I am nervous about this – talking about Robert Moore’s fourth book of poems, The Golden Book of Bovinities. Here’s the thing, in the spirit of full disclosure: I count Bob among my dearest friends. I’ve known him for twenty years. When I returned to university to finish my Arts degree, there he was. When I did my honours thesis on Thornton Wilder, he graciously agreed to be my advisor. We have had many, many conversations about literature and life and children over bottles of Corona and glasses of wine.
So I come to Bob’s poetry with a great deal of affection. When I teach poetry I come at it from the perspective that it is meant to savoured, rolled around in the mouth like a piece of hard candy. Not really understanding it shouldn’t necessarily hinder your enjoyment of the way the words sound. Poetry, almost always, should elicit an emotional reaction.
I had the pleasure of hearing Bob read from The Golden Book of Bovinities a few weeks ago. Bob’s an actor at heart, I think, and it is always an occasion to hear him perform. Suddenly the words on the page are living, breathing – well, in this case, cows – and as a listener it’s almost always easier to guess at the poet’s intent when you hear the poems being spoken.
So, a book of poetry about cows, eh? Um. Okay. I love Bob’s poetry. In his three previous volumes (So Rarely in Our Skins, 2002; Museum Absconditum, 2006; and Figuring Ground, 2009) I can easily pick out poems which speak to me personally. The Golden Book of Bovinities is a different kind of poetry book, though.
Select some ordinary object like a tree,
and focus. Stare at it until the pain comes,
air turns to bone, blood branches, horns soften,
hooves turn to root, go thirsting underground.
Try not to blink. Try not to think.
When it becomes unbearable, bear it
a little longer. One day soon after,
if you’ve proven yourself worthy, you will feel
that tree’s feathered eyes upon you.
The tricky part comes now: everything depends
on how you proceed to return the favour –
pretending to be cow.
This book of poetry is a series of connected vignettes, some of them somber, some beyond my intellectual capabilities, others laugh-out-loud funny. I particularly liked: Humans often speak of The Milk of Human Kindness./What that could possibly taste like is anyone’s guess. And I liked how each poem caused me to pause and ponder – which all poetry should require of its reader.
When Robert read from The Golden Book of Bovinities at the Lorenzo Society Reading Series, some of the laughter was raucous, some polite, some uncomfortable. At the end of the reading, when Bob took questions, one brave soul asked “Are we the cows?”
Beef cattle may look at dairy cattle and think,
“That’s the life.” And dairy cattle
may look at beef cattle and think,
“That’s the life.” But understand this:
every guest at Death’s groaning buffet
shall find themselves uplifted and equal at the end
of the same fork and knife.
The Golden Book of Bovinities is a very “moo-ving” book of poetry. (Sorry, it had to be said!) I should also mention that it is illustrated by the talented artist, Chris Lloyd.
I am thrilled to say that I have a signed copy of Robert’s book up for grabs. Comment below and on December 10th I’ll pick at random and send this copy your way – wherever you are.
If you are interested in learning more about Robert, there is a very interesting interview with him over at Maisonneuve.