Poetry – How you bleed! A Window Thrown Open! – Mark Frutkin and Gwendolyn MacEwen

Canadian Author Mark Frutkin

Canadian Author Mark Frutkin

There is music in the poem but the poem is  not music. There may
be meaning in  the  poem but the poem is not simply  its  meaning.
There  may be  a cascade of language in the poem but the poem is
not  simply   language. The poem is all of  these and none of these.
The  poem is  a  window  thrown open, clouds parting,  a  shooting
star. The poem is a minor spasm in the hidden corner of the heart, a 
peeling back at the edge of the universe, the revelation of a secret
that looks suddenly familiar.

Mark Frutkin from Hermit Thrush, Quattro Books Inc, 2015

I collect quotes on poetry like squirrels do nuts! Then I store them in a safe place to share them later! I was lucky enough to hear this epigraph to Mark Frutkin’s poetry collection, Hermit Thrush, in person in Ottawa during my book launch there. Frutkin is a celebrated author, (poetry, fiction and non-fiction) and his novel Fabrizio’s Return was the trillium and Sunburst awards and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.

Frutkin’s quote, a beauty all on its own, (what a line: The poem is a window thrown open, clouds, parting a shooting star) but it also puts me in mind of the three stand-out poems on poetry by Gwendolyn MacEwen, one of Canada’s heavyweight poets of the 20th century who died far too young in her 40’s. But the lines that Frutkin’s epigraph reminded me of are these ones from MacEwen’s poem You Can Study It If You Want:

Poetry has nothing to do with poetry.
Poetry is how the air goes green before thunder
is the sound you make when you come, and
why you live and how you bleed, and

The sound you make or don’t make when you die.

Gwendolyn MacEwen from Afterworlds, McClelland & Stewart, 1987

Canadian Poet Gwendolyn MacEwen (1941-1987)

Then there are these two poems that grapple with the nature of poetry in such a visceral way. First, from her poem But these lines: Now I know a language so beautiful and lethal/ My mouth bleeds when I speak it. Oh, to write a poetry like that!


Out there in the large dark and in the long light is the breathless
As ruthless and beautiful and amoral as the world is,
As nature is.

In the end there’s just me and the bloody Poem and the murderous
Tongues of the trees,
Their glossy green syllables licking my mind (the green
Work of the wind).

Out there in the night between two trees is the Poem saying
Do not hate me
Because I peeled the veil from your eyes and tore your world
To shreds and brought

The darkness down upon your head. Here is a book of tongues,
Take it. (Dark leaves invade the air.)
Beware! Now I know a language so beautiful and lethal
My mouth bleeds when I speak it.

Gwendolyn MacEwen, ibid

And this poem reminds me of the Jane Hirschfield comment that, as important as it is to study poetry to become a master poet, it is perhaps even more important to live as large a life as possible.


Let me make this perfectly clear.
I have never written anything because it is a Poem.
This is a mistake you always make about me,
A dangerous mistake. I promise you
I am not writing this because it is a poem.

You suspect this is a posture or an act.
I am sorry to tell you it is not an act.

You actually think I care if this
Poem gets off the ground or not. Well
I don’t care if this poem gets off the ground or not
And neither should you.
All I have ever cared about
And all you should ever care about
Is what happens when you lift your eyes from this page.

Do not think for one moment is the Poem that matters.
It is not the Poem that matters.
You can shove the Poem.
What matters is what is out there in the large dark
And in the long light,

Gwendolyn MacEwen from Afterworlds, McClelland and Stewart, 1987

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