Poets have always celebrated nature. Now in a time of ecological crisis, their voices, speaking out against planetary plunder, are even more essential.
Poets have always been witnesses to the world. In this time of ecological crisis, poetry speaks to the need to be aware of the other, to conserve resources and to fight back against globalization’s takeovers of other cultures’ languages, neighbourhoods and ecosystems. These recent books of poetry by four important Canadian poets testify to the responsibility humans have towards the planet and to the joy the earth can bring us when one accepts the interconnectedness of all life.
Don McKay’s Strike/Slip
Infused with the language of geology, Mc Kay’s collection turns to the very materials the earth is made of, its hard source, for his poems. Opening with the question, “Who are you?” and concluding, “You are the momentary mind of rock,” Strike/Slip (McClelland & Stewart, 2006) explores the erosions of the self’s destructive incursions on the planet as the ego is replaced by devotion and attention.
McKay makes stone and bird the stars of his book, never losing his sense of musicality and humour. For instance, his commemorations of birdsong implies that the tunes carry messages such as, “Watch your asses, creatures of the Neogene.”
Di Brandt’s Now You Care
Brandt is known for her feminist verve and Mennonite sensibilities. Now You Care (Coach House Books,2003) turns these preoccupations in the service of the earth, though the human, creating bridges, pollution, breast cancer, a frenzy of busy-ness, is always at the core of Brandt’s elegies.
Much more political than McKay, Brandt takes aim at Bush’s stupidity, male arrogance, the follies of factories and NAFTA. Her voice is intense, emotional, passionate, as she tells the children of the future, “Do not forgive us for worshipping death.”
Don Domanski’s All our Wonder Unavenged
The inhuman world is rejoiced in throughout All our Wonder Unavenged (Brick Books, 2007). Steeped in nostalgia and Eastern mysticism, Domanski’s poems include paeans to water, sunlight and trees.
The “I” in these pieces is that of the watcher, the seeker of spiritual transcendence as “jays repeat the grand speeches of the gods.”
Domanski doesn’t shirk from a religious vocabulary as he focuses on the everyday details of a life lived in the country, close to the real. He looks at the stars, walks by the river and stands at the edge of the pier, attending reverently to the species that are often ignored in the rush for profit and power.
Dionne Brand’s Inventory
This collection is frighteningly beautiful, replete with necessary anger directed against the war-mongerers of the world. While Inventory (McClelland & Stewart, 2006) deals mostly with the toll the century’s violence has taken in terms of human loss of life, Brand realizes these losses are not separable from the damage done to the planet.
She commences with a vision of our dystopian planet in which the houses are “engorged with oil and wheat” while young boys suffer unconciously beneath the plunder of a “gorgon luxury of electronics.” Between recounting the endless bombs and American desecrations, Brand recalls the city springing “hibiscus” and the “butter of fall lindens.” She speaks fearlessly in defence of freedom for humans and the earth.