This is for my wife, currently awaiting medical clearance to come and join the kids and me on our trip to Prince Edward Island.
Her Kisses Are All Sorts of Licorice
Her kisses are all sorts of licorice,
Laid up in double-salt sweetness,
Pressed hard on the back of the tongue:
Smoke and salt-peat and sea water,
Distilled in all their deep-held breaths:
Sugar cooked far past caramel:
Coffee beans smoking in their oil:
Cocoa cut with cayene pepper:
All sorts, laid up, pressed hard: kisses.
This is for a friend of mine who does in fact make meticulous sandwiches.
She makes her meticulous sandwiches
with sides of leftovers (a spoonful each,
like icecream scoops, of pasta casserole
and baked brown beans and egg salad filling);
with woodpiles of vegetables (carrots, beans,
and celeries); with pickles and canned beets
and hardboiled eggs and tomatoes sliced thin;
with careful rolls of deli meats; with cheese
(arranged by colour, like decorative bricks):
and she is silent as she eats, always.
“It is a lie that beautiful words have disappeared. I have myself a trunkful in the attic, and thousands more buried underground,” says Leon Rooke in his latest book of poetry, The April Poems, and I believe him. Though he may not have intended those words for himself, they are true of him, as this little book of poems more than amply proves. It tells the shared life of April and Sam in verses that move without warning or hesitation, as relationships do, between desire — “I licked blue plates in cheap diners, thinking of her” — humour — “Love needs new shoes but is out of work” — and sorrow — “My own voice Is an ache in the heart, The soft mew of the cat Before she falls dead.” In these and other ways, Rooke takes the everyday happenings of a domestic relationship and makes them wonderful, not by elevating or magnifying them, but by insisting on them just as they are — squalid and splendid, banal and profound, playful and earnest.
What impresses me most about The April Poems, however, is that they go a long way toward resolving a tension that I have always found in Rooke’s work. I first discovered Rooke when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, attending my first Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, where he immediately won my imagination by arriving in a canoe and then delivering a wildly engaging and humorous performance. I spent every dime I had to buy his book, The Good Baby, and I began reading it right there by the Eramosa River as I waited for my parents to pick me up, only to discover that although Rooke’s writing is often very good, it can never quite manage to meet the expectations set by his performances. Everything he writes, especially his dialogue, seems to be waiting for him to come and speak it aloud and give it a true voice.
All of this is to say that the greatest compliment I can offer The April Poems is that it feels almost as if Rooke himself is reading it, as if he has given the poems something of his own vitality and audacity. As he says himself, “There’s a way of getting a poem to the page without utilizing words,” and The April Poems has this kind of wordless poetry, a poetry of relationship and voice and character, a poetry that makes The April Poems more than just a trunkful of words, however beautiful.
My brother Andrew Hill’s new solo album Geres has been officially released. It is a concept album that he describes as “The epic story of Charles Freck’s suicide told through progressive music, the merging of artistic mediums, and pure metal.” It is available at geresmusic.com.
I have no introduction for this poem. Feel free to make up your own.
The nimbus of a nearer star
is truer still for being blurred,
like trace-light on a photograph
or waves aquaver in the sun,
where every haze and hovering
leaves streaks of glory on the eye
and scatters us like haloed dust,
each with our nimbus, blurred but true.
The essential saying of the artist is always, “Let there be.” No other saying is proper to the act of creation. The essential saying of the spectator is always, “Amen,” which is to say, “Let it be so.” No other saying is proper to the act of reception. In these two sayings the artist and the spectator together call art into being.
One of the most telling critiques of our democracies and our capitalisms and our sciences and our technologies and our progresses, even our arts, is that they are so often humourless. They are not able to laugh either at themselves or one another. There is too little joy and pleasure in them, too little friendship and community, too little revelry and celebration. They are all too deadly serious.