On the Road With the League of Canadian Poets

NPM Poster

We're so pleased that the League of Canadian Poets has created a post for us along the theme of this year's National Poetry Month, which is "The Road." Certainly, these are poems that take their readers places.

Thanks to Hazel Millar, Kate Flaherty, and Nicole Brewer for putting it all together. And check out National Poetry Month events happening across Canada

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This April, for National Poetry Month 2016, the League of Canadian Poets is encouraging Canadians to celebrate the roads in their lives and their literature: roads not taken; roads well travelled; roads real and imagined on journeys both tangible and intangible. We’ve gathered together ten books that explore a range of journeys from a road trip, to the Riel Resistance of the Métis, to the adventures of Bonnie and Clyde, and beyond. In the mood for an armchair adventure? Sit down with these books and let poetry take you on the road!

Book Cover The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out

In celebrated poet Karen Solie's latest book, The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out, there are poems that journey on foot and in rental cars, poems that travel by train, by ship, in airplanes, and virtually via Google Earth. For example, in "Rental Car," "The 427 interchange is a long note in space, flight path of materials the grace of which is a reason to live." Or in "Life is a Carnival," "we trail Google Earth's invisible pervert through the streets of our hometowns." Even in the title poem, we are travelling, but in such a way that we should consider where we are going as much as where we have come from (but more or less fail on the latter point): "We hadn't looked back, driving in, and lingered too long at the perspective." If for any reason, you should read this book for its stark and haunting poem "Bitumen," which reads like a master class in poetic technique. Simply put, this book is a must-read collection.

Book Cover Careen

Clyde Barrow loved Bonnie Parker and he drove like a bat out of hell. Bonnie Parker loved Clyde Barrow and Bonnie wrote poetry. These outlaw lovers and public enemy number ones, along with the other members of the legendary Barrow Gang, are the stars of Carolyn Smart's seventh collection, Careen. It's a rollicking ride across the backroads of Texas and the American Midwest during their infamous 1930s crime spree. Smart doesn't glamourize their lives the way that the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde did. In actuality, the gang lived a hardscrabble, uneasy life, punctuated by narrow escapes, and the harsh reality of life on the road took its toll on both of them. In poems like "when we drive this way" ("We drive so long and fast I forget I wear my bones some days."), "I Love the car" ("world flyin by and we could let it go.") and the opening poem, "Texas, 1930" ("into the long white ribbon of road the future careens away"), she invites you to surrender to the myth of two of the most famous and romanticized criminals in American history. Take a seat and enjoy the ride.

book cover punchlines

Aaron Tucker's debut collection, punchlines, documents a Canadian couple's drive down the West Coast of the United States. The trip out eventually comes to an end and we are given the trip back, which both retraces familiar territory while recounting something new. This is why the book is divided into two sections ("Departure/Set Up" and "Return/Punchline"): to Tucker, relating a trip is something akin to telling a joke. Add to this what Rachel Blau DuPlessis suggests in a back cover blurb when she says, "A road trip down the Internet highway parallels a real trip down interstate highways," and you get another layer: now we can travel in mediums that are real and virtual simultaneously. Tucker's innovative digital poetics, combined with his characteristic humour and wit, make the act of reading punchlines a highly entertaining and thought provoking trip from start to finish.

Book Cover Buoyancy Control

The poems in Adrienne Gruber's sophomore collection, Buoyancy Control, examine two domains: land and sea. The first half of the book is made up of a section of land works called "Terra firma," and here we find several travel poems. One poem in particular, titled "The Hanged Woman," recounts a road trip Gruber takes across America to visit her sister in Mexico. In it, she writes "I need a clear road, scraped of debris." When crossing the land, one is often forced to deal with imaginary borders, and in this poem we "cross the border at 3 a.m.," and "Drive into the city where tar melts the streets." But land and its imaginary limits has other limits too, and eventually, Gruber leaves the safety of solid ground behind for the fluidity of oceans and water. In a section of the book called "A mari usque ad maria," Gruber steps across another threshold to embark on a personal journey of sexual exploration and freedom. A swimmingly wonderous collection that will leave you gasping for air.

The Pemmican Eaters,

Book Cover The Pemmican Eaters

by Marilyn Dumont, explores the road towards union and understanding as it traces the Riel Resistance of the Métis (called “pemmican eaters” by settlers) at Batoche through the eyes of Louis Riel and Gabriel and Madeleine Dumont. The poet follows this historical road towards identity and autonomy, with rich and memorable images of “walking figures” in dreams, ”journeys of the hunt", the dance, and a “letter to sir John A. McDonald” assuring him that despite, as he called it, “the Indian problem,” “we are still here.” These compelling poems weave the theme of lines throughout the book—lines that divide, yet can also heal and guide. An important book to read on the route towards responsibility and reconciliation.

Book Cover Expressway

GG finalist Sina Queyras’s Expressway explores the paradox of our modern plight of greater separation despite greater and more complex webs of roads and freeways. It often travels a “solitary path” despite the potentially unifying advances in technology, and follows metaphoric roads and highways to on-ramps, lift bridges, off-ramps and tollbooths. The price of so many roads and crashes is great because, as she says, “every road is made/ with dynamite.” These evocative poems explore “land/ before the expressway,” and end with a call to “go forth and undue harm.” A new way to look at the thoroughfares we take for granted.

Book Cover The End of Trave

Another wonderful book, by Julie Bruck, The End of Travel explores everyday vignettes that deal powerfully with life, death and healing. Bruck imagines journeys—of Elizabeth Bishop on a bus, nearly stepping off the curb into a car, a haunting dream of a plane crash, an emblematic image of a life-raft, the journey of a friend towards death. The ordinary stops along life’s course are infused with meaning: a simple street view, a change of address, parking spaces, the metaphor of “getting out” and “going for a drive.” Hold on to your hat!

Terra Incognita, by Adebe DeRango-Adem, explores the “half-cast” “mixed blood” “mulatto angels” whose stories have been erased and washed away through history. She deftly traces the journey towards redefining self and the rocky road of finding meaning in the concept of home. The present is tainted by the past where “anxiety is/ nostalgia for the future/ and fear of the past.” The unknown land is the land of racism and the path of these striking poems winds towards finding common ground that celebrated diversity—“we are not other” despite being “not the same.” These are compelling poems of finding angels and dreams in shadows, where “every poem is praise/ and is where you are.” A powerful collection of poems en route towards equality.

The Knife Thrower’s Partner is a quirky and clever journey where poet Douglas Burnet Smith convincingly writes in the voice of a woman, the brave partner in the hair-raising game of knife-throwing—the one who must not flinch while in the path of sharp projectiles. She drives away from this terrifying job, yet longs for danger. The poems deal with the lines of mirrors and paths of roads, the potentially lethal flight-path of daggers, where a waitress gets her arm pinned by a blade to the wall by the impulsive knife thrower. There are thrilling images, like an uncle knifing through a Thanksgiving bird’s neck, that follow a story of “a road less taken” in a rare and dangerous profession. A breathtaking journey!

Safely Home Pacific Western, by Jeff Latosik, is a combination of words common to travel-package tour buses. The poems travel into ruined stretches of the rural US and Ontario mine country, across the English Channel in a hot air balloon, into the flight paths of fish hurled across Northern Territory Australia by a water spout, and even the far blinking orbit of a Navstar satellite. But unlike that modern promise of a brief, comfortable excursion, these poems often end up in strange, uncomfortable places. Arc Magazine calls Safely Home Pacific Western "a unique take on a travelogue, focusing on the impact of the sights along the way and exploring varieties of individual interpretation.”

April 18, 2016
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