Wednesday, July 30, 2003

a note on stone, book one
(unpublished so far as a whole. fragments have appeared in various places, including side/lines: a new canadian poetics (Insomniac Press))

stone, book one is essentially the story-in-verse of a relationship, written elliptical, & underneath the poem; more fluid & musical than narrative. Written in short, lyrical bursts, the piece follows & surrounds a young couple meeting & awkwardly exploring in an unspecific rural place & time, & their resulting collaboration that ends book one with childbirth.

There are traces of autobiography in "stone", elements taken from my own origins in eastern Ontario, & elements of my grandparents era in the same area, but the vagueness that surrounds the piece is deliberate. This is not a historical poem, but a lyrical, emotional one. It doesn't matter when the action happens. It only matters that it does.

That being said, the most important part of the poem is the music, & the evasiveness of the story seeping through.

The beginning of an eventual four volume poem, the second book will explore the young boy born at the end of book one, as he grows through childhood & into adolescence, with the length & breadth of rural background that surrounds. stone moves along the lines of other open-ended long poem forms explored by Canadian poets such as George Bowering (Rocky Mountain Foot), bpNichol (The Martyrology), Fred Wah (Music at the Heart of Thinking) & Barry McKinnon (Pulp Log; I wanted to say something), whether telling a story or simply telling, even to books such as Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, or American poet Ed Dorn's Gunslinger. The poem is written following no true & steady course, but evolving into a process, & a language thick with physical elements of greenery & stone.

As Gunslinger wrote around stories & myths of the eroded American Wild West, so stone writes of the eroding rural landscape, of family farms & days before travel & communication made daily lives less about the land.

The structure of the book also borrows individual titles from various phrases by American poet C.D. Wright, out of interviews with her, various of her published essays on writing, & fragments of poems, to leap each piece off another work. Of the four volumes, each will "borrow" phrases from a different writer, to expand not only the range of the language in what the poems are accomplishing, but my own reading of certain authors that interest me, whos work I'm not yet familiar with.

I've always been partial to bouncing a poem off a phrases taken as title, whether out of newspapers, magazines or television. When something catches my eye, the impetus is to simply write & see where the poem goes. A poem should be written the way we live, & acknowledge such. It's more interesting to me as a writer, to take a small phrase & run with it, as I did in an earlier collection, bagne, or Criteria for Heaven (2000, Broken Jaw Press). In that collection, each title was the last line of a poem by various poets, predominantly Canadian writers but not exclusively, depending on what I was reading at the time. The result was 93 interconnected poems, with few source poets used more than once. Around this, the book cohered in subject matter, dealing with issues around the Millennium & building angst - history, religion, popular culture & media, & the arbitrariness of the triple-zero score that still brought cultural fear of the event. I compared writing that collection to repeatedly parachuting into a field. No matter where you landed, you still went to the same central point, but it was how you got there that became interesting.

rob mclennan

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