Archives for posts with tag: Richard Harrison

Penguin Card Without Bat Decal
It’s not about cash? Don’t kid this old bird. It’s always moolah in motion in this world. Crazy or not, a man who burns a mountain of loot just to highlight his position has a quantity in mind. That’s my point. I got tons. It’s not my worry. What I want to wall away is sky, that cobalt arch mocking my flight-lost kind. The turncoat sky that is his turf – always plunging foot-first down from midnight’s vault, changing basalt insubstantial dark into his black boot – POW! I know a parasol won’t do, but I know my book and a criminal always acts in accord with his own fowl faith, or turns into a lowly, flailing crook, signifying nothing.

© Richard Harrison

GM Array

All a poor clown ever asked for, truth to tell, was to be seen. Lucky for me, that was easy on account of my blanched up features, green mop of fun, ruby mouth, loaded gun, n’all. Now my face appears on TV every day. Yay! And yet, you weren’t happy. You wanted more. But what could a man become who has no past (at least not one he remembers day to day), what could such a man become but a leaky vessel of gargoyle selves he offers up for your amusement, only to have them make a mess when they pour out between the cracks? Why do you people want more than what appears? Why can’t you be content to have all that anyone can show? What’s your problem? Oh … memory needs an anchor, you say? One slender letter to hold together what falls apart even as you get your eye real close and try to see? Sorry – we’re out of stock. You should only speak of yourself when you know who you are anyway. The dead do so; no more guesswork for them. But they can’t talk! That’s the gag! Why don’t you laugh? Why so somber?

© Richard Harrison

These next three — Joker, Catwoman, Batman — are all part of a visual art and poetry show I did called “The Gotham Monologues.” Along with other artists I made a set of Batman cards (based on the 1966 set based in their turn on the Batman TV show), each featuring a central Batman character. This project started as a response to Christian Bok’s Eunoia which had its own 10th anniversary issue in 2011; our Now magazine, FFWD had a Eunoia contest in which poets were asked to write something either using Christian’s strict one vowel/poem rule for the pieces in his book, or using all the vowels except one. I took at shot at both — poems that were written without specific vowels (the missing vowel in some way connected to the subject) or restricted to one. The idea of having these poems be monologues spoken by Batman’s villains (and in the end ultimately Batman himself) arose to answer the question, “What do I know well enough and deeply enough to have enough words to choose from given these confinements? In many ways I learned how much like the villanelle and the sonnet and so on the Oulipian self-imposed restrictions were. They also took me out of what I would have expected I’d have each character say. So here’s the Joker (who has no i — because he has no I either), and Catwoman who speaks without an “a” because she is the female opposite to Batman, who only speaks in words with the only vowel in his own name in them in his poem. I had a lot of fun with these. “Joker (no I)” won the Eunoia prize, and was published in FFWD that year. I gave the whole set of readings at the Spoken Word Festival that year as well. What was really interesting was that this was the event that broke the ice for Christian and me, and he liked the poems; in conversation he also knew that I’d done the whole thing from the words I already knew. When he was making Eunoia, he had to read the whole Oxford three times to find words that would get him out of the jams that I now know this sort of project can lead to. I’m still working on a “Robin” poem for this series. Of course, it can’t be “Robin” since he’s a hero, and he’s got to tread, poetically as well as verbally, the single path. Fortunately, he grows up to be Nightwing. That’s just a bit shy of as far as I’ve got.

© Richard Harrison

I met Richard (like every other Peterborough Poet) at Trent University through the poetry section of the student newspaper Arthur (like every one else aside from Riley).
(There were more than a couple of times I was all for booting Richard from that week’s poetry page but Riley was an early champion of Richard’s. I digress.)
This is about Richard and me. Except it includes Riley.
Two people in my life have kept me writing when I gave up — Riley & Richard.
When I was at Trent University (some time in the 70’s — let’s not be precise) Riley went through my belongings when I went on a trip to the Gaspé at the end of summer, and published 3 poems of mine he found that he liked (without my permission). The shame of seeing them in print induced me to do better. That, and I was utterly flattered beyond what my little heart could bear that Riley would do that. Riley inspired us all.
Richard offered me the same kindness at a moment of complete annihilating despair. My son Arlen was in hospital with leukemia. He had relapsed. I cannot describe how drained I was. For those who followed 12 Books in a Year, Deep Water was written over 7 years — that is all I wrote.
One day, out of the blue, Richard called me. He told me had been teaching a class and mentioned me, and decided at that point, we were going to get a book of my poems mine published. He encouraged me to send me all my poems and he would edit them. I did. Then Richard proceeded to demand my best.
I will try to describe how this affected me. This is how it felt: I was deep in a well, a cold dank well and the world was a little golden disk way up there. And I was sinking. And there was nothing I could do. And then a rope fell and it said “Climb Me,” and I started my way back to the world. Which this blog is part of. So, Richard started this too. Thanks Richard.
Why did I want to exclude Richard from those early poetry pages? Just like I wanted to leave out Mike Dennis — competition — I hate it. Good thing Richard helped me grow up.
On a final note — Richard is professor of Creative Writing (and other stuff — what am I? a syllabus? — here’s the link: at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1998. He has published five books of poetry, numerous essays and … the list goes on.
Wait until you see what is coming tomorrow!

© Ward Maxwell

Jack Kirby, co-creator of The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Iron Man, among thousands more, also fought in the Second World War, and returned to comics after having been part of the liberation of prisoners of the Nazi death camps.
Grey-lipped, pitiless, they recall
murderers who go to the gallows
without apology or regret.
Yet sometimes I see, in one of them –
or two – a glimmer of the fear
of dying without redemption,
as if the body were an armour
its bearer cannot escape when
the land turns to water at his feet.
Sometimes I dream myself
among his creatures: a tower
with a human face, huge-fingered hands
that reach for the light –
only to snuff it out. Once
the Pope himself
knelt alone among those cinders
and begged, “O Lord,
Why were You so silent then?”
There is an answer
in every supervillain Jack
found at the end of a brush or pen:
Here God turned to stone.
And sometimes I hear
what Jack would have whispered
to every figure he ever drew: Move –
the word part prayer in his mouth,
part love song, argument, howl of rage.
And move they do across the page –
angelic and disfigured alike.
MOVE! the one thing
no god proved to him it could
or found compassion enough to do.

You and I loved comics when we were kids. Everyone loves comics now, but there was a time when they were a shameful form of literature for anyone over, what was it? eight? Anyway, I’ve found my way back to loving this art form and doing so in the open. I teach a couple of courses now in comics and graphic novels, I’ve done some presentations, chaired panels, read papers, met a few of the stars of the art, and I’ve written some of that passion for these characters and their makers into poetry. This one about Jack Kirby’s villains, poetically justly enough, ended up in a high school poetry textbook in, I think, 2010.

© Richard Harrison

With neither language nor a cry, you made me your father
The day you were born in a kiddie pool in our living room, and
You slid, calm as silver, beneath the surface of the water.

And they were green the way green trees bend toward the river,
Your mother, sister, the women around us crying out, reaching, as
With neither language nor a cry, you made me your father.

If I revere you here, it is a warning against my size, so revere
You I will: I whispered, Like a god of your face that flattened moment
You slid, calm as silver, beneath the surface of the water.

Then you did not know what you did not breathe was air,
For you were made full in a place without questions.
With neither language nor a cry, you made me your father.

And when they lay your blood across my scissors,
I swung the hinge on the door between your last life and this where
You slid, calm as silver, beneath the surface of the water.

You sit under the wind of this dry country like a settler,
in a chair made just your size in the room where you were born.
With neither language nor a cry, you made me your father.
You slid, calm as silver, beneath the surface of the water.
for Keeghan

<RH — This one is also in Worthy of His Fall. It’s one of the few “high form” poems I’ve written, though it doesn’t follow the traditional single-syllable end rhyme tradition (if that’s what it is) of the villanelle. John Barton published it in The Malahat Review because he thought it subverted the form. I don’t actually read too much from Worthy, but this is one I read a lot. I love the memory it brings back for me. And it made me appreciate how much work of a unique kind these sorts of formal poems are.>
© Richard Harrison

The day he tells me they’ve cut away his testicles to treat his cancer,
my father is an old man at the end of the line. Miles away, I am a father,
too, but my eyes are my little boy eyes as my father lowers the mystery
of his scrotum into the bath with me, and the hot water rising counts my
ribs with its small hands: this is how a man’s body takes up the world in
the piling of water against white stone. This is the body he has taught to me –
and saved: the pillar of his torso, arms and legs that sprung
the rhythm of his victories on the track, crushing hands that played
good cards and bad cards always the same. And his voice, it hoisted
any poem up off the page. He is more island now than ever in
his soldier days when he learned to praise the flesh that took a wound
and lived, when he built bridges out of the range of enemy fire
and dropped them through the long stride of a triangle onto the other shore.
There he understood, as he has always understood, the shortest distance
between mind and world is measured out in metal. But my father is laughing
on the phone because the English learned to laugh in the company of
the dying and the dead. And he will live, we know it, because
he has put his fighting laughter on. He has let them open the folded
purse where the tiny machines that made half my body lay whirling
in the dark, and he quotes the Scrooge who found his grave
at the foot of his bed in the film my father and I have watched
every Christmas Eve I remember – This, he is saying, is not the man I was.

<This is the opening poem for my book Worthy of His Fall (2005), the book I wrote while my dad was about midway through the illnesses that would eventually kill him. In true British soldier fashion, with British-soldiery humour, Dad and I started a list of all the things in his life that had tried to kill him, from this bout of prostate cancer back to the Imperial Japanese Army, to cigarettes, his own heart (twice), his own stomach (twice), to, well, you get the picture. This poem still rings true to me. I wrote it in 2002.RH>

© Richard Harrison

At the centre of the circle of the Champions of the
World, Mario Lemieux hoists the Cup, kisses its silver
thigh, the names of men where his will soon be cut
with a finish pure as a mirror; around him, the
tumult. And Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach
in the NHL, named his first son Stanley when his
Canadiens won it in ’73 with a stonewall blueline and
a dizzying transition game. Every player on every
team who ever won the Cup gets to take it home; it
has partied on front lawns, swimming pools and in
the trunks of cars, and even the guy who left it by
the side of the road and drove away, still he thinks
of it as holy. And that word — holy — appears most
in the conversation of veterans who know how the
touch fades, the shoulder takes longer between days
of easy movement, how Bobby Hull passed on his
chance to drink champagne from its lip when the
Hawks won it ‘61 because he thought there’d be so
many in his life. Some take the Cup apart, clean the
rings, make minor repairs in their basements, and
then inscribe on the inside of the column the un-
official log of their intimate knowledge: This way
I have loved you.

<RH note — This one was published in 1994 in Hero of the Play, my book of 50 poems “in the language of hockey” as the notes on the book go. I was really interested in this book one to see how far I could take the metaphors and events in the game, how much of the rest of what a poem could speak of if I restricted myself to the terminology of hockey (or to writing about hockey in itself). I worked on the book for 4 years, reading very little but hockey journalism, stats pages and books. The result was a happy one. Though I found that the language of hockey had its limits, it could still do a lot, it could still reach out to things not-hockey and give them a life in its own words. The book also did very well. I launched it at the Hockey Hall of Fame in ’94, and at the Saddledome in ’95. It was reissued in 2004 as a 10th anniversary edition. We launched that one with a street hockey game: poets vs novelists. Final score: 1:1.>

© Richard Harrison

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