A few days hunkered at home. Having been scissed and stitched inside am recuperant. But’ve had it in me to assemble a panel on chance operations in contemporary poetic practice. Here’s a propose and very fine, as guest post, from Barbara Nickel. (I’ll pepper in some links rhizome-style.) (Why when I say that do I think of Psy.)
I’ll present on projects from Consider the Ear, my poetry manuscript-in-progress being written in the village of Yarrow, British Columbia. My presentation will consist of a collage of mini-talks and readings, each led off with a guiding central image. I’ve listed below a series of points and paths that will circle or lead to or away from each image. I’ll select – possibly randomly (e.g., strips of paper from an envelope) – these points for each image and expand upon them at lengths to be determined by the presentation’s time limit.
The story of my choosing to live in Yarrow by meeting Lois in her garden.
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, its stalks used for centuries in I Ching divination practices (involving numbers of changing or unchanging lines), its profuse growth along the dyke by my house and Lois’s in a village named after it.
Dykes, places of growth for yarrow, built by my Mennonite ancestors in the Vistula Delta and coincidentally also in Yarrow.
Old books on Mennonite theology written by Mennonite men are taken from a pastor’s library after his death to a thrift shop where Lois is employed.
A random meeting of the three poets of this panel in a graduate poetry workshop at UBC in 1992, how one of them years later begins a blog, “The Art of Compost,” in which he describes a poetry exercise called “Torn Page.”
My “Torn Page (‘(old men)no books’)” project as “divinations twice over” (Patton), written in a room of Lois’s house.
A witch hazel tree, Hamamelis, planted by the former owners, growing right outside my home in Yarrow, blooming every January.
Witch hazel twigs commonly used as divining rods (for ground water, buried metal, gemstones, oil, gravesites), the conflict in naming between the Latin Virgula Divina (divine rod) and the German Glück rüt (luck rod).
[Can I just say? About that last link? Bad form, to speak to a link? I just got me some fat insight as to where my students’ bad writing comes from. Portentous dialogue & crappy plotting.] [That was CP not Barb.]
Heaney’s description of water diviner as “figure who represents pure technique” in poetry in his essay “Feeling into Words” (Finders Keepers), mentioned in an e-mail by Stephanie, another of this panel’s three poets, also met at UBC in 1992.
A death in January
The story of “Witch Hazel” sonnet, where its path intersects above paths.
A random decision on a road trip to take an old, forgotten highway instead of the usual route.
A random glance back at an abandoned house not seen previously anywhere or time.
The curious story of a sonnet, “Saskatoon to Coaldale, July, Highway,” written in Lois’s house.
The ear (in rhyme and metre and “verbal texture” (Heaney)) as divining rod in the projects chosen for discussion.
Questions that grow from the mini-talks, to be explored in the presentation:
What tension grows from the roots of “divining rod” – in Latin, “divine,” in German “luck”?
In other words, in each of the poems and the paths and intersections of paths leading up to them, what is the balance of miracle and luck, divination and design?
Next to come [CP here again] the random differently undertaken by Stephanie Bolster.
Barbara Nickel is the author of two books of poetry, The Gladys Elegies and Domain, and the recently published A Boy Asked the Wind, illustrated by Gillian Newland. She has received numerous awards, including the Pat Lowther Award, and her poems have appeared in such publications as The Walrus and Poetry Ireland Review. Visit her website at barbaranickel.ca. Also check out that witch hazel.