from The Book of (A)bigail, from the long poem, Thot-J-Bap

—all their offices—

and took all their how-evers, their in-so-fars
more-over, thus
and, at once—


The Tale of the Three Invaders

Those country fairs,
herbaceous borders, names banned.

A pocket knife, those taverns, carved mantel
where women sang—

his broad shoulders narrow waist
his deep voice
hands strong enough


Midnight, outside the Theatre

—there was blood everywhere, he said


of un/known origin

Squandered, the camps, a blacksmith found her name
Imprinted, those spurs, hunt, rowel, straightened
Teeth cut, rims parallel: the word went out
They would bring fireside, evergreen leaves
Etched in blood, sandpapered, still legible
Daphne Laureola: he painted, brushed
Stroke-upon-stroke, blended, smudged, eyes downcast
That winnowing fork, tuned, they would stand, stare That threshing floor, saw-dusted, his knee pushed
This was in the Before-Time, these two kneeled
Papers folded, a potters’ wheel, clay, ink—
Midnight, a train heads east, his gaze as she—
The way when she looked up, his eyes, their look—
This fire unquenchable, his name, hers.


Hecho en

How to get used to it, the street choirs sang
Inside that room, those hooded men questioned
And so the year ended they could not hope
All her mirror-lookings, she’d break beauty
The knives stored casket-deep, just beyond reach
Destiny, Chance, Fate: these three gates opened
After the first catastrophe, the lists—
That November changed to December, risked
Supple, slender, smooth, arms beckoned, replete
Cardamom, ginger, cloves, crushed, hoarded mounds
I am here, crooned Mrs. Maria, cut
Those long-ago days, they’d kneel, heads bent low
That tension, to name/un/name, cherished, gone
And called out, moments: when he, and she, they—

Questions and Answers

Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?

I’ve been writing fragments of things all my life, although I had no idea, until much later in life, that to do so, which, in me, is a compulsion, how I make sense of the world, was in fact, a kind of foundational practice as a poet, or perhaps, for any writer. That being said, yes, there have been moments that seem to trigger my hand to pen (it’s almost always pen or pencil to paper, even though I love texting etc). For instance, not unsurprisingly, almost too cliché to mention: love, heartache, trees–their beauty!; birds and stars, their strangeness and beauty; names of things; sounds, always sound. And, yes, trauma: the murder of my aunt and uncle, a moment about which I could not write for a very long time and ultimately became the subject of my first book length poem (children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections, Nightwood Editions, 2013).

How/where do you find inspiration today?

Please see above. I seem to be drawn to objects, gestures, the “news”, usually as found in legal and government documents, including documents released by“ wikileaks”, old transcripts from investigative bodies, court reports, immigration papers, anything fragmented, lost.

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

Please see above. I’m not sure: as someone who practices a kind of “docu-poetics” where the found text and the sounds of what’s happening around me, either virtual on the internet, or in “real” time or space, seem to feed “my muse,” not sure that is of help, perhaps a validation: I love reading about scientific processes, terminology, names, always the names for things. I’m also very drawn to reading about various artistic and craft practices, how other Makers make things…these are the sorts of texts that I use are “research and resources” for poetry. As well, performance as a site of research: that it, reading from my work at poetry events; and/or, hearing other poets read. And yes, I read, very slowly, the fiction, essays, and poetry of other writers. For example, right now I’m re-reading Zukofsky, which I do from time to time. Also a long out of print “Orientalist” novel, The Lance of Kanna. That sort of thing.

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

Reading Proust, Milton, Yeats, Eliot, Dante: I thought, gee, these guys (!), I do love them, and also, I thought: heck (er, that’s sorta what I said, to myself, whilst reading): Yes, I want to write an epic, I love long poems; and slowly, the thing sort of started to come to me: a sci-fic dystopia, whose first impulse, in 2008 (!), came to me in a series of response fragments to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. And then everything just started to flow to me: characters, ideas about how to structure a long poem. Really Long. I’m aiming for 1000 pages of a book length poem.

What poetic techniques did you use in this poem? How much attention do you pay to form and metre?

In the poems excerpted for Canadian Literature: I am working through ideas of embedding non-enjambed, fragmented lines of 10 beats in the fourteen-line structure of the sonnet as well as the fragment as a kind of triplet.

How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?

Very slowly! I am a slow reader, even slower writer: images, sound-fragments, bits of documentary rhetoric, over-heard/over-seen fragments from various sources are gathered, held, “rubbed,” then set down into a ten-beat line. Everything for me in these poems resides in the element of sound, how vowels and consonants work within and against a syntactical arrangement.

What did you find particularly challenging in writing this poem?

All of the above: that is, how to evoke the sense of the “narrative” of the overall dystopia, with its vast collection of characters, using precise language that is true to the “lexicon” of the poem over-all. The greatest challenge was to marry both docu-poetics and the fragment to the fourteen line-ten beat form.

This poem “from The Book of (A)bigail, from the long poem, Thot-J-Bap” originally appeared in Literary History. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 233 (Summer 2017): 107-108.

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