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Poetry General

Earth Words

Conversing with Three Sages

by (author) John Reibetanz

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2021
General, Canadian
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
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The leaves of paper / butterfly-wing thin / let light stream through / only one side of each.
If “poetry is what we do to break bread with the dead,” as Seamus Heaney put it, Earth Words breaks bread with three earlier writers through the glosa, a poetic form that unfolds as a dialogue. The collection inscribes a series of concentric circles, moving outwards from the eleventh-century world of Wang An-shih through the nineteenth century of Henry Thoreau and into the twentieth century with Emily Carr.
Though the environmental and political problems of the twenty-first century feel unique, the figures in this book are met with similar challenges. Wang’s writings embody an ideal relationship between self and nature, preserving a sense of rootedness in times resembling the upheavals of the Trump era. This relationship is confirmed in conversations with Thoreau, whose closeness to nature provides an antidote to our age’s dependence on digital forms of communication. He also grapples with slavery and the failure to respect the full humanity of Indigenous peoples, struggles that ripple out into the present. Carr’s writings and art enter into Indigenous cultures and witness the enduring value of their way of looking at nature. She realizes that the impulse to creatively express one’s being runs through the entire natural world.
Culminating in this realization, the concentric circles of Earth Words broaden out to include its twenty-first-century readers as well as its writers in a vision of creative growth.

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.

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