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Monthly Archives: July 2017

Okay, so, as the title might suggest, this post might drift more into the mystical and the romantic than I usually do. I have reservations about this sort of experience, but then again, I can’t really ignore it either.

Here’s the thing – I can remember, twenty years later, vividly, far more vividly than many other supposedly more important things, the first time that I really felt what I can only call “universal oneness”, despite whatever baggage you might associate with that sort of language. I was on the bus, on the way home from the university library. It was a Saturday afternoon in the fall, early in the first year of my undergraduate degree in English literature. I was reading Gerard Manley Hopkins in a trashy paperback edition that I still own because I haven’t been able to throw it out. The sun came through the bus window, just as I looked up, and it caught the hair of the girl sitting in front of me, became a halo. The moment was transfigured. The universe was impossibly, I don’t know – impossibly what it is. Even two decades later, the memory of it moves me.

I’ve had this experience, to various degrees of intensity, more than a few times since (if you’re ever over for coffee, ask me about the time I had a vision in a coffee shop). The circumstances around these moments vary wildly. There seems to be very little rhyme or reason about them, and no predictability whatsoever. I have been surprised by the experience everywhere from bus rides to coffee shops to walks in the woods. Sometimes it occurs when one might expect (like when my child came home to me from his foster parents), sometimes at times that feel entirely incongruous (like at the bottom of a ruck in a rugby match).

Today I was sitting on my porch. The rest of my family was gone at the park. I had just finished a couple pints of Octopus Wants to Fight IPA and smoked my pipe as I read the ARC manuscript of a friend’s new novel. The bees were swirling around the flowers in my garden. The cicadas were buzzing. A breeze kept shuffling the shadow-leaves around where I was sitting. The sense of rightness and oneness laid me down on the badly painted wood of the porch like a child in a cradle.

I have no explanation for these things. I’m certain of nothing except that I don’t deserve them, and that I am granted them nevertheless.

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I’ve been reading some good books recently, too many to address individually, so I thought I’d do one of those quick surveys I used to do.

Gary Barwin’s No TV For Woodpeckers – Gary Barwin never writes the same book twice, not remotely, and yet all of his books are worth reading, which is one of the better compliments I can offer an author. I reviewed No TV For Woodpeckers for the Rusty Toque, so you can get a fuller idea of what I think of it there. I’ll just say here that barwin does some fascinating things with proper names in these poems, and that the collection as a whole creates a unique and poetic sense of place.

Shane Neilson’s Dysphoria – There is no poet in Canada who provokes my emotions so deeply as Shane Neilson, to say nothing of what he accomplishes technically and formally. This collection is no exception. It’s a remarkable volume. Again, I’ve reviewed it at length elsewhere, for Contemporary Verse 2 (though there’s no electronic version of it, so you’ll just have to go get the Summer issue for yourself). Whether you read the review or not, do read Dysphoria (in fact, just read all of Neilson’s books).

Paul Auster’s 4321 – This is a crazy, amazing book, but I can’t recommend it without proviso. It’s long. It’s structurally experimental. It’s written almost entirely without dialogue. In other words, it’s not an easy read. It’s not a page-turner. It won’t keep you up all night. You will absolutely be able (tempted?) to put it down. But it’s also very much worth reading. Book some time for it, but get it done.

George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo – This book is a marvel –  historical scholarship mashed with historical fantasy in ways that you will never have seen before. The dialogue in some places is an absolute wonder, simultaneously farcical and moving. I read the whole book in one go at the bar one evening (a six pint book), then read it again more slowly over the next few days – loved it both times.

George Elliott Clarke’s Gold – Clarke was the first Canadian poet I ever read who I didn’t hate. I’d been fed a whole series of very “Canadian” poems by highschool teachers, all without any real context or biography or, well, anything. Then I picked up Clarke’s Whylah Falls and fell in love. Gold doesn’t strike me with the same power, but it has some great bits. The erotic sonnets in the middle are particularly wonderful.

James Lipton’s An Exultation of Larks – This is an older book (published in 1968), and it’s a book that will appeal most to word nerds. It explores the linguistic form of venery (a pride of lions, a flock of sheep, a gaggle of geese, and so forth). It’s a cute book, with lots of trips down etymology lane. It may not amuse you, but it amused me.

David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System – I have managed to avoid David Foster Wallace until now. I’m not entirely sure how. I made serious notes to myself several times over the years about intending to read him, but always seemed to get distracted by one thing or another. Learn from my error. Grab this book, especially if you’re a fan of the slightly surreal. Some of the scenes are masterfully absurd, but the larger story never falls incomprehensibility. I’m picking up Wallace’s Infinite Jest next.