About the Author

Anne Simpson

Books by this Author
Canterbury Beach

Allistair drove the Chrysler up the driveway towards the house and backed up beside the porch, putting his arm along the seat and looking over his shoulder. “Chantilly Lace” was on the radio; he was singing along to it. He hoped Verna had made a dinner of pork and beans. There was a garble of children’s voices and Spike was running across the Dysons’ yard next door. Evelyn called, “Neil’s in the tree house.”

The laundry billowed out white, gingham, striped. Its clean scent came through the half-open window of the car. Reversing the car slowly, he tilted over something hard, perhaps a tricycle, before the car bumped down again on solid ground. He opened the door quickly, seeing a child’s body by the rear wheel. A small hand, plaid shorts, black sneakers, an undone lace. Even as he tugged at him he called his name. Garnet. He was lying still. Over his white T-shirt, not quite long enough to cover his belly, was a picture of a red lobster with goggle eyes and waving antennae. His chest may have been rising and falling but Allistair couldn’t tell. All he saw was the picture of the lobster with the mark of the tire tread across it, like a brand.

Allistair’s grandmother once read him a story from a leather-covered book with gold-tooled binding. Each page was edged with gold. The story was about a prince rescuing his brothers, saving the kingdom, and winning a princess. But his grandmother said it was a story about finding fortune. When she finished reading it she looked at him, tamping the tobacco down in her pipe, and said that it would happen to him sometime. She had an odd smile that turned up on one side and down on the other, because she’d had Bell’s palsy. Her dress was pink and white, patterned with windmills. There were two ducks in front of each windmill. He concentrated on the ducks so that he wouldn’t look at her mouth slipping down on the left side.

When Verna Desormeaux leaned over the counter at the Snow King fourteen years later and kissed him, Allistair remembered what his grandmother had said. He didn’t expect it to happen. It was just another shift at work and he was finishing up, wiping the counters and tables. He had to mop the floor, too, turn out the lights, and lock both doors, but Jeannie Archibald and Verna were sitting at one of the tables, giggling. He had to work around them. Jeannie had eyebrows that arched up as if he’d insulted her. Verna had a smooth face and dark eyes that could have been grey or blue. He went back to the cash to count the bills and looked up to find her standing in front of him. She leaned over, in full view of Jeannie, so that her lips brushed against his. It was hardly a kiss, and even before she turned away it occurred to him that Jeannie had set her up to it. Maybe bet a dime that Verna couldn’t do it. He could hear Jeannie chuckling as they left, a snicking sound that reminded him of scissors.

Verna didn’t show up at the Snow King again but he thought about her. He’d discovered something, like the first time he’d had a swig of his grandfather’s Glenfiddich. He almost hated the sweet, rich burning inside his mouth, down his throat. But he wanted Verna. He wanted her so much that he asked Sharlene MacIsaac to the May dance and then he didn’t know why. They stayed out in his brother Frank’s truck at the far end of the parking lot where he could get her to roll up her sweater and hitch up her skirt, which was as much as she would do. So they sat up after a while, Sharlene pulling down her sweater with one hand and patting her hair into place with the other, saying she wished she had some spray to get it back into shape. They drank rum, hidden in a paper bag, until she threw up out the window and he drove her home. Then he cruised down Main Street and along Church, through the university and out to the Trans-Canada. There was nowhere to go. He started along the Lochaber Road absently, slowing down to pass a girl. She turned, looking straight at him, though she couldn’t see anything in the glare. Verna. He stopped for her, leaning over to open the door, and she got in. They went all the way to St. Joseph’s without saying much of anything until he pulled into the lane at her place.

“I’m not seeing Bart Chisholm any more,” she said.

She had her hand on the door handle.

“I’ll come around tomorrow night and see what you’re doing, then,” he said.

Fortune had fallen into his lap.

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also available: Hardcover
tagged : literary, sagas
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The girl on the four-­wheeler turned sharply at the top of the bank and felt the vehicle drop heavily beneath her. There was no time to correct the mistake, though she tried, and the four-­wheeler fell, toppling to one side, slowly, all four hundred and eighty-­eight pounds of it, as it slid down the bank, landing in the stream and trapping her body underneath. Her cry could have been that of an Arctic tern, high above, its wings an open pair of scissors against the blue.

Struggling to free herself, she could only bring her head above water briefly before her exertions wedged the vehicle more firmly in the thick, wet sand.

Damian, she shrieked, raising her head out of the water a second time.

Panicking, she moved her head wildly from side to side, choking, trying to get air, which made her take in water. She heard an overwhelming beating in her ears.

Her body was splayed in the stream. She struggled several more times, with less vigour, and then she ­didn’t move. Though she was face down, one of her hands lay with the palm up so the water moved over her fingertips.

At the other end of the beach, where the rocks piled and tumbled like upended shelves and tables, Damian was dozing. He’d been swimming, and his bathing suit was still damp. The sun was warm on his body — it showed his pelvic bones in relief, touched his features with light — and it had made him sleepy. Each time he exhaled, there was the suggestion of a snore. He ­hadn’t slept well the night before, and now dreams came fleetingly.

He might have been carved in stone, except for the almost imperceptible movement of his chest, rising and falling. A fly landed lightly on his leg, and he reached out a hand to brush it off. Disconnected images flickered in and out of his consciousness until he heard the distant cry of a bird and opened his eyes. After a while he got up, and stretched to one side, the other side. He had a man’s body, with a broad, tanned chest, though his blond hair was as fine and sleek as a girl’s, and would have fallen past his shoulders if it had been loose. He picked up his towel and stood at the edge of the rocks.

The sea glinted and moved and shifted before him, becoming a hard, steely colour where it met the softer edge of sky. A roll of waves fell gently and retreated, leaving the sand darkened, velvety brown, as they drew away. The tides of the Northumberland Strait ­weren’t as high as those of the Fundy, and seemed almost lazy by comparison, and although the water was as warm as that off the coast of the Carolinas, the jellyfish had already come and gone: there were no more of their purplish, nearly trans­lucent bodies, some as large as purses, to be seen on the beach. The light was beginning to slant across the land in early morning and late evening, which meant autumn was coming.

Far off, so far as to be dreamlike, was a line of blue hills on the western coast of Cape Breton. To the north were the headlands of Cape George, but Ballantyne’s Cove was beyond the nearest cliff, with its reddened, exposed soils. On the water, some distance out, and apparently equidistant between the coasts on either side, was a white sailboat, but its sails were furled. There was no wind. The sky was clear, devoid of any clouds, and it promised to be hot all day.

Damian got up and moved over the rocks with a kind of animal grace, dropping from this shelf of stone to that one, over a small crevice where some broken beer bottles lay, and at the edge of the rocks he leapt down to the sand below. He paused and ran his hand over initials carved in the stone: Hey man! It’s­­­ 15°C — Oct. 21, 2000. J + E.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw something yellow, sticking up out of the sand. He ­couldn’t figure it out for a moment. It was all wrong. Lisa’s kayak. But why —

Lisa, he shouted.

From the Hardcover edition.

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before you were a cell, dividing into cells and more cells—


before blue before blue deepening and unwinding inside blue before bluegrey before the envelope of morning before opening the crisp envelope of morning before afternoon and afternoon’s picked threads before evening before the scattering of evening’s fish scales before crumpled dark before tarnished dark before glovesoft dark before world not yet world


all undone and unmade thick and ancient furred by weather not yet weather creased and lined rock and water linen-thin water and rock unseamed bulky dense and smooth not birth not death both icy and steamy sounds not yet sounds darkness before darkness and light before light beginning and ending ending and beginning woven and braided and woodsmoke fragrant and not woodsmoke fragrant shot through with glistening and murmuring unmurmuring cloud of murmuring also glistening linen-thin water and rock rock and water unseamed furred by the weather not furred lined creased steamy and icy smooth not birth not death all undone done made and unmade

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I knew you
long before I saw you,
one thing inside another
making itself up. Lightly,
snow fell, kept falling
the night you were born —
like those prayers tied
to branches by the Japanese —
scissored bits of paper,
each one a word:
a name, many names, loose
in the dark.

Later you’ll need a name
that’s door and window, roof
and bed. You’ll need a name to foil
the thief that comes
to live in your heart. But now
you need a name so diaphanous
and small
it takes its shape from air.

Anne Simpson is the author of three books of poetry, Light Falls Through You, winner of the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize; Loop, winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize; and, most recently, Quick. She is also the author of a novel, Canterbury Beach. She lives in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where she helped establish the Writing Centre at St. Francis Xavier University.

A Word about the Poem by Anne Simpson
I wrote “Name, Many Names” after the birth of my first child.  Snow was falling that night; it was a delicate, shimmering thing in the darkness. Visiting hours were over at the hospital, and even my husband had gone home. I was half-asleep, thinking about what it is to name a child, and I realized that I wanted my son to have one name for the world, and another name that was not for the world at all, but something else — a hidden name. 

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–are you all right are you hurt can you move how clearly men speak
through the blown-out window undo the seat belt undo the seat belt
and fall headfirst into the rain pulled from a wrecked car the side
of the road scarlet apples rolling here there each one a miniature
emergency a loop of cord a coat a scattering of glass hands shaking
water running down someone’s face dark trees behind a van
brushwork on a Chinese screen a fire truck police car glaze of rain
this is where it happened an ambulance with its doors opening
into a throat of darkness–


It stops–

Upside down,
he’s moaning, blood in his hair.
Broken glass

grinds in my mouth.

Smashed air.The many clocks

of rain, slapping wipers jerk and lift of the tires the car silkily
veering off the wrong way on a wet road a long, vertiginous descent
frenzy of wipers this is how it comes gracefully the end of things
a guardrail a ditch a life closing with a little sound a click nothing
to fear brace hard the car slams into the rail on the driver’s side
hooks metal flips hurtles down the highway on the roof the wheels
spinning like a chase of deer–


It stops–

inside out bones showing against shadow white puzzle pieces
nestled one against the other delicate skull wide-open jaw sinuous
length of spine in the hospital a doctor traced

smashed air. The many clocks

many voices are you all right are you hurt can you move how clearly
men speak through the blown-out window undo the seat belt undo
the seat belt and fall headfirst into the rain pulled from a wrecked
car the side of the road scarlet apples rolling here there each one
a miniature emergency a loop of cord a coat a scattering of glass
hands shaking water running down someone’s face dark trees behind
a van brushwork on a Chinese screen a fire truck police car glaze
of rain this is where it happened an ambulance with its doors
opening backwards to show watery marks on the ultrasound yes
you’re thinking it could be you it could be your bird heart beating
now now now.

Anne Simpson is the author of three books of poetry, Light Falls Through You, winner of the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize; Loop, winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry; and her new collection, Quick. She is also the author of a novel, Canterbury Beach. She lives in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where she helped establish the Writing Centre at St. Francis Xavier University.

A Word about the Poem by Anne Simpson
How do we write the state of shock? This was the question that came to me after I wrote the first drafts of “Clocks of Rain.” In these earlier drafts, I wrote a long poem, broken into sections, in which the speaker looks back on an accident some time after it happens.  But then it became a story, distanced by remembering. It seemed to me that I hadn’t gotten inside the accident itself. I knew that it had to be much more immediate to work effectively. And the form had to change. I had to find a form for dislocation, something that would reveal a break in the temporal, so I came up with an entirely different poem. I cut it back, shook it up. I thought of how people get thrown around in an accident, even though they might be strapped into a car. Ultimately, I wanted the sharp realization that comes with a close call — that life is not just given back, but given back differently — breaking out of the poem.

How the Poem Works by Anne Compton
“Clocks of Rain” is reminiscent of Simpson’s “Seven Paintings by Brueghel” (Loop, 2003), the sonnet series that lamented the stopped clocks, stopped lives of the Twin Towers. “Clocks” is, however, an everyday tragedy — if there is such a thing — a road accident. The debris at the accident scene includes “a loop of cord,” undoubtedly a nod to the formal experimentation that Simpson began with Loop and quickens here. Referencing her earlier work, “Clocks of Rain” also extends the painter-poet’s interest in beauty and violence — the collision of those in everyday life.

Abandoning the stop signs of punctuation that make syntax negotiable, “Clocks” enacts pavement’s chaos on the page. Simpson, who devoted a section of Light Falls Through You (2000) to those very signs, creates in this prose poem the panic of an auto accident. Fragments trail between paragraphs. The poem, as much as the automobile, hydroplanes on the surface of its story: An accident happens, the driver suffers an injury, but narrative perspective remains uncertain. Point of view veers among first, second, and third person. The four paragraphs view successively the wreck, the moment of the accident, the victim, ending where they began, with the “many voices” milling around the wreck. This structure imitates the “Upside down” coming-to-rest of the vehicle, the “inside out” of the victim. With her signature tact, and painter’s eye, Simpson imbues gruesome detail with tenderness.

The shock of it all is signalled by the abrupt beginning — a dash; by the breathless, brief phrases jamming the moment; by the unmarked dialogue: thoughts and speech — inside the wreck and outside — are indistinguishable. Perceptions occur — “scarlet apples rolling here there” — but ownership of those perceptions is unclear. Form, here, forces the reader to “fall headfirst” into chaos, but it’s the heart — whose heart — that is at risk. Risk is what interests Anne Simpson these days. “Clocks of Rain” — the noun phrase metaphor of the title, repeated in the poem — “click” off a life. Like John Donne’s bells, which toll for “you,” these “Clocks” rain on everyone.

Anne Compton is the author of Processional, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Atlantic Poetry Prize, and Opening the Island, winner of the Atlantic Poetry Prize. Her most recent work is Meetings with Maritime Poets: Interviews. She is the editor of The Edge of Home: Milton Acorn from the Island and co-editor of Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada, and the author of A.J.M. Smith: Canadian Metaphysical.

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Strange Attractor


If you step into this stream now
and return an hour later, everything
will be different. Step into this tea-
steeped water, with a few strands
of grass turned September Blonde.
Between the person you are
to the person you will be after
you step out of this stream,
after you’ve wiped your eyes,
after you’ve had one child, then two,
then maybe three, or none at all,
you’ll look up and find yourself
studying the grand theories
of clouds, one construed as
a woman with her arms outstretched,
another as a burning house. If you
step into this stream, the one
outside the library, not very deep,
with a shopping cart rusting
on its side, you’ll feel it around
your ankles. Step into the stream
when you’re fifteen, lose one
of your running shoes (a red
one), and climb up the bank, damp,
shivering, and you’ll be sixty-three.
Go back down to the stream
to get the shoe and you’ll be
thirty-seven. If you step into this
stream now. If you step into
this stream if you step
if you return if you step. If you
return an hour later you can wrap
dusk around your shoulders. You
might hear someone tinkering
with piano keys, trying to plink
a tune. Let yourself be stream, let
yourself be where it comes from and
where it’s going, let yourself be
nothing but a smear of traffic lights,
glossed ruby, glossed green, on the surface.

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The Marram Grass

The Marram Grass

Poetry & Otherness
also available: Paperback
tagged : essays
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Experiments in Distant Influence

Experiments in Distant Influence

Notes and Poems
illustrated by Anne Simpson
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Orange from Portugal

Orange from Portugal

Christmas Stories from the Maritimes and Newfoundland
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