Pearl Pirie: two new poems
Pearl Pirie has been one of the most active and engaged poets in Ottawa for at least a decade, from her enormous productivity as a writer, performer, reviewer, blogger, editor, radio host, workshop facilitator, food columnist and small press publisher, to irregularly hosting salon workshops and readings in the house she shares with her partner of twenty-three years, the designer Brian Pirie. Through her growing handful of books and chapbooks, what appeals about Pirie’s work is the way in which sound, mashed words and an unhindered sequence of meanings manage to propel across the page. When confronted with a new handful of Pearl Pirie poems (the second of which, below, is forthcoming in her spring 2015 BookThug title), one don’t always know where they might be heading, but suspect that there are larger, more deliberate structures at play which only become clear in the space of a chapbook, or even a full-sized, finished book. Her projects are multiple, and far-ranging, extending a series of threads in a variety of directions. A number of her poems are constructed as essays or arguments spread out and propelled by the very tangible fact of language, however abstract some of her connections might appear.
As she writes in her recent “Talking to Myself: Poetics Statements”:
Writing poems is a slow-motion, stop-motion thought. Poems give a space to think through at length. It is easiest to know what I think when I see it in words. When I type I have the distance to see my attitude, or what feelings I’ve been told to project, what I’m reacting against or I generate new to me possibilities. Exploring how vocabulary sets tone (like thrice dotted was saying at the Bot Summit) Memory being what it is, it may be rediscovering what I figured out at several year intervals, but still.
With poetry and reviews appearing in a variety of journals and anthologies, including a poem included in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2014 (Tightrope Books, 2014), she is the author of over a dozen poetry chapbooks, most recently Vertigoheel for the Dilly (above/ground press, 2014), Quebec Passages (Noun Trivet Press, 2014) and today’s woods (above/ground press, 2014), which critic Frank Davey recently described as “Dark and complicated woods, which in Pirie’s interrogative narrative become fresh woods too.” A further chapbook, polyphonic choral of civet tongues and manna (2014), has just appeared with American publisher unarmed, as part of unarmed journal. She is also the author of two trade poetry collections: been shed bore (Chaudiere Books, 2010) and Thirsts (Snare, 2011) which won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, as well as the forthcoming the pet radish, shrunken with BookThug in March 2015. Over the past decade, her writing has become far more daring, more confident, more aware of sound, collage, lineages and of serious play, and even a level of disorientation, something she discussed more recently in an interview with Ryan Pratt posted at The Puritan:
Ryan Pratt: The fragmented and stream of consciousness momentum of Vertigoheel for the Dilly suggests a higher degree of risk-taking in your writing. Has this development been nurtured or is it instinctive?
Pearl Pirie: What is risk? It may seem like stream of consciousness, but Vertigoheel is several years in. It has been through prose forms and formal forms, open verse and back again. It started as a model of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life but what it became is a result of clipping out the most potent bits and letting them non sequitur. They form a sort of bastardized, bastard ghazal, diverging from the constraint where and when it makes intuitive sense to do so. I am always doing many poem types in parallel. Some are in projects; some haven’t fit any pattern of style or content yet.
Underneath whatever she might present, there are often the remnants of narrative, cleverly hidden beneath or troubled by the occasional faux-wreckage or seemingly disconnected sequences of thought. This is not the first time I’ve seen Pirie mention Hejinian’s My Life as an influence, and I’m curious to finally pick up a copy for myself, to see what it is she’s been learning so intently from. As Pirie herself says, Hejinian’s classic volume “experiments in non sequitur but has a forward motion that is more than the sum of its parts of going toward with unelaborated chronological fragments.” What do the most interesting poems provide? Often as many questions as there are certainties—Pirie alternates, able to turn her questions in on themselves—as she manages to articulate a series of confusions and sparks, none of which could have been articulated in any other way. These are poems learning how to explore simply by exploring. She has become a poet worth watching, which is always a rare and enviable position.
niceties churn a vigorous damask
fifes will span our elated wits with cable oil
coat us from both to bother. mine tailings
realign and tickly, falter in operatic hernias.
the forge-hen’s slurs are moot. jow the tetes
that still can spring. the racquet’s cleft
is the greyest bone by a marrow margin of trees.
See largesse’s jut of ease? sun is the fig’s creed
and how its roots loop. hm, should all your basses
be covered in cream? require me a river, sir.
and one more madcap glacier. gluons sulk over whose
briny waiters. next, for my funny little gallant lion,
the runes that eons of crops hunt, perfection’s punt.
if covers fell off of our lives we’d poke the drab
attrition-heron beneath, and spy the crow-worc in
crowds, and how the gerbil raga, when winded, rests.
how to express a different pov
start cold. make sure never to expose the pov to rapid temperature shifts.
never put a distinct pov in a hot oven, as it can shatter due to thermal shock.
placing a frozen point on a pov is almost as likely to result in a shattered view
as placing a cold view in a hot spot.
it can take a little finesse to get used to, but a point paddle is a useful instrument
especially for transferring the raw point onto the view. leave the pov in the hot spot
at least until it is entirely cool. you do not have to ever remove it. put other thinking
right on top. it won’t do any harm.
never use dish soap on your pov. your pov can be cleaned and rinsed entirely with water.
don’t let your pov soak for too long. you don’t need to drown it. a simple once-over
is probably more than enough. if your pov happens to absorb too much it may crack
the next time it is exposed to heat.
with a clean sponge, wipe away any grime. do not try to remove any residue
that builds up in use— it is fully unnecessary. leaving that to accumulate
will help season your pov, turning it into a slicker, more easy-to-use item.
don’t worry about your views getting stained. stains are normal, almost unavoidable.
moreover, they're a badge of honor, or experience-points — you can point to them
as vindications of your skills.
Some notes on Canadian poetry