Monday, October 05, 2009

is a door, Fred Wah

Ordinary Itching Poem in Trans

Just like white gauze
Forget the world

White-headed crows

Only dew,
Therefore grass

Moon meticulous,
The sound of ten thousand branches,
Therefore rivers, pines

The radical
In heaven’s refrigerator

Late spring, early autumn
Diving or pissing so late at night
A watchman
And bowl of wine
Silence clear as music

Ratio to remember
Axe to handle
Too far off
Since his last batch of trade poetry titles were released (until 2008, there hadn’t been a trade volume of new poetry since 1992), there seems quite a pool of poetry by Vancouver poet Fred Wah that he’s been ever slowly releasing, still wondering how much more hasn’t yet been compiled, collected; such as, where is that next volume of his ongoing “music at the heart of thinking” that keeps appearing in journals there and here, that now includes his “artknots”? It’s as though he was sprinkling them, quietly, through the earlier parts of the decade. And when we heard of that long awaited next poetry collection, instead came Sentenced to Light (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2008), collecting a series of his collaborations. When we heard there was another on its heels, came is a door (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2009), another volume without these pieces, but including some writing nearly a decade old. Just how much has been percolating through his Vancouver retirement? Is the ongoing hush a clue? Is he trying, somehow, to distract us?

Sunday still

world daily sculpt
to coast, song tow periphery
each departmental thought
a coherence of flow files
called “home” check agenda
cut grass, motor’s
trying to teach me something
if I could find a shadow
record the floor tiles – ape
the moment, how much
does that Honda Wave cost?
Then take it back.
It’s not as though Wah has been quiet through these years, with his name returning to print through a couple of reissues, including a fourth printing (with new cover) of his Governor General’s Award-winning Waiting for Saskatchewan (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1985; 2004), a tenth anniversary edition of his Diamond Grill (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 1996; 2006) and a collection of essays, Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2000). Otherwise, there weren’t any new trade collections of poetry for quite some time, going back to other titles such as Alley Alley Home Free (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1992), So Far (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 1991) and Limestone Lakes Utaniki (Red Deer: Red Deer College P, 1989) to Music at the Heart of Thinking (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1987). In many ways, Sentenced to Light is perhaps Wah’s weakest volume, but he returns to his strengths in this new work, is a door, moving through short halting bursts and lingual twists. This new collection wraps four sections around travel, writing out of the/his iLinkmmediate—“Isadora Blue” (previously produced as a chapbook, and, as the back cover states, “grounded in the author’s encounter with the smashed and broken doors along the hurricane-devastated waterfront of Telchac Puerto, a small village on the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula”), “Ethnogy Journal” (“written during a trip to Thailand and Laos in 1999”), “Discount Me In” and “Hinges.”

Friday Jan 15

as well. happy. at
the sunshine, and coasted
into the whole leaf
waving, pea-pod green
perfect shells my large
emotional agenda a giveaway
dark so soon, friction
not just sand
seek the one seat
next wave
to sit on. so
As the collection claims, we have to ask in response, what does it mean to subvert closure? For some, it was as “simple” as Daphne Marlatt writing poems in the 1960s that left out the right parenthesis, refusing closure and remaining open, which, as a technique, some still find upsetting. In four sections, Wah plays with many of his usual tools of sound and breath, subverting meaning and what it means, even, to witness (a variant on the tourist), while keeping clear of easy description and otherwise “travel writing” traps. Still, parts of this collection read like the “utaniki,” the poetic journal, a form Wah returns to with vigor, again and again, and some of his strongest work over the years relates, somehow, to moving through travel, whether the “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail (a poetic diary)” in Waiting for Saskatchewan, his “Dead in My Tracks: Wildcat Creek Utaniki” from So Far, or even the further returns of Diamond Grill. If we want Wah to keep writing, do we need to keep sending him away? Who knows, perhaps now that he’s been his years out of Calgary he can start writing poems on his newly-discovered “away,” adding Calgary to a mix of otherwise Vancouver, the Kootenays, his corner of Saskatchewan?

Frank Slide Harebell

campana hanging
blue bell stylus

and elevated
(earth moving)

could be that fingered keel
tuft of another tip

foreshadowed night
moan behind the knee
(knots) seeds

and long
but lips

say ula
bladed tonguefish
(memory coming home

ankles sheathed
tight yet wet
could be slender
harmony of water
threaded clapper

memory coming home
to creek bell.
In this new collection, Wah moves out of his previous poetry and beyond, almost as a kind of merging between the allusiveness of his “music at the heart of thinking” series and the storytelling/talking of his “hybrid” work; have the illusions, allusions and collusions of his seemingly separate poetic threads finally come together into something further, more? A poetry collection constructed in four sections is something he’s experimented with previously, as in Waiting for Saskatchewan, much the way Stephen Cain constructs his projects out of structures of ten. After so many books behind him, too, this new work seems a journey of returns, rewriting poems on Frank Slide, Loki and race. What is it about referring to one’s own past writings? George Bowering has been doing the same in his more recent poetry as well; what do these links to their past works provide, a linkage or a revising, considering the same with new eyes?

Winter: 65th Year

the roads feel longer after 54
the age my father danced to
as he fell to the ballroom floor
dreaming of islands
mountains and oceans crossed

a final new bed for the back
a little pain behind our conversation

another winter full of night

its dark brightened by the snow
foot falls awkward, a hesitation

older but knowing no better
still in love, wanting
that good song to be sung
inging it ahead into the dark
beyond the high beam

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