Heidi Garnett’s Blood Orange – An Important Poetry Collection from 2016


Canadian Poet Heidi Garnett

Upstairs in the Study

A wound is a place where light enters you.
So many words, books on shelves, paper shoulders
holding dust’s weight. But what is this pain
I should search for again?
Where is the joy in it? On the window sill
an angel with wire wings plays Shostakovich’s Concerto # 1
in a minor and I begin to weep,
not because the music is beautiful, which it is,
but because for a moment I am perfectly content to do nothing,
but listen. It’s been so long. Snow begins to fall
and the corner between my desk and cedar chest
draws back into shadow. Outside
mountain siskin with their notched tails
tap at the birdbath’s frozen water, its split lip.

Heidi Garnett from Blood Orange, Frontenac House, 2016

It seems never ending: the flood of new poetry books year after year. But sometimes it is such a delightful surprise to go back  and rediscover notable books that are at risk of being forgotten. Left behind in the rush to find the next great book.  Such a book for me is the 2016 collection Blood Orange by Canadian poet Heidi Garnett.  The emotional and narrative range of the book is impressive. But I want to limit my focus to only two poems in the collection.

I come back to the epigraph poem of this blog post again and again. It is such a good example of her poetic mastery. The quick mind of her poems. And the imagery that supports her thinking. And what a poem of the moment. Of presence. And what a bold first line.

How different this poem would be if Heidi had not taken the risk of using that big abstract thought in her first line. The sheer surprise of that declaration: A wound is a place where light enters you. But how it informs what follows. How it adds an emotional complexity to the poem. How it adds such meaning and force to this line: because for a moment I am perfectly content to do nothing, but listen. It’s been so long. I imagine a woman for a moment at peace free of painful recollections.

The structure of the poem works so well. A bold abstract thought, declaration. A description. Then two abstract questions. Followed by a surreal description of a wire angel playing Shostakovich. The surprise of that. Then the description of the narrator weeping. How it ties back to the first lines.  The mention of a wound, of pain. But how it also suggests tears of relief. Of respite for a moment. That light.

Much subtlety in the poem and its structure. The poem seems to end peacefully with the quiet images of snow falling, the room with its chest falling into shadow, the siskins and the birdbath but there is a dissonance also with her choice of three words: shadow, notch and split lip.  The images become more complex, less peaceful. Still, these wounds in the world. And light leaving, not entering.

The second poem of Heidi’s I want to feature has a delightful personal connection for me. I sent the picture below to Heidi four years ago. It became the inspiration for her poem. Yes, an inspiration but you will see how the poem developed its own integrity and surprising leaps right out of the picture!

Hollyhocks near Pozos, Salamanca, Castile-Leon, Spain

Hollyhocks near Pozos

Red the blossoms and green the stems, widow weed
tied with twiner to what is left of a fence, the fence
fallen in upon itself like the garden that once grew leeks,
limp white limbs now laid side-by-side on a clay platter,
course three of seven. Each evening
when the sun begins to break itself on nearby mountain ridges
we return to our hotel overlooking the Valee de Silencio
where a waiter, impeccable in starched linen,
serves one dish after another, offertory gifts
we dare not refuse. Much is broken here.
In the grey houses below a forgotten war, La Guerra,
is still waged by the poor who leave bouquets beside a well
where protestors were thrown by Franco’s troops
and in the cold anterooms of Madrid’s marble mansions
they wait to be heard while Hemmingway, a bearded ghost,
scribbles notes on his dirty shirt sleeves
and once again passes through their midst. That sun,
which rose in Spain in 1936, set in Ketchum, Idaho,
in 1961. God we were hopeful then.
We marched arm and arm on the world’s capitols,
daisies braided in our hair. Only death blocked our way,
a single revolver shot to the head. yet, they’re not forgotten,
those who lived freed of themselves,
the ones who refused to break ranks
when they were forced back and shouted, Peace, brother, peace.
The waiter brings course four of seven, beet root
sliced thin as flayed skin, a blood-streaked hollyhock
arranged on a white porcelain plate.

Heidi Garnett, ibid

My, how this poem illustrates the lively action of Heidi’s thinking mind.  How this poem leaps and travels! From hollyhocks in Pozos, to a nearby hotel, to the Spanish civil war, to Madrid , to Hemingway in Spain and then in Ketchum, Idaho and then back to Spain, a hotel and a disturbing image of hollyhocks. The hollyhock image not quite right for a tourist brochure! What a delight for me to see how my picture became something so much bigger! Jumped out of the frame of my seeing!

Heidi’s book deserves a wide following. Treat yourself and buy it!


  1. Lawrie Hunter
    Posted August 14, 2019 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Dear Richard,
    First, thanks for your blog, brilliant, and so warmly inspiring for an glacially slowly budding poet like me. I’m Canadian, in Japan so long it looks like here.
    Loved the Heidi poems and your comments on them. However, at the last line you said we should treat ourselves and buy it – and I decided to – but as they say in old Ireland, “Oh, you can’t get there from here.” It seems Blood Orange is no long in print, and as is the fate of so many great books of poetry, there’s no way to get there from here. I feel that’s a general problem for poets and poems. Australia is a counter case: e.g. almost every poem Les Murray wrote is archived at the Australian Poetry Library, and this is not just since he died…
    Well anyway thanks

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted August 14, 2019 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Lawrie. There is a copy on Amazon.Ca but shipping might be costly. I will see what I can find out in terms of getting you a copy. A dear friend has just come back from Japan. She gets there quite a lot. Maybe next time she can bring the book!

  3. Lawrie
    Posted August 15, 2019 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    Dear Richard,
    Thanks, it’s kind of you to offer to intercede. Not to worry, I think — my sister in BC can easily arrange… and good poetry is worth waiting for. I’m sure you’ll agree.
    ….why here’s one for you!

    five poems by
    Elizabeth Bishop
    set a tone
    a subway can’t beat
    Corner of my eye
    a woman fanning calm
    it’s an elegant fan
    in praise of her kimono
    she fans elegantly
    as if studied
    or high class
    or born elegant.
    We talk a bluetooth
    kind of talk, no words
    no sounds, just you know,

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted August 16, 2019 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this poem! What an unexpected treat. The idea of elegance on a subway gives this scene a wonderful particularity. And starting with Elizabeth Bishop. Hard to beat! So to speak!ANd now this reply is starting to rhyme! And the Just you know! Precisely. Thank you.

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