Sunday, April 05, 2009

Essentially Don Coles

Erin, ON : Porcupine's Quill Press, c2009.
64 p.

I was lucky to have met Don Coles at a Book Expo a couple of years ago. He's a wonderful poet who has also written one novel, Dr. Bloom's Story. I had just finished reading his excellent novel about a doctor & would-be writer before I met him, which made it even more intriguing -- he was able to confirm that he had indeed been inspired by Doctor Glas, a Swedish epistolary novel that is one of my all time favourite reads. He's been publishing his poetry for many years, and is a well respected elder statesman of the art, so to speak. ARC Poetry magazine even put out a special Don Coles issue in 2003, of which much is now available on their site.

I enjoy his poetry because it is much like the man himself; unpretentious, erudite and clearly steeped in knowledge of past masters. It has emotional weight, and yet in my favourite pieces has a distancing sense of melancholy about time's passage. Porcupine's Quill Press has just released The Essential Don Coles, edited by Robyn Sarah, a fine poet in her own right. This is the 3rd in their uniform series of "Essential Poets". As always from Porcupine's Quill, this series is beautifully printed, on fine paper with an aesthetically pleasing theme of cover images from Pierre-Joseph Redouté; they have the usual Porcupine's Quill sewn binding, and, they smell good! This series is a pleasingly affordable way to become acquainted with some important Canadian poets. I talked about the first, The Essential George Johnson, last year during Poetry Month. (and will discuss the second in the series tomorrow). If, after reading this sampling, you want to explore his poetry further, there is also a fairly recent longer collection of Coles' work he put together for Véhicule Press; that is the collection that he signed for me at Book Expo and which I treasure.
Please enjoy this Coles poem:

How We All Swiftly

My God how we all swiftly, swiftly
unwrap our lives, running from
one rummaged secret to the next
like children among their birthday stuff --
a shout, a half-heard gasp here
and for a while bliss somewhere else
when the one thing we asked for all year
is really there and practically as perfect
as we knew it would be. Those beckoning passes
into what's ahead: first words, the run
without a fall, a bike, those books,
a girl whose nakedness is endless in our bed,
and a few public stunts with results that
partly please us. And on we go, my God how
restlessly among glimpsed profiles turning and
undarkening towards us as we reach them -- praiseworthy
the ones who'll press on with this, press on
so long and so often wrong, hoping to prove
some of the children right.

Don Coles


  1. Beautiful poem, thanks for sharing. This is the first one I've read by Coles.

  2. Have my grandkids here right now, so this poem speaks to me!


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