On Nov. 1, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and reading series presented poet Lorna Crozier reading from her latest work Before the First Word. York teaching assistant Chris Cornish sent the following report to YFile.
We are made
of mostly water
and water calls to water
through centuries of reason
light and slender
as the rain.
from "The Dark Ages of the Sea"
by Lorna Crozier
"Poets are more fun!" concluded Canadian poet Lorna Crozier (right) at the end of her reading for the Canadian Writers in Person series. At times playful, ribald, sensuous and spiritual, the poet lived up to her own billing. "The Bad Poem" flatulated under the dinner table, "Carrots" and "Onions" brought the sex lives of vegetables out of the dark, and "The Dark Ages of the Sea" taught the value of "living the question". Though poetry’s intent is usually to ask questions, this poet was generous in answering them.
Crozier is often asked, "Why read poetry?" She mused that "poetry is about trying to state what can’t be said, circling around big issues like ‘Why are we here?’" Poetry "attempts to walk near that mystery with sounds that seduce you into a different kind of knowing," she said. Crozier also believes the sounds of words are at least half of their meaning. Though she primarily works in free verse, with the occasional book of ghazals, she infuses her work with musical rhythms and notes.
As an example of the musical power of poetry, she told the recent story of a beached whale on the coast of British Columbia. Despite hours of dedicated volunteers pouring buckets of seawater onto its back and 20 men attempting to heave the baby whale out to deeper water, it could not move. Eventually, Donnie Edenshaw of the local Haida carving family appeared and sang a traditional Haida song into the whale’s ear. After listening to this song about freeing the whales, it heaved a huge sigh and swam to sea. "That’s poetry!" said Crozier.
When asked why she doesn’t say what she means more directly,Crozier answered, "I do, but it’s not an easy meaning." This kind of challenge and ambiguity is what Crozier looks for when she reads poetry. She also looks for fresh poetic images, such as Michael Ondaatje’s description of prairie grasshoppers as "dolphins of drought". Reading other poets is often what gets Crozier in the writing frame of mind, "like rubbing two sticks to create a spark that lights your fire."
After knocking "the censor" off her shoulder, Crozier said, she "lets the writing process flow." It requires a certain amount of faith and it requires "believing the sacrifice will pay off in a fresh stream gushing from the spout." When the words are on the page, she lets her poems sit for months to a year before rewriting and polishing. It’s hard work, but a process that she said she relishes and is "like building a good chair". What she enjoys most is the attentiveness that poetry requires, the pleasure of creating something: "We all know that feeling," said Crozier. "We had it as little kids and some of us have lost it."
Crozier’s recent collection Before the First Word is aptly titled, because it is that moment of receptiveness she cherishes and describes as "when the poem is about to nudge its way into life, when it’s pausing on the border between silence and being…as if your whole body has grown antennae." She becomes attuned to the world as it is but discovers it with fresh eyes, giving voice to its silent creatures. The act of writing is a resistance to that silence and that’s "where poetry starts".
The Canadian Writers in Person series of public readings at York, which is free and open to the public, is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature. The series is sponsored in part by the Canada Council for the Arts. Acclaimed poet George Elliot Clarke read from his collection Black on Nov. 15, followed by author Rawi Hage on Nov. 29. The series resumes on Jan. 10 with a reading by poet Stephen Heighton.