Dark Sublime

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime

—W. H. Auden

Empty space is
Not empty
But a continuous beyond.
Scientists have found a galaxy
That bulges in the middle
And you wonder how
They can determine that
Through numbers
Thoughts mostly wasted
On the banal

No catalogue of necessary
Thoughts exists
Shaped meaning drawn
From that other.
Most thoughts
Are internal blabber
Love the exception
That links it together
Poems offer vague hope
That as long as it
Gets written down
Anything is possible.

In a dream you
Coach soccer
And later book
Flights to Turkey
You’re not sure of the connection
Except your dreaming self
Made different plans.
When you sleep
Waking events gets scrabbled
What happens in dreams
Is missing the connective tissue
Being awake provides—
Then every moment is joined
To the one after
Forms a chain so fixed
It isn’t possible
To live it
In any other order


Questions and Answers

Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. books, films, art, websites, etc.)?

Poetry and the reading of existing poems is the most important resource for young poems. So read as much as possible. That used to be mainly poetry books and journals and those are still vital but there are some good online journals too. At the same time, be wary of websites that are not adjudicated (not edited or screened first) as often the poetry there will not be as good or as lasting. Much of that poetry will be lacking in technical excellence. This poem of mine grew out of a poem by W. H. Auden called The More Loving One. I read this poem at the Academy of American Poets https://poets.org/

and that is one website I strongly recommend along with the website for the League of Canadian Poets: https://poets.ca/

Finally, I also recommend The Poetry Foundation website (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/) which has some of the same poets and poems as the poets.org site but still strongly recommended.


As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?

My best advice to aspiring poets includes the following. 1. Read a lot of other poetry especially poetry that you really connect with. This will help you to find your poetic voice. Start with local poets but expand outward. Most of all be open and inclusive at first and in time you will get a sense of what contemporary poets are writing. When you find a favourite poet, I recommend you seek out all their (or his/her) books and read as much as you can. Re-reading often. 2. Be very critical of your own work. I recommend you write a first draft and then leave that for at least 6 months. This will allow you to come to the poem fresh. It is important to also kill your darlings, so lines or phrases that you are most attached to likely are the ones that most need to be cut. Once you come to the poem to revise it cut as much as possible. Then leave the poem for another week and then read it again. This time also read it aloud as this will also help you catch parts where the poem is flat or does not work. Revise it and set it aside again. Then come to it after another week. Read it aloud again and cut out anything that seems extra. Then you are ready to send it to magazines. If the poem is rejected read it again edit it again and then send it out to another magazine. Repeat this at least 10 times. If the poem is still rejected set it aside for when you are preparing a book. Not all poems that are rejected are necessarily bad. Nor are they necessarily good. 3. When you are preparing a book consider both poems accepted by magazines and those rejected. Some of my best poems have never been published in magazines. At the same time some of my best poems have been published in magazines. Both can and are often true. When you are compiling a book of poems it is important that you pick the strongest poems. An editor at a publishing house can also help you with this. So to summarize: Be as hard on your poems as you can be and revise often. Don’t be afraid to cut things. Often the poems are better for it. Remember in poetry every word matters so make sure to only include the most essential words in your poem.


What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

This poem is from a new book of poems called Morning Poems. In this book I aimed to write the first draft of each poem in the morning. I did this for the first sixth months of 2021. I often looked to other poets and poems for inspiration. The poems of Emily Dickinson loomed large in this new book. I also read the poems of other poets in search of inspiration. Many of the poems in the new book deal with particle physics and astrophysics, two topics I am currently interested in and exploring in my poetry. For this particular poem I had been reading the poems of W. H. Auden and had been taken by his poems The More Loving One found here:


And in particular the lines quoted in the poem:

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,

They inspired the title. I was also particularly taken by the idea of ‘all stars to disappear or die’ and his notion of ’empty sky’ because my reading of astrophysics has convinced me that in fact there is no such thing as ’empty space’ and that we know much more about the cosmos now than was known at the time Auden wrote that poem. So I wasn’t so much motivated to write a response to his poem but to use his poem as a jumping off point to go in a completely new direction driven in part by the changes in our perceptions of the cosmos.

This poem “Dark Sublime” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 250 (2022): 142-143.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.