Friday, February 03, 2012

Prairie Fire Vol. 32, No. 4 (January 2012)

Ghazal beginning with lines
by Yannis Ritsos

I know that each one of us travels to be alone,
alone to faith and to death.

When preparing to lower yourself into a well,
first send down a candle. They breathe air like men.

I dream about the war. Almost every night.
Or sometimes that I have misplaced my child.

Learn to walk as if you had a different history.
Toes unpointed. A hand that never knew a knife.

There is a wildness in God’s mercy,
I misread the hymnal. Think of hawks.

I am preoccupied with angels.
Their pulse and fur. Their eyes on me. (Erin Noteboom)
There is something that struck in the three ghazals by poet Erin Noteboom in the most recent issue of Winnipeg’s Prairie Fire: a Canadian magazine of new writing (Vol. 32, No. 4, January 2012). Over the past decade or so, ghazals have gone the way of the sonnet—everyone is doing them again, and most are unremarkable, watering down the brand. Still, exceptions remain, and I’m intrigued by these three by Noteboom, responding to and from lines by poets Yannis Ritsos, Wislawa Szymborska and Anna Akhmatova. I’m not entirely sure what triggered the most recent run of such, after John Thompson’s posthumous Stilt jack (1976) resulted in the previous burst of ghazals throughout Canadian writing; most were mediocre, but glowing examples by Phyllis Webb, D.G. Jones and a few other stand out. Perhaps the Collected Poems in the mid-1990s? From there, we saw worthy ghazals from Douglas Barbour, Andy Weaver, Eric Folsom and others. And now these, Noteboom’s spiritual reflections through the lines and phrasings of other poets. I’m not sure where she’s going with these, but I admit that I am at least interested in seeing where she is going.

I also admit, I miss opening issues of Prairie Fire to essays and reviews, but relieved that over the past few years the reviews posted online remain, and no longer vanish, as they once did, nearly preventing them from having existed at all. If a book review is posted online for only a year or three, will it have mattered at all? The issue, at least, includes The League of Canadian Poets’ annual “Anne Szumigalski Memorial Lecture,” produced for and presented at their Annual General Meeting. With previous issues featuring lectures by such as Margaret Atwood and Anne Carson, the most recent was by Saskatoon poet and publisher Glen Sorestad, his “Pristine and Startled: Ways of Seeing,” a biographical sketch of how he came into and through a life of writing, including talk of friends and mentors Anne Szumigalski and John Newlove, writing that “Reading Newlove is, for me, to receive a lesson in the economy, precision and musicality of our language.”
I must also pay proper homage to the late John Newlove, who was very much a mentor of mine with his amazing poems, especially “Ride Off Any Horizon.” I still love that poem and I keep returning to it and rereading it as a way of replenishing the spirit and restoring the enormous importance and impact of the incredible music that can be found in the simplest and most precise expression of our language. One of the reasons I was initially drawn to Newlove and his poetry was that we were of the same generation and had, in fact, spent our boyhoods in east-central Saskatchewan within thirty or forty miles of one another without ever knowing this until much later in our adult lives. So we clearly had shared many common experiences of young boys growing up in this parkland area of the northern plains. Sonia and I visited Newlove and his wife Susan in Toronto in 1979 or 1980. Newlove was, like Marriott and Ondaatje, welcoming, open and generous with his time, though he knew little about us when we arrived on his doorstep. I was full of questions about poetry and although Newlove was essentially a shy man and a loner, not much inclined to talk about his art, he nevertheless took us in and showed great patience with both my ignorance and my clumsy attempts to probe his art. (Glen Sorestad)
And what else can I say about Saskatoon poet Sylvia Legris, given all I have said before? [See the piece I wrote on her here, for The Capilano Review blog] I’m constantly heartened to see new work by her in any venue, and have seen enough now that I’m clamouring to see where and when her next trade book might appear, since her Griffin Poetry Prize-winning third trade collection, Nerve Squall (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2006). Four poems exist in this new issue. Legris constantly amazes in the language she uses, able to consistently bring language into poetry that is rarely seen, and used magnificently, a string-set of cadence, rhythm and acrobatics.
Fabrica (esophageal hiatus)

Count coaxial cartilage rings up the air channel. The utmost uppermost point is the pulmonary canopy.

A hole in the oscine layer is a study in tracheometrics. Windpipe orchestra. Woodwind bronchial forest. The voicebox? Flocculent. All utterance


Notes are the things with feathers. Call and release. Hum-tones in antigravitational flight. The well-tempered subclavian avian veins its way to the first rib. From neck to diaphragm the phrenic nerve is a Strat string waiting to sing. The stratosphere

utter colour: ruby-gulleted, rose-torsoed, yellow covert sun with white scapulars, dappled. (Sylvia Legris)
I’d wonder the same of Victoria writer Sara Cassidy, with a short story in the new issue as well. Over the years, she’s published enough poetry (including a chapbook through Victoria’s Reference West in 1998) and short fiction (including a chapbook through Greenboathouse in 2006) over the years to produce a trade work of either, alongside her two already-published “youth novels” through Orca. When might the years of journal publications be selected, collected, collated and released? I call you out, Sara Cassidy.

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