Poetry in reverse: Part 1 of 3


Elee Kraljii Gardiner is the author of serpentine loop (Anvil Press, 2016), an innovative, beautiful book of poems that has been shortlisted for the League of Canadian Poets’ Raymond Souster award. She is the founder of Thursdays Writing Collective, a Vancouver nonprofit that offers free, drop-in creative writing classes at Carnegie Community Centre for members of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Elee is the editor and publisher of eight of the collective’s anthologies. She also co-edited V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012). I didn’t know this until just now, but V6A is the first three digits of the Downtown Eastside postal code—a neighbourhood that has been described as the poorest in Canada.

I live in V0J. The zero in the middle tells you I live in a rural area, which is how I came to be at the 2017 Rural Writers in Residence retreat near Smithers last weekend. Because I am incredibly lucky, Elee Kraljii Gardiner was also there, as a presenter and a workshop facilitator. Elee is skilled, supportive, funny, and generous in thought and presence. I had never been to a poetry workshop before, and she made me feel completely at ease.

Elee told us the idea for the reversals workshop had been seeded by Jericho Brown at the Cross-Border Pollination Reading Series in Vancouver. In our workshop, she invited us to respond to two small poems—one by William Carlos Williams and one by Juliane Okot Bitek—by reversing them. I asked my new poetry pals if I could post our workshop poems on my blog because I was astounded, first by what emerged from each of us in just ten or fifteen minutes, and then by the diversity of our responses to the same poem.

We began here:

This Is Just To Say
William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Elee asked us to reverse the poem, whether word by word, line by line, by mood, or by ideas, and then to reverse our reversals. Rather than landing back where we started, we ended up in other, often quite surprising places. It reminded me of a line from a poem by Rumi:

I’ll post Baxter’s and Norma’s poems today and the rest tomorrow. You can click on their names below to link to their work.

Baxter Huston

Someone might be hungry for hunger
as it exists for the taking from the holy heart of the sun.
The kind no one else has ever wanted, or even to know the whereabouts of, ever.
If I am he, it will be a bitter, bitter meal.

There are those who are empty on gluttony
like thirsting for the cold that radiates from ice.
These are not the fringe, they are the majority,
but praise God, I’ll be happy with just a little food.

Terrace writer Baxter Huston

Terrace writer Baxter Huston

Norma Kerby
nothing had a voice

she vomits back the blossoms
she finds on the floor

someone threw them away
after days of starvation

be angry
those blossoms are bitter
and acrid
and burning

silence of space

we are injesting
flung from the heat of a flaming sun

given away
without deliberation

we are angry
everything is inedible
a barbeque of burning bricks

I wrote you a note

you picked
the branches
next to the bonfire
branches I was to destroy at midnight

laugh with me
those branches are sharp and poisonous and hot with thorns

Norma Kerby

Terrace writer Norma Kerby

Look for Poetry in Reverse: Part 2 tomorrow. Part 3 is here.

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