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Poetry Canadian

By Hand

by (author) John Reibetanz

Brick Books
Initial publish date
Apr 2019
Canadian, Nature
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    Publish Date
    Apr 2019
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Poems that examine the creative achievements of the human hand, from cave art to contemporary photography.

John Reibetanz's twelfth collection, By Hand, begins with an epigraph from Lewis Mumford: "Until modern times, apart from the esoteric knowledge of the priests, philosophers, and astronomers, the greater part of human thought and imagination flowed through the hands." Reibetanz's new poems investigate human creativity as a visceral interaction with the world: our imagining hands finding the music implicit in the stuff of earth, a "duet// of earthbound songsters," of mind and material, each shaping the other. Centered on this duet, the book encompasses the wide-ranging aspects of our humanity--hands used for good and ill--portrayed in the examined paintings and sculptures, gardens, tapestries, photographs, and carvings. And they explore in particular the relationship in these artifacts between the "givens" of nature and the modifications and contributions of human culture. As Roo Borson says of the collection, "the poems are shot through with moments in which language's particular dexterity comes into its own and real objects are remade, as when these lines from 'The Installation' celebrate the 'commonality of clay' in a relief by della Robbia:"

the light-quickened humus
of the eyes that, for hundreds of years, have read the notes
inscribed on the banner an angel is unscrolling...

"These are the words of a real craftsman, writing about other makers. ...Through acute seeing, [Reibetanz] communicates to the reader the nowness of things made centuries ago and the humanity of their creators." --Robert Lemay

About the author

John Reibetanz was born in New York City, and grew up in the eastern United States and Canada. He put himself through university by working at numerous non-poetic jobs, and is probably the only member of the League of Canadian Poets to have belonged to the Amalgamated Meatcutters Union. A finalist for both the National Magazine Awards (Canada) and the National Poetry Competition (United States), he has given readings of his poetry in most major cities in North America. His poems have appeared in such magazines as Poetry (Chicago), The Paris Review, Canadian Literature, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, The Southern Review, and Quarry. His fifth collection, Mining For Sun (Brick Books, 2000), was shortlisted for the ReLit Poetry Award; his sixth, Near Relations, was published by McClelland and Stewart in 2005. In 2003 he was awarded First Prize in the international Petra Kenney Poetry Competition. John Reibetanz lives in Toronto with his wife and three children, and he teaches at Victoria College, University of Toronto, where he received the first Victoria University Teaching Award. In addition to poetry, he has written essays on Elizabethan drama and on modern and contemporary poetry, as well as a book on King Lear and a book of translations of modern German poetry. When he is not writing or teaching, he bicycles, kayaks, reads local history, and listens passionately to 1930s jazz.

John Reibetanz's profile page

Excerpt: By Hand (by (author) John Reibetanz)


This music goes a long way back before the needle
coasted in its groove on your grandfather's black vinyl
before the bow sang from valleys in the flexed sawblade
of his grandfather before ancient breath fluted from
the vent-holes ancient tools notched in the small vaulted roof
of a hollow bone back to where a flintstone burin
etched silent scales into softer stone or to the beach
where a pointed fragment of shell gave the hand's airy
motions a home in driftwood the way the waves in their
ins and outs hold the rhythm of the wind's breath this hand
makes music with the world around it but not without
an instrument chisel or gouge to transpose the mind's
notations to the range of pith and grain wood pushing
against the carver's flexed wrist retorting giving back
its own resonance to the tuning body duet
of earthbound songsters that becomes a trio when long
after the woodshed stills you run your finger over
the carving thrill to the flutings and you're in the groove

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