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Poetry Canadian

That Night We Were Ravenous

by (author) John Steffler

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Sep 2007
Canadian, Nature, Places
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2007
    List Price

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A beautiful new edition of the award-winning collection from Canada’s new Poet Laureate.

Newfoundland-born poet John Steffler is one of this country’s most accomplished writers. Recently named Canada’s national poet, he is the author of The Grey Islands (poems) and the award-winning novel The Afterlife of George Cartwright, both of which have become classics in our time.

That Night We Were Ravenous is Steffler’s most recent book of new poetry. In this extraordinary gathering of poems, he follows the trajectory of some of his earlier work with poems situated in Newfoundland’s coves, on trails, and in communities that testify to the pure bite and edge of this terrain. Other poems in the later sections of the book, more intimate, are set in Southern Ontario and Greece.

This is poetry that captures the imagination and activates the heart. Simply by looking through Steffler’s eyes, we come away with an enlarged sense of the natural world on the one hand, and of our own humanity on the other.

About the author

John Steffler (1947) grew up near Thornhill, ON. In 1975, he began teaching at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, NL. His novel The Afterlife of George Cartwright won the Smithbooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award and the Commonwealth Prize for best first book in 1992. His other awards include the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize, the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Artist of the Year Award, and the Atlantic Poetry Prize for his most recent collection, That Night We Were Ravenous.

John Steffler's profile page

Excerpt: That Night We Were Ravenous (by (author) John Steffler)

My hand moves below
in the bright element, turning
a page. The deck chair’s bleached

arms, my feet bare on the flagstones: all
mute, opaque as at home.

Nor are the cypress, the lemon, though trimmed with bookish
eager to break their poses and dance.

I thought sun and the island’s beauties would dive
into my eyes, out of my mouth in poems.

Nearby, small lizards are skirting
the foot of the wall: quick
green marginalia,
foreign script.

Overhead, the Grand Prix. Burly helmeted flies come
whining down the blue straightaway over the mulberry tree
and smack the sun-covered house,

drop flat bullets around my feet. Tiny,
terrible headaches. Twiddling legs.

The lizards scribble, licking them up.

Green, independent flames.

A Word about the Poem by John Steffler
I wrote this poem on the island of Naxos, in Greece, where I’d gone in the hope of returning to writing after a long exhausting year of teaching. There I had the fairly familiar experience of reaching a longed for, idealized destination — expecting in this case that the beauty and history of Naxos would somehow revive my imagination and my sense of being excited by the world — only to discover a place with a surface of factual reality that was no different from home. In a sense I did find strangeness there, but not of the sort I’d anticipated — more a foreign opacity or silencing mystery than the vestigial Arcadia I’d stupidly hoped for. Partly it was as simple as discovering once again that I couldn’t escape from myself. Partly it had to do with needing to come to terms with a place as it really was, not as I’d visualized it beforehand. The disturbing energy stirred up by these collisions was in the end reviving and exciting in unforeseen ways.

I wanted the poem to convey and evoke a perplexed, estranged, almost convalescent state of mind.

Editorial Reviews

Winner of the Atlantic Poetry Prize

“John Steffler is Canada’s most sensuously passionate writer. Reading him, we are put in touch with the pure erotic draw which the world exercises upon him. The acuity of his perception, and the size of his heart, make his poems an essential part of our literature.”
— Don McKay

“The range of poetic tone in this book, and the precision of its language, articulates why John Steffler is one of our most evocative poets.”
— Ross Leckie, New Brunswick Telegraph Journal

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