Saturday, November 30, 2013

Two poems from new collection: Listening for Silence

Cathedral of Chartres, Built in Silence

A few sounds linger:
masons tock granite, carts creak,
men grunt under loaded hods –
even the warblers cease their singing.

A workman sneezes,
those nearby look up – what a strange and marvelous noise.
The consumptives too try
to do their part,
swallowing their coughs.

The architect carries a board
and a knob of charcoal,
quick to sketch
what before was spoken.

Thirty-thousand labourers
hear thunder rumble
miles across the plain
and a nearby brook
unable to curb its babbling.

Seventeen Things Difficult to Accomplish

(A poem inspired by the first book of poetry – Guide to Capturing a Plum Blossom by Sung Po-jen)
Capture a plum blossom in high wind
Carry the ant’s load
Hold the butterfly this side of the fence
Keep pace with the arrow
Know when the leaf will let go
Separate the sea from the tears of fish
Grow younger and younger
Keep the bee from its flower
Empty emptiness and count it
Split the wind in two
Stop the moon from shrinking
Prolong a night of love
Read the cloud entirely from beginning to end
Swallow a laugh
Retrace your steps in the river
Picture your face without a mirror.

Short Book Review: A Perfect Pledge by Rabindranath Maharaj

Narpat, 55, and Dulari live with their three girls and one son, Jeeves, in the village of Lengua in Trinidad. Narpat, an East Indian in constant conflict with his world, is a cane farmer with high ideals and great ambitions. He runs for village council, wins and helps the local farmers win full title to their land. His endlessly prickly personality, however, keeps everyone at bay. Next, he plans to build his own cane factory so the farmers can obtain a just price for their crops.

This is also the story of Jeeves, the youngest child, who loves his father despite his failings, and we learn how deeply the old man has affected the character of the boy. This is also the story of rural Trinidad itself, a rich tropical world of red mangoes, bats, insects, pineapple, coconut jelly, cucumber stems and eccentric characters. The city and the government always lurk in the background ready to control Narpat’s life. Narpat’s struggle often takes the form of stringent dietary restrictions (no sugar, no oils, no fats) and resistance to most of the trappings of the modern world, such as television and movies. Narpat, whose motto is “Even if I have to die in this field, no one will take it from me,” is a fully realized character, at times likable, but more often maddeningly self-righteous. The three daughters, however, are almost indistinguishable from each other. Altogether, this abundant novel, with its peculiar Trinidadian English dialogue (“What sort of work your father does do, boy?”), proves to be a rich feast of place and language.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Review: The Perilous Trade by Roy MacSkimming

A fascinating exploration of the past sixty years in Canadian book publishing, with lots of anecdotes and detail. In the past sixty years, Canadian writing and publishing has come of age. This fascinating story, subtitled ‘Publishing Canada’s Writers’, is well told by Roy MacSkimming, a former publisher and author himself, through numerous anecdotes and profiles of the major players involved. This literary who’s who focuses on key luminaries such as the gentlemanly John Gray of Macmillan, the forward thinking Marsh Jeanneret of University of Toronto Press, and Jack McClelland of McClelland & Stewart, perhaps the most renowned of all Canadian publishers. The author turns what could have been a dry history lesson into an often riveting read. For example, the delirious story of Canadian publishing in the sixties, a time when small presses seemed to bloom overnight, is told in a chapter titled ‘Printed in Canada by Mindless Acid Freaks’. MacSkimming researched his subject thoroughly, conducting 99 interviews with Canadian publishers and writers. The story of the astounding rise of children’s literature is a highlight of the book. Award-winning publishers such as Tundra and world famous authors such as Robert Munsch (his little book, Love You Forever, had sold an astounding 17 million copies as of 2002) have made kidlit a beacon of hope in the tough business of publishing. The book drags slightly near the end when the author discusses the endless financial problems of publishers and the devious machinations of government bureaucracies, but all in all, this is a fine and fair survey of what just might have been the golden age of Canadian publishing.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

TERRY’S BIG WATCH, Part Three: The Third Week of Creation

At the start of His third week, God sat with His chin resting on his fist. He checked TERRY’S BIG WATCH, like a frying pan on his wrist, and decided to get started. “This week,” He said to no one in particular, “I’m only going to create things that are striped. I don’t know why. Do I need a reason?” He started with a zebra but wasn’t happy with the result. It’s Good, He thought, but not Good enough. So he tried a tiger and said, “Wow – I love the colour – that’s really Good.” Then He made a barber pole and announced, “From now on, all barber poles will be striped. Do I need a reason?” He thought He might call Marcia the stripper in to twirl around the pole but thought better of it. “No, that’s Good enough.” Then He created a painting by Mondrian – but he wasn’t happy with the stripes going one way and tried stripes the other way and then He realized it wasn’t striped anymore. “Well, still Good.” He checked TERRY’S BIG WATCH. “Better hurry, week’s getting on.” He then made himself a pair of striped pants, and had to create a mirror to see how they looked on Him. When He checked in the mirror, he decided the mirror counted as something striped, at least momentarily, so he saved himself some work. But when he saw the striped pants in the mirror, he gasped. “Gack! I look like a sixties hippie. Not so Good.” God realized it was the last day of the week. He knew the day because TERRY’S BIG WATCH is so big it has a calendar too – not just one of those tacky digital calendars that give one day at a time but one that shows an entire year’s calendar on the face. TERRY’S BIG WATCH is that BIG. He couldn’t think of anything striped and then he remembered. Striped Bass. “They’re striped, right?” He had all sorts of trouble with his watercolours running in the water but finally got it perfect. “That’s pretty Good.” So he took the striped bass and threw it into the sky where it swam among the stars, happy enough. Doesn’t look right, thought God. Then He smacked Himself in the forehead, nearly knocking Himself out with TERRY’S BIG WATCH. Right, of course, water. What was I thinking. I’ll put it in a lake. God wiped his hands together. “All done.” He checked TERRY’S BIG WATCH. “Just in time.”

Monday, January 7, 2013

TERRY’S BIG WATCH, Part Two: The Second Week of Creation

On the 8th day, God created TERRY’S BIG WATCH and said to Himself, ‘It’s about Time.’ He saw that it was Good, well pretty Good anyway, well maybe just okay, but it was definitely BIG. On the 9th day, God created a donut. Staring at it, He said to Himself, ‘It looks good enough to eat,’ so that’s what He did and it was very Good. On the 10th day, God created a stripper named Marcia and He said to Himself, ‘I’ve really done it this time,’ and He gave her a little push and she spun around the pole, and God said, ‘Hey, this is really Good!’ On the 11th day, God created a library book that was exactly twelve days overdue and He asked Himself, ‘How did I do that? Well, anyway, it’s still Good.’ On the 12th day, God created a library, returned the book and paid the fine, having also created a librarian and several quarters with His own head on them, and they too were Good. On the 13th day, God received a call from the librarian who told Him His quarters were no good and God asked Himself, ‘What have I started?’ and He realized that it was a Good question. Looking at TERRY’S BIG WATCH, He said, ‘Time for a rest again’ and it was Good. He smiled to Himself, ‘Another Good week.’