Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Poem: Stephanie Bolster

Stephanie BolsterOur neighbor to the north--Canada, I mean--has numerous fine authors and a vibrant literary scene that often, but not always, intersects with our own. We share at least one common language, English, but it's probably fair to say that Canadian writers often are more aware of what US writers are up to than the other way around. We tend to look in the mirror, rather than turn a full circle and see what's going on out the window, the door, in the fields and mountains surrounding us. As the last 8 years demonstrated, that can be a terrible problem when we elect (or allow to seize office) people who don't have a clue about the rest of the world, including our two closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico. (And truthfully, do you think our previous president knew what city was Canada's capital before he took office?) Of course one could make the argument that national boundaries are insignificant, and that we should, if we must, categorize works in other ways, and I think there're powerful arguments to be made on that account. Nevertheless, here is one Canadian poet, Stephanie Bolster, who lives in Québec, teaches at Concordia University, and has received a raft of honors for her books, which include White Stone: The Alice Poems, Two Bowls of Milk, and Pavilion. From the Parliamentary Library Poet Laureate website (something like our Library of Congress Poet Laureate, I believe), which features a number of contemporary Canadian poets, I chose the following poem, ekphrastic in its mode, in part because of how its syntax creates a fluidity of meaning that reflects the both the static and dynamic qualities of the tapestry it's depicting, which includes the labor of the tapestry's weavers, which we might quite naturally not even take into account, and the image, static as it hangs on the Cloisters' wall, but dynamic in its unfolding in our mind's eye, with the fantastical unicorn at its center. The slant rhymes and consonance in particular grab me. Enjoy.


The unicorn made of stitches of hands by the thousands
of hours in Ghent or Bruges or possibly years.
The unicorn held in a ring of pickets
his beard and buckled collar and blood where they caught him.
All around the flowers with the names of Venetian glass
the hellebore and unbidden berries. All around a place
they went to day and night the candles straining the eyes.
Skin softened by wool the sheep in the field the wolf.
At this great distance the horn is the pinnacle
as tall as the beast is rampant its tip a single thread
squinted over an instant still flinching.

Copyright © Stephanie Bolster, Library of Parliament, Canada, 2009. All rights reserved.

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