Sunday, April 19, 2020

Here we are

...going through quite the time. This is one of the neighbours practicing physical distancing.

He's not into chairs or he's really into chairs: I can't tell which. But chairs can be rebuilt, right? Knock on wood.

So here we are. I want to thank Understorey Magazine for the space they've created for stories coming out of this time and for publishing a poem by me. You can read it here

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.