Tuesday, March 03, 2009

an old poem embedded in thoughts on the manx pub

There was a lovely small ghazal I read by Matthew Holmes, when he still lived in Ottawa, and hadn’t yet left for Sackville, New Brunswick, via Toronto. His “Ghazal of July Storm,” from the first issue of echolocation (2003) [see my piece on such here], published out of the University of Toronto, and subsequently reprinted as above/ground press broadside #177 (above/ground press, September 2003), is an example of the strength of his shorter poems. The poem is evocative of place, without being of that place. Placed within its own placelessness. Triggered by his, my subsequent ghazal was a quick poem written at the Manx Pub on Elgin Street, where alt-country performer Kathleen Edwards used as a regular hangout when she still lived just up the street, working out of the Starbucks a block or so north; where poet David O’Meara still works, and has for quite some time. The Manx Pub has been a hangout for Ottawa artistic folk for years, from poets Rob Manery and Louis Cabri running the N400 reading series in the early 1990s, the John Newlove Memorial Reading held there by Randall Ware and John Metcalf, who lives but a few blocks away, O’Meara’s past few years of organizing literary events, and various musicians, filmmakers, visual artists and others coming through the establishment as regulars or irregulars.

quick ghazal on the manx pub

she steps a pint across
unbroken line.

the hockey game again,
game six.

named for the island, cat
a clipped tail.

david in his blue blue shirt
becomes the sky.

her kathleen edwards t-shirt
is nearly new.

This is an example of the Canadian ghazal, as worked in CanLit so often since American-born New Brunswick poet John Thompson’s Stilt Jack appeared posthumously in 1976 through House of Anansi Press, influencing a whole range of other poets then and since, including collections by Patrick Lane, Phyllis Webb, Douglas Barbour and D.G. Jones. More recently, it seems, the ghazal has become one of those forms, like the sonnet, that everyone and their dog is working on, with varying degrees of success. I’m not a big fan of the collection Bones In Their Wings, ghazals (Hagios Press, 2003) by Lorna Crozier, for example, picking up the collection simply for her postscript essay, “Dreaming the Ghazal into Being.” Vancouver poet Catherine Owen did some interesting things with the ghazal in her second collection, The Wrecks of Eden (Wolsak & Wynn, 2001) and since, and so has Toronto poet Andy Weaver, as well as Ottawa poet Rob Winger, who recently published a couple of ghazals in the fifth issue of ottawater.

Originally coming into the form through conversations with Andy Weaver, I think I came to the form through the back door, already working years of poems with disparate leaps, disconnecting breaks, and the poem that exists as a whole through the tenuous grip of a sequence of fragments. What is it the (Canadian) ghazal holds? I have always found it, personally, far more interesting than works done through the sonnet. If the ghazal is considered the “anti-sonnet,” through its favouring disconnect over a more obvious narrative thread, then what, as Douglas Barbour (borrowed from Webb) writes, is the “anti-ghazal”? Is it simply favouring further disconnect?

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