Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tanis MacDonald's Rue the Day

I always, always, always have a book in my purse for filling up all those waiting minutes during the day and have done so for as far back as I can remember. It's difficult for me to stay patient with fellow travellers--on bus, plane, or ferry--who eschew any responsibility for entertaining themselves and instead expect me to chat with them about what I'm reading. Such an easy, satisfying solution for avoiding boredom and/or crankiness (and, if one holds it determinedly in front of one's face, it might even help enforce boundaries, although I've learned that some folks take a much broader hint than this one).

Anyway, the book that was my constant travel companion over the last week or so, the book that delighted me as our little ferry shuttled its way back and forth taking me into town in the morning and back home to the island again in the evening, was my friend Tanis MacDonald's latest book of poetry, Rue the Day. I've previously shared a favourite TM poem on my other blog (and also, over there, wrote about a wonderful day we spent together in Toronto last August) -- her wry "Cowgirl," from Holding Ground (Seraphim Press, 2000). Turnstone published another collection, Fortune, in 2003, and this spring they brought out Rue the Day. This collection resonates with me for many reasons, not the least of which is that it's suffused throughout with the loss of a father (Tanis and I both explored the Canadian elegiac in our dissertations, focusing particularly on parental elegies, and we both lost our fathers over the course of writing these). As well, it has more than a hint of that Dante-esque "in the middle of life, in a dark woods" -- evaluation, but from a feminist perspective. And it's a beautifully allusive, literary collection of poems, with a challenging wealth of references indicating the scope of Tanis' continual reading.

While these allusions will challenge, but perhaps also frustrate, the less scholarly reader, there are several poems I intend to read to my first-year students as part of an experiment this year in which I read poems I love and they simply listen -- they may comment or question afterwards, but if they choose not to, we just move on. We still, of course, analyse and write about assigned poems, learning and applying the requisite terminology, teasing out layers of meaning, but I want them to know that poems may also be enjoyed for their purely aesthetic qualities as well. Many of Tanis' will clearly validate this claim -- she plays with speech, piling one cliché on top of another speaking freshness out of banality; she plays with rhythm -- of image as much as of acoustic stress. I look forward, for example, to read my students "A poet Ticks" -- here's one stanza:
She ticks like a bomb, but she's not the bomb, she's just one more
writer with one more bag of tricks, or bag of ticks, a whole burlap sack
teeming with wood ticks and potato bugs, insects of punctuation and
drag, oh someone fumigate her house, someone take a hot needle and
lance the tick fattening on her O positive.

Crazy, eh? What energy! I love the consonants working here, and the morphing of one image into the next -- the bomb effect building to the explosion of the O positive at the stanza's end!

I e-mailed Tanis this morning, and she's given me permission to share another poem with you. I debated and debated with myself about which of two. "Promise to the House" is such a wonderful domestic poem reassuring a newly-purchased older house "eccentric of the block" that "we'll sand you / smooth. We'll measure you for robes of verdant / green with the tang of raspberry. . . . fill you with the scent / of cardamom and rising yeast." I know you'd love it, but you'll have to get your own copy, 'cause I decided instead to share the following, a love poem that pleases me so much by reflecting the delights of love reached later in life, not a young love but a rich and appreciative love nonetheless.

Facts and Further Arguments

In retrospect, the gossip was right. I was
long in the tooth for first love, but time is
rough and I rode hard, put it away
wet. Unpacking the kitchen
one more time as you wire the new lights,
this time in a house we bought on faith
and the courage summoned from
serendipity, I have to laugh so I won't
scream. Time is not our friend. The deer
by the river was nothing like the moose
we saw struck and kicking on the shoulder.
One more city and a steep learning curve.
Too much revelation can bring a girl down.
A phalanx of bankers and lawyers said
too much about material
conditions, the way we live now.
To say I miss our years with nothing
would be untrue, but I miss the way you
made the smallest of rooms into a submarine,
a place for everything, Rube Goldberg rococo,
the way you made love out of breath, and
the way you spread a kindly layer on my spiky
life, made me look up at the spreading sky
and guess there was a future I hadn't yet seen.

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