What Her Heart Sees – The “Man from…..” Poems of Lorna Crozier & More!

Canadian poet Lorna Crozier

Canadian poet Lorna Crozier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man from the Promised Land

He was the north wind, the west.
And I very nearly blew away with him
My limbs light as grit. He whittled me
Raised me to his lips and made me sing.
It was Bedouin, Mojave, Saskatchewan’s
Great Sandhills, the Blackfoot and the Cree.
Oh, he was good to me. I shifted shape,
Moved as he moved, our tracks filled in.
Slow sift, was he, soft slide through fingers;
The dunes of hips and shoulder blades
Gilded by the sun. He raised me to his lips
And made me sing, the mouthpiece
Of my heart parched with grief.

Lorna Crozier (1948 – ) from man from elsewhere, JackPine Press, 2013

Next month Lorna Crozier will publish her eighteenth full-length book of poetry – The Wrong Cat. It follows her best-selling book of prose poems Book of Marvels, published in 2012 and 2013 in the U.S. But Lorna managed to sneak in another “little” book of poems in 2013 – her limited edition chapbook man from elsewhere which contains a series of eleven exquisite little poems all based on the theme man from…

I have included a favorite poem of mine from man from elsewhere as my epigraph to this post. To read some other poems from the series click here to read them from Lorna’s website. (Writing a series of poems on a theme is a Lorna trademark. I think specifically of her “Angel” poems and her sexualized “vegetable” poems.)

Man from the Promised Land is vintage Crozier. Lithe and sinuous as a snake this poem sings a sensual song of longing and ecstatic union: Oh, he was good to me. I shifted shape,/ Moved as he moved, our tracks filled in./Slow sift, was he, soft slide through the fingers.

Crozier writes with such musical confidence which seems to accentuate the ecstatic nature of the poem yet I am left haunted and shaken after reading it. There is union, yes, but the poem’s first two lines seem to suggest she cannot hold him: He was the north wind, the west./ And I very nearly blew away with him. And then at the poem’s end we are left with the searing image of grief: And made me sing, the mouthpiece/ of my heart parched with grief.

This poem is not all soft sift and this is what gives the poem its special torque for me. Beneath the celebration of the lyrical joining in this poem is the sour smell of loss and leaving. Not just for the lovers but for me and all the readers. Doesn’t life make us all sing and aren’t all our mouths parched with grief from the knowledge of our and our loved ones’ eventual passing? For me the poem’s great gift, and Crozier’s genius, is that the poem celebrates transience. It doesn’t hide from that brute reality. Instead of hiding out where the man from promised land can’t find her the narrator joins with him even though he will leave her. Like the wind. For me this poem sings loud and clear: seize the day!

And the poet’s way to seize the day is to pay attention! The kind of attention May Sarton writes in one of her journals:

If one looks long enough at almost anything,
looks with absolute attention at a flower,
a stone,
the bark of a tree,
grass, snow, a cloud,
something like revelation takes place.
Something is ‘given’,
and perhaps that something,
is always a reality outside the self.

May Sarton (1912 – 1995) from Journal of Solitude, Norton, 1973

This is the “something” Lorna salts inside her poems. Here is an example from her selected poems published in 2007:

A Prophet In His Own Country

The gopher on his hind legs
is taut with holiness and fright.
Miniature and beardless,
he could be stoned or flooded out,
burnt alive in stubble fields,
martyr to children for a penny a tail.

How can you not believe an animal
who goes down head first
into darkness, into the ceaseless
pull of gravity beneath him?
What faith that takes!

I come to him with questions
because I love his ears, how perfectly
they fit, how flat they lie against his head.
They hear the inner and the outer
worlds: what rain says
underground. The stone’s praise
for the sparrow’s ankle bone.

Little earth-otter, little dusty Lazarus,
he vanishes, he rises. He won’t tell us
what he’s seen.

Lorna Crozier from Blue Hour of the Day, McClelland & Stewart, 2007

This poem sees the gopher in such a different way. Not the way I saw a gopher, or as we called it, a ground hog, when it was job to trap and kill them when I was a young boy. Oh, what I lost with my “small” seeing. I saw a pest not a prophet!

In 2013 Lorna delivered the Margaret Laurence Lecture in Ottawa. Titled, Letters to a Younger Writer, it was written as a kind of echo of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Here is a passage from the lecture which should, I think, haunt anybody that reads it, especially a poet!

When you look back on your life as a writer, what you’ll regret is not the awards that passed you by, the grants you didn’t receive, or the stature of your literary reputation. What you’ll regret is that you didn’t pay attention. When I think of my disregard, my distraction, I ache inside. I’d go back, even to the unhappy times, if I could mark the quality of the light trapped I our high pantry window in the run-down house where I grew up, the lines around my father’s mouth as he drew in the smoke from his cigarette the morning he didn’t go to work and waited, until after breakfast, to tell my mother he’d lost his job. The hundreds of stories they passed across the table like salt, in good times and bad, and I let them slip by as if someone else was gathering them for me, keeping them as my mother saved old photos in a shoe box. 

There is no recompense – nothing you or I can do – except pay attention now. If I were asked, right this minute, to draw my husband’s feet, would I get them right?

Of course, Lorna is not the first to see this quality as critical for a fully-lived life. The British contemplative and spiritual writer, Esther de Waal calls this intense seeing Lorna describes as a seeing beyond. It is a seeing with the eyes of the heart; it is seeing with the inner eye which recognizes inward beauty; it is seeing with rinses eyes – eyes wash clear by contemplation.

And I after all these great descriptions of unmixed attention I am haunted by the question the American poet Gregory Orr asks in this poem: What eye is wide enough? What pupil sufficiently diligent? I would say, of course,  no human eye is wide enough. But some eyes like Lorna’s are wider, their pupils more diligent! I look forward to more of her kind of seeing in her new book.

Whitman’s list of the things he could see
As he sat, half paralysed,
An old man by a woodland pond.

The names of the different trees.
The birds he glimpsed or only heard
Yet recognized their songs.

The bushes and grasses that grew there.

How happy those lists made him:
Tamarack, birch, maple, larch…

Gazing from where he loafed
On the bank, or from the pond itself
where he floated naked
in the round pool of it:

As if he were the pupil
in a wide-open eye,
And the trees around it
Delicate and strong as lashes.

Oh, the world, the world,
What eye is wide enough?
What pupil sufficiently diligent?

Gregory Orr (1947 – ) from CONCERNING THE BOOK THAT IS THE BODY OF THE BELOVED, Copper Canyon Press, 2005

3 Comments

  1. Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your blog Richard! I’m inspired – had to get out my copy of A Journal of a Solitude to have a look at it again. I have a copy signed by May Sarton! I wonder if Lorna Crozier’s lecture is available anywhere in its entirety? I’ve printed off the portion you included as it has come to me at just the right time.

  2. Richard
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Dear M-A – Will try and see where you can get a copy of Lorna’s address. Thanks again for your attention to the blog!

  3. Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I’d better tick the box for follow-up comments so I find out if Lorna’s lecture is available anywhere. Didn’t see it on her website.

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