Oh late, oh night, and here are give or take some words I said at the Vancouver launch for Elise Partridge’s The Exiles’ Gallery, now out from House of Anansi Press, you can find one here.
So we’re here to celebrate a new book of poems by Elise Partridge. Elise can’t be here with us in a bodily form. After her struggle with cancer she has gone what some faith traditions like to call home. Not her tradition, as far as I know, or mine, but the word, “home,” gives me a comfort when it shares a sentence with her name. Too, it gets me thinking about her title. It’s an odd title. The Exiles’ Gallery. The sounds in it hardly touch each other. THE EXILES’ GALLERY. It’s as if our mouths were to be acrobats, temporarily. Or as if all the phonemes in there were jonesing to get the eff out of there. I hope that way of putting it wouldn’t, doesn’t, displease her.
You might even say the sounds are exiled from each other. And something like that’s true with all her book titles. FIELDER’S CHOICE. CHAMELEON HOURS. The phonemes are oddly at odds. I say “oddly” because she can sure as hell do euphony when she pleases to
some small donations from these golden trees
Now we welcome the widening water
The, not dissonance of her titles, their refusal to euphonize, she’s up to something.
Quick check, everyone raise their hand who’s not exiled in some way or other from something. Thought so. (Two guys raised their hands here. Really? Really?)
To be at home isn’t a given, and it isn’t that common, and maybe it isn’t even a right, to judge by how mostly we treat each other. It’s a lot more common for us to be in exile of one sort or another. Exile from your country or your spouse or your own sadness or the soil in your hands planting a flowerbed.
And there are so many things that a girl outside a country dance staring up at the planet Mars, and the parents who last danced grudgingly on their wedding day, and a homeless man under the Burrard Street Bridge living out of a shopping cart, and for that matter Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar in leaky fishing boats and wanted not anywhere, don’t have in common.
A thing they do have in common, and all us with them also, and her poems point us to it, their attention is a lighthouse on it, is such home as they do have, at a given moment, they’ve made it for themselves. For sure there are gifts, a look, a drink of water, no life without those. But home’s made through one’s own activity, dogged or desperate, out of what a moment offers, whether that’s ample, or it’s meagre, or it’s barely anything at all.
And that’s what I’ve been finding most lately in the poems. In their sounds, the extraordinary heterogeneity of them, which I’m embarrassed to be only now hearing. Sometimes the mixture heightens anxiety. Sometimes it darkens satire. Sometimes it’s pure praise for sheer mixed-up-ed-ness of this world.
back to our avenues,
jaunty, just nineteen,
to troll like rowdy gods.
My neighbour’s daughter claps
as they lurch right
Praise for the sweet various flowershot dungheap of our world. Only world, her poems say, we get. Read them.
Then some beautiful readers reading some beautiful poems in beauty. I can’t give you those so here instead my beautiful friend.
(I was the last reader and told this little story and read this poem.)
For around a decade Elise and Steve were regulars on the property I owned on Salt Spring Island. While I was away they would tend to a plumbing system Byzantine in its complexities—clean up nightly prezzies from my cat—and once endured a plague of tent caterpillars I have to admit I thought they were exaggerating to call Biblical, till I got back, and had confirmation from the locals.
They did good work there, despite the distractions, Steve on his articles, Elise her poems, and this is one such of hers, “Invitation.” I read the poem, as not a last poem, but a leave-taking poem, full to the brim and then some with the love of life I loved and love still in her.
The stag and doe
lift their heads
in the brush
attuned to our tears
The grass reaches through chairs
by the shed
as if to thatch cushions
for the pair of us
The gate that won’t quite shut
with its scruff of lichen
invites us into the orchard
to pick “till time and times are done”
our choice of the bursting plums.