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FIRST LINES

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  What makes a great first line of poetry?    I fell into Alice Oswald's long poem Nobody with this one:                     "As the mind flutters in a man who has travelled widely"   A comparison; a restless mind; a character I'm likely to find alluring and provocative. A rhythmic onrush, chasing and settling like the flutter it names; so in reading, my mind is already acting like that of the traveller.   The lips, the front of the mouth, all softly active: m, f, v, w.     What else to do but give over and go along?  __ I often stall at first lines both as a reader and a writer.    I don't always understand exactly what it is that fails to pull me in, but as often as not it has to do with receptivity. If I scroll through a lot of poems feeling disconnected and dulled by their openings, chances are high it's me not them.  And if I scratch out a few syllables for a poem and turn away bored, it's definitely me.    The problem is always how to keep going, no

SOLSTICE NIGHT

SOLSTICE NIGHT A blue lake surrounds the house: snow restored by twilight to a version of its original self, stippled where wind and animals have crossed, barred by shadows of trees. And speaking of trees, shadows fly out from them like time-traces of late-summer bats, and return. Everything dampens down. A sudden stillness— and the earth’s tilt reverses. Gradually the first stars prick the sky around the moon’s pearled curve. The last of the year’s scrap wood is ready for burning. Also a twilight everything turns from: stamping our feet on the platform waiting for the train, lined up on the curb waiting for the bus, blowing on our fingers. Young men shaking snow from their collars as they pass through turnstiles and descend with everyone else into the tunnels and shopping concourses, into the wet stink, the grit and slush, blasts of heat and noise over the hornet-hum of earbuds and ringtones, ignoring everything, which is a form of love —

BURNT UMBER

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Burnt Umber    All the way to the horizon umber fields unrolling. Ribbed, stubbled, dark but for patches in the hollows where snow persists. Mid-field, brown lumps shift, seem to breathe, resolve into geese. You feel it would take you days to walk to where they are and this makes you yearn to be there this instant though last summer before the grain was fully ripe you’d have given everything, almost, to be nowhere at all. Susan Gillis / from Sheila-Na-Gig Issue 5:2, Winter 2020 Image by Juan Carlos Rodrigues / freeimages.com

CONCLUSIONS THAT NEVER CONCLUDE

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freeimages.com/Vic Zagranowski   "If you don't like what you wrote, don't think about the words, just remember it better." I'm paraphrasing Robert Hass's advice on revision in a dimly-recalled Vimeo of a talk given in Rotterdam , a paraphrase itself of something Jack Kerouac once said. The context was a discussion of the sources of poetry according to Rilke (memory, dream, art) and its subjects (joy, longing, grief). Hass had set up a quick exercise in noting a location for each of those emotions. Just before this, someone in the audience asked about revision, to which Hass responded with an anecdote (about Robert Duncan and his poem " My Mother Would Be a Falconress ") that suggested a poem only acquires the name 'poem' when all the writing is done, essentially another way of saying writing is rewriting is writing. I recall, as a young person just beginning to find my own poems, asking a friend about her process and how she knew when a poem

HELLO LITTLE CHERRY IF THAT'S WHAT YOU ARE

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  The cherries pictured here aren't from my own trees, though at this time of year they could be. (The orchid is a definite outlier.) The image was made in my backyard on an August afternoon six or seven years ago. Today, coming across it again, I'm interested in how the cherries are so shiny they reflect the sky, trees and shrubs, and the screen house. Each cherry catches a different facet of the scene and throws it back, curved. If I could enlarge it enough, and if the timing of the picture-making had been just right, maybe I'd even see the fly-past of a vee of geese, the first we'd seen that season.  But I can enlarge it only so far before the image loses definition. What happens when it loses definition is that the cherry holding the reflected image starts to become something else, something that defeats my expectations and assumptions about 'cherry.' It becomes an anti-cherry. A so-you-thought-you-knew-cherries cherry.  A ceci n'est pas une pipe of a ch

TWO GREEN LUNGS

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"Everything seems fine with the world though terrible things happen , " I wrote in the poem "Fieldwork"  (Yellow Crane , Brick Books 2018). Lately I've been thinking about water, about the colour green, about the Aral Sea and the desert its shrinking has formed. Just a few decades of human intervention (since the 1960s: irrigation, reservoirs, dams on the rivers that feed it) changed everything. On May 1, 2020, the Sardoba Dam in the Syr Darya river basin in Uzbekistan collapsed . Lives were lost; lives and land were changed. Today these two shimmering tracks arrived on my desk, from Galya Bisengalieva's forthcoming album Aralkum (this September, from One Little Independent Records). The album cover shows the area as it looked in about 2000: two green lungs, taking their last gasp. Watch NASA's time-lapse of the lake from 2000 to 2018 Haunting, heart-rending, beautiful.

Equinox, Solstice: Randy Lundy's Poetry

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Yesterday, the first day of spring. Today, large flakes of snow... My copy of 2016's Best Canadian Poems falls open to this poem, Randy Lundy's "An Ecology of Being and Non-Being." It's the poem that introduced me to his work, and I go back to it for the way it keeps returning me to the physical world, and the way it clarifies the world that is from the world that is like. The way it restores me to a habitat. I also go back repeatedly to Lundy's recent collection, Field Notes for the Self (UofRegina/Oksana), for many of the same reasons. With each re-reading, the poems keep renewing: me, themselves. I wrote a short review of it for Arc Poetry: "Everything, This Near" (you can read it here) . The title of the review comes from the poem "Meditation at the Approach of Solstice." After a long look at the world, from the vantage points of field and city, present and past, the poem pulls us into a burning wick of moment, in which "