Version 2 – Moving to Delilah – Guest Poetry Blog Series – Contributor # 15 – Canadian Poet Catherine Owen – Part One of Two

Canadian poet Catherine Owen: Photo courtesy of Catherine Owen.

Sunflower, August

The mammoth is its own planet.
Each day, for months, it grows inches, thickens,
its pedicel like obese bamboo, leaves plattering out,
shading tomatoes and peas, quashing the cedar’s spread.
Height attained, the fleshy receptacle expands,
florets first petaling within, the whole head
a conjunction of spikes, fortress grin or alien apparition.
Every morning, turning in a different direction,
before its inflorescence, from the dark seed, already prepared
to breathe in the rays, transform bract into corolla.
The mammoth is its own planet or a satellite of seeds, each
lipping from a sepal, an anther, but what is most flagrant,
hard to say: the jungle-vast leaves, trunk ridged as night’s
spine or this inflorescence, all the stigmas melded, fastened
in florets, the whole a corolla of twisting always
towards the light.
The mammoth is its own planet. Its face uninhabited
by grief. Now, growth peaked, it forms seeds within each
eventual unsealing and release. Its scent a honey-musk
that weighs your leaning towards, your burial in the past.
Redeems it. In part. You’ve lashed it to the deck as if a siren
on the mast but it never stops widening and, at night, floats over
the lawn, a soft moon in prickly carapace.
Believe that it is beyond you and it is.

Catherine Owen from Moving to Delilah, forthcoming in 2024 from Freehand Books, Calgary


What a delight when Catherine Owen said yes to joining the Recovering Words Guest Poetry Blog Series and, again, when her two posts arrived a few days later! She blamed that quick turn around on the smoke from the awful wildfires in Alberta.  A good but unfortunate excuse to write inside on a smokey day! Her post below is the first of two. And her second  features the celebrated American poet Victoria Chang and her 2020 masterwork: Obit which won a number of prestigous national American prizes and was nominated for others including the National Book Award and the Griffin International Poetry Prize.

Catherine Owen is no stranger to these pages. I have included her in a number of posts, the most recent featuring her poetry collection: Riven published by ECW Press in 2020. To read that blog post please click here.  And I continue to consider her 2014 collection Designated Mourner a must-have in any poetry collection. This book-length elegy made up of individual poems was triggered by the death of her spouse, Chris, in 2010 as a consequence of the damage to his body from a long-term drug addiction. After reading this collection it is no wonder Catherine picked OBIT to feature in her second post.

Designated Mourner captures Catherine’s overwhelming loss from Chris’s death, one of the huge losses captured inside Catherine’s haunting last line to her poem above: with two cats, everything I owned, except for all I had lost. Some of that loss is caught so viscerally in this poem from Designated Mourner:[UNTITLED]

The highest note is the sunlight
you once told me, a symphony of unexpected pain:
this what you’ve given me.
And now I walk through the forest alone,
the duet of us annulled, the world,
in your absence, beautiful
though you have rendered yourself
unheard, stilled your particular, wild singing.

Catherine Owen from Designated Mourner, ECW Press, 2014

Here are some last lines from my 2020 post on Catherine, lines that celebrate her indomitable spirit:

“And here at the end of her poem One January Morning some beautifully expressed solace, hard-earned wisdom:

I can’t tell you what it’s like to accept things.
Some days, a black vellum is just peeled back from your heart

and, silly as it sounds, you are both raw and unafraid of being hurt,
coffee tastes amazing, the Chinese lantern tree glows on the balcony,

and you begin this difficult, unfinishable poem.

Catherine’s book, quoting from a line in a poem in Riven, is gorgeous with undertow. Its reminder of how we, too, can survive and be transformed in spite of grief and losses in our lives. Our lives: gorgeous with undertow.”

Thank you Catherine: for all your poems and your two posts!


So how did I come to poetry? (Richard said he’d like to know). Almost too early to recall. At three or four. Nature. The mysterious music of sounds. The need to encompass the knowledge of being conscious. Somehow. The subject matter of my poems has been diverse: male muses, travel, metal music, pioneer photographers and dead painters, poetic forms. Also mostly about grief and trees in the end.

In 2018, I moved from Vancouver, BC, where I was born and raised, to Edmonton, Alberta, to move into an affordable 1905 house I had bought in a neighbourhood on the edge of downtown known as Alberta Avenue. Over the last five years I’ve been writing this collection of poems, Moving to Delilah, about the house, the garden and its environs, and next spring, it will be published by Freehand Books in Calgary.

Moving to Delilah often attends to the inanimate or the inhuman that sustains the self now. The epigraph poem above is part of that attending: this all-encompassing flower in my always-evolving garden.

This three part poem that follows is how I left Vancouver and arrived in Edmonton. It also captures the lack of entire recognitions of acts, their reverberations, as one lunges into the unknown. The numbers representing ineffable attempts at what, lists, enumerations, hopes? All incomplete as life is. Poems are fierce kinds of persistence.

Getting There

Leaving New West

			1.It was the time of the fires. Later 
2. August, the truck 
				3. packed for its last long shift from an apartment on the Coast

		4. to an old prairie

5. home, my father drove, my brother rode along to lift; we listened to Marshall

					6. McLuhan podcasts as we left in the smeared

	7. dark, or was it Thomas Merton lectures, we were heading to Clearlake, a halfway point 

8. with two cats, everything I owned, except for all I had lost.


Staying in Clearlake

It was a basic kind of motel where the cups are sealed in plastic. We went for a walk and my father picked alleyway apples and my brother juggled them. We ended up at a fancy restaurant in the middle of smoke. No one could see the lake. Small German families disappeared off the dock while we ate schnitzel and crab cakes with a relatively fine wine and espresso pie. There was philosophy and puns and the haze never abated. It was a gentle kind of apocalypse with warm family feelings. In the room, the cats were sleeping on the scratchy duvet. We planned to hit the road again at eight. On the back of the door, over the Emergency Exit plan in case of fire, my father hung his Tilley hat.


Arriving in Edmonton

			1. It was now mid-day. Once we had passed into the other

2. province, memories announced their perplexity. Why
					3. was I returning? I fed the cats fishy sedatives, tried to recall

4. that owning a home was vital to me and eventually there we were and she was beautiful so
			5. my other brother arrived and we all spent the night with pizza & beer

6. while beds were assembled, doors built, the lawn mown as the cats hid and then, they all

		7. left, the truck grumbled back to the land of my birth, I waved & waved through

8. the flames like a child, then went inside to assume the extent of my dreaming.

Catherine Owen, ibid

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