Over the next ten Sundays I will be spotlighting contemporary Canadian poets. The first poet in the series is Jeramy Dodds, one of the most acclaimed of Canada's emerging poets.
The series revolves around listening.
Each poet will answer a question by another Canadian poet. The question and answer component will allow readers to eavesdrop as Canadian poets talk about world literature, intimacy and voice, up-to-the-minute aesthetics, time travel, the importance of rhyme in contemporary poetry, and transnational dictions.
Also, I've asked emerging American poets to listen and then join the conversation. Ocean Vuong, Adam Fitzgerald, Natalie Diaz, James Allen Hall, Tarfia Faizullah, Adam Clay, Rebecca Lindenberg, Jamaal May, David Tomas Martinez, and Eryn Green will write poems informed/inspired by the work of the poets in the series. The poems written by the American poets will be published in Canada later this year, and then reprinted online in the United States.
Ladies and gentlemen, Jeramy Dodds.
LONG WINTER FARM
You’ve got to get to the country. The fields are empty
as if all farmhands have the clap. The trees have taken
off their fatigues yet no one’s wives rise to shoo
their houseplants out for exercise. Acne-scarred planets
are light years, soufflé years away, but toddlers
with twig pistols guard the cisterns. I’ve met albino elves
who harvest the guano smokebats leave in my lungs.
I suction-cupped a Baby On-board sign in the rear
window of a hearse. Clouds suck sun-sheen off the rocks.
I’ve a mound of creased choir gowns that need irony.
My favourite dog’s buried in the yard. She was dead
but she got better. Now I have a Mennonite’s fear
of the automobile. A raven puts on his soot and goes to work
the warmth from my algebra. Most guys in these parts
grow a goatee even though it’s cattle country. Come on
to the country, there’s still seats in the nosebleeds. It’s like living
below a dam built during budget cuts, loving a geography this much.
Why must this landscape look like luggage left unattended
in an airport to get our attention? Any resemblance
is purely reciprocal. I have an ex who’s on the run in Mexico,
or who has the runs in Mexico, or who is running Mexico.
I don’t know, is her hair art or a gaslamp mishap perhaps?
My dog and I were like two peas in an escape pod.
When cattle rose from those valleys, cankles in frost shackles,
I watched silent films with my eyes shut. My biggest mistake
was wearing white jeans to Rib Fest, but it’s for fun
us waxwings set controls for the heart of the sun.
Get thee to the country. Our ash-eyed cremators decided
all’s lost and paused their little holocausts. I’ve fletched
every sparrow in this war. The mollusks shushed.
When the killswitch sun kicks on you can watch
the lunar rogues beeline into miles of turnstile trees, trees
belching out birds like a salesforce at the brink of banking hours.
Sucked in at dusk the way a rainbow sucks back
into an only child. Each tree the scale model of a skyproof roof
giving up its life goals. Each tree a little town like Jonestown.
I’ve used a mirror to repel myself down the mountain to these trees.
Break one’s wrist and you’re an arborist. Each night the police chief
sings my alibis as lullabies to his sweet niece. Come,
come tend to me, I tend to disagree with victory.
If there was a book about Long Winter Farm
it would begin, A river is always too curious of its end.
(Published as a pamphlet by Odourless Press, 2013)
10-cane rum and I’m all
sun inside. Children
swimsuits. Cigar boats
burning by. Our aluminum’s
hoist-high in dry-dock,
tonsilled in the mouth
of the boathouse,
its conked outboard
sidesaddles the stern
like the burnt-out fan
of a disbanded boy band.
I’m one gin from oblivion.
Children, little Pol Pots
divvying up all the fun.
They get some and then
some. Rising for a quick
dip, I eye those little shits
wading in the sun-shivved
Resurfacing I face
the strand where the Children
now stand at attention
in class-portrait stance
kneading pea gravel
in their Q-tip fists
until little Angela says,
We’ll give you a head start.
And from the tip
of the tongue-depressor
dock, I spy my high school
sweetheart turning down
the lakebed so I can pull
the bedrock over my head
before they find the time
to turn to teenagers.
(Published in The Walrus, 2010)
Canada you must sew shut the gaff-pole holes
in the seal pups’ heads before the rich can be clothed.
Canada I know you’re not as bad as Germany
once was. I’ll never fly Air India with a carton
of geese eggs again. Canada don’t you know
the beaver is a pussy. Canada I refuse to take
medication for this depression when we could just
talk about it. Canada I’m the bastard born of a Fille du Roi
and a Coureur de Bois. Canada je me souviens aussi,
but when will we let Québec out of its oubliette.
I can’t be the way you want me to be every time
Clifford Olson dangles some summer schooler over
Niagara Falls, or scientists have cloned Robert Pickton
to man our missing persons’ helplines, or Bernardo and
Homolka have Tupperwared the all-you-can-eat buffet,
or Russell Williams becomes the Colonel of Truth, his flak
jacket packed with panties and IUDs. I can’t sail out of a Bell
booth with a six-pack and pecks. Canada I can’t follow your
national food guide to save my life. Canada–where the only
difference between hockey and heroin is that with hockey you
shoot before you score. Canada when will you take the
kryptonite off Pierre Trudeau’s chest. Canada this is me being
careless in my summer swimwear. Canada what’ll happen to my
Muslim mother’s back if her airliner won’t step back on the
tarmac. Canada how can I explain this to the geese. Canada
this is me in a burkini grinding down Wreck Beach. Canada your
house of commons is like watching cats doing it doggy-style.
Canada no one should hero-worship Wolfe and Montcalm, but
aren’t First Nations really just second runners-up, and we the
winners. This is what your right believes. Canada the crow’s feet
off your eyes are trap-lines for our tears, Canada, I know you sell
their skins to America. America is tearless. Canada can’t you see
she’s a lot like us, and we like her, too much sometimes. Canada
I’d like to tarsand and feather you for not freeing Robert
Latimer sooner. When will you raise Tommy Douglas from
the dead. You’re so sorry all the time, you with all the geological
time in the world and me already rotting. Buffy Sainte-Marie
replaced my wounded knee with raven’s sinew and virgin’s dew
but Canada I’ll never outrun you. Canada this is Terry Fox
putting his wa-wa pedal to the metal. Canada there is a choir
of residential schoolchildren back-up singing everything I say,
the Dionne quintuplets are kicking a can-can, but it only makes
me want to party more. A mess of counterfeit Canadian Tire
cash on my closet floor. Neil “chaas” his Caracas as our anthem
pleads, Celine puckers at her kazoo while Joni finger-licks her
banjo’s high-tensile pots and pans, Brian sits at his drum kit and
gets on with it, but who knew that Pamela would be such
a shoo-in, pounding her beautiful face on the organ. Canada this
musical intermission does not mean my hatred is in remission.
What happens in Canada strays from Canada, our over
the counter culture. Canada the Tamil Tigers aren’t a softball
team. Canada inside each Canadian is another Canadian, inside
whom is a Canadian, in which is an alien. Canada when will your
Indian princess greet me at the lakeshore in her cornhusk crop-
top and ask me down her rabbit’s hole. Canada you’re the land
god gave to Cain. Canada I feel like another weather. Canada all
my mistakes I make for you. Canada hold still. Yes, Canada,
this my Refus Global. What me what war. Keep playing dead
Afghanada. Afghanada when I was deployed to my high school
prom I brought my wood-stocked Kalashnikov along. I am
the bullet that carries the gun on its back. My bloodstream rolls
along like a psalm. Canada slaughter is the best medicine.
America is still getting a few bugs out of the latest version of
the iRak. What happens in Canada strays from Canada. You
know we wash our cars with drinking water. Canada did you kill
Frank Cole. Dallaire’s not coming back from Rwanda, it’s
sinister. Serve and get served Canada. After what you’ve done,
no wonder Newfoundland is overfishing for compliments.
Canada are you that quiet neighbour with a queue of corpses in
the deep-freeze. Do you plan to tap that or is it sovereignty or a
conservative white identity, or your hyper mediocrity that insists
on keeping the arctic ours. Canada I’m the bullet that carries
the gun on its back. Canada you’re not as bad as America is.
No one is, not even North Korea. Canada this hyperbole
is like ordering a hurricane to hoist a fainted bird to its nest
again. Canada I feel like another weather. Canada all my
mistakes I make for you. I keep my fingers as crossed as Laura
Secord’s legs that despite being human, Canada, I will be
Optimus Prime of this country. Canada this is a teleprompted
love song, a ghostwritten Dear John. And despite the bongos
and bagpipes this is a serene scene Canada. Like you, I’m too old
to die young. The tabula rasa of your Precambrian shield’s
overwritten with capitalism. There, there Canada. I’m pulling off
the chloroform gag that is your flag and begging you to part
your swamp-reeds for me, the standard-bearer of this jubilee.
Your boreal banners waving to my leave. Canada oftimes
the obvious is oblivious to us. Canada oftimes no matter
how stunning they are, stars sodomize our eyes.
(Published in Geist 84, 2012)
Cassidy McFadzean: Since completing your translation of the Poetic Edda, have any of Old Norse’s mythological or stylistic qualities entered into your recent writing? How has this project affected the way you think about poetry?
Jeramy Dodds: Yeah, those Norse poems have trashed my head. While more obvious narratives are wangling deep into current pieces, there’s also a new personal disorder, a syntactical rejigging, which for better or worse I can’t recover from. Guy Davenport said Tolkien gave up the study of Greek because it was so orderly, logical, and articulate. He turned to Old Norse, and likewise I was looking to rattle whatever aesthetic I had. The heiti and kennings are dazzling in the Edda, and I can’t stop using them to break my own deadlocks.
Cassidy McFadzean grew up in Regina Saskatchewan and is currently an MFA candidate at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has appeared in Arc, CV2, Vallum, Carousel, and The Fiddlehead.
Jeramy Dodds’s first collection of poems, Crabwise to the Hounds (Coach House Books, 2008), was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and won the Trillium Book Award for poetry. His most recent book is an English translation of The Poetic Edda.