Monday, August 22, 2016

what counts is fire

Relentlessly Craving

by Julia Fiedorczuk

for B. G.

poem, poem be strong
like a shock wave, Grieg’s Concerto in A Minor
put down roots, find the source, bloom, bear fruit
come to life, poem, I need your blood

poem, poem be as perilously lovely
as the drunken woman in the painting by Munch
what counts are only the base colors, yellow, black, red
what counts is fire

there is a time for hope
and a time for despair

what counts is fire
if you have no flesh
you do not know love
nor do you know death

poem, poem be in the sun
in the eye of the world
in the turning of bread into motion
in the constant decay that is the condition of all synthesis
in the blood

fire, be

there is a time for hope
and a time for despair
what counts is fire and ice

poem, poem be like the dark night of the soul

Translations from the Polish
By Bill Johnston

{source: World Literature Today}

And though the above poems is addressed to the poem, perhaps it is also addressed to you, the reader.

be perilously lovely
bloom, come to life
be in the sun

I came across this poet because I saw this poem on Facebook, and read the line "beauty exists":

Psalm V

by Julia Fiedorczuk
translated by Bill Johnston

Beauty exists, la ermozura egziste and paradises
are not artificial, yet how can one have fans
of ginkgo, green right next to yellow, and human
faces in the sunshine, pearls of architecture and thoughts
about the dust that we become? Two days later
I remember only theory, what we said concerning
the mathematics of the Alhambra and the fragments
of poems, so I undress quickly, to catch life
red-handed, to relish the goodness
of your home amid the hills encircled
by a wedding party where I seek and find, seek
and do not find, seek and disappear and — 


Looking forward to her book, Oxygen, coming out (in translation) this coming February. I think half the reason I keep this blog is the reward of finding new (to me) poets, and sharing them.


beauty exists

These flowers, for example. Presented to me by my sweet co-workers to congratulate me for being a finalist for the Alberta Readers' Choice Award. Which, btw, you can still vote for, until the end of August. You don't need to be from Alberta to vote. And the prize is 10 000.00 which is a wild and amazing sum for a literary prize.

One realizes, over one's writing life, that though any money one receives is amazing, it's really the flowers that count, the flowers that stay with you. The flowers whisper in your ear, long after they've faded: be perilously lovely. Bloom.

And so this next poem is perfect for me right now. I'm a fan of the praise poem, what can I say. Maybe what I need to do is sit down and write a few praise poems. That medicine.

Gratitude List

by Laura Foley

Praise be this morning for sleeping late,
the sandy sheets, the ocean air,
the midnight storm that blew its waters in.
Praise be the morning swim, mid-tide,
the clear sands underneath our feet,
the dogs who leap into the waves,
their fur, sticky with salt,
the ball we throw again and again.
Praise be the green tea with honey,
the bread we dip in finest olive oil,
the eggs we fry. Praise be the reeds,
gold and pink in the summer light,
the sand between our toes,
our swimsuits, flapping in the breeze.


The most important is that I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I've done that day. I can't do it late in the afternoon because I'm too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I'm really working I don't like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don't have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I'm in low spirits. Another thing I need to do, when I'm near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That's one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn't leave you when you're asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.

- Joan Didion

I love the passage by Joan Didion because it gets at the relationship one has with one's book, while writing it. It's a bit selfish, a bit obsessive. If you're going to have a drink with someone, the book will be that someone. It has a presence.


by Valerie Martinez

Turn it over and look up
into the sphere of heaven.
The tracery is lucent,
light seeping through to write,
white-ink your face, upturned.

Swing it below
and it's a cradle of blue water,
the sea, a womb.
A mixing bowl
for Babylonian gods.
Here, they whirl up the cosmos.

Pick it up and your hands
form a pedestal,
and all who drink
contain the arcs
of body and the universe—
and between them,

no imaginable tear or distance.


And speaking of bowls. Here is what my stone bowl held this week:

I know there are those who enjoy mocking artists' statements, but I'm not one of them. (Though admittedly there are some that are somewhat opaque in their jargon). What I like about them is their doggedness in attempting to explain those things about their work that can't really be explained. It's the trying that I admire. And so when I came across this next poem, I was delighted, especially the last line. And the part about cake.

Artistic Statement

by Denise Duhamel

My body of work is very similar to my corporal body. I often employ traditional forms (Spanx/dieting) but just as often revert to a more copious mode (cake/lazy afternoons). In that I wear little makeup (sensitive skin/feminist stance) I use few purely poetic flourishes except for rhyme—both internal and end line (lipstick/nail polish) conceding to self-conscious artifice. Perhaps because I grew up Catholic, I am drawn to acrostics (crosses) and punitive syllable counting (the rosary). I am interested in bodies seen and not seen (bikinis, muumuus, the dead and not-yet-born), poems written and yet-to-be-written. Holy ghost poems that cannot be read but only felt.

“Every once in a while a person unfamiliar with contemporary literature asks me a question along the lines of, ‘What is your poetry like? What’s it about?’ Having recently fumbled through an answer yet once again, I jealously thought of the beauty of a painter’s ‘artist statement.’ That was the impetus for this poem.”

- Denise Duhamel

From the notes section at the end of the novel by Elizabeth Strout, Abide With Me:

"I am a storyteller. That is the real answer. In telling my stories, I am - as Tyler Caskey is - interested in the question: How does one live life? Does it even matter how one lives? Whether we approach life as Tyler does, with the question of how love can best be served, or whether we approach it with some other central issue, either of our own making or given to us by a religious guideline, most of us are still dismayed by how imperfectly we love, we are still surprised by the consequence of action, we are often at sea with questions of right and wrong."


"I tell stories because life fascinates me, baffles me, intrigues me, awes me. And by writing about the world - the natural, human world - I experience these feelings in a way that makes me both joyous and sad, and that brings me face-to-face with what I believe lies behind the mystery of our existence."

From a review in The Washington Post:
I can't recall a more incisive portrayal of the casual cruelty of gossip, but Strout has no interest in making villains. Tyler's critics have their own problems: marriages grown cold and sullen, illnesses that offer no relief but death, crippling anxieties about the future. The organist and her husband, a deacon, have come to blows, each of them deeply resentful of the other's unhappiness. Even the flashback of Tyler's marriage, cut short by a fast-moving cancer, shows a relationship wholly at odds with his idealized memory of it. 
Dark as much of this beautiful novel is, there's finally healing here, and, as Tyler should have known, it comes not from strength and self-sufficiency but from accepting the inexplicable love of others. In one beautiful page after another, Strout captures the mysterious combination of hope and sorrow. She sees all these wounded people with heartbreaking clarity, but she has managed to write a story that cradles them in understanding and that, somehow, seems like a foretaste of salvation.

This book has been sitting on my bedside table for ages. I must have bought it at the same time as My Name is Lucy Barton, and dived right in. I loved that book so much, I didn't want to go back in time and read an earlier book by Strout. I'm so glad I did though. The ending is amazing.

Interestingly, we also happened to watch Madame Bovary. It's been ages since I read that novel - perhaps due for a re-read if I can find it on my shelves. The movie has pretty much been panned:

Perhaps the intention was to contemporize this figure, though; with her distractingly flat American accent, Emma Bovary could be Betty Draper, or a reality-show housewife, or the mom waiting in front of you in an SUV in the pickup line at school.

Barthes and co-writer Felipe Marino have significantly streamlined and mixed up the narrative, beginning with Emma’s tragic ending and working their way back to it. They’ve jettisoned the beginning of the book focusing on husband Charles’ childhood, they do away entirely with the couple’s daughter, Berthe, and they combine two male characters to create Emma’s first, tumultuous lover. Major emotional shifts come abruptly, while other sections are languid, brooding and often wordless to reflect Emma’s isolation.
That said, the movie isn't entirely What I liked about it was Emma's wardrobe, and watching her get sucked into purchasing more and more fabulous clothes. The critic had this to say:
But the lavish aesthetic trappings, combined with the emotional emptiness, only combine to make Barthes’ film feel like “Madame Bovary: The Fashion Show.”
Well, okay, true enough. Still, it's one of those movies you can watch for setting and costumes alone even if much else has been mangled.

The reason I bring it up, though, is that in Abide With Me, the minister's wife shops beyond her means, and leaves him with a debt after she dies. The nuances in the descriptions of what she wears and the community's reactions to her because of it are quite wonderful. And then both of these women reminded me of my (usually quelled) impulse to go shopping at Winners and Simons in moments of stress. 

I'll leave you with one last quotation from the book which gets at the humaneness and thoughtfulness and soul of the book:

“Anyone who has ever grieved knows that grieving carries with it a tremendous wear and tear to the body itself, never mind the soul. Loss is an assault; a certain exhaustion, as strong as the pull of the moon on the tides, needs to be allowed for eventually.”

Summer has picked up speed and is now at a breakneck pace. I can hardly stand it....Mad isn't it? And yet I love the beauty at the ends of things.

The poppies, emerging and then dropping their petals like a silk cape. All the late bloomers coming on strong now. And the perilous loveliness of fading dahlias.

And then all this late August light, low and in turns, golden and dreamy.

All the surprises of late summer. These sunflowers emerging at the foot of a tree in the park we walk through most mornings.

Whatever is going to flower has flowered by now. Though we go on wishing for more, hoping.

Last things.

Photo inspiration. (Isabelle Menin)

Read: Interview with Charles Wright, one of my favourite poets. 

Image: I read that you’ve said you believe in belief, which I like. I wonder if you could name a couple of other things you believe in.
Charles Wright: I believe in the mystery of things, and I believe the poet’s job is to try to corral that mystery. You don’t have to get it in the barn, but you have to get it in the corral, so you try to look at it and listen to it and see if it will speak to you, which it usually will not.
I believe in music. I believe in love.

I feel like I may have shared this already but here it is again even so: Joan Snyder on Florine Stettheimer. One of the characters in Rumi and the Red Handbag is named Florine - and I was probably looking at repros of her art a great deal at the time I was writing the book, though I don't think there are any other connections to be made. But what do authors know? :)

Have a perilously lovely week....may you corral the mystery of things.....wishing you all calm things.

- Shawna



  1. Dear Shawna,

    I've been starting my week with your blog for almost a year now and just wanted to say that whenever you decide to take a break it will be well deserved...

    but please, please, please come back!

    I meant to comment last week and did not have the chance as it was so busy- full of seeing new places, meeting new people, and traveling with my 8 month old. Although it was wonderful in many ways, at one point it left me with the feeling like I'd been blindfolded and spun around a bunch of times. That's just fine temporarily, and probably good and necessary once and a while, but then I need to stand still, in light.

    Your blog helps me to stand still, in light, on a weekly basis. I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and all the beautiful colors. I often read the poems out loud to my little one (why not?)

    Many blessings!

  2. Such a beautiful offering. I love your bowl- and the bowl poem complements them perfectly.

  3. I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I'm looking at all these beautiful images and I'm thinking, why write poetry when these photos say it all.

  4. oh..and please tell Chloe that I love seeing recurring bird in the header!

  5. Ahhhhhh ... I'm just taking in all this beauty, Shawna. I so love every single thing about this post (and all of your posts, for that matter!). I savour them over the week - going back to them each morning. I am not a writer nor a poet, however, your words "One realizes, over one's writing life, that though any money one receives is amazing, it's really the flowers that count, the flowers that stay with you. The flowers whisper in your ear, long after they've faded: be perilously lovely. Bloom." ring so true no matter what we do for a living. Thank you, dear Shawna for your beautiful insights. XX

  6. I loved this post, very much. Though the photos were lovely, it was your words and those of others you shared. What really reached my soul were two things in particular:
    The quote you shared about grief from Elizabeth Strout's novel Abide with Me.
    And oh that wonderfully poetic response from Charles Wright.

    Congratulations on being a finalist -- so pleased for you.

    And I wish to toss this right back 'atcha': may YOU have a perilously lovely week.


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