Friday, March 2, 2012

into the silence

I begin this post knowing it will be inadequate.  I begin this post for love.  For who ever would think to have this as the dedication for their first book of poetry:

for love

This is what you will find on the dedication page of restless white fields by Barbara Langhorst.  It is a book about loss, about healing, and about the persistence of memory.  And though it is also a book about a violent personal tragedy and about living with beauty nonetheless, it is primarily a book about love.  

"endlessly i remind myself that love is at stake"

Because the book uses the white space of the page so effectively, and such effects and formatting would be lost on the blog, I would encourage you to read an excerpt on the publisher's site here

"i write not against the silence
but into it"

"...whatever my path
i can't avoid stepping on angels"

Why read a book of poetry about such a profound loss?  As Helene Cixous has said, "It is through wounds that one enters into a person's secret."  And in this book one feels oneself to be in the presence of secrets, in the openness of secrets - the secrets that grief has us carry.  

"the mind says that you can see the spirit of the dead rise as perfect humans
in shades of blue or lilac as they flee"

All of us will at some time experience grief, loss.  There is this well-known story to remind us:

At the time of Sakyamuni Buddha, there was a woman who lost her little boy to no apparent illness. Devastated by this heavy blow, the mother buried herself in tears. She sought Sakyamuni Buddha, who happened to be delivering lectures in the area, poured out her grief, and begged Him to revive her son with His magical power and great wisdom. “Yes, I can save him,” the Buddha promised. “However, you must first find a family that has not lost a single member in the past five or six generations, and bring me a piece of clothing or some other item from their family. I can save your child only when I have that item.”

Following the Buddha’s instruction, the mother went from house to house, day after day, but she failed to find any family that had no one die in five or six generations. Totally exhausted and disappointed, she came back to the Buddha. Sakyamuni Buddha asked her, “Is there any family that has not lost a member in five or six generations?” She replied, “No, there isn’t such a family.” Sakyamuni Buddha then told her, “That is right! Life is ephemeral. No one born can ever escape death. Sooner or later, everyone must die and leave this world. You should not feel too upset over this ephemeral body.” When the Buddha pointed out this truth, the mother was immediately enlightened. She then became a devoted disciple to the Buddha and practiced diligently.

Barb and I sat beside each other twenty some years ago in our first university English class.  Our friendship has been one of the dearest treasures of my life.  Her grace, her sense of humour, her wisdom, her intellect, all permeate this collection.  Her eyes are adjusted to see all the shades of white, and her restless white fields are a balm to those who have learned to live with the presence of the dead.

"my mother would have said   if you don't laugh   you'll go crazy"

"the one clear way to raise the dead
may be to absolve the living"

In short, this is an exquisitely, daringly, written book, full of love and humanity, one that I have no doubt will soon enough find its place in the Canadian canon of poetry.


  1. Only the most courageous (coeur for the most heart) among us dare to place their finger in the open wound to find it's real. What a beautiful introduction to a book of the heart I can't wait to get my hands on.--Lee

  2. How this calls back a memory from those university years. I do remember a fragile-looking woman in an English Lit.- Victorian? - class; I thought of her as fragile because of the leather? device on her wrist. She told me that, once, in a dark, dark mood, she had been saved by a painting. I have often wondered which painting it was. I will be buying this book.

  3. I should add that I am primarily a reader these days. Since getting my undergraduate degree at the U of A, I have sought to buy those books that my profs have written. Alberta writers are coming into their own, with new perspectives and writing styles, and I enjoy their writing very much. When the faintly familiar name of a former classmate joins the writing ranks, it makes the reading just that little more special. I hope your novel is published soon!

  4. This is beautiful, thank you.

  5. I am already haunted by the sketch of this book, but also by your photos.

  6. I am already haunted by the sketch of this book, but also by your photos.


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