Pain Turns Me Toward Poetry and Cheap Mysteries

V working in bedI’m breaking up. I’m breaking up my posts. I have to move from my blog to my own reading and writing. tomorrow That’s just how I roll (ha[1]).  I’ve plugged in Fiona 2, the clock says I have 13 minutes, but I’m going to push it.[2] My last post [3] was about what I am not reading, not for the lack of wanting.[4]

What I am reading, and what I advise any aspiring poet[5] to read is poetry. My pain has been the encouragement I need to take my own advice. I’ve been slow to read poetry closely for a few years, as I have been reading and reviewing fiction, and reading self-help books by Gardner, Woods, Hodgins, and William H Gass, exploring the “fictive art.[6]”  I have three novels and 25 stories[7] to write. There is so much to learn. Do I have time, and why should I take the chance on wasting it?[8]

I should be paying attention to poetry, especially if I intend to dismiss memoir[9], with a disdain I usually reserve for genre writing. I should read my favourite poets[10] more closely to see how they make their poems work.[11]

I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a book of poetry, at least that I can remember.  So what might I use to measure the books of poetry I am reading in 2013?  Since I’m new at this and it’s my first time I’m likely to be a little awkward, clumsy even with the best of intention. One of the 112 commandments of the 21st century is writers should be clever, smart, tricky, sophisticated, or wait was that the 1920s?

My greatest pleasure in the text [12]comes in a poem, for prose I love the story, the character, and all the old constructs which have been badly battered, and justifiably so. Fuck, this is ridiculous. Try again.  I will talk about poetry I am reading because I want to. It’s really not that complicated.

Monkey Ranchmonkey ranch
Julie Bruck
Brick Books
85 pp. sc, $19.00

I circulated the first poem in the collection “The Morning, After an Execution at San Quentin” at work to illustrate the difference a title can make to the poem that follows. I circulate one or two poems I like around my office every month, at work as part of my small missionary efforts encouraging people to enjoy poetry, not because they should or they could learn something in the Briefing Notes they might write that day but because it’s fun, interesting, and every once in awhile illuminating or transformative.

The first section of the V (5) in Monkey Ranch is my favourite. These are poems I wish I had written myself. Of course most poets would kill for the credits Bruck has which include The New Yorker, Maisonneuve, the Walrus, and the Malahat Review.  I once told someone who was trying to argue me out of dissipation that one of my life’s ambitions was to win a Governor General’s Award, which Bruck did with this collection with an attractive dressed monkey on the cover. I hear my favourite editor and critic whisper in my ear – that’s gossip, that’s envy. What do you actually think of the poems in the book?

The first 8 poems are strong enough to gather momentum and carry the reader through to the end. Also enough of a reason to own the book. The collection can be read all at once as it is all of a piece, or by section which is what I did. The sequences add strength to each of the poems, though there are many poems than can stand on their own, it’s just more rewarding to get a sense of a larger construct.  Section V (5) could have been dropped without too much of a loss, and possibly strengthening the poems remaining.

Henry Engbrecht, my favourite choir conductor for whom I had the pleasure of singing in Grades 10 and 11 at the Mennonite Collegiate Institute (another entry for another time) stressed the importance of a strong beginning, and unlike Linus who only polished the front of his shoes because he didn’t care what people thought when he left the room, he was adamant about the importance of a strong finish. This is the only disappointment of Monkey Ranch.

 I’ve lasted over four hours on my pain meds, and have just taken my (mostly antidepressant) bedtime meds. I have to stop adding to this post.

I have just finished Sharon Olds’ s Stag’s Leap, which also should have stopped before it did, but it is well worth the purchase, and will be the subject my next poetry post. I have also starting reading the work of Mary Ruefele, and I’m thinking her essays in Madness, Rack and Honey, seem to be more interesting than her poetry in Selected Poems. But it’s early days.

I took the picture above using my laptop camera. I read mysteries on my Kobo Reader, before I turn out the light. I didn’t finish Death Comes To Pemberley (P.D. James) moving on to Sidetracked, my second Wallander mystery by Henning Mankell. The formulaic writing is beginning to bother me, and not sure why because I accept it so readily in television crime drama. One of Mankell’s repetitious quirks reminds me of one of my father’s diary entries. [13]

Alice, our Speigel,[14]  wants to go out one last time this evening , or so I hope.  I’m still walking stairs, delaying the bum scoot until after my surgery on February 28th. I need to refill my one liter glass pitcher for the fourth time, and pick up a cd or two to help me sleep.



[1] As Kroetsch would say. I miss his laugh. I miss him, though it’s not like we were ever close, except through my reading.

[2] 42 minutes – would be about 10:30. I have done well on 6 oxycodene tablets. Hang on, I gotta move, as the blues go.

[3] The final novel in Ford Maddox Fords Parades End tetralogy. I prefer The Good Soldier which is a crucial Edwardian read detailing the end of God.  Thanks to Lloyd Siemens and his Romantic and Edwardian class.

[4] Gertrude Story Thed Need For Wanting Always (Thistledown Press, Saskatoon


[5] I’ve been unsuccessful in my last two applications to the Manitoba Writers’ Guild Mentorship program, possibly because I have a full-time job, possibly because my plain poetry is suspect, possibly because I insist apprentices read as poetry as they write.

[6] In German fick means, well…..


[7] One for each letter of the alphabet. I have written A; and have had excellent revision advice from Ted Dyck and Joan Thomas. But not only am I not able to read fiction, I am not currently able to write it.

[8] Measured out in coffee spoons

[9] Better suited really for blogs and websites and self-publishing, publishers only a tribulation when “I am a Hutterite” by Mary-Ann Kirkby has sold 75,000 copies. There is a reason every MWG self-publishing workshop is sold-out well in advance.

[10] Coming soon, in another post, but not until next weekend.

[12] Poor dead Barthes, we keep repeating, I would say like Martha Graham “not for monotony but for the ecstasy it induces.”

[13] Say, something like; February 16, 2013. Dark and cold. A snow clearing crew the only life on the street.



[14] Spanish Cavalier beagle cross.  Beagle body and ears, spaniel b & w markings.

This entry was posted in Health, Recommended Reading, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



Blog Subscription

To receive notification of new articles.