Songs of Dust – Three Poems – Two by Lorna Crozier, Recent Winner of the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and One by Danusha Lameris

Canadian poet and non-fiction writer Lorna Crozier. Wearing her, now, signature glasses! Photo Credit: Elfrida Schragen

Sand From the Gobi Desert

Sand from the Gobi Desert blows across Saskatchewan,
becomes the irritation in an eye. So say the scientists who
separate the smallest pollen from its wings of grit,
identify the origin and name. You have to wonder where
the dust from these fields ends up: Zimbabwe, Fiji,
on the row of shoes outside a mosque in Istanbul,
on the green rise of a belly in the Jade Museum in Angkor Wat?
And what of our breath, grey hair freed from a comb, the torn threads of shadows?
Just now the salt from a woman’s tears settles finely its invisible kiss
on my upper lip. She’s been crying in Paris on the street that means
Middle of the Day though it’s night there, and she doesn’t want the day to come.
Would it comfort her to know another, halfway round the world, can taste her grief?
Another would send her, if she could, the rare flakes of snow
falling here before the sunrise, snow that barely fleeces the brown back of what’s
too dry to be a field of wheat, and winter’s almost passed. Snow on her lashes.
What of apple blossoms, my father’s ashes, small scraps of sadness
that slip out of reach? Is it comforting to know the wind
never travels empty? A sparrow in the Alhambra’s arabesques
rides the laughter spilling from our kitchen, the smell of garlic
makes the dust delicious where and where it falls.

Lorna Crozier from Blue Hour of the Day – Selected Poems, McClelland & Stewart, 2007

(I started this blogpost a number of days ago and in it I included Lorna Crozier and her poetry in a group of some of whom I consider the finest woman poets of Lorna’s generation. I think Lorna  would naturally be included in this group if she were American. One of those poets, as of today, is the Nobel Prize Laureate Louise Glück. I still include Lorna in that group with Louise!)

Strange how it works. I start by writing a blog on American poet Danusha Laméris and in that process find a recent poem by her called Dust. Then I thought I remembered a poem called Gobi Dust by Lorna Crozier and can’t find it anywhere. Instead I find the one that begins this blog post. And then I remember the prose poem “first cause: dust” in Lorna’s 2009 memoir, small beneath the sky. Then in the midst of doing all that I remember Lorna’s latest book of poems, THE HOUSE the SPIRIT BUILDS.(Please click here to read my blog post on a poem from that book last year) . It had been nominated for The City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and I scramble to hear her read from it on a livestream on Sunday night. Later that evening she was announced as the winner, beating out, among others, her friend and former student Steven Price for his 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize long-listed novel Lampedusa. Whew! Where poems and writers will take you.

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In A World Full of Falling, Full of Grief, also Solace – The Poetry of Danusha Laméris

American poet Danusha Laméris


The woman standing in the Whole Foods aisle
over the pyramid of fruit, neatly arranged
under glossy lights, watched me drop
a handful into a paper bag, said how do you do it?
I always have to check each one.
I looked down at the dark red fruit, each cherry
good in its own, particular way
the way breasts are good or birds or stars.
Doesn’t everything that shines carry its own shadow?
A scar across the surface, a worm buried in the sweet flesh.
Why not reach in, take whatever falls into your hand.

Danusha Laméris (1971 – )from The Moons of August, Autumn House Press, 2014

When it comes to her poetry, it appears 2019 was a great year for Danusha Laméris. First her poem Small Kindnesses was featured in Tracy K. Smith’s podcast The Slowdown and a few weeks later American poet Naomi Shihab Nye featured it again in her poetry column in the New York Times. Not so great was the pandemic, Covid-19, arriving early in 2020 as her second book of poems was set to come out. But, luckily, thanks to livestreaming her book Bonfire Opera was featured on Rattle’s Rattlecast on May 6th, 2020.

The warmth of her presence on that podcast was captivating. But what intrigued me most was something she said about teaching her students about irritant and solace. “Writers seem to have the same irritant all their life. You can look at a poet and ask what is their irritant?…Sharon Olds, there is an irritant in her around close intimate relationships…. My irritant is grief. How do you deal with grief? My solace is beauty which comes through in some of the erotic poems I write. I was talking to Ellen Bass (American poet) and her solace is that things are what they are. Just what is. And I want something pretty apparently.” Tim Green, Rattle podcast host and editor disagreed about her solace. “Your solace,” he said” is being a creature in a body.”

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No, Everything Is Not All Right! Irish Poet Derek Mahon (1941-2020) Dead at Seventy-Eight

Irish poet Derek Mahon R.I.P. (1941-2020)

Heraclitus on Rivers

Nobody steps into the same river twice.
The same river is never the same
Because that is the nature of water.
Similarly your changing metabolism
Means that you are no longer you.
The cells die, and the precise
Configuration of the heavenly bodies
When she told you she loved you
Will not come again in this lifetime.

You will tell me that you have executed
A monument more lasting than bronze;
But even bronze is perishable.
Your best poem, you know the one I mean,
The very language in which the poem
Was written, and the idea of language,
All these things will pass away in time.

Derek Mahon from Selected Poems, Penguin, 2000

Something especially poignant about this poem today, the day after Derek Mahon died in Kinsale, Ireland aged seventy-eight. He has passed away but, not yet, his poems or their language or the idea of language. And somehow then, more than ever it seems to matter to celebrate poems and poets and life and living that, yes, includes dying. And to celebrate Derek and also perhaps his best-known and widely celebrated poem Everything Is Going To Be All Right and these lines:

There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The lines flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart

Derek Mahon from his poem Everything Is Going To Be All Right

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Two New Collections – Two Distinctive American Poetic Voices – harris and Kingsolver

American poet francine j. harris

My hair is falling out.

So give it to the midnight crows and let them bring it to
a little black girl should she set out seeds of a sunflower.
May they wrap it around a chip of bright amber or tuck
it inside the nostril of a rotting field mouse. Hide age.
Teach her meat, she needs to know. Though the pink tendon
is worse as we age. like a gate at which we like to shut our
eyes. Rub the sore scalp. Sleep to Liszt and catch a snail
which they like it’s ok to make a world in which things
eat each other, Make room for believing. Climb down off
the world dying and feed something. Open up the yard.

francine j. harris from here is the sweet hand, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020How to Shear a Sheep

American novelist and poet Barbara Kingsolver. Photo credit: Stephen L. Hopp

How to Shear a Sheep

Walk to the barn
before dawn.
Take off your clothes.
Cast everything
on the ground:
your nylon jacket,
wool socks and all.
Throw away
the cutting tools,
the sheers that bite
like teeth at the skin
when hooves flail
and your elbow
comes up hard
under a panting throat:
no more of that.
Sing to them instead.
Stand naked
in the morning
with your entreaty.
Ask them to come,
lay down their wool
for love.
That should work.
It doesn’t.

Barbara Kingsolver from How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons)Faber, 2020 (UK edition)

A quickish post. I have been sitting for weeks now with the latest poetry collections of the American poet Francine j. harris and American novelist and poet Barbara Kingsolver. Two essential writers. And with such differences. How they write poems, one at the beginning of her career, one long at it. One a white woman from Appalachia, the other a queer black woman who grew up in the tough city streets of Detroit and now teaches at the University of Houston.

Here, two instruction poems. Different , yes. The poem by harris more surreal and with hints of a sexual edginess but it is less “out there” in terms of how she pretzels language, the lyrical mash up of rich syntax and lexicon in many of her other poems in her third collection here is the sweet hand. The Kingsolver poem lass lyrical, more plain spoken. its short lines. Clipped speech.

But something similar. Changing a lens of how to look at the world. Kingsolver changing the power dynamic between human and sheep. Making me look at sheep shearing differently. harris making me think about midnight crows and that yes, “it’s ok to make a world in which things eat each other.”

More to say, of course, about both poets but here two strong poems to chew over. Their differences and similarities.

“Always and Only is a Poem About Love” – The Searing Poems of a Hugely Impactful and Globally Recognized Poet and Novelist – Toshani Doshi

Tishani Doshi, much celebrated “International” poet living in Tamil Nadu, India. Photo Credit: Lit Hub

from Find the Poets

Find the poets, my friend said.
They will not speak of the things you and I speak about.
They will not speak of economic integration
or fiscal consolidation.

They could not tell you anything about the burden of adjustment.

But they could sit you down
and tell you how poems are born in silence
and sometimes, in moments of great noise,
of how they arrive like the rain,
unexpectedly cracking open the sky.

They will talk of love, of course,
as if it were the only thing that mattered,
about chestnut trees and mountain tops,
and how much they miss their dead fathers.

They will talk as they have been talking
for centuries, about holding the throat of life,
till all the sunsets and lies are choked out,
till only the bones of truth remain.

The poets, my friend, are where they have always been—
living in paper houses without countries,
along rivers and in forests that are disappearing.

And while you and I go on with life
remembering and forgetting,

the poets remain: singing, singing.

Tishani Doshi (1975 -) from Girls are Coming our of the Woods, Copper Canyon Press, 2017

Poet, novelist, fulltime dancer for fifteen years with the Chandralekhaa troupe in Madras, India. Welcome to the remarkable continents-spanning world of a growing global voice giving voice especially to the dangerous reality of being a woman in our world: Tishani Doshi. Daughter of a Welsh mother and Gujarati father, she is resident again now in India, after stints in the U.S. and the U.K., living now on a beach in Tamil Nadu.

And what a lovely and absolute liar she is in the poem above: And while you and I go on with life/ remembering and forgetting,//the poets remain: singing, singing.. Ya, right! As if she isn’t one of those darn poets – singing, singing. And what a voice she has. And how recognized, celebrated  and published across continents, already. Her debut collection of poems in 2006 won the UK Forward Prize for a debut collectiona major prize, she has won the All India Poetry Prize and her latest poetry collection Girls are Coming Out of the Woods was short-listed for the Ted Hughes Award. Her latest novel Small days and Nights published in Europe in 2019 (US and Canada in 2020) made the prestigous short list for the RSL Ondaatje Award. And her poems can be found in major journals in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere.

The title of my blog post comes from the last line of her poem The leather of Love (see below).  It reminds me of an equally bold statement by American poet Robert Hass: All the new thinking is about loss./ In this it resembles all the old thinking. Her line grabs me because so much of what Toshani writes about feels like the opposite of love. Loss and hardship. But that’s the thing. The love she has as a poet for this world and her need to sing out its beauty and its injustices. It’s delights and its horrors. For the love of this place. What a high bar Toshani sets for me as a poet.

I have been aware at the edges of my awareness for a few years of Toshani but my dear friend Liz McNally absolutely turned my focus on her and her work when Liz emailed me the morning Toshani’s poem appeared in April in Rattle Journal’s regular on-line feature Poets Respond (hugely competitive) which appears once or twice a week. Liz asked me what I thought of Toshani’s poem. We both agreed it was masterful. (As if that wasn’t enough Toshani had another poem choosen for Poet’s Respond in May of this year, a searing response to a killing in a maternity clinic in Kabul.)

Thanks to the first Poets Respond poem, please see below, I found my one book of her poems, bought another and her two novels including her latest, Small Days and Nights, that came out in the U.S. earlier this year. Yes, I went on a bit of binge!

I think Toshani is poet of great range and I hear echoes of Wislawa Szymborska and also the late great American poets, Thomas Lux and Tony Hoagland. She has their wry take on the world and their keen eye for the extraordinary in the too-often overlooked. And she has a rage for the world’s many injustices, especially against women, modulated down to a slow fire, but still skin-burning hot. But never, I think, turned from poetry into a rant. See this extraordinary rendition by her of the title poem in Girls are Coming Out of the Woods from a Ted-x talk in India with her dancing to her own recital of the poem. Extraordinary. Read More »

With Thanks to Robin Dyke and the Victoria Fesitival of Authors, an Interview with Lorna Crozier on her upcoming book “Through the Garden, A Love Story (with Cats)”, a Memoir of Her Life with Poet and Novelist, Patrick Lane

Canadian poet and non-fiction writer Lorna Crozier. Photo Credit: Elfrida Schragen

A Small Ambition

To be no more than mist
rising above the rushes,
entering the white
limbs of the trees.

For just one hour
to be a calmness
a lifting up
minus bones and muscles,

minus memory
and cognition
and your own insistent
longing to last.

Lorna Crozier from THE HOUSE THE SPIRIT BUILDS, (Poems by Lorna Crozier and Photography by Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy), Douglas & McIntyre, 2019

This “big” little poem of Lorna’s. This equisite cry to be free of a burdened human life!  Oh, how I hear the longing to be free of the “longing to last.” And yet, and yet as the great Japanese poet Issa says, this poem also stirs my longing to be here. To last.  My realization I am not ready to go.  To never kiss my beloved Somae again, to not write another postcard poem, to not walk our new labyrinth outlined with bricks. Oh, no.  And yet, and yet, I hear so clearly what Lorna means in this poem, in a few words she shares about it in her gorgeous interview below with Robin Dyke:

Sometimes it’s very wearying to be human. Especially when you’re embroiled in being sad, it can be comforting to imagine being another less substantial, less fleshy life form, instead of living in your body, worried about your loved one’s future.

And Lorna’s loved one’s future at the time she wrote the poem was hanging in the balance. Her beloved friend and husband Patrick Lane was struggling with an auto immune disorder no one could unravel, could fix. And it was during this time, before Patrick died in March, 2019, that Lorna began her memoir, Through the Garden, a Love Story (with Cats) of their time, their lives together.
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Mourning Must Not Overwhelm Gratitude – The Hard-Won Wisdom of Jane Hirschfield – Two Poems from Her Latest Book: Ledger and a Poem She So Likes by Gerard Manley Hopkins

My Debt

Like all
who believe in the senses,
I was an accountant,

Not registrar,

Permitted to touch
the leaf of a thistle,
the trembling
work of a spider.

To ponder the Hubble’s recordings.

It did not matter
if I believed in
the party of particle or of wave,
as I carried no weapon.

It did not matter if I believed.
I weighed ashes,
cities that glittered like rubies,
on the scales I was given,
in units of fear and amazement.

I wrote the word it, the word is.

I entered the debt that is owed to the real.

spine-covered leaf, soft-bodied spider,
octopus lifting
one curious tentacle back toward the hand of the diver
that in such black ink
I set down your flammable colors.

Jane Hirschfield from Ledger, Alfred A. Knopf, 2020

What a voice Jane Hirschfield speaks. And so good to hear it speak again in her latest poetry collection Ledger which arrived this Spring. Hers, a voice born out of the silence she was steeped in in her twenties in a silent Buddhist monastery. A voice quiet yet with impact of thunder. Of lightning. Here in this poem, as she says in a quote below in a conversation with the American Iranian poet Kaveh Akbar, Hirschfield’s reminder to us, to herself, “that mourning must not overwhelm gratitude.”
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The 2020 Recovering Words’ Virtual La Romita Poetry Retreat!!! Covid- 19 Kiboshed the On-Site Umbrian Version So We Meet Online Instead!

Sunset from La Romita School of Art, Terni, Umbria, Italy, June 2019: Photo Credit: Liz McNally

Nancy writing “en plein air” at Villa Lante, June 2019

A Cento by Nancy Issenman

Say Yes

Sniff the naked page
It is time to praise!
white ash, sassafras

so beautiful on the tongue
waves of language across the skin
(makes) all the world a page

I have to say yes.
I can smell this poem
as one layer devours the next

your calligraphic hand
wraps around our tongues,
like music, portals open

to earth the earth inside you,
furtive thieves of seeds, all goodbyes
wrapped up here, too small to see

river runs narrow and brief

mine is a small threshold of knowing
so tame so predictable so lonely so silent
bowed head, I am

— June 13th, 2020

Welcome, sort of, to the 2020 Recovering Words Virtual La Romita Zoom Poetry Retreat! This cento by poet Nancy Issenman is from lines of poems our seventeen poets have been writing based on “adventures” I have been giving them. Thank you Nancy. She’s become our Cento poet and is writing her own poems as well. What a blessing, this retreat!

Poets writing in Spoleto, Oct. 2018


I was so pleased when I filled my 2020 La Romita ten-day poetry in Italy last year! Eighteen of us writing en plein air in Umbria and Tuscany from June 11th to 21st! Then Covid-19 had other ideas. No more retreat or so I thought. I kept wondering if there was something I could do to keep this group somehow! No ideas until I phoned my friend Sarah in Calgary. She had signed up for this year’s retreat and she told me so was going to keep that holiday time and celebrate each day with some Italian food and clothes she was going to wear in Italy!!! And watch videos of our favorite cities and towns we would have visited like Spoleto, Todi, Assisi and Perugia.

That’s it, I thought. A Zoom retreat. Five sessions of three hours each and a final session celebrating book and paper constructions inspired by Terry Ann Carter who was going to spend a full day during our on-site retreat in Italy for book making and paper constructions featuring lines of our poems written there. Then and there I asked Sarah if she would collaborate with me. Organize the Zoom meetings and receiving and putting all the poems on line as we read them. And sending out daily videos. She said yes! Let me tell you this wouldn’t be happening without her!

Word bowl by poet and paper artist Terry Ann Carter

And so I called Terry Ann. Could she give us examples during the retreat that we could share and celebrate in the last session? Yes! Then I sent out the invite. Eleven of us from this years retreat said yes. And six alumni from previous retreats!

I am so looking forward to our last session and seeing what people have been making as well as the incredible poems that they have been writing from the writing “adventures.” Four done so far. One to go! And I am looking forward to the Italian meals taken from the la Romita cookbook that we will have all made and will eat, with some wine, on Zoom!

To give a flavor: here is a reflection I wrote before the retreat for one of the sessions:

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Coda – The Water Keeps On Keeping On – Three Poets on Water – Lane, Diaz and Owen


It was not the water you tried to find when you were young.
That was the water that lost you.
You climbed trees to look and the water was there.
You walked on the earth and the water was nowhere.
That was the losing water.
This water is the finding water.
It is cloud searching water.
When you are old it comes down.
It stretches out on the earth.
First water is woman water.
The belly of woman has this song.
That water was the first learning song.
This water is the last learning song.
It is the cloud under the earth.
Now you climb down roots to find this water.
Now this tongue is a root.
Open this mouth in the earth
Now sing this water song.
Now you are the last water.

Patrick Lane from Last Water Song, Harbour Publishing, 2007

Lots of watery blog posts these days. I wanted to add a coda to my two part series on the river poems of Natalie Diaz and Catherine Owen. As I read their poems I kept hearing my teacher and mentor Patrick Lane and his poem above, LAST WATER SONG.

I love the structured formalities of Lane’s poem as it contains this slipperiest, hard to contain, idea of water. The anaphoric repetitions of It is not and it, now and all the uses of the, this, and that. And each line an end stopped line. These verb propelled declarations line after line. And how so many of the lines end with water, song and earth. These anchoring, percussive repetitions.
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Rivers and What They Carry – Part Two – River as Wound and Solace – The Continuing Journey Through Grief and Loss in the New Poetry Collection “Riven” by Catherine Owen

Canadian poet Catherine Owen










Come to the window — you call to me

Come to the window — you call to me — I, wanting
 		    to sleep in, to detach awhile from the beauty but, also
		    brood, and you know this so — come to the window,

you say — and it is as if the river is calling to me in its pale blue
		    voice, snow again — thin but continuous — a hunkering
		    down of mist over all those white, incomplete

dwellings, a myth made from weather — come to the window it says and
		    witness — a sun drizzle, this winter cumulus into
		    the deepest part of the river, the wonk, wonk

work of ducks, tetragon booms chained to the tails of tugs, snow in a scrim
		    to the shoreline — not much — what speaks
		    to me these days, gets me out of bed, beckons

come to the window — see — he’s not alive anymore — see, he’s everywhere —
		    some principle of energy the river gathers together, holds.

Catherine Owen from Riven, ECW Press, 2020

Welcome to part two of my series on “river” poems by two acomplished poets on either side of the U.S./Canada border. In part one I featured Natalie Diaz and her poem sequence on her Mojave nation’s great Colorado River – The First Water in the Body. This title resonates so closely to a line in the Canadian poet Patrick Lane’s great poem Last Water Song: First water is woman water. Seems appropriate for two blog posts featuring two gifted women poets.

Part two of this series is a celebration of Canadian poet Catherine Owen’s full length collection Riven deliberately meant to  echo river and also its meaning: to split apart or to cause a rift. Catherine’s river is the great western river, the Fraser that empties into the pacific ocean through the Salish Sea in Vancouver. The rift in Catherine’s life, the death of her spouse, Chris, in 2010 from a drug addiction.

The gift of this new book: to witness a woman’s refusal to succumb to grief, her commitment to heal through writing poems that map how she honours the pact of living on.

It is the Fraser, suffering its own environmental damages from logging and urban expansions, that became her comfort, her confessor as she shared her damaged heart with it day after day in early morning in the aftermath of Chris’s death. This is not a first book dedicated to the death of Chris. I featured what I could call her first “mourning” collection, Designated Mourner, published in 2014, in this blog post. Designated Mourner is one of the most riveting and compelling Canadian poetry collections I have encountered in the past ten years. And what a complement Riven is to it.

Where rage and anger boils up into the pages of Designated Mourner, rage and anger over how addiction captures and transforms an addict, there is a much more elegiac and softer tone in the grieving in Riven. And a huge difference is that the beauty and the damage of the Fraser become part of the healing for Catherine in Riven.
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