Monday, April 28, 2008

A Stratfordian poet; not Shakespeare

Jane Urquhart is probably best known for her many novels, however, she is also a poet. She is also a Stratfordian, so in celebration of my current home town and of poetry month in general, I'll share one of her works. And to see how poetry plays into her fiction writing, take a look at this lovely interview from a few years ago.

Her husband, artist Tony Urquhart, collaborated with her on her first book, a limited edition (531 copies) of a book of poetry, I am walking in the garden of his imaginary palace : eleven poems for Le Notre. (Panoramas by Tony Urquhart. -- Toronto : Aya Press, 1982.) Copies of the 140 first-state books are going for an average of $530 these days. Nice!

Her first novel was Whirlpool, set in Niagara Falls, about a family of undertakers. The story was based on elements of her husband's family history specifically the existence of Morse & Sons Funeral Home in Niagara Falls, the oldest run family funeral home in Canada. It was well received critically -- now even considered a classic. This theme did not get used up with the novel, however; she was fascinated by Adeline, her husband's grandmother, who had kept a notebook with details of all the bodies fished from the river, which the undertakers then became responsible for. One section (The Undertaker's Bride) from her 1982 book of poetry, False Shuffles, is made up of poems based on Adeline's life.

Here are a couple of those poems, although I can't get the spacing quite right, due to the un-poetic nature of Blogger.

The Limit of Suspension

On three small scraps of paper
grandmother writes
how the suspension bridge
fell down

how the cotton wool

pulled her from
starched sheets to the
lung-stopping chill
of the january night

how her shoes squeaked
in the snow

and looking at the
suspension bridge

broken-backed against the ice
like an injured dragon

must have wondered at
each of her magic crossings

but writes here
the suspension bridge
fell down
and it did make a noise.

Between Brothers

A fight starts
in a moment

travels all around the

and ruins roses

involves two or three
dogs who
scare the goldfish

deeper in the pond
a fight speaks of
heat or play
or boredom

a fight lasts an
instant or an afternoon

and always finishes
with the loser in the trough
shaking his head like an animal

(the water scatters
through the vision of
his startled sisters
suddenly blooming
at the kitchen window and

grandmother shouting
as she dries the edges of
her hands

all around her apron).

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