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Poetry Canadian

Once Houses Could Fly

by (author) Rosemary Clewes

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Initial publish date
Apr 2012
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2012
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In Once Houses Could Fly, ten kayakers snail along the rugged fjords of Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic.

Here under the roofless world, the ancient killing fields of the Thule people become campsites for tents, pitched among the bleached bones of sea mammals and the rough docks of shore-ice.

These poems speak of the bite and beauty of weather and the limits it sets on us. Be it “Jeremiah on a rampage” or the “which-way of ice,” the polar desert has a habit of dismantling expectations. There is nowhere to hide, no turning back. Beginner’s prowess ends in taking inventory of thumbs and “aging’s howl,” yet the light’s redemptive peace settles all distress, and what lasts is the quiet gratitude that overtakes the narrator, as the journey sets the pace for the soul to catch up with the body.

The book recalls this journey as a summoning to oneself: a humility, which does not anticipate competence, which opens its arms to the unfolding world.

About the author

Rosemary Clewes is a poet, nonfiction writer, photographer and artist. After many rich years as a social worker, a horsewoman, pianist, painter and printmaker, she settled for writing and poetry. Her extensive northern travel, forming a body of work in both poetry and prose, includes Once Houses Could Fly: Kayaking North of 79 Degrees (2012), and Thule Explorer: Kayaking North of 77 Degrees (2008). A crown of sonnets, also entitled "Thule Explorer" was nominated by The Malahat Review for the National Magazine Awards in 2006. In 2006, she was also a finalist in the CBC Literary Awards for the suite entitled, "Where Lemon Trees Bloom In Winter: Sojourn in Sicily." A chapbook entitled Islands North and South is forthcoming. She has been published most recently in Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant Magazine, Queen's Quarterly, The Dalhousie Review, Grain Magazine and The Fiddlehead. Living on the cusp of her personal frontiers is a recurring theme, and in prose and poetry she conducts a conversation with the land, seeking to understand her place in the larger order, and in the power and fragility of nature. She has rafted and kayaked some of the great rivers and fjords in western Canada and the Eastern Arctic. She lives in Toronto.

Rosemary Clewes' profile page

Excerpt: Once Houses Could Fly (by (author) Rosemary Clewes)

First questions were born

How big is the world?

That’s what I want to know what I came for —

to travel where the world meets itself beyond fiction

where what is said to be so is so.

The truth of bleached bones

wind-seared skeletons — I came for rock

that dependable middleman between sky and ocean

binding worlds.

Each world

holding to its own place.


I go here because the land so sparsely peopled

is hard to plunder.



And me not noticing

how rain can loosen a floater’s grip on rock

’til twenty feet from my bow

shore ice plummets


The ocean gulps a season

reminding me what brute force is in it

and I feel

winter’s revenge on summer in the waves’ attack


Back up, orders Scott

don’t want that ice coming up under us



We’ve returned to a different camp on Skraeling

islanded until wind dictates

the which-way of ice.

About a mile — or maybe ten — light letters

the lustrous pearls

of the multi-year white menace

strung across the mouth of the fjord.


If I was a bird reconnoitering

I’d see how tide, spurring swell, could set sea-ice

packed with wind at its back:

trap us in mid-channel —

our paddles, pitiful staves

against the sea-gang’s swarm.



Meals under tarp, rain pissing on-off.

I’m ornery, mean-minded.

Yet — there’s power

in the glare light

in just sitting

waiting it out

when you can’t run

turn it off or on

nothing to do alone together —

better than kicking ass.

Other titles by Rosemary Clewes