed, hosted by the always fun Gerry Hill. The theme: "The Sword in the Stone." Gerry was rattling chains and swinging a light sabre!

On Sunday, prior to the peppy and efficient AGM, I attended the Presidents' Breakfast, where past presidents of the SWG reminisced. Hosted by Jack Walton, we heard from Robert Calder and Judy McCrosky (as a board member back then, I had the pleasure of learning from and serving with both) and Bruce Rice, who is also the current Saskatchewan Poet Laureate. It was great to look back.

I came away from the weekend feeling refreshed and grateful. Thank you to everyone.