Old Man Vacanas

Jane Munro

copyright ©Jane Munro 2014


The old man who picks up the phone
does not get your message.

Call again.
Please call again.

The cats leave squirrel guts
on the Tibetan rug.
Augury I cannot read.

You’ve got to talk with me.
I scrape glistening coils
into a dust pan,
spit on drops of blood and spray ammonia.

The blood spreads into the white wool.

I am so sick of purring beasts.

Don’t tempt me, old man.
Today I have four arms
and weapons in each hand.

Notes on the Poem

One of the most affecting parts of Jane Munro's 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection "Blue Sonoma" is the section entitled "Old Man Vacanas". We examined the first of that spare, touching 11-part sequence here. This time, let's take a closer look - and a listen, courtesy of the poet herself - of the fifth part of the sequence. The "Old Man" prayer-poems most sharply and poignantly capture what Munro went through as her husband was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The entire series is simultaneously plain-spoken and lyrical, and undeniably powerful, but not without moments of wry humour amidst the despair, frustration and rage. That humour springs from the conversational, often blunt tones which the 2015 GPP judges singled out for praise:
But Blue Sonoma, unflinching as its poems are in their wrestling with a partner’s Alzheimer’s, with memory, death, and dying, and with the inexorable advance of time, achieves an engaging liveliness as a result of the poet’s earthy voice, colloquial wit, and acute descriptive powers.
From its inception in 2000, part of the commitment of the Griffin Poetry Prize as it showcases shortlisted works from Canada and around the world every year is to present the poetry in readings, wherever possible by the original poets and translators. Those readings are open to the public and in recent years, have been made available to a worldwide audience online via livestreaming of the event. So important does Scott Griffin believe the reading of the shortlisted works is that in 2010, the prize money was increased in part to encourage the poets to participate in the readings. Reasons abound as to the value of hearing poetry conveyed and interpreted by the poets who created it. (You can share with us here on this page's comments particularly why poetry readings are vital to your enjoyment of the art form.) We're grateful to have a record here of how Jane Munro brings this poem to life, in a delivery from dry and measured to quietly plaintive to fiercely determined, making unforgettable the journey that the poem depicts.

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