Rosemary Griebel’s Guest Poetry Blog, Part Two – Praise and Lamentation in the Poetry Collection “God of Nothingness” by American Poet Mark Wunderlich

American poet Mark Wunderlich

from A DRIFTLESS SON

It came to me to sell the family farm,
shift its failures to a man who planned

to occupy the place for recreation,
to hunt the deer that spook and shadow in the pines,

my job to consign to another my granddad’s stunted grove
of walnuts planted—against the forester’s advice —

with his hired man Tiny, who died
by stepping in front of a train, though first he roped

his dog Bear to a nearby tree, tacking on a note
that read “Take Care Off Me.” Does anyone

remember this fat fact — a loaf of toast and a dozen eggs
was Tiny’s daily breakfast meal? Give it

to me. I’ll remember that bit too…

Mark Wunderlich from God of Nothingness, Graywolf Press, 2021

Every poem has a story to tell but unlike memoir, poetry doesn’t require fidelity to events, only to ideas and emotions, which often are fed by childhood experiences. The landscape of our youth with all its bitter and its sweet is braided into our psyche and informs the adult years in ways that are inexplicable. As we age forward, we are drawn backward to the place that formed us. Or, as American poet Mark Wunderlich has written in his poem Midsummer from his poetry collection God of Nothingness: My future is the only future, my past a story or a scar, / / a body, a book, a bed to rest my head in.

Mark Wunderlich is the award-winning author of four collections of poetry, the most recent being God of Nothingness. He is currently the director of the Bennington Seminars graduate writing program, and lives in the Hudson River Valley. More information about the author can be found at www.markwunderlich.com. Wunderlich is a Rilke scholar, and we see Rilke’s influence in Wunderlich’s skillful pairing of praise and lamentation throughout this lyrically charged collection.

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Introducing the Guest Poetry Blog Series and its First Contributor, Canadian Poet Rosemary Griebel – Part One of Two

Calgary-based poet Rosemary Griebel. Photo Credit: Monique de St. Croix

After twelve years of the Recovering Words poetry blog I wanted to introduce other voices to this conversation.  To have other poets and readers of poetry share with me and my readers a poet who means much to them and, quite likely, profile a poet I am not familiar with with, adding to my on-going poetry education! And, of course, I hope these poets will be new to you as well and, if not, give you a deeper appreciation of their work.

It is my huge pleasure to introduce the Calgary-based poet Rosemary Griebel as the the first guest blogger in this new series of poetry blog posts. Her blog will feature the American poet Mark Wunderlich. In Rosemary’s last few lines of her blog she leaves us with a gorgeous reminder of what great poems achieve: In fiction we create stories. In poetry we create mysteries, and this resplendent and mysterious collection is a reminder how something rare and precious can be crafted out of a memory, a place, a moment’s perception.

I first met Rosemary at a Patrick Lane poetry retreat in 2008 and we have subsequently met at many poetry events, especially in Calgary. One of my special memories of her was as my tour quide through the new Calgary Central Library, a remarkable public building opened in 2018. Rosemary was one of the senior librarians involved in its concept and design.

Rosemary is no stranger to the Recovering Words poetry blog.  To see these previous poetry blog posts on Rosemary please click on the following years, 2012 and 2017,  in which the blogs appeared. I also have other posts that quote or mention Rosemary. You can find them in the index of authors featured in my blogs. The index can be found on the right at the bottom of my website’s home page.

When I invited Rosemary to  contribute to this new series I asked her to share some of her background and background in poetry. She responded to say she would include it all in a poem! One modelled after a poem by Mark Wunderlich. Of course! And I hope she forgives this liberty! Her poem doesn’t include these lovely lines she shared with me a few days ago about a key inspiration behind her poetry journey:

When I was young — in my very green salad days – I had a book of poetry called The Penguin Book of Women Poets (1978). A book I loved very much. There was a poem in there by an Iranian poet, Forugh Farrokhzad, that had the lovely lines: “In a room measured by solitude / my heart / measured by love / finds ordinary excuses for its happiness…” (from “Born Again”), and indeed that has been my mantra through the years.

Thank you so much Rosemary for you, your love of poetry and your blog post which will be posted along with my introduction to the new series and to Rosemary’s introduction and feature poem of hers.

Rosemary’s Introduction and Poem:

I have been reading Richard Osler’s blog, “Recovering Words” since its inception in 2010. Each posting is a beautiful gift introducing me to new poets or reminding me of favourite poems. I was delighted when Richard invited me to write a guest blog, although it was a challenge to find a poet that Richard hasn’t already written about!
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Living with Yes/No – Prose by Guy Gavriel Kay, Poems by Mahon and Szymborska

A Volt of Turkey Vutures July 15th, 2022 near Duncan, B.C. Overlooking a Dead Deer

She laughed aloud. It was good to feel laughter, to release it. To believe it was permitted. That many things might now, finally, be allowed.

We are vulnerable when we feel that way. But not, in truth, any more than we live curtailed, held back, enraged, afraid. Everything is, indeed, always changing. And not usually to be controlled by us, the children of earth and sky, with fortune’s wheel always nursing a future we cannot know.

Guy Gavriel Kay from All the Seas of the World, p. 302, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 2022

Something about the way the Canadian novelist and poet Guy Gavriel Kay sees the world in his novels reassures me. It’s a world I recognize, a world, as he says in his novel Under Heaven, that can “bring you poison in a jewelled cup, or surprising gifts. Sometimes you didn’t know which of them it was.”

I know for me I hold a fear of what can wrong when things are going well or when they are going badly to imagine the worst.  But to enjoy things when they are going well or to believe they will get better if I am worried, that feels like the healthiest answer. It’s why the epigraph above spoke so loudly to me when I read Guy’s most recent novel.

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The Nourishing Dark Bread of a Poem – Mary Oliver’s Poem, Flare

American poet Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

From Flare

       1.

Welcome to the silly, comforting poem.

It is not the sunrise,
which is a red rinse,
which is flaring all over the eastern sky;

it is not the rain falling out of the purse of God;

it is not the blue helmet of the sky afterward,

or the trees, or the beetle burrowing into the earth;

it is not the mockingbird who, in his own cadence,
will go on sizzling and clapping
from the branches of the catalpa that are thick with blossoms,
that are billowing and shining,
that are shaking in the wind.

Mary Oliver from Flare in THE LEAF AND THE CLOUD, Da Capo Press, 2000

It’s been a long while since I picked up fingers to type a poetry blog post. Just haven’t had it in me to read much poetry or write about it. But when a good friend and poet sent me a blog posted today by a former student of Mary Oliver’s something shifted for me. That post features tough, dark poems that as the writer, Summer Brennan, says, don’t make it into the yoga studios where Mary’s more uplifting, dare I say, comforting poems are so often shared.

I wrote about this side of Mary in this blog post after she died in January 2019. I cited two of the three poems Summer mentions, Rage and Tecumseh. I had not come across her third pick, Kookaburra before.

After reading Summer’s post I thought of Mary’s twelve part poem Flare. Part one begins this post and the full twelve part poem concludes the post. If I had to sum the poem up I would use these lines from Mary’s poem Lead from her New and Selected Poems – Volume Two.

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Doorways Out of Time – A Tribute to David Lloyd Blackwood (Nov. 7th, 1941-July 2nd, 2022) by Way of a Story of an Art Collection and a Friendship

Cover for the Exhibition Catalogue, Doorways Out of Time, 2020. Image: Ephraim Kelloway’s Door, David Blackwood, copper-plate etching, 2012

(All artwork images in this post with permission and Copyright David Blackwood Inc.)

On July 2nd, the nationally and internationally acclaimed Canadian/Newfoundland artist David Blackwood(1941-2022) died at home in Port Hope, Ontario. He was eighty years old. But his artistic voice will continue to speak through his body of work that will likely rank among the most extensive and varied of any Canadian artist of his generation.

David is most likely most recognized for the hundreds of his signature, original copper-plate etchings – their stark, often monochromatic images based on the life and times of outport Newfoundland; most of the images from a time before Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949.

In characteristic shadowed blues and blacks and gray tones often contrasted with a shock of bright white from a seabird, an iceberg or sunlight, David told the story of a people making a life on the harsh shores and unforgiving seas of Newfoundland. It is thanks in large part to these images that so much of the history of those times remains so current in the hearts and minds of those lucky enough to have encountered David’s work.

I am one of those lucky ones. I enjoyed a fifty-seven year relationship with David and his art that began at my high school, Trinity College School, in Port Hope, Ontario in 1965. And wherever I have lived since 1969 I have lived with his art on my walls. A rare privilege. The art remains but not the man. A deep sadness.

When I say I have lived with his art I mean an awful lot of it! I purchased more than seventy pieces over the years but sold some and said goodbye to others through a divorce but when I counted what I had left a few years ago it was still more than forty works of art. It was then in late 2020 I was given the chance to hang the remaining collection all together at one time (my houses were never large enough to display all the pieces at once) at the spectacular multi-story Brentwood College School, Southam Art Gallery in Mill Bay on Vancouver Island. (Huge thanks to Brentwood Head-of-School, Bud Patel for saying a yes to this, Chris Spicer, former Director of Advencement for encouraging me to ask and Edna Widenmaier, Director of Arts for making it happen.)

For that three-week display I published a full-colour catalogue, Doorways Out of Time telling the story of my collection and my friendship with David. (I dedicated the catalogue to David and Anita’s son, David Bonar Blackwood (David Judah) 1971-2005. Young David as he was often called was also an accomplished artist. He died far too soon of cancer at thirty-four.)

As a tribute to my friend and remarkable creative, David Lloyd Blackwood, I have pieced together parts of what I wrote in my 2020 catalogue and included them in this blog post in his honour.
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Micheline Maylor’s “The Bad Wife” – Her Latest Poetry Collection – AKA The Good Poems!!!

Canadian poet Micheline Maylor, long-listed for the 2022 Raymond Souster Poetry Award

 

From OMEN: CALLA LILIES

                                                                     ...The last
             chickadee on earth flies out of your mouth. You are that perfect. So
                   perfect that birds nest in your mouth, and I am a wolf toothed
                           she-beast panting and wild
                                          on the shore, blood-driven and stirred.


I shred you,
         a whirlwind in a wheat field. All the seeds scatter and bloom tiny
                                    calla lilies
                                                in the sky. I am the
                                                                     big bad,the big bad,
                                            huffingpuffingthehousedown.

Micheline Maylor from The Bad Wife, University of Alberta Press, 2021

I love the implied double entendre I hear in: I shred you. I hear also: I shed you! Some of the delicate wordplay that distinguishes this collection from former Calgary poet laureate Micheline Maylor. Also the lovely echo from a fairy tale. Bringing in the largeness of a myth into the end of a marriage. Nice echo in blood-driven and stirred to James Bond’s famous directive, shaken, not stirred, for a martini! Lots of layering in this collection that adds to its richness.

This is an important collection. It creates the awful “isness” of a marriage breakdown (I have had two) with searing honesty and yet, also, compassion, in spite of the title!

Who knows, really, who leaves who, when a marriage breaks. One of them, in the couple, may seem to be the one who breaks it, the bad one, but is it ever that cut and dried? I wonder. Technically, I have been the one left twice but I played my own role and sometimes the one leaving does the one left a huge favour. Frees them for a “better” they did not have the imagination to imagine.

In this new collection by Micheline the speaker leaves nothing to debate. She is the title of the collection, the self-called: The Bad Wife. And in spite of it seeming likely I would side with the “good husband” in this collection I really like “The Bad Wife.” I admire her courage, her wanting something more.

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Eliza Griswold (IF MEN, THEN) and Victoria Redel (Speaking About Men) – A Tough But Vital Conversation Between Two Poems

American journalist and poet Eliza Griswold.Photo Credit: Wikipedia


Prelude to a Massacre

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
into a village,
is not a metaphor
but prelude to a massacre.

Marred by violence
my mind begs forgiveness,
self-conscious at its pattern of reprise.

This old song can’t stop singing itself:

If men,
Then…

The bright clatter of boots
on the slats of a bridge,
the mustachioed laughs,
the rise of the first lime–
washed wall of the village,
and behind the wall, women
pinning laundry to a wire.

Eliza Griswold, from IF MEN, THEN, Farrar, Strause, Giroux, 2020

This chilling poem, Prelude To A Massacre, by Eliza Griswold tells one story of how masculinity at its extreme causes such pain and suffering in the world. Obviously, there are many non-violent and caring men in the world but in many places in this world Eliza’s horrifyingly suggestive line in her poem, also the book’s title, If Men, Then, lives up to its worst interpretations. We are seeing this in real time in Ukraine where stories of rape and civilian killings are being recorded daily.

The other side of this  conversation is shown with such craft in Victoria Redel’s poem I discuss  below. I discovered her poem through a workshop with Pádraig Ó Tuama, the host of Poetry Unbound, a few weeks ago. So grateful for all the poems and poets Padraig brings to us in so many different ways.

Eliza Griswold is a poet and writer with a particlar experience in conflict areas around the world including Afghanistan and Pakistan where she reported on the War on Terror. She also is a contributing editor for the New Yorker and in 2019 won a Pulitzer Prize for her book. Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, It was also a 2018 New York Times Notable Book, a Times Critics’ Pick, and won the Ridenhour Book Prize in 2019.

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They Left a Reed Basket of Wind – This Dislocated World – Two Poems by the American Poet and Novelist Victoria Redel

American novelist and poet, Victoria Redel. Photo Credit: Counterpoint Press

Garden

In the first weeks
we already knew this was history,

that you’d speak of our nakedness,
the flat grasses we wove & slipped over

each other. First there was wild onion,
the sharp tang of shoot & bulb. Later

came frills of green leaf, stalks, tips too.
Then peaches. Standing together in sunlight,

of course, praise & song. We hardly cared
that you would get so much of it wrong,

that you would always speak of an apple or claim
that one of us was so persuaded by the snake.

Darlings, we imagined you. How over & over
You would break each other & wound this garden.

Only then, still licking the dried peach juice
sticky down our fingers, did we know shame.

Victoria Redel (1959) from Paradise, Four Way Books, 2022

As I think about a fall from grace, not the fall in Victoria Redel’s lovely retelling of the Adam and Eve story, but the awful fall from the grace of peace to the catastrophe of war occurring in Ukraine as I write, I am haunted by these lines of Victoria’s which manifest thematically through the collection:

Darlings, we imagined you. How over and over
You would break each other & wound this garden.

Oh, how we keep breaking each other and this planet. Yet where we can still eat peaches and lick their sticky juice from our fingers. The joy of that. And the curse of shame! Maybe we could agree: in most cases, enough of shame already!

I am grateful to Victoria and her latest book Paradise, published earlier this year. In a recent Zoom reading she said her poem Garden came after a dry period for writing and the rest of the poems in Paradise followed. Not surprisingly the poem that she wrote next after Garden is Snake!
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Found and Erasure Poem – from an Interview with Ukrainian Writer Vladislav Kitik and Excerpts from Other Interviews in the Same Article by Ilya Kaminsky in The Paris Review, March 24th, 2022

Odesa Monument to the Duke de Richelieu. Phoito Credit: ANNA GOLUBOVSKY from The Paris Review, March 24th, 2022

AN ERASURE AND
FOUND POEM

A seagull, all fluffed up, sits
at the edge of the pier,
chest against the wind. A sharp
explosion  interrupts
its contemplation, the gray water,
it spreads its wings.

Seagulls don’t know
what war is. But after
sixteen days, the gulls overcome
confusion, learn not
to fly too far
when the sky shakes 
land-mine explosions
or cannon fire, not
to hide when they hear
the howl of sirens.

The seagulls fly
over Odesa’s streets,  usually
crowded and noisy. A rare pedestrian
leaves footprints on the untouched
snow. In silence, the famous
Potemkin Stairs climb the slope,
buried in bags filled with sand.
They hide the monument
to Odesa’s bronze soul—from malice.
of artillery. But seagulls love the sand.

The street bristles
with anti-tank devices.
something hoodlumish, cocky,
in these six-pointed crosses
known as hedgehogs. Such hedgehogs
stood here in 1941, now time
has jumped off the footboard
of the past.

The gull circles over
houses and flies once again
to the sea.

Richard Osler, from the words of Vadislav Kitik from an interview by Ilya Kaminsky, The Paris Review On-Line, March 24th, 2022

On March 24th, 2022. The Paris Review published an on-line article with interviews of writers from Odessa by the Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminsky. In it Ilya once again celebrates his friend, the journalist Yevgeny Golubovsky, who published Osip Mandelstam’s poems after he died in a Russian camp in 1938. Golububovsly who, now famously, emailed Ilya this after Ilya asked what he could do to help when the war started: Putins come and go. We are putting together a literary magazine. Send us poems.

From Ilya’s article in The Paris Review, this introduction to a series of interviews Ilya has had with writers from Odesa during the war:


Now Golubovsky walks around the city seeing its cobbled streets covered in anti-tank devices, hearing explosions overhead. In his emails, he insists on both the importance of cultural memory and the need for new voices. At his suggestion, I begin a series of interviews with the members of Green Lamp, whose words about the first few weeks of this war you can read below. “My wish for you,” Golubovsky writes, “is to never have the experience of going about your day to the rhythm of constant air-raid sirens. The pain is experienced by the city and by Ukraine as a whole. This pain passes constantly through the writer’s breastbone.”
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How To Praise This Mutilated World? – A Post Triggered by Ilya Kaminsky’s Twitter Feed Today – In Response: Two Poems – One from American Poet Maggie Smith and One from Canadian Poet Patrick Lane, from His Posthumous Collection Released Last Week

OscarDomesticated
@OscDomesticated
A note from #Mariupol : “Dima, Mom was killed on 9 March 2022. She died quickly. Then the house burnt down. Dima, I’m sorry I didn’t protect her. I buried Mom near the kindergarten” – and the scheme where exactly. It’s so horrible that tears are freezing in the eyes.

I’ve talked so much about loving the world
without any idea how to do it.

Something about turning the other cheek?
Something, something, feeding the mouth

that bites you? The world I’m trying to love
is all teeth and need, all gray mange

but I can’t resent the wolf for pulling
the lamb down, evven in front of its mother.

I can’t be moved by bleating, a limp throat.
The wolf has her own crying young.

I’ve talked so much about loving the world-
is this how it’s done? I am offering

the only thing I have. I am holding out
my hand, feeding myself to the hungry future.

Maggie Smith from Goldenrod, One Signal Publishers, 2021

How to praise this mutilated world? My version of Adam Zagajewski’s remarkable line from his poem Try and Praise The Mutilated World. My line came to mind as I began to write the title that introduces this blog post after I saw one of the retweets of Ukrainian American poet, Ilya Kaminsky, today. This searing note of a mother’s death on March 9th in Mariupol and the instructions of how

American poet Maggie Smith:Phoito Credit: Studio127 Photography

to find the grave. I accept that the tweet from Oscar Domesticated is true coming as it does from Ilya. It would require a huge imagination to dream this up.

So, I am faced with American poet Maggie Smith’s dilemma: how do I love a world which has a story and an image like this in it? But as so many poets including Ilya tell me: I am called to love this mutilated world.  I ask myself: can I do as Maggie Smith says? I am holding out/ my hand, feeding myself to the hungry future. 

Then I read a poem from the latest poetry collection, The Quiet In Me, by great Canadian poet Patrick Lane (1939-2019), my beloved mentor. This collection has just been published posthumously by Harbour Publishing. The poem, which in a uncanny way feels like a poem written for this moment, reminds me that we praise the world by singing the world, its joys and sorrows. And I  think of Patrick’s poem as singing to that mother killed in Mariupol and to the person who buried her. Thank you Patrick. She is my burden now. And I pray for her and all the others who have died because, as Patrick writes, we cannot turn away.


Small Elegy

The silence of the dead is what we own.
It’s why we sing. The sky is clear today.
Go on, I hear my father say, my mother too,
and although they rest in sunken graves
I hear them still. The sky is clear today,
the harvest weeks away and no forests burn.
The dead sing in the rubble and the fires.
You must listen to their song.
Their burden is our lives.
We pray because we cannot turn away.

Patrick Lane from  The Quiet In Me, selected and edited by Lorna Crozier, Harbour Publishing, 2022

Ilya Kaminsky, Adam Zagajewski, Maggie Smith and Patrick Lane: this is how I love this mutilated world. I sing it. I praise it. I cry for it. I write for it. I share your voices as they sing their cries of sorrow and joy.

And Patrick, I think you were writing this poem after one of many recent fire seasons here in B.C. Your praise: The sky is clear today. And how you repeat it. Something you taught me was should never be random in a poem! It says: pay attention. I pray this evening for clear skies again in Ukraine. By sharing these poems, this blog, I refuse to turn away. As Ilya refuses to turn away.

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