Insomnia Bird

By Kelly Shepherd

Insomnia Bird
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The poems in Kelly Shepherd’s Insomniac Bird are a cartography and a geography of Edmonton. The poems which shift between short, individual lyric pieces and found text emulate a black-billed magpie’s nest with the subject-matter and also physically, with the words and lines. ... Read more


Overview

The poems in Kelly Shepherd’s Insomniac Bird are a cartography and a geography of Edmonton. The poems which shift between short, individual lyric pieces and found text emulate a black-billed magpie’s nest with the subject-matter and also physically, with the words and lines. The poems generate the theme of home (the bird’s nest, the city), and not feeling at home; sleeping, and the inability to sleep. The magpie (the insomnia bird) is the protagonist and the muse, the thread that connects everything to everything else in this work.

As such, Shepherd’s poems move across the surface at speed, like Edmonton’s NAIT train, and dive like magpies after the occasional tasty image or crumb of detail. The city as it spreads out across the Prairies, can do nothing to prevent urban sprawl, and grows taller with each new highrise building and office tower and sinks deeper into the ground, which is memory!

The city with purple fingers and black feathers
is bending branches outside the window.
In the photosensitivity of morning,
The city is an open window that can’t hear itself think.

 

While Shepherd’s poems are at times critical of Edmonton’s automobile culture and urban sprawl, his tone remains ironic rather than moralizing and he is consistent in his use of dark humour to avoid being didactic. With such guidance the poems effectively disclose what is not seen, what is repressed, what lies behind the scenes in the city he shares with magpies.

Kelly Shepherd

Kelly Shepherd has worked as a kindergarten teacher in South Korea, and a construction worker in northern Alberta. His first full-length poetry collection, Shift, was published by Thistledown Press in 2016 and longlisted for the Edmonton Public Library’s People’s Choice Award in 2017. He has written six poetry chapbooks, most recently A Hidden Bench (the Alfred Gustav Press, 2017). Kelly has a Creative Writing MFA from UBC Okanagan, and an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Alberta, with a thesis on sacred geography. Originally from Smithers, British Columbia, Kelly lives in Edmonton where he teaches at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. He is also the poetry editor for the environmental philosophy journal The Trumpeter.

Shepherd's previous publications include:

Hidden Bench (chapbook), the Alfred Gustav Press, Vancouver, spring 2017

Shift, Thistledown Press, 2016

The First Metaphor, chapbook and gallery exhibition of poetry and linocuts with visual artist Alison Kubbos. Shown in the Bleeding Heart Artspace, Edmonton AB, as part of the 2015 Edmonton Poetry Festival and in Gallery Vertigo, Vernon BC, summer 2014.

Fort McMurray Tricksters, The Alfred Gustav Press, Vancouver BC, 2014.

if one petal falls, Leaf Press, Lantzville BC, 2012 (Korean translation by Sunhyung Kwon).

the bony world, The Rasp and the Wine, Edmonton AB, 2010.

Circumambulations, Publishing Beyond Borders, Reykjavik, Iceland, 2003.

Excerpt

The city with purple fingers and black feathers
is bending branches outside the window.
In the photosensitivity of morning,
The city is an open window that can’t hear itself think.
It is the glare of streetlights and headlights
on a windshield specked with Prairie insects
on a car that’s been driving since evening.

Sometimes the thunder of hooves
or voices muffled by the sound of the river
wake someone up in the night
but the city rolls over and keeps sleeping,
keeps telling itself,
keeps telling itself keeps
telling itself it is home to the living.

—(both from “ ”)

 

You are the House Sparrows who nest year after year in the gap between bricks in the wall of that place on 84th Avenue &

the guy who used to play guitar in front of Army & Navy &

the guy who saves up to replace his headlight covers with sick tinted ones; you are the gravel from under a van’s tires that cracks them &

the haiku written by a dog & revised by a coyote in Mill Creek Ravine snow &

—(from “ ”)

 

Albino Magpie of Belgravia Station,
you are birch bark, you are driftwood, you are bone.
You are the colour of cloud, not precious stone.
In a forest where every tree is the burning bush,
sacred ground is the only place not on fire.
You carry for your people the knowledge of being alone

but down here buses may move and stop abruptly—
ETS: “hold on tightly.”

Soup and sandwich: $8.49. The sound
of a scream draws my eyes to the window.
Two young men are fighting on the sidewalk.
People stand and watch. It is construction season.

“Take care when stepping off the bus,”
recommends ETS, “especially in icy weather.”
The bus door might be the boundary between that world and this.

—(from “ ”)

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