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- A Note on Teaching Poetry
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What We Carry explores the human condition and its impact on identity, culture and our physical environs. Glickman’s lyric poems traverse the Earth — commemorating disappearing species and exploring the ruins of Mycenae — and gracefully poses keen questions on time and mortality. Glickman is a poet, novelist, nonfiction writer and teacher based in Toronto.
and in the process purged a lifetime of paper – fifteen large recycling bags full. I got up at 6 am to scurry up and down the street, stuffing grad school essays, teaching notes, drafts of old poems, every journal I’d ever been published in, and who knows what else into the neighbours’ blue bins.
I am not precious about my work; I reckoned the world already had more than enough of it. I also assumed that I had copies of anything worth keeping on my hard drive or in my archives.
This proved to be quite wrong! Many poems, stories, and essays didn’t make the long migration from my first computer and the large floppy discs to a later, smaller generation of floppy discs to the hard drive of my current machine. Of course, it took me quite a while to realize how much I’d mislaid – only when I tried to gather together all my prose for a potential book did I understand how reckless I’d been.
I was able to recover some lost essays online; others at the library. But what I will never ever recover are the poems – poems in all those little magazines that no longer exist anywhere, magazines I had copies of that I tossed so casually into my neighbours’ bins. Poems that never made it into my books for one reason or another. I had assumed that this was because they were dreadful but some were really not that bad, they just didn’t fit in with whatever the overarching theme or style of my current book was, or they needed revision I wasn’t inclined to do just then but might have done another time IF I STILL HAD THEM.
But I don’t.
Periodically something turns up, waving “Remember me?” Like today, when I went on Google to see if there was any mention of What We Carry, just published this week, and in the process stumbled on the following poem, and some questions I answered about it in Canadian Literature! Here they are now, before I lose them again.
I’m a passionate gardener, so horticultural imagery frequently finds its way into my work. I think here what happened is that Shakespeare’s characterization of envy as “The Green-Eyed Monster” in Othello conflicted with my sense of green being a positive force, so I imagined a way in which the “greenness” of envy could be seen as not such a bad thing, but—as all green things are—“natural.” “Perennial” in the sense of happening all the time, everywhere, and therefore perhaps not to be seen as a deadly sin but an ordinary aspect of human nature, since everyone feels overlooked and under-appreciated from time to time.
At the time I wrote it, I had dropped out of academic and literary life to raise children. So I often felt this way, and was ashamed of my feelings.
The poem is built up of a series of negative statements which are highly concrete images of something abstract. It’s a kind of a game. If you didn’t have the title to guide you, you would have no idea what the speaker is trying (and ultimately failing) to describe.
I’ve always loved Shakespeare’s sonnet 116, which generates tremendous psychic tension by the use of negative statements. After all, anyone who has to declare “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ admit impediments” had already admitted that he is well aware that impediments exist! In the same way, the speaker of this poem manages to suggest a great deal of ambivalence about what she’s saying.
As well, by using the strongest language to say what it is not, rather than what it is, the speaker ensures that we are likely to carry away an image of envy as “screwed,” “stagnant,” “root-bound,” “swamp scum,” “parasitic,” “a clinging vine,” “excessive,” and “trying too hard.”
Finally, the poem pretends to reach a conclusion but doesn’t—there is no final period.
What We Carry by Susan Glickman Véhicule Press, 92 pages, $17.95
A keen awareness of mortality underlies the poems in Susan Glickman’s vibrant seventh collection. It’s expressed not as dread but as a bittersweet cherishing of what she holds dear, from memories to music to nature. As the Toronto poet and novelist puts it in one poem, “with more time behind you than ahead,/the world grows larger, pregnant with wonder.” The world’s losses grow larger, too: “Elegies for the 21st Century” is a series of sonnets addressed to various extinct species, including the river otter of Japan “once abundant as reeds in the waters.” These lyric poems have an unassuming grace and clarity, and an eclectic range: Glickman “translates” a number of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Opus 28, into poems that mirror the mood of the music; elsewhere, she muses wittily on the travails of urban life, such as being “hemmed in … by backpacks and hockey bags,/groceries and gifts” on a crowded streetcar.
-Barb Carey, The Toronto Star, April 6 2019
“Susan Glickman makes reference to opus 28 of Chopin’s 24 Preludes in What We Carry; as she says in the notes, she has attempted to “translate” Chopin into verse without being glued to any one format. What is utterly consistent in Glickman’s work is attention to the natural world – to flora and fauna, much of which is rapidly disappearing.
The speaker in “Ice Storm” compares her experience of walking on ice in her “old-lady shoes” and her grandfather’s use of ice in Scotch “on the rocks,” which she didn’t understand as a child. The disconnect between worlds is made clear: the child already understands “that the world I lived in / and the one I was told about / were not the same.” Like Ross and Barnes, Glickman informs about experiences, but because much of her content is about environmental degradation, the voice is quite forceful. Gentle, but forceful.
In “Db Major (Laurentian Suite),” for example, Glickman celebrates the beauty of the landscape in all its specificity, mentioning various plants and animals, then moving to an overview: “A landscape parsed by fractal geometry / the smallest unit mimicking the largest / in unceasing progression.” Glickman takes a shot at Northrop Frye, who believed “only humanity / is conscious and that nature / is an obstacle to transcendence,” but he might have changed his mind given time. Regardless, Glickman’s assertion that it doesn’t matter settles any argument: “the trees / just listen to our high-pitched chatter / and laugh.”
The respect paid to nature in this book is palpable and the sadness at its destruction is equally strong. The technical dexterity is as powerful as the emotions and shows a poet at the peak of her creativity.”
– Candace Fertile
a Devonshire based bookaholic, sock-knitting quilter who was a community nurse once upon a time.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
The Friendship of Poets.
I didn’t know Helen Dunmore and I don’t know Susan Glickman, but when I bought my copy of Helen Dunmore’s poetry collection Inside the Wave last year, a few months before Helen died, one of the first things I noticed was the book’s dedication
‘For Susan Glickman’
Having also had a book dedicated to me for the first time recently I now understand quite how special this is. Jacob’s Room is Full of Books might have been written by Susan Hill, but it’s my book really; it’s like a baby of mine. I look on the book fondly when I spy it in bookshops and have even been known to give it greater prominence if I feel it is sitting in the shadows; a bit like easing a child to the front of a crowded venue so they can see. I have been known to open a copy just to check my name is still there; maybe stare at it a bit longer than usual; maybe hope that someone will ask me ‘Is it any good?’ or ‘Should I read it?’ I’d like to think, being traditionally English and therefore modest, self-effacing and retiring (ahem) that there would be no brag and boast, that I wouldn’t say ‘ Of course Susan dedicated that to me you know…’. But there are no certainties in life. The words might slip and slide out before I could stop them because I am inordinately proud and honoured by the whole thing.
And I don’t know but I can only imagine Canadian author and poet Susan Glickman might have felt similarly honoured about Inside the Wave; to be the dedicatee of someone’s final collection of poems surely an honour beyond thanks, an indication of a very special friendship. The connection was enough to make me order a collection of Susan Glickman’s poetry and The Smooth Yarrow (2012) has sat beside Inside the Wave ever since.
Inside the Wave is a collection that has become something of a touchstone for me, in many ways a gentle and uplifting elegy, a requiem, by a remarkable writer, and I have read it over and again. It is a book of resilience and reality, of consolation and comfort. Different poems take on new resonance with each read and it has been revealing to hear Helen Dunmore’s children talking about the legacy of their mother’s words since the post-humous announcement of the Costa Book Award. About how much those words have always meant to them, but how incredibly precious they are now….
My Life’s Stem Was Cut
My life’s stem was cut,
But quickly, lovingly
I was lifted up,
I heard the rush of the tap
And I was set in water
In the blue vase, beautiful
In lip and curve,
And here I am
Opening one petal
As the tea cools.
I wait while the sun moves
And the bees finish their dancing,
I know I am dying
But why not keep flowering
As long as I can
from my cut stem?
Helen Dunmore (Inside the Wave)
When a final poem, written just days before her death, was published in The Guardian, I printed it out and stuck it in the back of my copy. Hold Out Your Arms the ultimate in consolation and preparation for the next journey.
I was reading both collections again this week, Inside the Wave and The Smooth Yarrow and came across a poem by Susan Glickman, dedicated to Helen Dunmore, entitled ‘Snow’. It is a poem that reads as a conversation of questions and works best if read out loud with all the intonations of voice that a question and response create. I would normally quote an extract here to give a flavour, but Snow is a poem to be read as a whole so I wrote to Susan Glickman and am very grateful for her blessing to publish it here in full.
for Helen Dunmore
What is it?
A storm of feathers
From a bird?
From a landlocked cloud.
Full of thunder?
No, full of silence.
As a kind of song.
For one voice or many?
Many. It is a dance of transient beings.
But you said it was a song.
I meant a dance. Silence itself, moving.
To the edge.
The edge of what?
Where earth and sky meet.
Perhaps it is nothing but sand.
It may be nothing, but it is not sand.
What do you mean, nothing?
It’s landscapes are illusory.
Can you build with it?
When it is wet enough.
And when it is not wet, what then?
It cracks underfoot, or hardens into dangerous transparency.
But without reflection.
Moving like a river?
Unmoving. Like a lake.
Susan Glickman (The Smooth Yarrow)
What is the nature of something so transient. The more I read it the more I felt it, as it moved towards those final two lines. Grasping at something that is so fleeting yet so very special, something so tricky to define. Without incurring the wrath of Philip Pullman writing in Daemon Voices, as he takes up the cudgels over the ‘interrogation of poetry’, (especially in the classroom), I found much to love and ponder here, moments like that single extended line stretching out icily into the frozen distance.
I am so delighted that Helen Dunmore has lit my way to Susan Glickman because there is another much longer poem in Susan Glickman’s collection which I had only read properly this week.
I loved ‘In the Garden’ for its realistic take on gardening and plants, all seeming particularly relevant after my recent foray out there and I think we’d all agree with this…
‘Like poets, gardeners
never concede failure.
If something doesn’t thrive
they promptly transplant it….
But then I read this, the final stanza…
‘Those we love we try to coax into staying
but it is not their way, though they swear
never to forget us, and to return bearing new gifts.
We clutch this promise to us through the chill that follows
squinting at the snow. imagining instead
a blizzard of white blossom.’
Ostensibly about plants as winter approaches (and don’t we all love to keep things in flower to first frosts) but what a wonderful analogy it seems with thoughts of losing someone special. Those words arced across to Snow and My Life’s Stem Was Cut and to the sad loss of Helen Dunmore, before transporting me back to Hanmer Springs, New Zealand and that stunning blossom in the grounds of the deserted Queen Mary’s Hospital. In the space of minutes I had travelled many thousands of emotional miles
I have no idea about the day-to-day realities of the bonds of friendship in this case, but its language is out there for everyone to share, so how pleased I am to have discovered this one, and as if to complete the circle and bring me back to where I started, Susan Glickman tells me that her forthcoming collection will be dedicated to Helen Dunmore.
I can’t possibly end without my very most favourite poem from Inside the Wave…
If I were the moon
With a star papoose
In the windy sky
I’d carry my one star home.
If I were the sea
With boats in my arms
On this cold morning
I’d carry them,
If I were sleeping
And my dream turned
I would carry you
Wherever you choose.
Footnote : A hat tip to poetry publisher Bloodaxe for bringing Inside the Wave to fruition, and who have been around for a great many of my poetry-loving years featuring large on my shelves. Searching for more collections by Helen Dunmore, and having bought The Malarkey in Waterstones recently, I headed to the Bloodaxe website for any more available titles. How pleased I was to discover they would send Glad of These Times to me for £7.95 post free. Sadly my order was followed by an email of apology and cancellation, a website error as the book is out of print. Never mind, I will find a copy somewhere…and still a hat tip to Bloodaxe for being there.
What an investment and such incredible value poetry books still represent for the hours and hours they give back in return.
When my seventh book of poetry is coming out from Signal Editions of Véhicule Press. Here’s what the press has to say about it in their catalogue:
What We Carry
What We Carry is a profound exploration of the weight of human history at three levels: the individual, the cultural, and environmental. From her brilliant “Extinction Sonnets”—odes to various disappearing species—to a spirited examination of everyday salutations, Susan Glickman’s range astonishes: ice storms, sugar maples, early love on the Orient Express, an archaeological dig at Mycenae. Serious but not solemn, full of linguistic and imagistic playfulness, the collection is anchored by poetic translations of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, opus 28—his most experimental and characteristic compositions. The intimacy of Chopin’s project has inspired sound-rich poems that, once again, prove Glickman’s gift for capturing the frailty of human connections in a damaged world. “First light and the last, / first love and the last.”
A translation will be published by Prozart Media in Skopje.
The annual review of books by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre says, “This moving story is a testament to the transformative power of love.” See bestbooks.bookcentre.ca