An awful muddle near the water: wires
interrupt the sky, the port busily
illustrates Seven Modes of Transportation—

deathy mountain heights snow-clean
a relief in their indifference.

Level late sun
yellows the walls, leaf shadows
flicker and plunge.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “View”?

This poem was inspired by the spectacular views of the North Shore mountains across Burrard Inlet, and of the Port of Vancouver’s heavy industry which I’m fascinated by. I am happy to live only two blocks from the Canadian Pacific main line beside the harbour, where at any time you can see huge bulk freighters loading or drifting at anchor. (I once saw a wonderful art work which recreated the harbour in a tank of water which flowed in one direction, then another, to imitate the tide. As it flowed in or out, the ships swung to face the current. By speeding up time, the artist showed us something about the world we might never have noticed without the benefit of her educated imagination.)

What poetic techniques did you use in “View”?

I wanted to contrast our self-congratulatory reverence for pristine natural beauty with the ugliness and destruction we impose on it, without sounding didactic and preachy, the way I’m doing now. That’s why I used the homely phrase “awful muddle”, a slant reference to Elizabeth Bishop’s harbour view, “awful but cheerful,” in her poem “The Bight.” I hate poems that have designs on me, that want to impose their point of view. That’s the opposite of art, which aims to free us from our limited perceptions.

I remember being required to draw Seven Modes of Transportation in public school.

I have used the image of leaf shadows elsewhere, to convey the transience of life. Also, the hypnotic nature of their movement can take us into an altered sense of reality where, deepened by the awareness of mortality, we can decide what it is important to do in our lives.

This poem “View” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 160 (Spring 1999): 72-72.

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