In October, 2004, a breathtaking array of poets brought together by the Griffin Trust and the Canadian High Commission provided a unique line-up for Poetry International, the largest poetry festival in the United Kingdom taking place in London at the Royal Festival Hall that fall. The Canadian poetry contingent included Margaret Atwood, Robert Bringhurst, Anne Carson, August Kleinzahler and Anne Simpson.
Anne Carson, Robert Bringhurst, Margaret Atwood and 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize winners Anne Simpson and August Kleinzahler read at Poetry International 2004, London, England, on October 28, 2004. Robert Bringhurst and August Kleinzahler also conducted workshops as part of the Poetry International series of events.
To mark the occasion, The Times Literary Supplement published new poems by Robert Bringhurst, Margaret Atwood, Anne Simpson and August Kleinzahler in their October 22nd, 2004 issue. The Griffin Trust thanks the poets and the TLS for their kind permission to reproduce those poems here.
At Brute Point
by Margaret Atwood
The old people descend the hill in slow motion.
It’s a windy hill,
a hill of treacheries and pebbles,
and twisted ankles.
One has a stick, one not.
Their clothing is bizarre,
Foot over foot they go,
Down the eroded slope,
flapping like sails.
They want to get down to the ocean,
and they accomplish this.
(Could it be that we are the old people
Not with such hats.)
We may have been here before;
at least it looks familiar,
but we are drawn to hills like these,
remote, bleak, old history,
nothing but stones.
Down by the tidal pool
there are two plastic bottles
a few small molluscs.
One person pees in a corner
out of the sun,
the other not.
At this point, once, there might have been sex
with the waves rampaging in
as if in films.
But we stay fully clothed,
talk about rocks:
How did it get this way, the mix
of igneous and sandstone?
There’s mica too, that glitter.
It’s not sad. It’s bright
See how sprightly we climb back up,
One claw and then the other.
Griffin Poetry Prize 2001 Canadian Shortlist
by Robert Bringhurst
They were underneath the Duomo -just
below the stone floor, precisely where
Vasari said the marker used to be -and no one
meant to set them free -and yet they lie here
naked in fluorescent light, for anyone to see …
heavy with mercury, lead and selenium:
the twisted, mismatched bones
of the man who could make plaster dust
and water, egg yolk, charcoal and red ochre
hunker down and sing the blues
touching his brush -a vulture’s quill
tipped with a cluster of boiled weasel hair –
to his lips, lifting his hunched right shoulder
a little bit higher, bringing his clenched left foot
a little bit closer, making a taut and perfect
gesture with a splotched, disfigured hand.
Griffin Poetry Prize 2004 International Winner
by August Kleinzahler
Black filthy rain it’s raining
like a grudge is out
but the neon mermaid over the fish place
looks best that way, in the rain.
Downstairs, Sol, of Sol’s Paradise Club,
mixes a fizz drink for a mummy blonde.
The resident ‘monster on alto,’
recently back from a large success in Regina,
roars through the bebop warhorse Steeplechase,
played in the manner of Jackie McLean,
say, around 1957.
Everything sounded good in ’57.
At the foot of the block is the inlet
and beyond the inlet the mountain
and beyond the mountain almost nothing,
nothing until the North Pole:
Far Mountain, Ootsa Lake,
sprinkled with bear scat,
the abandoned dam project,
an unspeakable comfort station along the gravel highway,
It is March.
Tomorrow morning, drivers,
commuting to work along the North Shore,
will observe a dusting of snow
on the branches of cherry trees lining the road,
the same trees now in bud
and making ready to blossom.
Were it not for the Safeway and car dealerships
one or two might think of Ukiyo-e
and the great Hiroshige, or perhaps Hokusai.
But tonight, tonight in the harbor below,
1 2 34 5
waiting to dock.
A sailor aboard the lead ship, a Dane,
sniffs the saltchuck and lights himself a smoke.
He gazes out to the shimmering downtown spit.
He likes how tobacco and sea air mix in his nose.
Griffin Poetry Prize 2004 Canadian Winner
by Anne Simpson
He lies on the grass. One hippogriff
of cloud becomes another: expanding,
contracting. It’s all unreal, the same
sky and river, the scent of living
things. The last of the ice floes passes
on the water, shears in two
pieces against the bridge. He studies
his hands, bitten fingernails. Every
time he turns, he feels the stamping hooves,
the great herd, A man can get used
to anything, grow accustomed to
a change of seasons, each snap
of the moon. Even when he’s stretched
out on this slope he hears a steady
thrumming. It’s a long way off,
but he lies still, pretending. Once
he put candles in each window
of her body: a thousand wavering
lights. Back then he knew about fire.
Before leaving for Poetry International
It’s beautiful in Nova Scotia today; warm weather, gold leaves falling from the trees, blue sky. I wonder if there’s any other place in the world that does fall as well as it’s done in Canada.
We emerge early in the morning at Picadilly Circus in London – utterly quiet on a Sunday morning. From there my daughter and I go on to King’s Cross Station, where there is, indeed, a platform marked 9 3/4, for those going through the brick wall to Hogwarts. We head to Cambridge instead, where friends meet us. We lived for a year here, ten years ago, so we go walking through the old haunts: at Owlstone Road we look for the stone owl perched on a fence, but it’s gone. Eltisley Avenue, one street over, is where Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes lived. But we don’t go down that street; instead we walk towards Grantchester, which is what everyone is doing on a mild Sunday afternoon. People pass by with their dogs (some the size of small ponies, others like miniature mops on legs). The light falls over the fields, the dozing cows, the willows …
Hunting for Haggis
‘Yes, haggis hunts,’ My friends tell me, in the morning, over breakfast. They’re talking about how a few enterprising Scots have lured unsuspecting tourists into believing that haggis runs around on four legs in the wild, and that it can be hunted. I can’t imagine that anyone in Nova Scotia would ever fall for that.
We take the train from Cambridge to Ely, through York, and on to Edinburgh. There are spectacular views of the sea, and as we get closer to Edinburgh we can see the Firth of Forth. Scotland should be seen by train – or by bicycle, as I saw it a long time ago – for the best look at its ruggedly beautiful landscape. But there’s also the paper to read: The Guardian is full of the victory by Manchester United over Arsenal, after “50 matches and 542 days”. A long drought, but nothing to compare with that of the Boston Red Sox. We end the day in Glasgow, a city I could easily fall in love with. There’s been a light rain; it’s evening and the lights are glowing.
We spend a morning walking around Glasgow; after a light rain there’s an arc of rainbow that we see at the end of Hope Street, which seems appropriate. We look for buildings designed by Charles Rennie MacIntosh. The Willow Tea Room is one of these, unique among the other buildings with its spare facade. The Glasgow School of Art is another: the windows have striking Art Deco details.
Glaswegian seems a language all its own. I’m hard pressed to understand. As for me, I could be speaking Dutch. At the poetry reading at the Collins Gallery (Strathclyde University), one listener imagines I’ve said ‘Northwestern Buddhist Columbia,’ which may exist, perhaps even in British Columbia.
Now I’m at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh – a poet’s haven – where I’ll be reading in just a few minutes …
Postcard from Edinburgh
The reading with August Kleinzahler last night at the Scottish Poetry Library was fun for us both to do … later we all went out to celebrate at a nearby restaurant. When we came out, the moon was full in the dark blue sky.
In the morning my daughter and I climb up the winding streets to the Castle. She’s enthralled by the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny; I love the view of the Firth of Forth and the North Sea from the ramparts. The train from Edinburgh to London takes us along the east coast of Scotland and then north England. We pass the Angel of the North sculpture which stands tall near Newcastle, and later we see Durham Cathedral. Now we’re in London, already settled at the Academy Hotel in Bloomsbury.
The London Eye
The London Eye isn’t for the faint of heart – everyone else is standing, laughing, taking pictures. I sit on the bench in the middle of our glass capsule. My daughter is taking photographs happily, and when we get to the top, I can’t resist, and stand up so I can see better. It really is wonderful to see everything from Big Ben to the London Bridge and beyond.
It’s a clear, mild day in October. In the afternoon, gold leaves fall slowly by the White Tower inside the Tower of London; people are lining up to see the Crown Jewels. The jewels are beautiful, but I’d prefer to sit on a bench outside and watch people come and go.
Tonight I’ll be reading with the other Canadians – Margaret Atwood, Robert Bringhurst and Anne Carson – and with August Kleinzahler. I have to be ready to go in less than an hour, so I’ll have to rush …
Imagine having lunch with the High Commissioner of Canada at a table set for twenty-two. Yesterday, everyone connected with the Griffin Prize was hosted for a three course meal, complete with white linen and crystal. It was a grand affair: a great celebration after a series of fine readings the previous night at Poetry International at the Purcell Room, Royal Festival Hall. I’m now at Heathrow, about to leave …