Maylor Again – A Poem for 45 to Read – If He Could Stop Watching Cable News

Micheline Maylor’s latest poetry collection, Little Wildheart

If you

gaze at the stars, they turn their fiery irises
towards our wet/dirty planet and watch the tidal
motion of person piercing person
with penis, and gladius, and bullet.

A supergiant’s own combustion
sparks light, honesty. 
We merely chalk compassion
on blackboards, speak it from pulpits
without much purchase for permanence.

If you speak, remember, speech is the symbolic act
of a reasonable citizen. The white star turns back to itself,
silent when faced with this glut of gibberish and babble.
Its heart is dense with so much bad news. 

If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back 
and the stars too,
but then they must blink,
turn away: indifferent. 
They must—
having no hands to help or heal.

Micheline Maylor from Little Wildheart (Robert Kroetsch Series),The University of Alberta Press, 2017

A few weeks ago I promised a follow up blog post on Micheline Maylor’s new book Little Wildheart. A review. So call this a A Not-a-Review Review. A look at Maylor’s poetics through the lens of one poem. So I may have lied, but heck, isn’t that within a poet’s purview! The good lying poetry can be. Saying this is that to make the this more real. The sun is not a red rubber ball but it is. And next Monday (full solar eclipse) that ball gets smudged out for a minute or two. I digress.

As I combed through Maylor’s collection, one, at moments, tender (her love poem to J.K.- How to be in a garden) at others, whimsical, and at others, steely-eyed, I found a poem I had over looked, one with steel in it, one that like some missile locked in and loaded, thrust me into the acerbic and unsettling conversations dominating the news south of the border in the wake of the events in Charlottesville on Saturday. All of this amplified by 45’s subsequent remarks. (I have taken a page out of my American cousin’s books by referring to the current U.S. president as 45. Distance!)

Some say poetry is not relevant in real time, especially during unsettling current events. Maylor’s poem above proves the opposite. What a poem for today. Oh how I was skewered, not by a gladius (Maylor’s penchant, now and and then, for good-chewy words that take me to Google) but by this, by this saying, not showing, a daring move in any poem: If you speak, remember, speech is the symbolic act/ of a reasonable citizen. Wham. Oh how much has this this idea been under attack in the past few years. Led most noticeably, perhaps, by 45.

Micheline Maylor – Calgary’s Poet Laureate and author of Little Wildheart

To pull off so-called wisdom or other such statements in a poem, the poem has to earn it! The reader has to be able to say, ok I can accept that. American poet Stephen Dunn has a great essay on these kinds of poems,( when they work and when they don’t) in his book Walking Light. Canadian poet and master teacher Patrick Lane talks about passionate detachment or coming at a saying poem from a distance.

Maylor gets her passionate detachment, her distance from using the perspective of a star, a supergiant.She finds this stellar view point to look from a far distance on the mess we are making with this planet. And after her most obvious saying – If you speak remember… she balances this with the striking metaphor of a star turning back on itself faced with this glut of gibberish and babble.

Oh, how this seeing from a star’s perspective changes everything. How the last lines condemn us, not like some preacher from a pulpit but in this distanced way. Their helplessness to do anything anyway. They can’t. They have to turn away: They must -/ having no hands to help or heal. They can’t help even if they wanted. That punches the air from my chest. That leaves me reeling. Only we can fix this. And based on the real life events of the past few days Maylor’s poem makes me feel my helplessness to fix this, in a visceral way. What a strong poem should do.

This poem. The kind of poem Nobel Prize Laureate Czeslaw Milosz talks about in his celebrated poem Dedication, written, appropriately enough, in Warsaw in 1945. The year of the defeat of fascism in Nazi Germany.

What is poetry which does not save
Nations or people?
A connivance with official lies,
A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,
Readings for sophomore girls.
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this I find salvation.

Czeslaw Milosz, from Dedication in The Collected Poems: 1931-1987, The Ecco Press, 1988

And Maylor’s poem, its impact on me, reminds me of a Jack Gilbert poem, Gilbert the exemplary American poet who died about six year ago.

from The Lost Hotels of Paris

Ginsberg came into my house one afternoon
and said he was giving up poetry
because it told lies, that language distorts.
I agreed, but asked what we have
that gets it right even that much.

Jack Glbert from Refusing Heaven, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005

Yes, this language of poetry. How it distorts but not in the way other language seems to do, these days, in the public square. I am grateful for poets and their language. I am grateful for Micheline Maylor.


  1. Yvonne
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Richard thanks for your post and sharing this poem from Micheline’s new book.
    Appropriate for the time!

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted September 2, 2017 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for the comments. Love knowing these posts
    are being read!

  3. Richard Osler
    Posted September 2, 2017 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Yvonne!

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