Sunday, April 25, 2010


We made it! The ash cloud cleared enough, and our flight left Halifax YHZ late on Wednesday night as scheduled, no cancellation, no delay, no derailing of our schedule. We consider ourselves to be very lucky, as we landed at Heathrow, spent a few hours in the city, boarded our BA flight to Istanbul, and made it!

There were odd glitches of course, like no food on the flight to Istanbul except for orange juice, wine, and one cookie because they said Heathrow’s catering had been shut down and wasn’t running properly yet, but neglected to tell us before we boarded, promised us a voucher when we landed (we did wonder what we would do with a voucher in Istanbul), and gave us a good Turkish sandwich and a drink instead when we landed. But once we cleared the visa line and passport control and picked up our bags it was smooth sailing on the Havas shuttle to Taksim and a happy taxi ride with a happy taksici who chatted about how spring was even more beautiful over on the Asian side, all the way to the studio and a happy welcome from Gul.

This morning I looked out at Dereboyu Caddesi and thought, Here we are again, in our other home! It had struck both of us that way as soon as we boarded the Havas and it pulled out into the traffic and down onto the sahilyolu that we were back in the place we knew so well, and it felt so familiar and so welcoming. I spoke on the phone to my friend A. about this feeling that we were in some sense returning “home”, and she simply said, “It is addictive, isn’t it?”

The question, What makes Istanbul so addictive, is a complex one, and probably one that I don’t really ever want to answer. Walking down Dereboyu to Kullankoglu bakery and patisserie in the next block was just a matter of being there again as if no time had passed. The small guy who serves up sweets in the front of the bakery was really surprised when I told him it was a year since I had last seen him and that we had just returned from Canada. “Cok zaman,” he said, so much time, but it seemed to me that the time away from here was different from the time here, that I could be away for a year and find myself back, picking up conversations and relationships as if no time at all had passed.

Last year when we came back here, I called it our second life. Now I think of it as our other life; there is the life, so full and engaged back in Canada, and there is this life that we are so lucky to be able to step back into, to have people we love who welcome us back here like family, to taste the great kuzu sis and esme salata from Sisko (where K says they run a good grill – and they do!), to ride on the sparkling Bosphorus with dear friends, to soak in the hot pool at Yalova-Termal and then eat fish soup, kalamar, and shrimp salad down on the ferry wharf, to wake up in the studio to the sounds of the street, to watch the coloured lights changing on the Bosphorus bridge, to drink Turkish coffee and acik cay, to buy a new student notebook for this year’s journal from the courtly old man in his black suit with a red sale sticker stuck between his shoulders where he couldn’t see it, and to see two girls with chains of tiny daisies in their hair to celebrate cemre of the spring.

If you have not been here, this may not resonate with you as it does with me, and you may have to just humour me for my sentiment about this place and these people, but like A. told me, this place is addictive, and you do need a hit of it every now and again. Or, I should say, I do!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Anne Carson

Some people know that Anne Carson is one of my heroes (I used to have three others, all named Robert -- two are living; one died in 2005). And some of those people have some idea why she is my hero. For those who don’t, and in honour of National Poetry Month, I am including two pieces from her series called “The Truth About God”, originally published in the collection, Glass, Irony and God in 1995.

As Susan Sontag put it, “She is one of the few writers writing in English that I would read anything she wrote.” Me too. Here’s a small suggestion of why:

God’s Woman

Are you angry at nature? said God to His woman.
Yes I am angry at nature I do not want nature stuck
up between my legs on your pink baton

or ladled out like geography whenever
your buckle needs a lick.
What do you mean Creation?

God circled her.
Fire. Time. Fire.
Choose, said God.

Would be Her 50th Wedding Anniversary Today

Cold orates upon a Roman wall.
Light is extreme (caught)
and shadows wait like
hoods to drop.
Brain taps
for salt.

Was it Ovid who said, There is so much wind here stones go blank.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Treat Night

Tonight was a treat night, a treat we had waited for since early October; it was a concert at the Cohn with Jesse Cook and his band. They put on a great show, and the audience, which was largely our demographic, the ones that the Grey Power commercials are aimed at, “boomers”, our friend W said, but I think of us as “geezers”, that audience loved it. We clapped and whistled and swayed and yelled. It was, like I said, a great show.

We bought our tickets last fall and chose seats in the second row of the balcony, which turned out to be a great place to watch and listen from. Lorraine suggested we bring binoculars, and though we didn’t need them, it was wonderful to be able to peer at the players close up. It was a guitar show, but it was also a percussion show, as well as a violin show, and we were both reminded of the great concerts of Mercan Dede in Istanbul where he shared the stage and sound space so generously with the amazing players he had gathered together for his performances.

There were many very high highlights in this show, but the one that brought tears to my eyes was the closing number. It was a performance of Fall at Your Feet, which you can listen to here, but unfortunately you’ll get just the gist of it and you won’t hear what we heard tonight.

First, you need to know that the good old Rebecca Cohn’s audience from our vantage point in the balcony was pretty much a sea of grey hair. And, for the “rumba party” segment of the show, the whole audience was on its feet, not exactly dancing, but swaying and clapping and shuffling its feet to the Latin rhythms and great guitars. When the band walked off at the end, we were still standing and clapping and yelling and whistling, and of course they all came back and did one more number that really rocked the place.

Then they all came to the front of the stage and Jesse asked if we could hear OK in the balcony without mikes (which we could), and then they started a quiet clapping rhythm with only Jesse’s acoustic guitar playing and Chris Church, who is from here and whose parents and high school math teacher were in the crowd, began to sing. Chris’ violin had been one of the great elements of the show, but his voice here, straining a little without a mike, was soulful and evocative.

And next to him was Chendy Leon Jr, the great young Cuban-Canadian percussionist, who led the gentle handclapping rhythm, and then, in a moment of pure poetry, sang the sweetest harmonies next to Chris’ vocals. We had watched Chendy play all night, often couldn’t take our eyes off him as he played, but this was the true moment.

I wish you too could have heard it. It was a song and a moment we toasted when we got home with Havana Club rum, neat with a slice of lime and a touch of bitters, truly a great one!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Night

Tonight, after supper, and after T&S went home with the little girls, Lorraine and I drove out to Sailor’s Point. It has been a clear cool day with a fairly steady westerly to freshen your face and blue the sky, a day to go before sunset to do a little work with Lorraine’s new camera. Of course you can do that work almost anywhere, and you don’t have to be on the rocks by the sea to figure out how it works. But, like they say, why not? After all, it’s only about a three-minute drive and there are few things to compare with being on the rocks by the sea. So we went.

The wind was offshore, but the ocean swells were still rolling in and hitting the rocks in a steady procession, nothing spectacular, but still great to watch. A grebe was working about 20 or 30 metres out from shore, disappearing with its characteristic forward flop and coming up with slender fish that it maneuvered into the necessary swallowing position, and then going down for more. Lorraine set up the camera and together we read through some of the details in the manual to figure out some of the settings and things like aperture override and bracketing, while the swells kept sliding in and buffeting the rocks, sometimes crashing, sometimes splashing, and never stopping.

It was a great place to be as the sun dropped and illuminated the few drifts of clouds to the north and west. The sky was beautiful, but what I loved the most was the colours in the water, the slight peach reflection on the backs of the small waves heading offshore contrasting with the turquoise tinge of the sea.

It reminded of so many sunsets on or near the water, and of a poem, today’s poem, written by Denise Levertov in 1956. Though this poem is about sharks, and is tied together so beautifully throughout by its assonance, like in the closing lines, “Dark/the sharp lift of the fins”, it is the colour of the water, “the time/when a sheen of copper stills the sea,” that so often resonates with me at sunset, like it did tonight.

Here, after all that, is the poem:


Well, then, the last day the sharks appeared.
Dark fins appear, innocent
as if in fair warning. The sea becomes
sinister, are they everywhere?
I tell you, they break six feet of water.
Isn’t it the same sea, and won’t we
play in it any more?
I liked it clear and not
too calm, enough waves
to fly in on. For the first time
I dared to swim out of my depth.
It was sundown when they came, the time
when a sheen of copper stills the sea,
not dark enough for moonlight, clear enough
to see them easily. Dark
the sharp lift of the fins.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A poem by Mark Strand

If you don't subscribe to Knopf's Poem-a-day, you might have missed this lovely poem by Mark Strand, who happens to have been born in PEI. The Knopf site is here, if you want to subscribe and/or hear him read the poem.


A white room and a party going on
and I was standing with some friends
under a large gilt-framed mirror
that tilted slightly forward
over the fireplace.
We were drinking whiskey
and some of us, feeling no pain,
were trying to decide
what precise shade of yellow
the setting sun turned our drinks.
I closed my eyes briefly,
then looked up into the mirror:
a woman in a green dress leaned
against the far wall.
She seemed distracted,
the fingers of one hand
fidgeted with her necklace,
and she was staring into the mirror,
not at me, but past me, into a space
that might be filled by someone
yet to arrive, who at that moment
could be starting the journey
which would lead eventually to her.
Then, suddenly, my friends
said it was time to move on.
This was years ago,
and though I have forgotten
where we went and who we all were,
I still recall that moment of looking up
and seeing the woman stare past me
into a place I could only imagine,
and each time it is with a pang,
as if just then I were stepping
from the depths of the mirror
into that white room, breathless and eager,
only to discover too late
that she is not there.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Smart Girls and Poem

On Friday we learned that the SSHRC grant our daughter-in-law SP had applied for to investigate smart girls had been approved. We were delighted. SP herself is pretty smart, as are so many girls we know, young and old, and I am truly looking forward to hearing about this important research and what she finds out about smart girls.

I have no doubt that Damian Rogers, when she was in her teens, was a smart girl because she sure as hell is smart now. Smart as a whip, I’d say, quick and true. When I started to read her collection of poems, Paper Radio, I found it so good that I rationed myself – didn’t want to run through them too quickly, didn’t want to run out of more of her poems to read.

Here is one that fits today’s theme, I think:

Honour Roll Student Drunk at Pep Rally

I know what you think, and for once I don’t care.
Skipping class to pound rum and cokes at my house
puts these cheers in a whole new light: Go Blue.

Let’s get out of here. I’ll drive.

Let’s park your Corvair behind a Dumpster at Meijer’s
and spend the rest of the afternoon drinking PBR.
Roll a joint and take down that feathered roach clip
hanging from your rearview mirror.

Let me have your tongue in my mouth for a while.
And for fuck’s sake, stop talking.

I want to stay out until the night past the dashboard
is black as the cheap kohl eyeliner
I see the girls behind Sunshine Foods
melt down with their yellow lighters
before rimming their lids like rabid animals.

Come on, let’s board up the windows with our breath.

Let your fingers slide inside my panties,
your belt buckle break open easily in my hands.

If you want to read more, you can buy the book, or you can hear her read a few more of her poems here.

And if you, like SP, are a smart girl, be happy that she is going to start her study of you and girls like you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday Night

It is Good Friday, the fog has been in and out of the harbour all day and now is in again, gentle fog that drapes itself over McNab’s and slides up the Arm. It was a quiet day where you could do things outside and where you could hear the ship’s long foghorn blast with its echo that kept on going for ten seconds or more. It has been a good Friday.

Today’s poem for National Poetry Month is one of mine. I wrote it on a Friday after school and after reading from Creeley’s great collection, For Love. The poem speaks of the quiet of a Friday night after work waiting for Lorraine to come home from art school, and the voice it speaks in has some of the flavour and rhythm of Mr. Creeley, whose words had inspired me to write and whose cadences were still in my ear.

Friday Night

inside this
house, this place
she has made

of pale walls, white
ceilings, light
coming from over there

or here, behind me,
warm silence, this
gentle air

a space
she has created,
speaks of her,

where I wait,
by quiet,

to hear
her say
my name

(Published in SKAZ, No. 1, January 1992)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spring and All, etc.

There is a change in the season here, even though we did revert to a brief cold snap after our balmy days a little earlier in the month. The change is a slow greening, a quickening, a rooting.

This is one of my favourite times of the year, especially here in Nova Scotia, and especially here in Ferguson’s Cove. The ground is wet and dark and bare, ready for something to be planted or for something to sprout out of it, and the grass is shifting slowly from its winter buff to faint nuances of green. The plumage of the jays seems brighter and more intense, like the bell sound of their spring song, and the reddish buds are swelling on the maples. Everything is still promise.

JE, our second son, has written about the season and what it looks and feels like in Southern Ontario. His lovely thoughtful post, called The Greening, is here.

And today is the first day of April, not for me so much the day of jokes and fools as it is the first day of National Poetry Month, a month I love. For today, I offer a poem. It was written by my man, the good doctor William Carlos Williams, who died just after my eighteenth birthday and who has deeply influenced my ear, my eye, my understanding, my work. He is “my man” because I wrote my Master’s thesis on his poetry and poetics and because his work still resonates with me. I hope it does with you too. This is the title poem from his collection of the same name, published way back in 1923

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast -- a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines --

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches --

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind --

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined --
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance -- Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken