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Light and Lilacs, Etc

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Before work this evening I went to a doubleheader poetry reading, dreading, as I always do, what I might be subjecting myself to. You know this sort of feeling, it’s the same one you get when you’re watching a “B” horror movie and people just keep going places they shouldn’t go and doing things they shouldn’t do; and something bad, or at least something horribly cheesey, is going to happen to them any minute now. They know it and you know it, but they do it anyway, and you watch it anyway. Yeah. (Keep reading, I have positive things to say in a bit.)

So I went to this poetry reading tonight. I went for the same reason I always go. I went because sometimes instead of something I dread happening, something good happens; there’s a damn good poet, or a damn good poem, and it’s worth every excruciating moment ever spent in an audience of people stroking their chins or tilting their heads profoundly while listening to somebody calling themselves a Poet somehow sing-songing monotonally through their Poems in their Great Canadian Reading Voice. (Really, there’s positive stuff coming up. I swear)

So I went to this doubleheader poetry reading tonight, and something good happened. One of the poets, Sue Sinclair, read some good poems, some poems with a lot of light and qualities of light working in them. And she didn’t fall into that damn I’m Reading Poetry voice. I bought one of her books — her third one, I believe — The Drunken Lovely Bird. I chose that book because it has the following poem, which I like a lot:


For those who have lived
where lilacs bloom, who have lost
their immunity
to idleness and wander through
doorway after doorway
when the lilac trees open their infinite
mauve rooms. For those
who give in and glide a little behind
their lives, a hand trailing
in the water
behind a rowboat.

Regret turns itself inside out,
like a glove
you’ve picked up after someone’s
gone. Even the bees feel it,

sadly, sadly,
nose in the flowers,

a curtain pulled away
and there’s no hand on your shoulder
to catch you before you lean too far
out the window.

A slow leak, something escaping
as soon as the petals open.
What’s left grows twice
as heavy, pales,
sinks inside itself and stays
with you, a dream of which
there is not even enough left
to describe:

it is about to rain.
It is always about to rain.
These limp flowers.

I suppose there are a few reasons why I like that poem. I like lilacs; their scent is almost enough to convince me to quit smoking. Almost; but then I think about how strongly they affect me with my sense of smell as dull as it is, and wonder if I could survive their full strength. I like the poem, too, because it reminds me in its simplicity and clarity of some old, old chinese poems I’ve been surrounding myself with for the past year or so.

I like the poem, and the other poems in the book that I’ve read so far, because of the light and the qualities of light I mentioned earlier. That light in what I’ve read and heard of Sue Sinclair’s poetry makes me think a thing which might seem like a kind of back-handed compliment but which I mean as pure praise: sometimes poets are poets because they somehow missed a window of opportunity that would have made them painters.

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About John MacKenzie