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Not sailing to Byzantium: on poetry in a time of crisis

No one sleeps the night through anymore. The wings of endings beat near our faces, drop bones into our dreams….But let us understand that we too will die, each of us; and that in our time of living it matters to reach out and to speak up against the increasing number of state gestures that threaten to become excessive force, surveillance and foreclosures of civil liberties. It matters to ask questions, and to try to conduct serious civil debate about the best routes to sound judgment and care. It matters to take time to listen to what the non-human parts of the planet are saying, as dolphins roll through Venice, and the air clears over Delhi and other industrial centres. It matters to reimagine our entitlements and travel plans, our airplanes and global expansions. What does a sustainable economy look like? Whom should it serve? What would it take to build it, and to engage both human and non-human actors? Why shouldn’t artists and poets study such things? Continue reading Not sailing to Byzantium: on poetry in a time of crisis

A valediction forbidding mourning (a more or less true history of the present)

Over the course of the last week everything has changed radically. In the northern hemisphere winter has officially become spring. We’ve shifted from an eerie quiet, as if collectively in Canada we were kneeling, our ears pressed to the tracks of time listening for the train of the future to come barrelling upon us, to something still more unearthly. Early closures, slow stunned walks in the sun and recommendations about how we ought to behave have become, over the course of several days, a state of emergency and civilian lockdown. Continue reading A valediction forbidding mourning (a more or less true history of the present)

On the Evolution of My Condition

There is the winter night when, while asleep, I sweat so much the sheets are drenched, as if they have been left out in the rain…Another night after dinner I doze off, the dog asleep on my feet….Most startling of all, today I discovered a new warning on a medication that I have been taking daily for years. Tiny print on a yellow sticker affixed to the prescription label warns Call your doctor immediately if you have mental mood changes like confusion, new/worsening feelings of sadness/fear, thoughts of suicide, or unusual behaviour. What has changed? Why has no one ever mentioned these side effects before? Or have I just failed to see them? Continue reading On the Evolution of My Condition

The Silence of the Songbirds

How can we attend to what we have not noticed? It took a week or ten days for the strangeness of the silence that surrounded us as we walked in the forest to become audible, to realize that it was not what we were hearing but what we were not hearing that was what was important. The realization didn’t come all at once. Continue reading The Silence of the Songbirds

“All land is sacred:” Another kind of remembrance

These are the things I want to remember this Remembrance Day: everything that is alive that impresses itself on my senses, not the celebratory stories of European wars and muscular bravery, the pomp and pride that says “Look what we did; this land is our land; war is sacrifice is glory.” What terrible stewards and guests we colonials have been and go on being; even when we think we’re at peace we wage war on other beings, wrecking and murdering, fissuring the earth and all of its resources in the name of conquest, ownership, profit and, ironically, “survival”–a survival that is ever more clearly on its way to choking us all. Our noisy honking drowns out the very voices to which we need to listen. Truly I do not want to study war anymore, neither on this day nor any other; its racket, its glorious tales of the seizure of territories, is not where we most need to hone what Toni Morrison, in Beloved, called our “rememories,” or remembrance of memories right now. Continue reading “All land is sacred:” Another kind of remembrance

Who will watch you while you sleep?

We have to climb to see the sunshine. At 40,000 feet, the clouds seem like a vast snow-blasted landscape–blue shadows of the distance like linking pools of half-frozen water. It is a landscape without trees, just the long arc of the atmosphere curving away in the distance. The sun is bright and hot–it seems as if it has been days since I’ve felt its heat and blare, the sting of so much light in my eyes. Continue reading Who will watch you while you sleep?