Grief Is Like Waiting for Fifty Giant Black Kettles to Boil – Guest Poetry Blog #17 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, Canadian Writer, Catherine Graham – Part One of Two

Canadian writer Catherine Graham

Back to the Quarry

This surface for long-legged spiders
once absolved teen skin.

Plunge into the limestone museum.
Mingle with rusty machinery

sunken by a triggered spring.
Let sunfish nibble toes and raise

the fear of turtle snaps. Pursue
pathways craved by perch, catfish, bass.

Dive in. Turn to water before it freezes.

Catherine Graham from Put Flowers Around Us and Pretend We’re Dead: New and Selected Poems, Buckrider Books, 2023


First a quick introduction to Catherine. She is a multi-faceted writer: novelist, poet and memoirist. She is also a podcaster and writing instructor based in Toronto. And she is one of the judges for the 2023 CBC Poetry Prize. A full list of her writing awards and acknowledgements is included at the end of her blog post. But now back to her epigraph poem!

So much in this poem that introduces Catherine’s introductory guest blog post. And even more when you read her blog post below which gives such a moving context to this quarry. A quarry which, in so many ways, provided a new way for Catherine to imagine a new way forward in her life through poetry after shocking back-to-back losses in her life.

There is so much freshness and surprise in the language and descriptions in Catherine’s poem. And the power of the imperatives: Let, plunge, pursue, dive in, turn to. And the quick contrast between benign toe nibbling and turtle snaps. The yes and no held by this poem, this quarry. And the breathtaking last line that explodes the poem from particular description to a broader existential horizon. Dive in. Turn to water before it freezes.

I first met Catherine at Word on the Street in Toronto many years ago. Then we met again at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in Delray Beach, Florida in 2014. It was time to buy one of her books. And I did, Winterkill from 2010 and discovered a line from her poem The Buried which begins with a startling epigraph quote by the actor Tilda Swinton.

The line from The Buried resonates deeply with me still: I am the sound/of the underneath/stretched out like a sail. Again, as in her last line in her epigraph poem above, the way she can open a poem into a new dimension in a powerfully mysterious way.

And don’t miss reading her second poem in her post, the title poem from her latest collection. It is a dazzle of unexpected language and music!

I am honoured to feature Catherine in #17 of the Recovering Words Guest Poetry Blog Series. The post below, Part One of Two, will be followed by Part Two which will feature the Northern Irish poet Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).


My poetry journey began with grief. I was an undergraduate at McMaster University when I lost both parents. My mother died of breast cancer during my first year and my father died in a late night car accident September of my last year. I was consumed with grief. A worried family friend suggested that I see a therapist. The therapist encouraged me to start journaling. This helped but it wasn’t a cure.
One day while thinking about the water-filled limestone quarry we once lived beside, in a bungalow that had to be sold after their deaths, I began playing with words. I followed the word music in my head and when I stopped, I knew something meaningful had happened. I worked up the courage to share what I’d written with that same family friend. She said, “This is poetry.”

From that moment on, poetry became the core of my life. It took me to Northern Ireland where I lived and studied poetry, eventually publishing my first chapbook, The Watch. Now twenty years later, with deep gratitude to my long-time poetry editor, Paul Vermeersch, I am honoured to have released a new and selected: Put Flowers Around Us and Pretend We’re Dead. This fall I will return to Northern Ireland to read at two venues: the Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy and the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. When I close my eyes, I see that young budding writer sitting at a table in the Linen Hall Library, reading Death of a Naturalist, writing lines of poetry in her three-ring notebook.

Now, here is the title poem poem from my latest collection: Put Flowers Around Us and Pretend We’re Dead: New and Selected Poems:

Put Flowers Around Us and Pretend We’re Dead

The moon arcs—in and out, playing form.
Stars wrap our fate while intruder dreams
signal: come back. They hold our stability with quickened steps.

Stand where grass weaves basket strands, make
the centre heave, the pinched earth speak,
before thoughts erase and we have no names.

Fixed on the busy you miss the owl-winter, the who-cold
crizzling lake. Raindrops inside snowdrops.
When our shoes sprout hello-flowers, cold lips pucker, speak—

What to do but follow this thread? Wind circular words
to chain our necks. A necklace without clasps
means another light’s not listening.

To think story is to construct from that other realm
where jade water cools fire’s friction. Pockets where pleasure finds memory.
Take this nosegay, touch intuition, before we float off the page.

Now go past sentence. Air-sheets shatter—absorbed
by grasses and creatures scurrying there.
Viral green points down, we watch the swarm.

Swan’s neck quickens to question—her wings,
snow-blinding flaps. Nest birds have it—twiggy cup to sink into
after cracking. The rub that brought forth twine and twig weaves the cradle.

Head naked like a freshly hatched bird, moist with dew from the wormfield.
What moves in tawny spurts, jolts. Silence rearranges. It does not mend.
Seed. But know bloom. Unravelling defies gravity. False to think otherwise.

Fools. We have a future to hatch. When roots shoot out—
the sun-calling art of escape: leaf, sepal, petal—the sun
plays hide-and-seek. Silence is a kind of flight.

Scratch light to a rain-flecked level. Twitch strategic to inhabit submission.
Repetition renews. Upland by the railroad tracks—eggs disguised as stones.
Slip past daylight to a time held by skein of old stars—

past evening, past waiting—
Enough! Never enough, until pulled to flight or sleep.
And a dog bounds helplessly wet for a tossed stick he cannot find.

Catherine Graham, ibid

Blog post by Catherine Graham, August, 2023

Catherine Graham is a novelist, poet, podcast host and creative writing instructor based in Toronto. Her debut novel Quarry won an IPPY gold medal for fiction and was a finalist for the Sarton Women’s Book Award for Contemporary Fiction. The Most Cunning Heart and Quarry were both Miramichi Reader Best Books and finalists for the Fred Kerner Book Award. Her memoir, Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric, was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award, Toronto Book Award, and won the Fred Kerner Book Award. The Celery Forest was named a CBC Best Book of the Year and was a finalist for the Fred Cogswell Award for Poetry. She teaches at the University of Toronto, leads the Toronto International Festival of Authors’ Book Club and co-hosts The Hummingbird Podcast—part of the WNED PBS Amplify app, and is a judge for the 2023 CBC Poetry Prize. Put Flowers Around Us and Pretend We’re Dead: New and Selected Poems is her latest book. Visit: @catgrahampoet

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