You try to draw it out,
But nobody cares.
You point first to a cloud,
Then a bird and they wonder
Why your finger is outstretched.
You just want the moment
To know its worth, craving
Singing and colours
And the patterns
Of light or shadows over everything.
You are simple, really,
The kind of person who
Has only ever desired one
Easy, difficult task.
You cannot die before
The others, you think,
As who will write
Their elegies then.
You must keep going
Forever, though few
Turn towards you
As you made this pact
With the river, or a flower
You met in childhood, or
The night’s unsayable constellations.
Anna Kuchkova, bookstores, Calgary, Canadian poetry, Designated Mourner, ECW press, Edmonton, elegies, grief, Karen Moe., Lainna Lane., Monique de St Croix, mourning, poet photos., poetry tours, poets, pubs, Vancouver
#1 Vancouver: The first event on my Designated Mourner tour (ECW Press, 2014), apart from the initial Grief Forms workshop I offered out of my New Westminster apartment, was held at the deliciously cozy Paper Hound Bookstore on Pender Street. There was an audience of about 13, all people I knew, including my ever supportive parents, a few writers (Jamie Reid, Dennis E Bolen), a couple of musicians, and three visual artists. I had decided I would begin every reading by singing 4 lines, then reciting the other 4 of the first piece in the book, Lung Poem, followed by reading Sonnet on You Not. At the end, for short recitations, I would close with the second poem in the book, Constellation, in an effort to create a kind of “textual resurrection” by reading the other poems from back to front, in essence bringing Chris, my deceased spouse and the subject of the book, “back to life.” For the Vancouver, Edmonton and perhaps Kingston events though, as I was and will be the solo performer, I thought I would end instead with the long poem in 13 parts called “The Nth Chambers of the Heart,” a piece that moves through many difficult registers and narratives of addiction, gentrification, love. Tonight, I recited it with the accompaniment of Anna Kuchkova, dark cellist. Apart from a few sludgy pronunciation moments, I think it went intensely well. I like the luxury of longer poems sometimes, despite their massive energy output, as one can lose oneself in the rhythms, sink into the space outside of repartee, introduction and immerse at depth. Luminous photographs, most of myself and the listeners laughing, though some harshly vulnerable, were snapped by Karen Moe. I sold about six books and went out for pizza afterwards 🙂 #2 Edmonton: I was nervous about returning to the city where Chris died, a place I had lived in for 3.5 years and where I had to flee when he became addicted the second to final time, losing my home, bands, animals, people I had called friends, our reading series, my writers’ group. But I also had hope that it would feel like a semi-homecoming and a fulfillment of one circle of this returning of poems to the world. That was to be in one sense and not in another. Yes, there were poets at the Empress Pub for the Olive Series like Lainna Lane (who took otherworldly photos of my solo performance) and Doug Barbour and artists such as Jenny Keith (who also let me stay two nights at her warm, cat-happy house) and musicians like Russ Drury, also one of Chris’s closest friends. But no other of his compatriots in the metal scene and next to no other writers attended. It was snowing yes, and there were colliding events. Time is just so brief though and one wants, on the road, to see as many people that one knows as possible in the limited hours, especially when those individuals carry emotional resonance. Regardless, I relished the largesse of two sets, one of lyrics, alone, and the other, when I jumped from the stage to the floor, and recited the lengthy piece into the mic, to the dual accompaniment of John Armstrong on Theramin and Izumi Kuribayashi on violin. At times, as with when I worked with the cellist, I felt I had to yell a bit too loudly to rise above the music, but mostly I was pleased with the way they created melodic themes, trailed off at intervals and with how I ended in silence. There were tears from audience members. Lots of embraces. Thea Bowering bought me a Magners cider. Eight books exchanged hands, including one to a teacher I had never met who told me how she still hasn’t recovered from her father’s death 15 years ago. A man, Alaistair, who had just come to the usually noisy bar for a drink, pounded the area around his heart and told me, “I like what you said though it was hard. Keep speaking of grief. You have profound talents. Thank you.” Then more drinks and long talks into the early dawn. #3 Calgary: Snow fell through my Red Arrow bus trip and onwards into the evening. I was fairly jubilant though a little exhausted from staying at my brother’s house and being auntie to his six kids under seven all day prior to the reading 🙂 The reading (after a lovely bowl of soup and chit chat with 12 poets at the Rose & Crown Pub) was held at Shelf Life Books, hosted by the Single Onion series. This was my first group performance and I read last after the humorous hockey poet, Keith Worthington and the generous river-historian poet, Bruce Hunter, following a break where the crowd of about 38 listeners (many this time being writers, among them Nikki Reimer, Kimmy Beach, Micheline Maylor, & Kirk Miles) munched on cheese and grapes while sipping wine and browsing the wonderful selection of titles in all genres. I started with my song-poem, forgetting in my weariness one word and replacing it in the moment – “accept” became “escape” – I don’t know how the one word was lost, the other found, but if I was irritated at myself for failing, I was relieved that an alternative suggested itself so quickly, that perhaps no one noticed and that I continued to sing on-key. I felt very comfortable in this space with these people. They laughed, were hushed, wiped their eyes, were held in the moment. Afterwards, until the bookstore closed, conversation washed all over the room & photos were snapped by Monique de St Croix & hugs were had. One man wouldn’t stop telling me how much he enjoyed the reading, how he had never experienced anything like it and how important talking about mourning is. Anne Sorbie brought me back to her lavishly calm home afterwards, I not only feeling content at having signed nine books but at feeling so much connection with Calgary’s artists. I slept so very deeply as the snow continued to ignore April, all night long.
A Birthday poem for Chris (February 27th)
Germany we had planned for your birthday, or Bergen
Or, finances lacking, a dog sledding trip in Banff,
The destination not the point, just that this would be your 30th,
No, would have been had you not died six weeks after
Your 29th. All ages were contained in you. Some days
I called you “puppy,” others “Gramps,” eyes shifting between
Vivid giddiness, sweet liquidity and routine’s weary glaze.
And yet, you wanted to age so much, loved the thought of grey,
A slower pace, even infirmity through which we would lie
Together, calm. You wept at seniors holding hands.
You were like no young man I ever knew. Or will ever know again.
Now what does growing old hold? No you there
To hope for a vision of my long white hair, and music
Between us—softer, but there, still.
From the shore, a few dark boats.
The ocean with its shushshushshush to all that’s past.
Tonight I dreamed of your return.
Nothing new in this but the lessened pain.
Sometimes I ask what more can I give
You’ve been gone so long now.
And still the time of salt retreats and in its place
I wait within the long life line of mountains.
black & white, Canadian bands, Canadian music, catherine owen, crows, Diane Barbarash, experimental film, experimental music, geese, grief poems, grief songs, lyrics, mourning, musical duos, nature music, old film, poems, Poemsongs, shadows, songs, wires, women musicians, women singers
by The Lyrical Outlaws, a renegade poem-song duo from New Westminster/Vancouver, BC.
They are Catherine Owen: poems/lyrics & alto/kooky vocals.
& Diane Barbarash: guitar & sweet/awesome vox.
Other tracks will contain bass, drums, recitation and so forth.
On Geese, Diane plays a Fender American Strat w/Bluebird mic. Catherine is using an AT 2020 Compressor mic and Studio One. The song was mixed by Diane using Adobe Audition. The video was shot by Catherine with a Canon Rebel and edited with Video Pad using the Old Film effect.
Geese (the poem)
They do not fly in that perfect vee of childhood/ Anymore, but in clumps, gristly bits, one or two shifting hard/ To sustain a rhythm amid electrical wires, others/ Falling into a slack skipping rope over the river./ And still the crying going on. /I told you yesterday I would write a poem/ That does not plummet once into nostalgia, /Just one, but it seems I cannot. /There is nothing in me that is not somehow/ Old & looking back, upon a child/ Who was already old & looking back too.
GEESE (the song)
1/They don’t fly/ in that perfect vee Of childhood/ anymore But shift hard/ to avoid this world A world they/should not see
CHORUS: Over the river they fly Between our wires & our towers And the crying going on And the crying going on.
2/I told you once /I would write a poem That has no sorrow/ for our loss in it But it seems I cannot/ give you this gift This eye/after the storm.
CHORUS BRIDGE: I see them hover/over trees and sun/ through rain and summer/never breaking this sad song.
3/I see the geese/ passing through As if I were/ a child who is/ already old A child/born from the cold And looking back too
“And those lone rites I have not seen,/And one drear sound I have not heard,/Are dreams that scarce will let me be,/Not there to bid my boy farewell,/When that within the coffin fell,/Fell – and flashed into the Red Sea,/Beneath a hard Arabian moon/And alien stars” [Alfred, Lord Tennyson].
In these lines from a rarely-read poem, “To the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava,” on the death of Tennyson’s 32 year old son, Lionel, who caught a fever in India and died on the ship coming home, Tennyson so beautifully encapsulates the feelings one has in knowing that a beloved died apart from one, beyond any possibility of succor, assistance, hope. I love the unabashed yet still troubled quality of his elegies, how he wrote his epic “In Memoriam”, inspired by the death of his young writer friend Arthur Hallam over such a long period of time, expressing a sense of guilt that his mourning period is so extensive and yet continuing to write of the loss that altered everything for him. But of course, this was the time of Queen Victoria, who wore black for 40 years, held her lost husband’s nightshirt in bed and refused to return to her public duties for a lengthy time, so deep and demanding was her state of grief. A more well-known poem by Tennyson embeds in us this sense of relentless yearning. One doesn’t persist as before. Life is still loved, perhaps, but shifted, changed, discoloured. & art will not bring anything back. & yet it cannot, must not, be stoppered.
Break, Break, Break
Break, break, break, On thy cold gray stones, O sea! And I would that my tongue could utter The thoughts that arise in me. O, well for the fisherman's boy, That he shouts with his sister at play! O, well for the sailor lad, That he sings in his boat on the bay! And the stately ships go on To their haven under the hill; But O for the touch of a vanished hand, And the sound of a voice that is still! Break, break, break, At the foot of thy crags, O sea! But the tender grace of a day that is dead Will never come back to me.
Losing anyone is surreal, horribly hard, rupturing. Losing someone young who one always feels could have been otherwise, ie. alive, is stranger, more difficult. Here he is so full of energy, joy, utterly in the moment, at a Cannibal Corpse concert in 2001, fist athrusting, spikes on his hat spraying their metallic light everywhere. I was with him for nearly eight years after this picture was taken, and when he died he was already not this boy of course; work and addiction and the stresses of existing had scarred him in ways beyond this moment. But he is forever this being to me. This crazy love with its irrationalities, music, poisons, beauty. Again, Jorie Graham on grief: “how in time you do not move on/how there is no “other” side/how the instant is very wide & bright & we cannot ever get away with it/the instant/what holds the “know” – .” What holds the knowing, yes. You just have to get used to never being again what didn’t know or know like this. A state not always bearable but always, nonetheless.