Friday, 19 January 2007

Poem by Carmine Starnino

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome Carmine Starnino (pictured) this Friday. Starnino is one of Canada's most important literary figures of the new generation of writers born since 1960 (a generation that includes Camlot, McGimpsey, Babstock and a few others) - as poet, fiercely, wittily demanding critic, poetry editor, anthologist, and exemplary "man of letters". That is why I was glad to include his work in my survey of new Canadian Poets for New American Writing.

I was glad to learn that one of his poems from my selection has been in turn selected by poet Heather McHugh for her volume of The Best American Poetry, in this case, 2007, forthcoming this autumn. He also read last year for my Oxfam series, in London, while he was in Rome on a writer's grant.

His work certainly gets around: he has new poems in the recent issue 74 of the New Welsh Review, guest-edited by Patrick McGuinness and Matthew Jarvis; and the verse-letter below first appeared in issue 100 of the New Quarterly, part of a series "addressed to" some of the key mentors from Anglo-Quebec poetry that have shaped his thinking and writing.

Starnino has published three volumes of poetry, for which he has won numerous awards, including the Canadian Authors Association Prize, the A.M. Klein Award, and the F.G. Bressani Prize, in addition to being shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Prize for best first book. He is the author of A Lover's Quarrel, a collection of essays on Canadian poetry, and the editor of The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry. He lives in Montreal, where he is editor for the Signal Editions series of poetry collections, and is an editor at Books in Canada.

Few Canadians think or know more about Canadian poetry; and fewer still have demanded more from it, or urged it on to greater heights, than Carmine Starnino - and fewer still have been so resisted or reviled for their bracing independence of perspective.

Though I sometimes (often?) disagree with the exact dosage this physician of the Canadian poetic soul visits on his trying patients, I cannot say the diagnosis, in the first instance, was wrong. There's a sickness at the heart of the Canadian poetic, one which shies from a direct confrontation with the mature demands of a serious tradition.

It is time Canadian poetry engaged directly with the English tradition, again, rather than the American one, and forged its further unique destiny on a doubled engagement with the long lyric past, and a sense of our native powers of innovation, which need not be contrived or merely opaque.


Dear Michael,

Happiness could do worse than our bedsheet’s
two day spell head down outside the window.
Festive with polka-dots, it flaps the span of frame,
catches the sun full on. That, and the damp
in the air makes me think of travel by sea.
Here dryness is something we miss by moments.
The electric heater making a poor fist of it.
T-shirts exude their drip like water clocks,
and detergent enacts its mouth-to-mouth with the early hour
so that our underwear turns pheromonal—
the room filling with the scent of aroused communication.
If, as Nietzsche said, we should try to live
always in expectation of some impossible grace,
well, one couldn’t do better than this place.

poem by Carmine Starnino
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