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by Sarah Tolmie

copyright ©Sarah Tolmie 2018

We are scared to death by the words for things.
Even yet, when we should know better.
I know my father’s teeth will chatter

If I say pneumonia about my son.
Suddenly it is World War One
And influenza, H 1 N 1

And doom and liver flukes.
It’s Bay of Pigs and waiting nukes.

And me? I am a heartless bitch
For saying he should get a grip.

Notes on the Poem

This week's Poem of the Week choice comes from the third of three works on the Canadian 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. We've now spent time with selections from all seven works shortlisted for this year's prize. Now, let's turn our gaze to one of the spirited poems from The Art of Dying by Sarah Tolmie. From the outset, the collection's title (and even how it is spelled out by an unnervingly charming and jaunty cavalcade of skeletons on the book cover), signal we're going to be prodded to confront a troubling and taboo subject. Tolmie takes a largely satirical approach to the attitudes and rituals around death and deathly subjects, floating cheeky and feisty observations on a raft of slyly imperfect rhymes, lively personae (like this poem's self-effacing and supposedly "heartless bitch") and other lyrical poetic effects. As Tolmie contends "We are scared to death by the words for things." and then she launches directly and perhaps perversely into a list of terms naming someone's fear. In fact, experts advise is one of the ways to conquer it. With irreverence, with a light touch, whether the indifference of that "heartless bitch" is true or feigned, she has succinctly and effectively built a strong case for wielding words and "faking it till you make it".

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