The Bigness of Small Poems – # 17 in a Series – Song Lines – The Eco-Poetics of Basma Kavanaugh

Canadian poet Basma Kavanaugh

Canadian poet Basma Kavanaugh

from NICHE

Last winter a chorale in an old church, a cold night in a prairie city. The
unaccompanied human voices smouldered and keened, swelled the stone
building, fluttered in the wooden rafters, soared

over shining pews, ruffling the hairs of my body. With my skin suddenly too
small, and pain burnishing my larynx, I thought, this is why we love the birds,
this is our gift to earth, our reason for being.

Basma Kavanaugh, from NICHE, Frontenac House Poetry, 2015

Poetry as rabble-rouser in the best sense of the words. To stir our spirit and our consciences! Especially in its passionate call to preserve our fragile planet, all its creatures!  That is something Basma Kavanaugh sings out again and again in her 2015 collection: NICHE. Not only is the poetry noteable in this collection but the production quality is way above average especially with its use of illustrations. A book that feels good to hold in the hand.

Kavanaugh is a poet, visual artist and letterpress printer from Manitoba who was short-listed for the CBC Canada Writes Poetry Prize in 2014. But even more, she is a woman who gives voice to an eco-poetics we need to hear and sing in our blood! So many of her poems are praise songs for the land. And what an appropriate epigraph she uses from Pablo Neruda to begin her book: This is the land./ It grows in your blood/ and you grow./If it dies in your blood/ you die out. Ouch and double ouch.

In this small poem, number seventeen in my occasional series, Kavanaugh brings singing into her poem and in so doing, for me, provides an echo from a long poetic tradition. The idea of poetry as its own kind of singing. The incredible importance of singing, and the singing that is poetry!

Her poem makes me think of American poet Gregory Orr’s wonderful line: Turn me into song. Sing me awake. Even more directly it reminds me of these lines by American poet e.e. cummings from his poem # 53:

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old.

So many references to singing in Kavanaugh’s book!  Here’s the poem that comes after the one that introduce this post! Oh, the songs we all need to sing to save our precious Earth:

To sing. To warble, cry, croon, chant. To trill, lament, howl, wail,
To ululate, to lullaby.

Long ago people grew tobacco high in the Rockies. In cool, short summers,
they sang two hundred songs so the sacred leaves could ripen before frost. In
this gadget-rich gallup

to apocalypse what have we lost? What have we gained? If evolution has
stopped, can we sing tenderness, surrender, sing our ending, coax the future
from a seed? With a chorus of seven billion,

one small song each?

Basma Kavanaugh, ibid




Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *