Archive for the ‘Poems about Books’ Category

Now I think it’s merely

a matter of emphasis,

like the Globe & Mail

and the National Enquirer.

They’re both the same, really;

they both line words

like bars across the pages,

making you want to squeeze

between them into the white

where you think the truth is.

from “The Town Where I Grew Up”

Common Magic

Bronwen Wallace

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I was four

and leaving Cornwall,

Ontario, for a life at sea.  What

possessed me?  Not the effects

of the Howard Smith Paper Mill’s emissions on my

innocent sinus passages, nor the H-bomb,

nor the arrival of my younger brother

and the sudden fall from myth

to politics and history.  I blame

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, whose

watercolour illustrations led the eye along the sweet

curl of the waves and the Brave

Sea Captain’s pipe smoke into the wide-

open page where who

knew what.

from “Running Away”

Another Gravity

Don McKay

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The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.

The house was quiet and the world was calm. 

from “The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm”

Wallace Stevens

Thanks to Susan Olding for the suggestion.

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No grief this fall until

I open your book

of suitcase poems–

they haul out everything

I thought I’d packed away

like my aunt,

jailed and beaten,

who fled across a border

leaving everything precious


Memory is empty

as her duffel bag

which hangs itself

from the cellar hook–

you remind me: slit the vinyl,

find the smuggled jewels.

“For shannon bramer”

Question and Answer

Alison Pick

with permission


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The force of her own gift alone drove her to it…

who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s

heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?

—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own


My brother was a talented man.  38 plays, 154 sonnets,

4 long narrative poems and a threnody on the death of

chaste lovers, all with a little Latin and less Greek—well.

A genius in his own time, surely.

But his appetite burned a hole in our family’s pockets, he

wouldn’t sew gloves, wouldn’t apprentice to the new

bailiff, just scribbled, then was gone to London.  We

weren’t foolish—there was nowhere else for him, and

nothing for it but to follow.

Will made enough in London to carouse, but sent no

coin home.  Our father snored beneath the alehouse

table, too drunk to oppose what Ann and I concocted by

the fire one cold night, the children hungry in their

beds.  I, being more than common tall, attired myself on

all points as a man and set out.  I crossed Clopton Bridge

on a cold St. George’s Day, my brother’s 25th feast-day.  I

found him face down, feasting on a puddle of his own

spew, nothing new in that.

No longer a woman, I didn’t clean and coddle him, but

booted his backside like the dog he was and swore on

his children’s eyes that he’d send money home if I had to

sell his body as a rent boy.  I locked him in his shabby

rooms, kept the key in my fist, and he wrote three plays

a year.  Some were good.  People started to notice.  An Earl

commissioned some sonnets, offered gold for my dark

hair sketched into my brother’s verse.  Money was

money.  My namesake niece in Stratford grew tall enough

to preen and call herself Judith.

My brother was a talented man.  But for me, who never

again wore a dress, who played manager for twenty

years, his greatest feat lay in how he turned our family

fortunes, our green and yellow melancholy, into the

great Globe itself.  A person, to write, needs a room of

one’s own.  A door that locks.  Someone to hold the key.

“Shakespeare’s Sister”

from Holding Ground

by Tanis MacDonald

with permission

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I have to apologise for the formatting of the poems about books and reading that I am posting.  I cannot for the life of me get the returns for the separation of stanzas to stick.  If anyone has encountered this problem and knows how to solve it, please let me know. 

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Thanks to Theresa for the suggestion.

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A book opens. People come out, bend

this way and talk, ponder, love, wander around

while pages turn. Where did the plot go?

from “The Magic Mountain”

William Stafford

more here

Thanks to Heather for the suggestion.

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Here, among these fierce and sentimental students,

I stand on the edge of a world not my own,

snatching small goods from the large irrelevance

of what we do, making the old sorrows known

to children bearing their first calamities,

teaching solitudes to the newly alone,

explaining writers’ exile to refugees

and notions of intrinsic worth to half-fledged

bankers, already driving smart Mercedes.

Yet they live by their hope, curiously pledged

to some afterness that will reward and bless

them for gifts that nature leaves unacknowledged

or earnest labours I grade at B or less;

they know some need of love that poets speak to,

and few can absent their hearts from every class,

however many droning they may sleep through;

they will mark a perfect image or a phrase

and hear it years from now, wilder then and new.

 from “At the College”

Richard Greene

Boxing the Compass

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Who reads her while she reads?  Her eyes slide

under the paper, into another world

while all we hear of it

or see is the slow surf of turning pages.

Her mother might not recognize her,

soaked to the skin as she is in her own shadow.

How could you then?  You with your watch and your tongue

still running, tell me: how much does she lose

when she looks up?  When she lifts

the ladles of her eyes, how much

flows back into the book, and how much

spills down the walls of the overflowing world?

Children, playing alone, will sometimes

come back suddenly, seeing what it is

to be here, and their eyes are altered.  Hers too.  Words

she’s never said reshape her lips forever.

Robert Bringhurst

“The Reader”

A New Anthology of Canadian Literature in English

Ed. Donna Bennett and Russell Brown

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