Tuesday 7 January 2014

On Michael Ondaatje, the New Yorker, and a poem within a poem...

In the current issue of the New Yorker (Jan 13. 2014, pictured left), there is a poem by Michael Ondaatje called "Bruise". It mentions my name and quotes a few lines from one of my own poems.

I really love Ondaatje's poem, and of course I'm ecstatic to be associated with it. I knew about the poem beforehand, but I had no idea it was being published until mention of it starting appearing on Twitter this morning. I think I'm still a little shocked. The New Yorker has a lot of readers, and Michael Ondaatje has a lot of fans. There's no doubt that many more people have already read this poem before lunchtime today than who read my last book (which sold well for a book of poetry).

I've already received a few messages from people asking for the poem that Ondaatje quotes in "Bruise". It is from my 2010 collection The Reinvention of the Human Hand (McClelland & Stewart), and it's called "Lost Things". For those of you who asked for it, here it is:


Lost Things

There are many ways to understand the word
lost, my love. When you were born, the last
Pyrenean ibex, a tawny female named Celia,
had not yet lived to see the view from Torla
overlooking Monte Perdido, but her great-
grandsire stood on the cliffs of Ordesa,
positioned on hoof-tips dainty as dimes,
and he shook his impregnable skull, a coffer
of brass and nobility crowned with bayonets,
as though in defiance of all who dwelt
in the highlands from Catalonia to Aquataine.
Their kind is vanished now. Forever lost. Perdido.

And when you dressed in a Girl Guide’s
uniform of Persian blue on Tuesday nights,
my love, in the long-lost basement of Grace
United Church, to play indoor baseball
and make believe that faerie magic
could make you rich or important or happy,
pods of baiji dolphins still swam in a river
you’d never heard of and would not think about
until years later, when together we would learn
from the evening news that the baiji
were lost, at last, from the Yangtze,
and in their place there came a universal emptiness.

There are many ways to understand the word
lost, but it does not help to imagine a secret
place where lost things go. When last
I held you in my arms, my love, the West
African black rhinoceros was still magnificent
and still alive, but now the gentleness of your breath
on my bare neck is as lost as the dusty, confident
snort of that once breath-taking beast. Great strength
is no protection, and neither is love. We are born,
and our births are lost. We can’t go back to them.
Each embrace ends with an ending. When we become,
what we once thought we’d be is lost. We keep becoming.


To learn more about the book this poem came from, visit McClelland & Stewart.

If you want to read Michael Ondaatje's poem, you'll have to get it from the New Yorker.

My next book of poems, Don't Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, will be published this fall by ECW Press.


ckah said...

I'm a great admirer of Ondaatje too, but I am glad his poem in the New Yorker led me to yours, which touched me in a way that his didn't.


Paul Vermeersch said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm gald you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

So wonderful to have found this page and found the origins of those lines from Michael Ondaatje's poem! I'm a big fan of his, and of the poem he recently published in the New Yorker, and now, of the little I've read, of you and your words, too. Thank you, thank you!

(p.s. I have a small and modest blog on which I'm posting about Ondaatje's poem, and I'll be sure to cross-reference you as well! bymattie.wordpress.com)

Unknown said...

I've been a big fan of Michael Ondaatje for a long time and now, unexpectedly, that has led me to you, and to your stunning poem, posted. I'm a librarian who is lucky enough to select, among other categories, poetry for my library. I'll be ordering your about to be published book.

E.Hand said...

Thank you. I am another via Ondaatje visitor and happy to have read the original context.