Archive for January, 2011

Kay Ryan

One of my resolutions for 2011 is to try to memorize some poems I like. I don’t have a notion yet of whether this will necessarily improve my enjoyment of them, but I’m interested to see what the process will be like.

Although the obvious choices might be old favourites, I decided to make it all new with a new-to-me poet, American Kay Ryan. Like many, many other people, I had not heard of her before she took up her post as poet laureate (2008–2010). She’s stayed out of the mainstream; she lives in Marin County, California, and made a living teaching remedial English at the local college. When she was twenty-nine she took a cross-country cycling trip to try to decide whether or not to continue writing poetry. Somewhere in Colorado she posed herself the question, Do you like it? and responded yes and then went from there. If you want to know more about her writing life, there’s a good interview with her here, from the Winter 2008 issue of The Paris Review.

Her poems are about asking the right questions, too. What is this? I thought it was this, but instead it’s this. You thought it was this, but I think maybe it’s this. From The Best of It: New & Selected Poems (2010) I bookmarked six I liked best, on first read, and have decided to start the memorizing with “Easter Island.” Once I’ve done that I have the ukulele and Spanish to learn, and more nuts and legumes to eat. Should be a busy year.


The Geography of Arrival

The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction released its shortlist yesterday and I was pleased to see George Sipos’s The Geography of Arrival (Gaspereau, 2010) on there. I had the pleasure of working with George on his manuscript a couple of years ago. The book is a memoir of his family’s years in London, Ontario, following their immigration from Hungary in the late 1950s.

Here in Halifax we have a new outdoor skating oval, built for the upcoming Canada Games, and all over the city you can see people with their skates slung over their shoulders and hear the speculation as to whether the oval will be maintained following the Games. So in the spirit of skating here’s a little bit of George’s “Rink” chapter:

That fine counter-clockwise swirl always had an inherent flaw, however. Regardless of whether one went early or late, on a weekday or weekend, somewhere on the sheet of ice there was, inevitably, one gaping gouge. Often it was no more than a few inches long or a mere inch or so deep, but enough to catch the blade of a skate and send you sprawling. The secret, which the whole circling crowd (except the very little kids who spent most of their time on all fours anyway) understood, was to find out where the crack was on the first circuit and then avoid it. As we skated round and round, as the pucks whacked into the boards of the adjacent hockey rink, we all knew as one body where the flaw was, and the exact moment to swerve or to step lightly over it.

The winner of the prize will be announced on February 14.