Friday, December 12, 2008

Katia Grubisic, What if red ran out

Baffled King Collage

What if the things we fear are
Leonard Cohen covers, or
coats made of chagrin,
well worn and inintentionally
the right size; what if
a peculiar scarcity
of bell tollers left
coppery gothic whistles stunning
the city; what if
red ran out; what if it ends up
you and me and another
hallelujah, not much godly
about it; and those slit cardboard eclipse thingies
are no good
and we are condemned
to suffer a dreadful fate,
ambling around half blind
in this coat we hadn’t anticipated.
Unwilling to toss it
casually as if we did this
all the time, over the lone, lonely tree,
in case its branches refuse
to bend as much as we want.

When I read in Montreal recently with Montreal poet Katia Grubisic, I was struck by the endings I was hearing to her poems, and immediately picked up a copy of her first collection, What if red ran out (Fredericton NB: Goose Lane Editions, 2008). I’m intrigued by the thoughtful flow of Grubisic’s poems. I don’t usually care for such straight lines, full sentences and the like, and many of the poems make me wonder why she works in the poem instead of writing a kind of lyric fiction; what could she do with such fiction? In this first collection, she keeps repeating the image of red, as in the poem “The Audubon Guide to Self-Pity,” starting with the line “When I lost the taste / for robins, I began taking pictures / of red.” or the poem “Life Jacket,” writing:

your eyes seared and blue drinking in the sky while in mine
the sun never sets these days. I am nowhere
on this river, wish you were here, and not stranded
at the mailbox. I can’t tell if the red flag is up
but animals are going nuts all around you in your night garden –

Another reference is in the poem “Strawberry Jam,” another poem with an ending that ends the poem before the poem itself, letting the edges flow over, writing:

The lamp and my mother, at the end of the way,
silhouetted, two crazy women suddenly unsure

whether they’d been asked over. Yesterday morning I tilted
the end of one jam jar into the beginning of another, trying to tell

when empty is empty, though the deep red stickiness lines
each raised glass letter, as if the jar had been blown in the same

flames that make our summer kitchens untenable, in what stays
through we decide we are done pouring.

Just what is it about red? (And does anyone remember when Vancouver poet Earle Birney asked what was so big about green?) There is so much of it here, it could never run out. There are long stretches of lines I sometimes find myself tripping over, but Grubisic remains a poet who often manages endings far better than most, taking the road less traveled, and writing against expectation and even into surprise, writing a clear understanding into the way she wraps up each of her small poems. More often than not, her poems are made from enviable ends. Still, when she writes at the beginning of the same “Strawberry Jam” poem that “It trickles slowly, like a scowl […]” why can’t she instead write without the “like,” writing it directly “a scowl”? Why be like the thing instead of the thing itself? Why does she include such distance?


The trouble with deciding to kiss someone,
anyone, anywhere at all – the hand, or at the foot

of a canyon – is that the moment you lean
over, mean to displace the air

between mouth and mouth and hover
at the bottom of that canyon, so far

below sea level there is no question
that perception is screwed up

and we might as well be speaking
German for all the good the kiss is doing,

that instant as you linger for some display
of intention and get an inkling

it’s the pressure that holds it
together, the moment you give

in and the jig is up and the cat
is out happens precisely

when the beloved aspires
to be wholly other, spots the twin boomerangs

of swifts mating on the wing,
is when the river decides

to peruse the craggy landscape, embark
on its mid-afternoon drench, slaloming against the walls

even burros can’t scale and slams beneath
the nearly kissing, sweeping

them off their feet, to somewhere or

Katia Grubisic’s What if red ran out is a collection of poems writing birds, strawberry jam, travel and domestic affairs (as well as various other subject matter), writing poems that linger on small episodes and moments that are so often overlooked, holding to what is usually never seen, let alone considered. I am intrigued by what her small poems are doing.

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