Old Man Vacanas

by Jane Munro



1

The old man
to whom I’m married
hits the sack again
after breakfast.

A black bear
out in the rain
on Blueberry Flats.

Is it too wet
to hibernate? The muddy creek
burgeoning.

By lunch, he’s up.
The sky’s no lighter – candles
with our tea.

Tell me, can a soul
fatten up for winter?

Notes on the Poem

Let's celebrate newly minted 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize winner "Blue Sonoma" by Jane Munro by pondering another poem from the collection. This section of "Old Man Vacanas" is the first of a spare, touching 11-part sequence. Munro has revealed that she wrote the poems comprising "Blue Sonoma" while her husband was suffering from and died of Alzheimer’s disease. “As the life closest to me was being erased frame by frame, dementia became a metaphor for me,” she said moments after accepting the Griffin Poetry Prize. The vacana poetic form seems to be perfectly attuned to the experiences and emotions that inform this work. Munro has also explained in interviews that vacanas are ancient South Indian prayer-poems. Vacana means "what is said", and poems in this form were intended to use plain, accessible language and everyday imagery to contemplate philosophical questions. Part 1 of "Old Man Vacanas" is simple and succinct, but captures much in the mundane but heartbreaking narrowing of day-to-day life the narrator lives with her husband. The language is by turns colloquial ("hits the sack") and vivid ("burgeoning"), and each brief turn ("candles with our tea") is evocative and powerful, both literally and metaphorically. As befits the vacanas form, the last line turns from an almost stark enumeration of the present to that philosophical question, this one phrased as: "Tell me, can a soul fatten up for winter?" You can learn more about vacanas here. This interesting discussion of how the poet Ted Hughes assayed vacanas touches on his "direct, vulnerable, unguarded, autobiographical way" with the form, which could as easily describe what Munro achieves here and in the entire "Old Man Vacanas" sequence.

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