Lyric Narrative Spell-Casting – Three Poems of Linda K. Thompson

Canadian poet Linda K. Thompson, a member of the Island Five Poets!

And the Light Already Turning

I worry about Father. Do not know which way his body faces in the grave.
Does he look out to the Ryan or south to Mount Currie?

On the farm, only one birch, far out towards the river,
shone like the edge of a galaxy.

I am tired and I will not write here about love.
Father and his brothers ate honey from the hives in the fall.
Ate till they fell into the shade of the woodshed, dizzy.

Do you remember the sound of Mother’s voice? How she sang herself through
Father’s death? I am looking more like Mother.

Still I see the green of the fields, stretching to the rivers and south to Erickson’s line.
The smell of vines as thick as syrup.

I am no longer there to see the evening sun across those fields. It is here, inside me.
A light of girlhood, of things to come.

Linda K. Thompson from Solstice, a privately printed chapbook, nine copies, 2018

Who is Linda Thompson? Well, first, she should be a lot better known in the poetry world outside of Vancouver Island. This woman is the real thing! She could stand tall on any reading stage, anywhere. And where I have seen her read her audiences come alive. Nothing quiet about their positive responses.Linda’s quirky characters strike a nerve and a funny bone. But not a mean laughter. A knowing laughter.

And what a better way to introduce her than in her own words. No mistaking this voice:

Linda K. Thompson writes from her treehouse in the shadow of the Beaufort Range and she ends to pin her puny, homesick characters against this walloping landscape.  Since 2007 Linda has studied with Patrick Lane and recently with Lorna Crozier.  Her poem Botany for Beginners was shortlisted for the Malahat Review Far Horizons prize and she received Honourable Mention from the Troubadour International Poetry Prize out of London, England for her poem Gloria.  Linda has a chapbook “Four Small People in Sturdy Shoes” and her full-length manuscript “Black Bears in the Carrot Field” is making the round of publishers. A poet friend says of Linda’s writing:  “Her poems manage to combine the twang of the hurtin’ song with something dark and lyrical.”

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The “Isness” of Addiction – Two Poems by G and Marie Howe – Part One of a Series on Addiction and Recovery

Not just a dog! A frightening metaphor for addiction.


Something dark and growling lives inside you.
You started growing it before you were old enough
to know what you were doing.
So it gripped down
and claimed space
like a dog no one thought to love.
It pissed on the walls and made itself at home
and when you thought to give it things
it snapped them up and swallowed them
and those things may as well never have existed.

When people look it knows to hide.
You help it. You shoo it away.
Let it slink behind your ribs where it can’t be seen.
It’s not that you want it there
but its been so long, what would you do without it?
Maybe you’d be the person people think you are
before they get to close
and the thing starts to pace across your ribs
and bark sometimes
when you try to speak.
But when they give you things it takes them anyway
and nips their fingers for good measure
so maybe they won’t come back.

G., Unpublished, with permission

I have the privilege, through working at Recovery centers and Recovery out-patient clinics, of being midwife to the birth of fragile, restive, resilient, stand-out poems written by men and women in recovery. Given safe space and the support of other supportive published poetic voices these poems appear on the page in under fifteen minutes. Some go back to the darkest days of addiction, some celebrate the new light coming through in recovery. Others span any topic you might imagine. But what they all share is what Canadian poet Susan Musgrave says: a poem knows more than I do and is wiser than I am. And that is where the healing can happen. The writer’s own voice as counselor and confidant. The power of naming.

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For Valentines Day – A Love Poem with a Difference and R.I.P. Tony Hoagland – #3 in an On-going Series

Dead too soon at 64, American poet Tony Hoagland. Photo Credit: The New York times


The middle-aged man
who cannot make love to his wife
with the erectile authority of yesteryear
must lower his head and suck her breasts
with the tenderness and acumen of Walt Whitman
And if the woman has lost her breast
to the surgeon and his silver knife,
she must hump the man’s leg in the dark bedroom
like a rodeo bronco rider.

Let them be hard and wet again, respectively.
Let them convince and be convinced.

It is the kind of heroic performance
that no one will ever mention.
It is part of the journey where the staircase gets narrow
and you must turn sideways to pass.

Over the earth the clouds mutate and roll.
The trees catch their breath for another try.
Wind rips through the dried-out grass
                              with a threshing sound.

The man going under the covers.
The woman letting him.
Both of them refusing
to be stopped by shame.

All that talk about love, and This
is what the word was pointing at.

Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) from Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, Graywolf Press, 2010

Valentine’s Day 2019. The excuse to dream unabashedly about love! It’s nearing the end of the day and my love is across the continent loving what she does with Somatics, the hands on art of waking up bodies, their muscles. And hidden behind a wooden carving of a man and a woman made by the Jamaican carver Brother Brown, she left me a Valentine’s card that I found by utter fluke two days ago. Love. This blog post is my Valentine’s message for her. The love made so real in the details of Hoagland’s poem. They are not our details but I hope our love has that grit and realness.

And all day I have seeing on-line all sorts of love poems. One of the best catch lines for one of the poems, from Tupelo Press, was an intelligently erotic love poem! And that made me remember Tony Hoagland’s erotic love poem with a difference. With an aching vulnerability. Yes, the poem still has arch Hoagland phrases that keep the poem fresh and unsentimental but this is as close to a sweet poem as Hoagland ever got!

I think it is the tenderness in the poem that gets me. And the un-Hollywoodness of it! Just lovers with aging imperfect bodies making the best of it. To get over our shame. That’s a big order. And it is delivered in this poem:

All that talk about love, and this
is what the word was pointing at.

So Much to Hear in DEAF REPUBLIC, Ilya Kaminsky’s Startling New Poetry Collection

Ukranian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky reading at Centrum, Port Townsend, July 21st, 2018. Photo credit: Colette Tennant

We Lived Happily during the War

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

Ilya Kaminsky (1977 – ) from DEAF REPUBLIC, Greywolf Press, March 5th, 2019

A poem from a book (DEAF REPUBLIC) that demands our attention. The prelude poem for a book, for a wartime lyric narrative in poems, in two searing acts. A novel in poems. A one-of-a-kind book unlike anything I have read. And this book may be only Ilya Kaminsky’s second book but in the English-speaking poetry world Kaminsky, a Ukranian American, is dramatically better known than one book, and soon two, would suggest. Yes, he has edited numerous anthologies of international poetry but it’s more than that.

Kaminsky has a beguiling presence, a tough sensitivity and openness combined with an encyclopedic knowledge of poetry that makes him stand out as one of the more imposing poets of his generation. And anyone attending one of his readings will attest to the power of that poetic presence. And what he has succeeded in doing with his new book will cement his stature even more, I think. (It is worth noting that the book’s title, DEAF REPUBLIC, has its own echo with Kaminsky. He became deaf at age 4. Since then, thanks to technology he has regained most of his hearing.)

I have chosen to feature Kaminsky’s prelude poem precisely because it stands apart from the rest of the collection, except for the last poem in the book. These book ends provide the lyric meta-narrative for the collection but the specific narrative in time and place is contained in the book’s in-between two parts, two acts. The book-end poems talk to us, living in the now. But they contain the poignant fable-like wartime of another time. Far enough away for us to see, hear it and feel it more clearly, perhaps, than events closer to us.
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The Bigness of Small Poems – #43 in a Series -This Morning, a Yellow Wheelbarrow

Our Old Yellow Wheelbarrow

This Morning, a Yellow Wheelbarrow

I hear

the chords, the deep thrum,
from a yellow wheelbarrow
on its side after snow
in a morning garden.

The light singing there,
yellow on yellow,
blazes, an incandescence
not dependent on anything

or anyone.

Richard Osler, unpublished

I don’t as a general rule post my own poems on my blog. but now and again, but not too often, do I break that rule! As I have done today.

First I couldn’t resist the picture of the wheelbarrow this past Monday after a light snow. The image blazed up at me as Tomas Transtromer says in one of his poems. Then, I sent the image to some friends. One asked when I was going to write a poem to accompany it. And then with W.C. Williams, of course, in mind when it comes to wheelbarrows, off I went to write something.


O’Reilly and Hikmet – Poet’s Grieving for our Earth!

American poet Dion O’Reilly


Jets are the new motor homes
chemtrails are the new clouds
the unknown dead on an island
are the calm before a storm
robots are the new immigrants
Roundup is the new hoe
Colbert is the new Cronkite
smoke is the new sky
drought is the new summer
cars are heart disease
dust is lawn
downtown is the new homeless
Amazon is the new mall
retired is the new nomad
needles are the new rusty nail
plastic is the new lead
viral is the new headline
posting is the new protest
the horizon of the western ocean
is the new ghost of Godzilla
the Cold War is the new Cold War
fire heading down a suburban street
is wind
anxiety is the new air
the Earth’s crust is the weak eggshell
of a songbird.

Dion’O’Reilly from Poets Respond, Rattle On-Line, Oct. 15th, 2017

How the blog-sphere can link us in powerful ways. I was away when American poet Tony Hoagland died in October. It was only through a current response to a three-year old blog post on Hoagland that I learned he had died. That response was from American poet Dion O’Reilly. For my previous blog posts on Hoagland please click here or here or here.

I was not familiar with O’Reilly’s work but now I have read a few of her poems on line. And her poem above, from Rattle’s on-line Poet’s Respond feature, struck home. This parallel-list poem. And she does in this poem what I so appreciate in Tony Hoagland’s poetry. She pulls the veil off the so-called contemporary cultural normal. Opens my eyes, dulled to what I have taken for granted. All the changes happening around me. And not all great!

So many wide-eyed moments in her poem: Robots are the new immigrants, Amazon is the new mall. And this one particularly gets me: Roundup is the new hoe.

And after all the listing of our new normal, the poem’s last lines cracked me open. Pun intended. This gorgeous metaphor for our planet’s fragility. Oh, how fragile we and our planet are. How much these lines tell me this with such tenderness: the Earth’s crust is the weak eggshell/ of a songbird. This is the poet’s job. To cast something we take for granted in a new light. To make us feel it, see it differently. How much more lightly would we tread on this dear earth if we thought of it, our dear earth, as the weak eggshell/ of a songbird.

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R.I.P. Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) – Second in a Series

American poet and professor Tony Hoagland (1953-2018). Teaching at the University of Houston. Photo Credit: Michael Paulson, Houston Chronicle

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Too Soon, Tony, Too Soon – R.I.P. Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) – Poet as Wounded Citizen

American Poet, Teacher and Essayist, Tony Hoagland (1953-2018)

At the Galleria

Just past the bin of pastel baby socks and underwear,
there are some 49-dollar Chinese-made TVs;

one of them singing news about a far-off war,
one comparing the breast size of an actress

from Hollywood to the breast size
of an actress from Bollywood.

And here is my niece Lucinda,
who is nine and a daughter of Texas,

who has developed the flounce of a pedigreed blonde
and declares that her favorite sport is shopping.

Today is the day she embarks upon her journey,
swinging a credit card like a scythe

through the meadows of golden merchandise.
Today is the day she stops looking at faces,

and starts assessing the price of purses;
So let it begin. Let her be dipped in the dazzling bounty

and raised and wrung out again and again.
And let us watch.

As the gods in olden stories
turned mortals into laurel trees and crows
                           to teach them some kind of lesson,

so we were turned into Americans
to learn something about loneliness.

Tony Hoagland from Unicorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, Graywolf Press, 2010

This blog post is the first in what will be a series. A series remembering and honouring the fabulous and inappropriately-so-appropriate American poet Tony Hoagland, who died this past October aged 64. Too damn soon Hoagland. Too damn soon! With love I say damn you for going so soon!

After reading Hoagland’s remarkable essay in the December issue of the Writer’s Chronicle, parts of which, I have copied below, I now think of his poems as remarkable CO2 alarms alerting us to what we can’t see that has become the air we breathe. As he says in his essay: Media surfeit, infinitely addictive consumerism, and lack of proportion are our carbon monoxide—maybe we are the canaries dying of the fumes of Facebook.

His poem above, At the Galleria, is vintage Hoagland – irreverent, funny and then heart-stabbingly poignant and painful. I haven’t even stopped laughing at the image of Lucinda wielding a credit card like a scythe when Hoagland scythes me with: Today is the day she stops looking at faces… Ouch. Ouch. And then the awful clincher that is not limited to Americans, any consumer nation will do: So we were turned into Americans/ to learn something about loneliness.

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Spell bound! Looking Back at the La Romita Poetry Retreat, October 2018

Spoken Word Poets in Terni, October 9th, 2018

In Italy


Road shouldered by enclosing walls with narrow
cobbled tracks for streets, those hill towns with their
stamp-sized squares and a sea pinned by the arrow
of a quivering horizon, with names that never wither
for centuries and shadows that are the dial of time. Light
older than wine and a cloud like a tablecloth
spread for lunch under the leaves. I have come this late
to Italy, but better now, perhaps, than in youth
that is never satisfied, whose joys are treacherous,
while my hair rhymes with those far crests and the bells
of the hilltop towers number my errors,
because we are never where we are, but somewhere else,
even in Italy. This is the bearable truth
of old age; but count your benedictions: those fields
of sunflowers, the torn light on the hills, the haze
of the unheard Adriatic, while the day still hopes
for possibility, cloud shadows racing the slopes.

Derek Walcott from White Egrets, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010

The truth of this poem is never far away in Umbria. For the second Recovering Words La Romita Poetry Retreat eight of us felt it wherever we went. Not the sea held by arrows but large Lake Bolsena anchored down by old towers and houses. The narrow cobbled tracks of Spoletto, San Gemini, Perugi, Assisi, and on and on. And the truth that when our poems arrived, some utterly grounded in the sites and sounds of this place, we also so often brought the somewhere else of our lives. Our stories, our memories. Joys. Grief. Its what we do, we poets.

But what is not captured by Walcott was Tuesday evening in early October, 2018, when the poets and artists from la Romita School of Art made their way to  a performance venue in a restaurant in Terni. Where seven poets or should I say seven “incantatrici” or sorcerers made their way to the mic to read spell poems written en plein air the morning before in an large archeological site nearby.

Poster for Public Reading Terni – Our Spell casters or Sorceresses

Most of the poets had never read out loud to an audience. Certainly not their own new work! And yes the artists were there, another rich part of our retreat, supporting us like crazy but also others we did not know. You wouldn’t have known it. And to make it more interesting they read to musical accompaniment. The performances were confident and arresting. I wish we’d been able to fly home with the musicians and do it again at Planet Earth Poetry in Victoria.

And to cap off a marvelous night, as we were leaving someone noticed the sign on the window of the clothing store across from the venue. MyPoem! Can’t make this stuff up. If that wasn’t a photo op I will never know what is!

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No Mere Visitor to this Earth! R.I.P. Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

American poet Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering
what it is going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1992

When I read this Mary Oliver poem on CBC Radio’s cross-country Morningside program in honour of CBC broadcaster Peter Gzowski after his death in 2002 I was told later that Mary Oliver’s books had sold out across the country that day. And that demand for the poem was so great CBC posted it on their website. Did all her books sell out? Really? Whether or not they did the point was made: this poem had struck home. Like so many of Oliver’s iconic poems – The Journey, The Summer Day, Wild Geese and many more.

When American poet Mary Oliver died today at age eight-three an argument could be made that the U.S. had lost its most popular and best-selling contemporary poet. Again, true or not, point made. Oliver was an extraordinary force in English-speaking poetry. And in the words of former editor of Poetry, Christian Wiman, at the time of an event about fifteen years ago: the most famous poet in America. And she won two of the most prestigious prizes for American poetry,  The Pulitzer (American Primitive, 1983) and the National Book Award (New and Selected Poems, 1992).
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