Poetry London November

Please join Poetry London for our next event at Landon Library, featuring readings
by Roo Borson and Rob Taylor.

Roo Borson is the author of fifteen books, comprising poetry, essays, and collaborative works, including Rain;road; an open boat and Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida, winner of the Governor General's Award, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, and the Griffin Poetry Prize. Her newest books are Box Kite: Prose Poems, written collaboratively with Kim Maltman under the pen name Baziju and published by House of Anansi in 2016, and Cardinal in the Eastern White Cedar, published by McClelland & Stewart in 2017. She lives in Toronto with poet and physicist Kim Maltman

Rob Taylor is the author of the poetry collections "Oh Not So Great": Poems from the Depression Project (Leaf Press, 2017), The News (Gaspereau Press, 2016) and The Other Side of Ourselves (Cormorant Books, 2011). He is also the author of five chapbooks, the most recent of which, Lazienki Park, is forthcoming from the Alfred Gustav Press in December. The News was a finalist for the 2017 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and The Other Side of Ourselves won the 2010 Alfred G. Bailey Prize. In 2015 Rob received the City of Vancouver’s Mayor’s Arts Award for the Literary Arts, as an emerging artist. He lives in Vancouver with his wife and son, where he coordinates the Dead Poets Reading Series.

Date: Wednesday, November 22nd
Time: Workshop at 6:30, Reading Begins at 7:30PM
Location: Landon Library, Wortley Village

Questions? Email us at poetrylondon.ca at gmail.com

Want to know more about our featured readers? Check out these rave reviews from Western University's Katarina Meneses and Deborah Demaso.

Delivering Big News Through Poetry: Rob Taylor’s The News

By Katarina Meneses

Rob Taylor’s The News is a collection of poems divided into the number of weeks of his wife’s pregnancy. On the surface, the collection of narrative poetry concerns itself with a soon-to-be father adjusting his life to prepare for his new child. However, it is a much deeper story that unexpectedly makes a connection to the reader with its down to earth plot. As each week passes, the narrator discusses topical events of that week, from having guests over for Christmas and discussing the famous cranberry sauce, to the devastating news of countless shootings due to persistent racism in North America:

Thirty-Eight Weeks
in the summer of your birth
“See You Again” topped the charts
and I lost track of the shootings.
By police. Of police…

When people discover that they will become new parents, many resort to a variety of parenting books to successfully raise their new child. Taylor, on the other hand, decided to write his own instead. The book is enjoyable as it makes connections to the real world with the news events that were happening, such as a policeman being shot, or more racism. The narrator discusses everything from accompanying his wife for her ultrasounds to experiencing anxiety over his child possibly having a disorder. The poems make each situation feel incredibly real through Taylor’s narrative voice, as it feels conversational. These are ordinary things that new parents go through and may be able to relate to:

Twenty Weeks
First thing in the door we pinned up
the scans, pass them from kitchen
to bathroom to bed. You could be
anyone, but we pause and insist –
you’re this one, this one.

The book not only tracks the progress of the unborn child; it also tracks the growth that both the husband and wife go through to prepare themselves for the life-changing moment when their child comes into the world. His wife’s name is finally revealed, a first for any of Taylor’s works, showing their relationship changing as they grow together.

It is interesting to note that Taylor has decided to take passages from other writers (such as Grace Paley, Rebecca Solnit, Albert Camus) and incorporates them into his work. At first it may seem odd because he is archiving his own experience with his first child, but delving deeper, readers can see how well it fits with his own work: ultimately, he is expressing how deep his experience is by making connections with others throughout history.

“Sixteen Weeks” contains a passage that illuminates the fear parents go through, wondering if their child will be healthy or will suffer complications. Taylor expresses his worries in each week, but week sixteen is the one that stands out the most as they go to the doctor’s office to get a checkup; even though they are given good news, Taylor always thinks there is that small chance that something could go wrong, as it always seems to be proven in the daily headlines.

Sixteen Weeks
The bloodwork is in –
a 1 in 20,000 chance
this will all go to hell
so we go to the phones
and you’re out…
…The technician’s
voice when she told us
our odds couldn’t be better –
all other numbers she delivers
are worse.

Overall, the collection is incredibly enjoyable as the poems seem realistic and relatable. Although the book may be most appealing to parents, the book is great for all, as it opens the minds of readers to realize the anxieties of welcoming a new life into the world, which is incredibly difficult as portrayed by Rob Taylor in The News.

Senses in the Cedar: Roo Borson’s Cardinal in the Eastern White Cedar

by Deborah Demaso

Toronto-based poet Roo Borson explores humanity’s relationship to the natural world in her most recent collection, Cardinal in the Eastern White Cedar (2016, M&S). All poems in this collection are set in one of the four seasons, with a vivid and sensorial acuteness emphasized by line breaks in her verse or pauses in her prose to heighten profound and poignant moments of stillness, absence, personal revelation, and the importance of relationships. In her poem “Rush,” Borson stops mid-activity to reflect on her American roots: “In the morning sky’s deep evening-blue / New York Delhi Khartoum / […] five p.m in winter / here where I was born” (52). In this way, her prose and verse elicit both intimacy and distance, both presence and absence, by thrusting the reader into her world in medias res. Borson’s poems are always in motion through time, seasons, and inquiry; her invocation of personal relationships captivates readers and leaves them eager to read more.

The book’s first section, “Painted Garden,” is a collection of Borson’s experiences of traveling through Rome, where she reflects on youth and friendship. The travelogue poems work together to form a single narrative, blending descriptions of her surroundings and a sharp awareness of sight: “past the sour-faced monk selling honey, / and the dazzled bees / half-dozing as they browsed / the low-growing wild herbs” (4). Her poems submerge the reader in these vivid images. However, as the poems develop throughout this section, there is a feeling of intimacy, especially when she mentions her partner by name: “and Kim, whose questionable equanimity / would keep us sane” (5). Therefore, though she is in Rome and refers to many historical figures (Marcus Aurelius, Claudius) and describes many legendary places (the Colosseum, the Baths of Caracalla, the Tiber), the stanzas where personal names like Kim, Janice, or Andy are mentioned help situate the reader in the local. For example, Borson writes:

no one / could doubt its provenance: AURELIO. The last good emperor. Her / Marcus Aurelius. Andy was first. A quick hug, sharing that evident joy. / Then Kim, who knows the weeks by which my life is shortened. (11)

Borson, then, experiences a nostalgia and yearning for the local and the relationships that are grounded in Canada. She ends the section with Kim declaring "let's leave this place, / and go out again into the daylight with our friends” (13), recalling a longing for home.

The second section of her collection, called “Putting a Seal on Speech and an End to Wandering,” touches on the theme of mortality and uses a more traditional verse structure in comparison to the book’s first section. Each poem has its own subject matter and is not a continuation of a larger story. Her poem “November 14, 1974” is set in first person and profoundly evokes the despair and defamiliarization of loss by her use of an autobiographical narrative. This is evident when she writes “My grandfather died yesterday, / in the evening. He wanted / nothing done about his death, no fuss” (56). Her autobiographical narrative continues throughout poems in this section, including “Mothlight,” “One,” and “Elegy, December,” all of which have a somber tone and uncanny atmosphere. For example, in the poem “Elegy, December,” Borson writes “Now all the griefs are done but one or two, / in the dregs, the dark days of December” (40) to draw our attention to questions of death, afterlife, and feelings of indebtedness in personal relationships. However, there are other poems in “Putting a Seal on Speech and an End to Wandering” that are blissful and high-spirited. For example, in her poem “Earwig,” words at the end of stanzas are intentionally spaced apart to heighten their literal meaning: “to the cut top/of the central trunk/ of the tall cedar” (41). Aesthetically, line breaks and spaces work to create vivid imagery and a poetic, musical line in which spaces and pauses disrupt the verse’s rhythm to provoke readers to renew their attention.

The third section, “Cedarvale Diary,” is a prose poem that catalogues events and memories that occur throughout a year. Again, Borson uses the changing seasons to influence her outlook on the world and how she views her personal relationships. This prose poem offers a record of her daily life. Through descriptions of her surroundings and by relating events to nature, Borson awakens memories through sensory experience. For example, in “4 March” she writes “Once, when I was well into my thirties, a favourite aunt, who is dead now, accused me of being too young to appreciate a kitten” (67). Borson, influenced by the seasons, undergoes a spiritual transformation by progressing into the future but reflecting on the past. For Borson, nature and its details are both permanent and cyclical, but her presence and experience in nature is transient. It is through nature, memory, and inquiry she receives moments of epiphany, yet remains in flux.

The three sections in Cardinal in the Eastern White Cedar each have their own narrative quality from curious, frightened and uncertain, to descriptive and concerned. Throughout “Painted Garden,” “Putting a Seal on Speech and an End to Wandering,” and “Cedarvale Diary,” Borson maintains a fidelity to inquiry and attachment to the local. Her attunement to the five senses in her experiences with nature provoke us to rethink our relationship to others and the natural world.