Sandy Shreve
Paintings, Photo Art, Poetry

Blog - Wednesday Poems

(posted on 15 May 2024)

Sticking with the seasonal theme this week, today’s Wednesday Poem is Spring Cleaning, from my book Bewildered Rituals (Polestar Press).  I composed the  accompanying image by collaging my photographs in Photoshop.

When I retired, my husband bought me my first digital camera. I dove into taking pictures, thinking to pair them with my poems, in hopes that photographs might make the poetry more widely accessible. I made cards and calendars – and a set of postcards, like the one shown here, which I took to various stores around Vancouver, where I lived at the time, asking if they might sell these on commission.  It was an interesting, but exhausting project.  After one particularly foot wearying day, I came home and told Bill I was done. I still have a supply of the postcards, though; and I still make art cards with my photos.  Spring Cleaning is one of many poems I have written that draws on my experiences in office work.

 

(posted on 8 May 2024)

 

Today’s poem comes from my book, Suddenly, So Much (Exile Editions);
the accompanying image is my painting, Watering Can (mixed media).

 

Appalachian Spring (Aaron Copland, 1944)

 

Because the wars are not over yet, and yet

these notes unfold

                                    leaf

 

and bud in the sun     because this

is what comes of bowing strings and breathing

 

into reeds and what breaks

the sky

                is dawn not bombs because

 

a ballet begins with a long sliver of sound

the piano

 

                    laughs, woodwinds scamper in the grass

with violins my fingers

                                             sprout green shoots

 

and my shuttered heart           opens

 

 

Copland’s Appalachian Spring is one of my favourite
pieces of music, and I play it often at this time of year.
Originally composed to accompany the ballet
choreographed by Martha Graham, Copland later
arranged it as an orchestral suite.  Created near the end
of WW II, the ballet celebrates the marriage of a young
frontier couple looking ahead to a promising future.
 

(posted on 1 May 2024)

"Snapped cook, 2nd cook, 2nd steward and mess boy outside galley. Also took one of cook handing Dave a tray with three chickens on it, the officers’ Sunday dinner."  (Jack Shreve, Journal entry, April 26.)

Today’s poem, in honour of May 1st, is called, fittingly, May Day. It’s from my book, Waiting for the Albatross (Oolichan Books), a collection of poems based on a diary my father, Jack Shreve, kept while working as a deck hand on a Canadian Steamships freighter when he was 21. The nearly five-month trip, from February through June 1936, took him from Halifax, down the Atlantic Seaboard, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia; then back again, finally docking at Montreal.

This poem is a villanelle, which features two alternating refrains:

May Day

I wonder what’s going on in the world to-day.  
The “storm petrels” I saw yesterday lived up to their name
and we’re rolling all over the ocean.

We got that damned rice for dessert, and stewed prunes,
but the officers got apple dumplings and fancy biscuits.
I wonder what’s going on in the world to-day.  

In the water alongside us, a huge shark was rolling back
and forth and every once in a while turned belly up
as we rolled all over the ocean.

Told steward about the maggots we found in our biscuits.  “Fresh
meat”, as they call it or no, I’d sooner starve than eat that filthy food. 
I wonder what’s going on in the world to-day.  

We’ve been taking some pretty bad rolls. Got a snap
of the Bon Scot heeled right over and dipping her starboard rails
with her infernal tossing and rolling.

We’ve taken several seas and lots of spray; I got caught
in one and was washed to the side.
I wonder what’s going on in the world to-day,
while we’re rolling all over the ocean.  

 

I came across Dad’s diary in the early 1990s, some 30 years after he’d died. I was riveted – every day during that trip he wrote down his observations and opinions about everything from the mundane to the amazing, portraying life among men isolated at sea for weeks at a time – and letting loose when they got ashore. He described the work the men did, the conditions they lived in and their often volatile relationships – from sing-alongs on the poop deck to fist-fights in the foc’sle. Then, around 2002 one of my uncles left me a couple of Dad's photo albums – and there, I found the pictures he and some of the crew took during the trip.  

At that point I knew I had to do something with this fabulous material, but what?  I finally settled on a book of found poetry, meaning I’ve I crafted the poems by quite liberally rearranging words, phrases and sentences I borrowed from Dad's prose. In the few prose poems, everything is taken directly from his diary. The result is his stories, his voice and my manipulations … interspersed with many of the photographs, like the one here. Most of the poems are written in given forms that feature some kind of repetition, which I chose for how they act as a metaphor for the relentless routine of life on a freighter.

I've been feeling sorry for my poems lately, stuck as they are between the covers of the books they live in.  I'm thinking it might be fun to bring them out into the open.  So I am starting a Wednesday Poems blog, which I will also post on my Instagram and Facebook pages.

Since I recently resumed a tai chi practice, I thought I'd start with a poem from the Tai Chi Variations sequence in my book Suddenly, So Much (Exile Editions) - cover art shown here is by the wonderful artist Gabriela Campos.  Here's this week's poem:

Grasp the Sparrow's Tail

You want to fly with your feet
anchored to the ground, like

bamboo in the wind

where sparrows congregate,
impatient,
they do not wait
long for another turn at the feeder,
are quick to flap chickadees
away from their seeds.

More like demons
than souls released from the bondage
of our bodies, these birds
flick their little tails,
insolent.

You happily snatch one
down from its ecstasy in sky

and as you pull it back to live
on this earth again,
its heart turns to a terror
your fingers cannot bear to hold.

When you let go,
your feathered hands soar.

 

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