In 2016, Adam Sol had to read 614 books as a Griffin Poetry Prize judge. He parlayed this intense reading experience into a blog that became so popular he decided to publish his entries. Every small chapter in the resulting How a Poem Moves features one poem and has a wonderfully didactic heading which is fun and not preachy at all.
How a Poem Moves is a delightful book. Adam lets you know that it’s okay not to understand every line of a poem. The beauty of a fragment can be just as important and might be the thing that stays with you and makes you move your thoughts and feeling.
Take, for example, C.K. Williams’ poem “Love: Beginnings.” Adam calls this chapter “How a Poem Articulates a Feeling.” The feeling in this case is aging desire. An older man watches the sexual absorption of two young and furtive people. In Sol’s analysis, he calls this ending transcendent because he witnesses their passion and well, is moved by it.
That just to watch them is to feel again that hitching in the
groin, that filling of the heart,
the old sore heart, the battered, foundered, faithful heart,
snorting again, stamping in its stall.
Can you feel it?
I was so taken with Adam’s method that I decided to use it by looking at a poem by Karen Houle in her new book The Grand River Watershed * A Folk Ecology. Karen is an active Guelph resident, Professor of Philosophy, Mother, Grandmother, Gardener, Athlete, Cyclist, Naturalist, Poet and so many other things. Mind and body are equal partners in this hyper-aware and interested body and soul.
These poems erupted, elided, seeped up or down during Karen’s time as artist in residence at North House on the rare reserve in Cambridge. Nature, art and culture, working towards a healthy biosphere is the mission of the rare Charitable Research Foundation. The poems in The Grand River Watershed are complicated, simple, sensual and academic, each a seeming contradiction but, at the same time, married in meaning. You have to work at many but if you relax and enjoy this restless mind at work you’ll be rewarded.
I’m going to call my very short exploration “How the Sensual and the Cerebral Walk Hand in Hand.” Here’s a short bit from the poem “When North Flows South.”
An apple is a plain fruit occurring in many parts of the world as an introduced exotic.1
Tit-round, a fleshy haploid, a peck-full,
a handful of hips, pinched at the waist, every flesh
imaginable, every skin tone, every shape
on the lips, different again at the tongue, its
universes of fruit muscle: red green yellow,
speckled, russet, white, white on white,
rosy pink, dog-piss yellow,
hard, soft, wet, pucker.
Novel phenotypic traits were developed through a variety of breeding technologies. To date, 57 applications for field trials of genetically modified apples have been submitted to the USD.
An apple an introduced exotic? This is footnoted, so it must be true, but it doesn’t carry any emotional meaning. Then the sumptuous ode to appleness – which carries you into bite, taste, smell and colour. How glorious! But then, more of the footnotes, which becomes almost political and foreboding when the words genetically modified apples appears. Somehow they enhance each other. The world we are in turns more clearly.
This is just a few verses of a book burgeoning with lines and splinters of meanings everywhere. Karen hears whispers of the Attawondaron Nation, the original keepers of this land. She lives with the fruit, the flowers, the river, the past in all its glory and weirdness. Bravo to you, Karen. Our eyes can’t help but be more open and engrossed.
You can hear Karen Houle reading at The Eden Mills Festival on Sunday September 8. Tickets are available at edenmillswritersfestival.ca or at The Bookshelf.