Saturday, January 24, 2009

another old poem embedded in thoughts on the rideau lakes

During a stretch of weeks over one summer, I wrote a poem that mixed as a kind of essay on the poetry of Toronto poet Phil Hall, and a kind of interview with him. I had wanted to interview him formally, but he wasn’t comfortable with interviews, instead invited me out to visit, since they were spending a few summer weeks at their cabin near Perth, on the Rideau Lakes, just an hour or so west of town. Knowing his fondness for found playing cards that he formed into decks, I worked a series of fifty-two; knowing the piece he wrote as title-section of his collection An Oak Hunch (2005), "An Oak Hunch: An Essay on Purdy," I worked these poems as my own essay on his work; knowing his fondness for Louis Zukofsky's 80 Flowers, I worked my own version finally as "52 flowers (or, a perth edge) – an essay on Phil Hall –." Even the accidents aren’t really accidents.

four feet by four feet
paddle out

& compact

were you talking abt how
were you talking abt purpose

an array of the fiddle-cut

if language let literature,
or if sleeping dogs lie

in an urn,

separating ash

is the loon laughing
or berating

, winnow

is the deer out for blood
or the hawk

The poem came out of that day-long visit poet Wanda O'Connor and I had with him and his wife Ann, before Wanda moved to Montreal to attend Concordia University’s creative writing program, and the extended piece has been added at the end of a long poem that titles an unpublished manuscript, "glengarry: open field," and selected as well down to twenty or so pieces by Meredith Quartermain to be published as the chapbook Perth Flowers (Nomados, 2006). The invitation allowed Wanda and I to spend an entire day with Phil and Ann, sitting in conversation in his cabin on the lake, with Wanda and Ann even spending some time wandering the lake in their small canoe.

How does such a day percolate into writing? There was the deliberate slowness, engineered by Hall himself, and the hangovers that Wanda and I nursed, attempting to keep such information to ourselves. We brought them a pie, we had corn for dinner. There were the hours that Wanda got far too excited about a 1950s-era magazine with a cover story on Elizabeth Taylor that Hall let her keep, and the barn Hall’s father-in-law had left with collections of collections, including drawers filled with doorknobs, and the detritus of other objects, a collector in the same way Hall himself collects phrases for his poems, worked slowly out through picking collage.

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