Thursday, July 09, 2009

Coal & Roses

Coal & Roses / P.K. Page
Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill Press, c2009
93 p.

I've written a little about Page's work previously, and how much I admire her for continuing as a strong and vibrant creator into her 90's. She seems to be able to work in many formats; this book is a collection of 21 glosas. In case you are as unaware of this poetic form as I was, here's a definition:

Glosa = Originating in the late fourteenth to early fifteenth century Spanish courts, the glosa is a way for poets to exchange or build upon one another’s ideas in a structured poetic form. A glosa normally has four ten-line stanzas preceded by four lines quoted from another poet (this quatrain also acts as a kind of epigraph to the poem). Each stanza ends with a line taken sequentially from the borrowed quatrain. While there is no required metre, lines 6, 9 and 10 of each stanza are often end-rhymed. The glosa picks up on the concept of glossing – that is, elaborating or commenting on a text. Poets often vary the form slightly – for instance, by making some or all stanzas shorter than the standard ten lines. [From In Fine Form – The Canadian Book of Form Poetry]

What this means in practice is that Page has taken four lines from various poets, including such names as Anna Akhmatova, Gwendolyn MacEwan, Borges, Lorca, and Wallace Stevens. She begins with a quatrain from one of their poems and then glosses on it. In Akhmatova's case, there is a triple glosa, three quatrains from her work commented on for a big finish. The design of the book really adds to the experience of reading; before each glosa, there is a page with a brief biography and a portrait of the poet Page is referencing for her own poem. It's a wonderful way to discover new poets, and new depths to the poets you may already be familiar with. Reading these felt like eavesdropping on a discussion between poets, themes and ideas drawn on and expanded upon by a new sensibility. It was intellectually fascinating, and inspiring -- it made me think that I should be more careful to take note of my responses when I am reading a poem. Even if I am not about to break out into a wild orgy of glosa composition, I can still take the time to mull over a poem and think about the ways its lines may be interpreted according to my own experiences and knowledge.

Once again, this volume put out by Porcupine's Quill Press is a lovely book; good design, nice paper, attractive cover, quality binding, and of course, excellent content. I have not yet seen a P.K. Page volume that I haven't liked.

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