Onderhoud met Glen Sorestad – Interview with Glen Sorestad

 

Onderhoud met Glen Sorestad

 

Interview with Glen Sorestad of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

 

by Leon Retief

 

Glen Sorestad

Glen Sorestad

 

Glen Sorestad is a longtime Saskatoon poet, author of 18 poetry books, a Life Member of the League of Canadian Poets and Saskatchewan’s first Poet Laureate(2000-2004). His poems have appeared in over 50 anthologies and textbooks, as well as countless literary magazines and journals; his poems have been translated into a half-dozen languages and have been read on national radio in Norway and Slovenia, as well as Canada. He has given public readings of his poetry in every province of Canada, in 17 states in the USA, as well as in France, Norway, Finland and Slovenia. In 2010 Sorestad was made a Member of the Order of Canada in a ceremony in Ottawa at Rideau Hall. The Order of Canada is Canada’s highest non-military honour.

 

 

 

Glen, would you say that poetry is alive and well in Canada? Do poets ever think that poetry is as appreciated as much as it should be?

 

Yes, Leon, poetry is alive and well, in its many guises and forms and voices in Canada today. Each year, the number of new poetry books published, not to mention the number of first-time poets published, is always mind-boggling to me. I keep thinking, “Where do they all come from?” and when I’m feeling grumpy, I wonder how many books of poetry they buy each year.

The answer to the second question is that poets probably never have, nor ever will think society appreciates poetry as much as it should. One of the obvious reasons is that few poets in Canada can support themselves on their poetry alone and to opt for a life of poetry alone is to opt for a life of poverty and deprivation. Still, the lack of material rewards or public respect does not seem to deter people from writing poems and becoming published poets.

 

What are your duties or privileges as poet laureate?

 

I was Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan for two terms of two years each – from 2001 to 2004. My duties were limited to acting as a kind of arts ambassador at events throughout the province, wherever I was invited to participate in local events or visit schools, libraries, galleries or museums. The Writers Guild received limited funding for the poet laureate program, so instead of an annual stipend, I received stipends for each event I was invited to attend and speak at, as well as having my travel expenses and accommodations covered. As poet laureate I was privileged to represent not only the extraordinary writing community of Saskatchewan, but in a more general sense, the arts and culture as well. I travelled to every corner of the province, including the far north, during my four years and enjoyed meeting the people and sharing poetry with them. During my tenure I was privileged to dine with Prince Charles at Government House.

 

Shelley as you no doubt know wrote that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world and I think Akhmatova (I can’t remember the exact quotation) said something to the effect that poets are the first people who know, even before it begins to happen, that something is going awry in a country. Do you see poets as the canaries in a mine, and do you think that Canadian poets in particular have a political voice?

 

I have mixed feelings about the poet as the voice of social conscience, just as I always have had a certain wariness about political poetry. I’m never happy about poets as preachers or proselytizers. This is a personal opinion, of course. I fully appreciate that poets who are keenly interested in politics and in social change have every right to write about it and we certainly have some very fine poets who are or have been highly political in their poetry – the late Dorothy Livesay and Milton Acorn spring to mind, as well as poets like Tom Wayman, Gary Geddes, bill bissett and a great many young voices today. My personal attitude towards my art does not often lead me into many political poems, though I’d have to admit that I have written a few poems that many people might regard as having an edge of social criticism or certainly of social awareness. But I’d also say that whether I am or am not seen as a poet of social conscience, does not interest me much at all because it has little to do with why I write.

 

I believe that poets in countries that are undergoing (or in need of) change, where people are divided by race, religion or economics, find poetry their best and sometimes most acceptable way of expressing their feelings and beliefs. This is both inevitable and necessary. Some of the poems, at least, may become great pieces of literature.

In a country like Canada where most of us are both privileged and comfortable in our freedom, political poetry usually has the sense of complaint where complaint is undeserving. Aboriginal people have every right to be the most political of poets and some of them have been, but now even aboriginal poets sound less strident and turn their attention to other concerns, it seems.

 

I remember reading that Don Domanski, a poet I greatly admire, decided to become a poet one day in his late teens while walking from his bedroom to the kitchen. Did you also have a sudden realisation that you were to be a poet or was it a more of a gradual process? I have actually never asked a poet this question, not even Louis or Marlise, so I’m quite curious.

 

At 17 I read a poem that changed my life, though I didn’t realize it at the time. The poem was Anne Marriott’s “The Wind Our Enemy” – the quintessential prairie poem. The startling revelation for me was that because this poem was about something I knew firsthand and could fully appreciate, my eyes were suddenly opened to the revelation that a poet could write about his/her own backyard, about his/her immediate surroundings and life. Furthermore, since the poet was alive and a Canadian, I also realized that it was possible for someone like me to actually write a poem and appear on the printed page. However, it took me another 14 years before I realized that I wanted to write poems, to be a poet, to see my poems appear on the pages of a textbook, just as Anne Marriott’s had, to change the direction of my life, though not until I had married, had a family and was teaching school.

 

I hadn’t heard the Domanski story, but Anne Szumigalski told me once she knew at the age of four that she was going to be a poet. Domanski realized it in his teens. I didn’t know I was going to be a poet until I actually started writing poems seriously in 1968.

 

It appears to me that landscape figures prominently in the work of prairie poets, certainly in your work. How does landscape influence you?

 

That landscape would feature prominently in prairie writing seems to me a given. The prairie landscape is so dominant, so overwhelming, so “in your face” that it never leaves your consciousness. Even though I have lived in an urban environment for almost 50 years, the presence of the landscape and its openness and vastness never is lost in the urban sprawl. I do not know all the ways it may infuse my writing, but it is certainly there – probably in everything from the form or structure to the actual language. The literary critics would be able to give you a better answer to this question, but if you consider that my first two published volumes of poems were entitled Wind Songs(1975) and Prairie Pub Poems(1976), you might rightfully assume that the prairies themselves were an important element in both those books of poems. When I see the world, it is the prairies I see, not the mountains or the sea, not the towering forests of the raincoast, though I have seen them all and written of them. But it is the prairies that live in me, that are rooted in me, that nourish me.

 

I have had the opportunity of showing you some South African poetry, some originally written in English, others translated from Afrikaans – unfortunately by no means a representative sample, but even so I’d rather like to know what your views are on the differences between Canadian and South African poetry.

 

It is always both difficult and dangerous to generalize on what little I have read of South African poetry, but like all poetry around the world it shares many common interests with Canadian and other national poetries. South African poets I have read write about “the human heart in conflict”, something William Faulkner called the only thing really worth writing about. But because of the country’s history and its recent past, there is a far more notable emphasis on social consciousness and collective conscience in S. African poetry than is true of most Canadian poetry. I would expect that there may well be a higher degree of anguish, pain and suffering manifested in poetry in Afrikaans, though I have no way of knowing the degree to which this may be true.

 

From my scant reading of S. African poets there would appear to be a strong sense of place, both physical and spiritual place in the poetry, as well as a strong sense of landscape or the natural world. Since poets draw upon the natural world for a great deal of imagery, this should not be surprising, but I also expect that there is a heightened beauty in much of the physical world of South Africa and I have seen this in several poets I have read. The uniqueness of South Africa’s varying landscape no doubt gives rise to a whole Afrikaans idiom that would be quite distinctive from any other idiom, that would be a dominant quality of S. African poetry.

 

You said in a previous interview that you seem to feel more inspired to write when you are away from home, but your poetry is so very much of the prairie – is it because you feel homesick when away?

 

Wherever I travel my sensory receptors are always attuned to my new surroundings. Consciously or unconsciously I am comparing and contrasting, so I usually find that every morning “on the road” in the early quietness of reflection, I want to record some of these impressions and feelings. The prairies never leave me, of course, and they influence the way I see everything in my new surroundings. I’m sure that if I “retired” to Victoria (B.C.) or New Mexico or Cape Town, I would still write of the prairies. The prairies are what I know best, so I should think this influence on my writing is really inescapable. I find it interesting, in talking with fellow writers, that many fiction writers prefer to remove themselves entirely from the place they want to write about when they are doing the actual writing. Perhaps we actually need this distance in order to write effectively about our own home turf. What is the adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fond”?

 

It appears to me as if there are numerous small publishing houses in Canada which apparently seem to specialise in poetry, and you and your wife Sonia established and then ran Thistledown Press for about 25 years before handing it over to someone else. As I understand it also focuses exclusively or mostly on publishing poetry, and it is no mean achievement to keep such a business solvent – poetry is not exactly a money-spinner. Can you tell me more about it please?

 

First, for most of the 25 years Sonia and I were front and centre with Thistledown – I was president and Sonia was treasurer – we had partners working with us. In 2000 when we retired from publishing, we simply turned the publishing house over to our two remaining partners. Poetry publishing is rarely profitable and so it is dependent upon government agency grant support. This means poetry publishing exists at the whim of various governments and their willingness to support the activity. This is nothing new and not especially peculiar to Canada. Because of this dependency on grants, for publishers of poetry there is an ongoing pressure to make the same essential case to funding bodies every single year: i.e. why are you deserving of our support? This constant justifying of one’s existence ultimately discourages and disillusions poetry publishers and often forces them to publish books of non-fiction or fiction where the potential for actual sales is higher, just to produce more revenue. Poetry publishers are always under-funded, short-staffed and generally uncompensated, so that poetry publishing is largely a labour of love. In one sense, 25 years in literary publishing can be seen as a form of undeserved punishment for one’s love of art.

 

However, on the positive side, 25 years of poetry publishing expanded our friendships across the country, provided us with some wonderful travel experiences, afforded us great learning opportunities in many different ways, gave us the pleasure of seeing many talented writers into print with their very first books, and permitted us to contribute positively to the artistic and cultural development of our home province and of our country, The Member of the Order of Canada that was bestowed upon me last November in Ottawa is reflective of the positive nature of those 25 years.

 

Landscape and seasons, of course, but people also figure very prominently in your work and I was particularly impressed by Today I belong to Agnes. You seem to have a special aptitude for observing people and finding just the right phrase to describe a situation, sometimes with masterful understatement. Do you spend a lot of time observing people?

 

Yes, I am a people-watcher, a keen observer of the human condition, a notorious eavesdropper on conversations in coffee shops, bars or restaurants, and I also must confess to being an inveterate thief of story ideas. I can and have spent perfectly happy hours sitting at a little sidewalk cafe table watching the world pass by and tuning in on others’ lives. Wherever I go, my eyes and ears are certainly on full alert. Curiosity, and the ability to satisfy it by careful observation, may be one of my prime attributes as a writer. I believe it is the writer’s curiosity with the world around him that compels him to write.

 

Today I Belong to Agnes also happens to be a very favourite volume of mine and I think it is quite reflective of all the many, many observations I gathered while visiting my mother in the last five years of her life as she regressed from independent living to a private care home to a nursing home. My mother lived in a care home with 12 women between about 72 and 99 and I was especially drawn into the interactions of all these women, all of whom were no longer independent, but many of whom were not cognizant of this at all. It was quite fascinating.

Incidentally, I have received more letters and emails and even phone calls about this book of poems than all the rest of my poetry combined. The book has even spawned a play by Rodney Maclean of Regina.

 

You mention my penchant for understatement and I guess that is definitely an important part of how I write and what I personally like to see in poetry. It’s a writing technique or element that can be very effective at appropriate times. Perhaps it may also reflect my own tendency to exercise a degree of emotional restraint? I’ve never thought a great deal about why understatement would appeal to me, but I would certainly say that poetry of unrestrained emotional outpouring, no matter how sincere the emotion, would probably not have much appeal for me.

 

Translating poetry is in my opinion to some extent the same as attempting to express mathematics in words – not always entirely successful. Your poetry has been translated into other languages, Spanish for example. Have you read some of the translations, and how well do you think does your work lend itself to translating?

 

Because my own knowledge of languages other than English is limited, it is difficult for me to know just how an easy a task the translating of my poetry is, though I suspect that I may be a more easily translatable English-language poet than most. I say this because what I have always strived for as a poet is a simplicity of expression, a clarity, and a use of language that would allow anyone with an understanding of English to read and understand my poems. There is little obscurity and minimal artifice in my poetry.

 

However, having said that, the English language with its amazing range of idioms and the multiplicity of meanings of words, will always pose problems in the translation of poetry into other languages. The good translator of poetry probably needs to be another poet, one with a very good understanding of the English language and all its idiosyncrasies, who is then capable of finding ways to allow for this in the language of translation. I am having my next book, due late in the fall, translated into Spanish by a Cuban translator, Manuel de Jesus Velazquez Leon, a poet and professor of literature at the University of Holguin. We have been communicating over the past few years by email and from what he tells me of the poems I send him, I am confident that he will do a great job of rendering my poems into Spanish.

 

Still, I am being quite conscious in my selecting of poems for this bilingual volume, aware that certain poems of mine may pose more problems than other because they may be heavily idiomatic, or perhaps they may rely upon a combination of sounds and rhythms that are not readily replicated in translation.

 

In 1998 I gave several readings in Norway with my friend and fellow Norwegian poet, Arne Ruste, one of Norway’s best known contemporary poets. Ruste had translated a dozen of my poems and at the readings, I read the English version and he read the Norsk version. I was amazed, listening to his versions, at how well he had been able to replicate the cadence of the lines and how his words elicited the exact same response at the same precise point of the poem as in the original. So good translations can be done and perhaps my poetry lends itself, in the hands of another poet with some sympatico for the work, to being translated effectively.

 

It has often been said (and much has been written about it) that creative people, and poets in particular, tend to have a higher incidence of some sort of mild, moderate or even severe form of psychopathology such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and what not, and that these conditions fan their creative spark. It is not an opinion I agree with, but I’d like to hear your opinion about it – and I must add that this question by no means implies that you suffer from some sort of psychopathology!

 

Yes, I realize that there appears to be a fairly strong link between well known poets and various forms of psychological difficulties – psychopathology seems so weighty and ominous a term, but I suppose that’s exactly what it is. I have a great many poet-friends and acquaintances and I am aware of the unusually high incidence among them of various degrees of emotional problems, especially depressive personalities, it would seem. Many of my friends are very open about these problems with me. Sometimes I have the feeling that since I have never been afflicted, to this point at least, with any psychological problems, I can’t really qualify as a true poet! But then, soberer thought causes me to be very thankful that I have never been so afflicted. I believe I am seen by others as a very stable, even-dispositioned individual, an optimist, cheerful, quite open, and easy to befriend. I don’t know whether any of this precludes being a poet. It’s just that because of my particular outlook on life and on the world, I tend not to dwell on the dark side of humanity, but rather, I tend to focus on the things that give me – and others, I hope – pleasure in life. Nor does this self-portrayal of a generally happy individual preclude being emotionally involved with the world either. Like you, I don’t believe that a poet must necessarily write out of great angst or emotional upheaval in order to write good poetry. For some poets, this may be all they can write. What I write is what is important to me in my life at any particular time.

 

Given your love for the prairies, where would you live if not in Saskatchewan?

 

I’ve thought about that at various times and now that my 74th birthday is only a few days away, I think I’m more and more content to spend my remaining days here in Saskatoon, here on the prairies that have been so much of my life. At one time I had thought Sonia and I might retire to the West Coast, but I’m not so sure that giving up winter snow for rain and three or four months of overcast is an exchange that appeals. If we can get away during the long winter a few times for a week or two at a time, I believe I’m prepared to stay right where I am.

 

One place I have always been drawn to is  New Mexico and I have always thought that it would be a desirable place to live, but at this stage of my life, it will be a place I am content to visit, but not move to permanently. I have friends who live in New Mexico and over the past 30 years I have probably visited parts of that state 20 times, so I have almost become an honorary New Mexican. It’s one of the world’s most fascinating landscapes.

 

Glen, lastly, please be so kind as share with us three poems – the first one being The Wind Our Enemy which so inspired you, and then a favourite poem by a Canadian poet and one by a non-Canadian.

 

“The Wind Our Enemy” was certainly a seminal poem in my career as a poet because I found this poem at seventeen and it stayed with me ever after. What it did for me was to make me realize that I could be a writer, that I could write about these same things that Marriott saw and wrote about, even though she was only a temporary visitor to a Saskatchewan community during a summer of the Great Depression.

 

However, John Newlove’s “Ride Off Any Horizon” was a hugely significant poem for me because it made me realize how important the actual crafting of a poem with its language and musicality was to good poetry. I still read this poem several times a year, perhaps even more often. It’s a truly amazing poem about the prairies and its history and its shaping of our consciousness as Canadians and especially as prairie dwellers. There are many more Newlove poems that I re-read frequently, but “Ride Off Any Horizon” is a touchstone for me.

 

In the huge world of English-language poetry there are so many poems I go back to at different times and poems I have memorized that still give me great pleasure and sustenance that it is hard to single one poem from all the rest. A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad is still a favourite volume of poems that I re-read to remind myself that simple language and simple structure can be powerfully effective.

 

But if there is one single poem that still strikes me as a perfect work of art it has to be Robert Frost’s “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening”. And I’ve always loved Frost because of the extent to which the natural world influences almost everything he writes. Frost was an incredible poetic craftsman from whom I have learned much and some day I’d love to write a poem as memorable as the Frost poem I’ve singled out, one I carry indelibly in my memory for as long as my memory holds and which I will happily recite on any occasion.

 

Anne Marriott (1913-1997)

 

The Wind Our Enemy

 

Wind

flattening its gaunt furious self against

the naked siding, knifing in the wounds

of time, pausing to tear aside the last

old scab of paint.

 

 Wind

 surging down the cocoa-coloured seams

 of summer-fallow, darting in about

 white hoofs and brown, snatching the sweaty cap 

 shielding red eyes.

 

 Wind

 filling the dry mouth with bitter dust

 whipping the shoulders worry-bowed too soon,

 soiling the water pail, and in grim prophecy

 greying the hair.

 

II.

 

   The wheat in spring was like a giant’s bolt of silk

    Unrolled over the earth.

    When the wind sprang

    It rippled as if a great broad snake

    Moved under the green sheet

    Seeking its outward way to light.

    In autumn it was an ocean of flecked gold

    Sweet as a biscuit, breaking in crisp waves

    That never shattered, never blurred in foam.

    That was the last good year…

 

III.

 

    The wheat was embroidering

     All the spring morning

     Frail threads needled by sunshine like thin gold

     A man’s heart could love his land

     Smoothly self-yielding,

     Its broad spread promising all his granaries might hold.

     A woman’s eyes could kiss the soil

     From her kitchen window,

     Turning its black depths to unchipped cups — a silk crepe

     dress —

     (Two-ninety-eight, Sale Catalogue)

      Pray sun’s touch be gentleness,

      Not a hot hand scorching flesh it would caress.

      But sky like a new tin pan

      Hot from the oven

      Seemed soldered to the earth by horizon of glare…

 

     The third day he left the fields…

 

     Heavy scraping footsteps

     Spoke before his words, ‘Crops dried out – everywhere — ‘

 

IV.

 

       They said, ‘Sure, it’ll rain next year!’

        When that was dry, ‘Well, next year anyway.’

        Then, ‘Next –‘

        But still the metal hardness of the sky

        Softened only in mockery.

        When lightning slashed and twanged

        And thunder made the hot head surge with pain

        Never a drop fell;

        Always hard yellow sun conquered the storm.

        So the soon sickly-familiar saying grew,

        (Watching the futile clouds sneak down the north)

        ‘Just empties goin’ back!’

        (Cold laughter bending parched lips in a smile

        Bleak eyes denied.)

 

V.

 

        Horses were strong so strong men might love them,

        Sides groomed to copper burning the sun,

        Wind tangling wild manes, dust circling wild hoofs,

        Turn the colts loose! Watch the two-year-olds run!

        Then heart thrilled fast and the veins filled with glory

        The feel of hard leather a fortune more sweet

        Than a girl’s silky lips. He was one with the thunder,

        The flying, the rhythm, of untamed, unshod feet!

 

           But now —

           It makes a man white-sick to see them now,

           Dull — heads sagging — crowding to the trough —

           No more spirit than a barren cow.

           The well’s pumped dry to wash poor fodder down,

           Straw and salt — and endless salt and straw

           (Thank God the winter’s mild so far)

           Dry Russian thistle crackling in the jaw —

           The old mare found the thistle pile, ate till she bulged,

           Then, crazily, she wandered in the yard,

           Saw a water-drum, and staggering to its rim

           Plodded around it — on and on in hard

           Madly relentless circle. Weaker – stumbling —

           She fell quite suddenly, heaved once and lay.

           (Nellie the kid’s pet’s gone, boys.

           Hitch up the strongest team.  Haul her away.

           Maybe we should have mortgaged all we had

           Though it wasn’t much, even in good years, and draw

           Ploughs with a jolting tractor.

           Still — you can’t make gas of thistles or oat straw.)

 

VI.

 

           Relief.

                   ‘God, we tried so hard to stand alone!’

 

           Relief.

                    ‘Well, we can’t let the kids go cold.’

                   They trudge away to school swinging half-empty lard-pails

                    to shiver in the schoolhouse (unpainted seven years),

                    learning from a blue-lipped girl

                    almost as starved as they.

 

            Relief cars.

                    ‘Apples, they say, and clothes!’

                    The folks in town get their pick first,

                    Then their friends —

                    ‘Eight miles for us to go so likely we

                    won’t get much –‘

                   ‘Maybe we’ll get the batteries charged up and have

                    the radio to kind of brighten things –‘

 

          Insurgents march in Spain

 

          Japs bomb Chinese

 

          Airliner lost

 

                  ‘Maybe we’re not as badly off as some –‘

        ‘Maybe there’ll be a war and we’ll get paid to fight –‘

                 ‘Maybe –‘

                 ‘See if Eddie Cantor’s on to-night!’

 

VII.

 

          People grew bored

          Well-fed in the east and west

          By stale, drought-area tales,

          Bored by relief whinings,

          Preferred their own troubles.

          So those who still had stayed

          On the scorched prairie

          Found even sympathy

          Seeming to fail them

          Like their own rainfall.

 

          ‘Well – let’s forget politics,

          Forget the wind, our enemy!

          Let’s forget farming, boys,

          Let’s put on a dance tonight!

          Mrs. Smith’ll bring a cake,

          Mrs. Olsen coffee’s swell!’

 

          The small uneven schoolhouse floor

          Scraped under big work-boots

          Cleaned for the evening’s fun,

          Gasoline lamps whistled.

          One Hungarian boy

          Snapped a shrill guitar,

          A Swede from out north of town

          Squeezed an accordion dry,

          And a Scotchwoman from Ontario

          Made the piano dance

          In time to ‘The Mocking Bird’

          And ‘When I Grow too Old Dream’,

          Only taking time off

          To swing in a square-dance,

          Between ten and half-past three.

 

          Yet in the morning

          Air peppered thick with dust,

          All the night’s happiness

          Seemed far away, unreal

          Like a lying mirage,

          Or the icy-white glare

          Of the alkali slough.

 

VIII.

 

          Presently the dark dust seemed to build a wall

          That cut them off from east and west and north,

          Kindness and honesty, things they used to know,

          Seemed blown away and lost

          In frantic soil.

          At last they thought

          Even God and Christ were hidden

          By the false clouds

          — Dust-blinded to the staring parable,

          Each wind-splintered timber like a pain-bent Cross.

          Calloused, groping fingers, trembling

          With overwork and fear,

          Ceased trying to clutch at some faith in the dark,

          Thin, sick courage fainted, lacking hope.

          But tightened, tangled nerves scream to the brain

          If there is no hope, give them forgetfulness!

          The cheap light of the beer-parlour grins out,

          Promising shoddy security for an hour.

          The Finn who makes bad liquor in his barn

          Grows fat on groaning emptiness of souls.

 

IX.

 

          The sun goes down. Earth like a thick black coin

          Leans its round rim against the yellowed sky.

          The air cools. Kerosene lamps are filled and lit

          In dusty windows. Tired bodies crave to lie

          In bed forever. Chores are done at last.

 

          A thin horse neighs drearily. The chickens drowse,

          Replete with grasshoppers that have gnawed and scraped

          Shrivelled garden leaves. No sound from the gaunt cows.

          Poverty, hand in hand with fear, two great

          Shrill-jointed skeletons stride loudly out

          Across the pitiful fields, none to oppose.

          Courage is roped with hunger, chained with doubt.

          Only against the yellow sky, a part

          Of the jetty silhouette of barn and house

          Two figures stand, heads close, arms locked,

          And suddenly some spirit seems to rouse

          And gleam, like a thin sword, tarnished, bent,

          But still shining in the spared beauty of moon,

          As his strained voice says to her, ‘We’re not licked yet!

          It must rain again – it will! Maybe – soon – ‘

 

X.

 

          Wind

          in a lonely laughterless shrill game

          with broken wash-boiler, bucket without

          a handle, Russian thistle, throwing up

          sections of soil.

 

          God, will it never rain again? What about

          those clouds out west? No, that’s just dust, as thick

          and stifling now as winter underwear.

          No rain, no crop, no feed, no feed, no faith, only

          wind.

 

*

 

 

John Newlove (1938-2003)

Ride Off Any Horizon


Ride off any horizon
and let the measure fall
where it may-

on the hot wheat,
on the dark yellow fields
of wild mustard, the fields

of bad farmers, on the river,
on the dirty river full
of boys and on the throbbing

powerhouse and the low dam
of cheap cement and rocks
boiling with white water,

and on the cows and their powerful
bulls, the heavy tracks
filling with liquid at the edge

of the narrow prairie
river running steadily away.

               *

Ride off any horizon
and let the measure fall
where it may-

among the piles of bones
that dot the prairie

in vision and history
(the buffalo and deer,

dead indians, dead settlers,
the frames of lost houses

left behind in the dust
of the depression,

dry and profound, that
will come again in the land

and in the spirit, the land
shifting and the minds

blown dry and empty-
I have not seen it! except

in pictures and talk-
but there is the fence

covered in dust, laden,
the wrecked house stupidly empty)-

here is a picture for your wallet,
of the beaten farmer and his wife
leaning toward each other-

sadly smiling, and emptied of desire.

               *

Ride off any horizon
and let the measure fall
where it may-

off the edge
of the black prairie

as you thought you could fall,
a boy at sunset

not watching the sun
set but watching the black earth,

never-ending they said in school,
round: but you saw it ending,

finished, definite, precise-
visible only miles away.

               *

Ride off any horizon
and let the measure fall
where it may-

on a hot night the town
is in the streets-

the boys and girls
are practising against

each other, the men
talk and eye the girls-

the women talk and
eye each other, the indians
play pool: eye on the ball.

               *

Ride off any horizon
and let the measure fall
where it may-

and damn the troops, the horsemen
are wheeling in the sunshine,
the cree, practising

for their deaths: mr poundmaker,
gentle sweet mr big bear,
it is not unfortunately

quite enough to be innocent,
it is not enough merely
not to offend-

at times to be born
is enough, to be
in the way is too much-

some colonel otter, some
major-general middleton will
get you, you-

indian. It is no good to say,
I would rather die
at once than be in that place-

though you love that land more,
you will go where they take you.

               *

Ride off any horizon
and let the measure fall-

where it may;
it doesn’t have to be

the prairie. It could be
the cold soul of the cities
blown empty by commerce

and desiring commerce
to fill up the emptiness.

The streets are full of people.

It is night, the lights
are on; the wind

blows as far as it may. The streets
are dark and full of people.

Their eyes are fixed as far as
they can see beyond each other-

to the concrete horizon, definite,
tall against the mountains,
stopping vision visibly.

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Een Kommentaar op “Onderhoud met Glen Sorestad – Interview with Glen Sorestad”

  1. Desmond :

    A fascinating introduction — thank you Leon and Glen!

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