Friday, March 30, 2007

After Reading Too Much Shields and Atwood

The other day, this came into my inbox, and made my day:

Hi Brian,

I thought your poem in the latest TAR was delightful. It's one of the few literary works that truly meets the criterion of "needing to be told." I'll be sharing it with friends and colleagues over the next few weeks. I'm sure many will be doing the same. It's going to be a classic.

Paul Headrick
That's got to be the first letter of appreciation -- or feedback of any kind -- I've ever received for a poem published in a journal. Usually publishing poetry is, as Don Marquis put it, like dropping a rose petal into Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.

Paul Headrick, it turns out, is a fiction writer and English professor at Langara College in Vancouver BC. In the ensuing correspondence -- where we discussed the merits of the poem -- he said he'd be doing his best to publicize the poem, maybe get it reprinted somewhere. It's great to have an ally in the realm of academe. Only after publishing a first draft of this post did I discover that his coming across my poem could hardly be a surprise: it so happens he's a fellow contributer to issue in which it appears. Anyway, here it is for all and sundry:


I am a man of few words.

My name
a monosyllabic

Bruce, say,
or Matt or Joe
or Jeff.

You: immense,
surrounded by crockery pots
and children,
cookery books
and washing on the line.

Though I pay the bills,
bring home the proverbial bacon
I’m a whirling asteroid to your Jupiter,
an errant electron spinning round
your gravid nucleus.

Even yet, you wonder why
I need it so much:

why I slip my hand up your nightdress
(that you’ve gathered round yourself, for protection)
with, “If you’re willing, Mother.”

Is it five thousand times now? Ten thousand?

Why that constant urge to thunder and let loose?

When I proposed
it was in Greason’s Hardware,
automotive parts:

“Say we get married, eh?
I make a good wage.”

Today you make a new recipe for me
-- Magpie Pudding --
and when I come home from the gravel pit
my tender, male mouth drops,
my eyes express confusion and surprise,
I eat in silence, then read the paper.

For I am a man of few words.

A monosyllable.

A John, you could say.



Andrew Shields said...

Maybe you could read too much Atwood, but too much Shields? Impossible! :-)

Brian Campbell said...

Actually, I greatly enjoy -- and admire -- both writers, although there is an aspect that clearly rubs me the wrong way. My favourite Atwood so far is "Cat's Eye" -- a masterpiece, in my estimation. I greatly enjoyed Shield's "Unless", and I'm certain there's much more good stuff to be read by her. Much of the imagery here is lifted from the first pages of "The Stone Diaries", which I abandoned shortly afterwards -- but that's no reflection on quality of that work, rather on the state of mind (rather, state of distraction) of this reader.

Andrew Shields said...

I was also thinking of that other Shields, the underpublished poet. :-)

"Larry's Party" has one of my favorite lines from Shields: Larry and a friend are talking about their school days, and the friend has just told some story about something bad that happened to him. Larry asks him if his parents knew anything about it, and the friend says: "They didn't have an inkling. And it takes a thousand inklings to make a clue."

I read "The Stone Diaries," too, and of the three I have read (Unless, LP, and TSD), it was the least memorable.