amongst books

amongst books

Friday, July 28, 2006

Pat Lowther Birthday Tribute

RANDOM INTERVIEW by Pat Lowther (Time Capsule, Pole Star, 1996)

1, the fear
the fear is of everything
staying the way it is
and only i changing

the fear is
of everything changing
and i staying the same

the world expanding
branch tunnel cell
more and more
precious and terrible

while i grow only more
fragile and confused

the fear is my own
hands beating
like moths

my eyelids stuttering
light breaking into
meaningless phrases

the fear is of you
patiently elsewhere growing
a blood shape
of all my wishes

2, i am tired

i am tired of pain
i am tired of my own pain
i am tired of
the pain of others

i am tired of lives
unwinding like a roll
of bloody bandage
i shall roll up
the sky, pinch the sun

i go out to the cliff pours
of stars, the tall
volumes of stars

i go down
to the grains of soil
to bacteria
to viruses
to the neat mechanics of molecules

to escape the pain
to escape the pain

3, what i want

what i want is to be blessed
what i want is a cloak of air

the light entering my lungs
my love entering my body
the blessing descending
like the sky
sliding down the spectrum

what i want is to be
aware of the spaces between stars, to breathe
continuously the sources of sky,
a veined sail moving,
my love never setting
foot to the dark
anvil of earth


In 1975 the husband of poet Pat Lowther stopped her pure and original voice from ever singing again. He murdered her. Death is always tragic. Brutal murders are more so, and to the small literary community in Canada, it was a huge shock and caused much grief. Pat was well known, being the first women elected to head the League of Canadian poets who later established an award in her memory. This year's award was won by Sylvia Legris for Nerve Squall.

Last night I decided to attend her birthday celebration at Mother Tongue Books hosted by Toby Brooks (author of the biography Pat Lowther’s Continent). I wasn’t sure what I would find: a group of people still mourning long after her death, sad poems about loss or long speeches on what Pat had contributed to the Canadian literary landscape.

Instead of all the sadness, I found a group of poets, reading from their works in progress and published collections. I asked if Pat had been an Ottawa resident or had any connection to the City, but apparently not. So why a tribute in Ottawa? She touched these poets deeply and they don’t want her to be forgotten. Other readings have taken place in various cities across Canada throughout the years.

Ronnie R. Brown (who it turns out when to the same elementary school and lived in the same Massachusetts town as the host, Toby Brooks) was the first to read, with poems that were funny, erotic and dark, always witty, always stories you want to hear more of. Terry Ann Carter came up next and read from her new book, Transplanted. She also offered gifts of haiku to her fellow readers. For Ronnie:

Basho’s frog
ready to jump—
into my breasts

had everyone laughing, not realising that the necklace Terry Ann wore was made by Ronnie and held a carving of Basho.

Michelle Desbarats read next. I have to admit that I am always looking for the opportunity to hear Michelle read. Not only are her poems beautiful and delightful, but she, herself, is a delight. Toby introduced her with a story about how Michelle had attended first grade in a one room schoolhouse. One wall in the school was covered completely with a stained glass window. On the first day, the nun told her students the school was scheduled to be demolished at the end of the year, including the window. She had the children face the window and told them that their job that year was to love the window. As Toby said, this may explain where Michelle’s light comes from.

Michelle’s poems were wondrous. One about Eve had a beautiful line, which I should have written down…something about the bite of the apple, broken like the snap of the day. It was much better than that. She also read a poem about the Bubble Boy which will be part of a series to be published by rob mclennan.

Next reader was Paul Tyler, an associate editor of Arc. I have never heard any of Paul’s poems before and I was pleasantly surprised by his charming sound play and romantic nature poems. They were intense and sensuous. I managed to snag the only copy (2 of 20) of his chapbook, Vocal Landscape (Red Specs Press, 2004, which includes drawings by Patricia Brown, whose artwork has appeared in Arc. The two decided to create a collaborative collection based on one another’s work.

Seeing The Dance

Wind-lapped, slight
licks of green
weave into
dry fluted reeds
and thick water;
rock, just chip
and silt, slipped
through with root-curls.

Finding us tangled
here in lines
dancing sun-revealed
you must have
looked until
seeing was animal.

You remade yourself
into folds of light
to see motion
quake from granite:
our grass-husk bodies,
slips of water
and slivered lines
wavering in their names.

from Vocal Landscapes.

“I was…trying to work out the role of the narrative in art. I concluded that in my life the landscape has a story to tell me, and that it parallels an inner landscape. I was repeatedly pulled back to the same little muddy group of trees by the lushness and the drama of the place. There was the wonderful smell of wild garlic, damp ground and warm wood.”
Patricia Brown, Baltimore 2003

“Language is a desire to know, but is not in itself knowing. We throw our words up in the air, hoping they fall in a pattern from which we can derive meaning, however uncertain that meaning may be. In our world of declarative walls and verbal barriers, how seldom do we use language for what it best allows: not certainty, but a declaration of unknowing, a desiring stumble toward beauty.”
Paul Tyler, Ottawa, 2004

I found Paul’s poems to be so magical and lyrical, I think he and Michelle should collaborate on something. There was something similar in their writing, the sensuous descriptions of nature, the elements of magic realism.

The reading continued with Toby Brooks reading a poem from Vancouver poet Heidi Grecco. In the open set, J.C. Sulzenko read Pat Lowther’s poem, “Cloud Horses” and Toby read “Regard to Neruda.” There were familiar faces in the open set and some young women I had never seen before. I think they were Carleton students.

The evening ended with watermelon. What more can you ask for? It was a loving tribute offered by a community of caring writers. I felt like I too had stood in front of a stained glass window, at least for an hour or two.

1 comment:

John W. MacDonald said...

thanks for the great review.