Tag Archive | poetry

Based on Actual Events – Robert Moore

Writing a review of a collection of poetry is not the same as writing a book review. I tried the last time Robert Moore released a collection of poems, The Golden Book of Bovinities. Poetry is a pricklier proposition. (See what I did there with the alliteration and all – just so you know I do get some of those poetic bells and whistles.)

567 Bob and I have known each other for twenty-five years. I met him back in 1991, when I returned to university to finish my Arts degree. He’s only a handful of years older than I am and one of the benefits of being a mature student is getting to know your profs on another level. I loved being in Bob’s class and was thrilled when he agreed to be my honours thesis advisor. We’ve stayed friends over the years and I have always found our conversations entertaining and hard work in equal measure. (Hard in the sense that Bob is off-the-charts smart and has a vocabulary that keeps mere mortals on their toes.)

Based on Actual Events is Moore’s fifth volume of poetry. I’ve got all his poetry collections, but to be honest he started to lose me a little in 2012 with The Golden Book of Bovinities.

The blurb on the back of Based on Actual Events says

Robert Moore gives us a book-length sequence of sleek, fiercely comic, colloquial poems whose aphoristic storytelling is pegged to nostalgia for sublimity. His project is to find frames of reference for our estrangement from the world.

That may very well be what Bob’s trying to do with these poems, but I didn’t get it. (Geesh, I barely got the blurb!) His earlier poems dealt with relationships and his parents and art and, you know, stuff I could mostly relate to. Based on Actual Events is for wicked-smart people, which generally counts me out. That said, poetry in general is often layered and mysterious and requires fortitude.  However,  if you take Billy Collins’ advice and “press an ear against its hive” or “walk inside the poem’s rooms”, a poem will always reward you.

So, that’s kind of my approach reading this collection. I listen for what I like; I walk around in the bizarre rooms Bob’s constructed. I make my own meaning.

25.

Even under enhanced interrogation the vampire

refused to give us anything. And we tried it all,

shit we didn’t even know we could do and still call

yourself human. Nihilo. Zilch. If anything, his smirk

got smirkier, his ass even wiser. And those fangs!

Growing back each time; pellucid as milk,

alert as metal against skin.

 

So we waited until high noon – both hands reaching for God –

then shoved him out of the van in the Sears parking lot.

It was like you’d lit a gasoline fart. It was like wings

opening inside you.

 

Over before you could swallow. Seen more ash

at the end of a Virginia Slim. “Holy screaming fuckballs,”

sighed the captain, as much to himself as to the assembled,

we who’d done things we couldn’t even share

with ourselves, never mind over breakfast

or lost weekends, in earshot of our televisions,

which knew every lie in the book.

 

Anyone who knows me will know why I liked this poem. 🙂

These poems are ironic, often funny (I think) and use a lot of words I had to look up in a dictionary. Whatever, my vocabulary could use some work.

 

 

My first-ever giveaway: The Golden Book of Bovinities

cow

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.

One Night – Margaret Wild

The parties were Bram’s idea-

calculated,

sophisticated,

daring.

For a long time

they were the best-kept secret

in the city.

They ended one night

when Al nearly killed Raphael.

 

Margaret Wild isn’t the first writer to pen a novel written in poems, but One Night is the first poetic novel  ever read. One Night tells the story of three friends, Gabe (the beautiful one), Al (the wild partier) and Bram (the planner).  They’re in their last year of high school somewhere in Australia. Their personalities are revealed slowly, little snapshots that illuminate them, make them more than what they seem on the surface. Bram, for example “catches two buses to school,/ and never brings friends home.”  Al wears a coat summer and winter because “without it he would be/ a snail without it’s shell-/soft/exposed/defenseless.”

Into the boys’ world comes Helen. She has a damaged face and a dazzling smile. Just one night and one of the boy’s lives is forever changed.

One Night only took a couple hours to read, but that doesn’t mean that Wild’s novel is lightweight.  These characters are fully realized. In just a few short lines, Wild had me feeling tremendous sympathy for Bram, a character who appears to be – on the surface at least – all hard edges. One Night captures the daring sense of ‘anything goes’ shared by many young people; the notion that actions have no real consequences. In Helen, we have a character willing to make sacrifices and decisions far beyond her years.

One Night is also about family. It isn’t only biology that binds us; sometimes we choose our families out of need and circumstances and sometimes these families serve us better than those we came by naturally.

One Night is a terrific novel – timely and beautifully witten.