Featured Poet: George Elliott Clarke

Eyewear (not bleary from the First) starts its Friday features with a bang in 2011 - with George Elliot Clarke, one of Canada's best-beloved contemporary poets, recently included in the Carcanet anthology, Modern Canadian Poets, which I co-edited with Evan Jones.

As the Carcanet anthology says: "Clarke was born in Three Mile Plains, Nova Scotia, in 1960. He has a PhD from Queen’s University, and is now E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto. Clarke is a seventh-generation Canadian and is descended from African American refugees who escaped to the British and were relocated to Nova Scotia during the War of 1812. In his criticism, prose, poetry and plays, he explores Africadian issues, a word he coined, combining Africa and Acadia, the historical region of the three maritime provinces—themes which, among other things, deal with race, culture, and what it means to be black in Canada. Clarke has won or been nominated for numerous honours and awards. He received the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry (Execution Poems) and was made an officer of the Order of Canada (the nation’s highest civilian honour) in 2008. Clarke is best-known for his multivocal 1990 collection, Whylah Falls, which explores the lives of various characters in a small Canadian town with lyricism, humour and sometimes biblical pathos, building on the early-20th century tradition of American poets like Edgar Lee Masters and Edwin Arlington Robinson, with the use of Shakespearian and other traditional literary sources, and adding his own local, often performative, inflections."

Royal Audience

Not a slick majesty, she appears
well-kept, if as radiant as Fame:
Her church-appointed whiteness
anoints no icy sparkle.

Say she’s pure skeleton and fancies,
cold glamour among women smelling of soap:
There’s no evil in that.

But the Queen’s knocked-down beauty,
yet elegant, can never elevate
that seminal dastard who simpers alongside,
capering like a capon.

True:  Dog-and-Bitch aristocrats
trot all tarted up, traditionally hideous,
despite tintinnabulation and twittering—
saccharine blather of the Press,

praising, appraising,
each luminous parasite
and their always trashy offspring:
Each face is counterfeit one spends (upon)

with sweaty, apish palm
and complete aplomb.
But Il Principe is especially, brutally pathetic:
He’s the likeness of a mirror, shattered—

a clutch of pompous, bright infirmities.
See:  The grisly creampuff, orthodox scumbag,
minces like a buttock whore,
pedestrian, trifling….

Il Duce is about as dazzling
as fresh, grey paint,
and parades a papier-maché panache.
No, he is so waxen

that it’s hard to get hold of an exact colour.
(He is white,
but needs more paint.)
His demeanour is as stale

as a spinster’s virginity.
The immaculate imbecile—
his wit as difficult as chewing gum—
confuses my priestly garb

for the “dog collar” of a poetaster
spewing “doggerel.”
I answered, “Never!  Never!”
I now add, “Never!  Never!  Never!”,

to curse his old health
à la Shakespeare:
Wagging tongue, then lapping shit,
he’s disgusting even in his bones.

Okay:  I don’t mean to cut out the guts
of the guy:
Everyone knows
he’s been in and out of the muck,

has known commedia dell’arte suffering.
It’s not his fault his pissoir face
displays a mortician’s pretty pallor,
sign of a moribund hierarchy.

Truly, it’s his crudity
that makes me throw completely up.
A corrupt nothing,
his bio is une sale histoire,

an epistemology of feces—
incest that stinks of studs and sows,
of bastardy made right in the womb.
Here’s one bit of good news:

The State taste for funerals.
Let The Prince perish into imperishable dust,
die extinguished, not distinguished,
and maggots eat him utterly to Hell,

so there’s nothing left of him but thorns
in a nauseating cemetery.
Happily, his grave will prove a decorous quarantine,
preserving us from the contaminating function

of his every word, facial tic, and gesture,
those apt opportunities for disease.
Truth issues from my black mouth:
“Your Royal Highness, glisten always in excrement.”

poem by George Elliott Clarke; online with permission of the author

Note on poem: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


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