Swimming Among the Ruins
By Susan Gillis
These poems imagine the reconciliation of material reality with the spirit?s longing, through travel, the physical displacement of time and space, through contemplation, and through the unsettling of language. The submerged foundations of a ruined city, place names that recall ... Read more
These poems imagine the reconciliation of material reality with the spirit?s longing, through travel, the physical displacement of time and space, through contemplation, and through the unsettling of language. The submerged foundations of a ruined city, place names that recall the past, ancient statuary, a drop of water echoing in an empty tomb, personal memories, heat left on a path walked by generations?these remnants of passage are examined intensely, often through a lens rippled by water or vapour, looking back toward their origins and forward into the possibilities of transformation.
Susan Gillis is a Montreal-based poet, teacher, and editor who has also lived on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada. A member of the collective Yoko?s Dogs, she is the author of Swimming Among the Ruins (Signature Editions, 2000), Volta (Signature Editions, 2002), which won the A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry, The Rapids (Brick Books, 2012), Whisk (with Yoko?s Dogs, Pedlar Press, 2013), and several chapbooks with Gaspereau Press. Susan spends a lot of time in rural Ontario, near Perth, where she does most of her writing.
Blackberries, BramblesAkhmatova wrote, "O look!—that fresh dark elderberry branchis like a letter from Marina. .." And she was right, branches criss-cross, words sharpen. We lop them down, fit theminto envelopes. But I forget: you don't do letters:Too much tangled in thickets and desperation. Did I say envelopes? I meant elevators. See, I've snagged favourite sweatersin high rises, snarled hair in hedges, given upskin scrapings for blackberries, tongueburst, the sweetstain, explosion under light canine pressure. Don't you just wish you were a dog sometimes?No panic. Romping through brambles. Even in delirium, near death, Akhmatova remembered. Her bitter friend had been dead a long time. Love. Don't think I'm thinking about you. Anything but you. EelThe lake is still, after the flash rain. A water spider crosses from shore to dockpropelled by snapping legs fine as a strand of hair. I lie on my stomach on rough cedar,watch through one of the gapsa green wedge of this strange world. The sun wraps me in a warm skin,dries the damp behind my kneesand in the small of my back,brushes the hair on my neck. Heat passes through me. I am cooled in stripesby the fresh water under me. A young eel writhes into the green,spirals between minnows like a lost necklacefalling through time into obscuring grass. I miss you. My fingers slipinto the crack beside my eyes.
"In her debut collection, Susan Gillis transforms the familiar themes of ?poet abroad/poet in love? into a work that is both new and remarkable. with haiku-like attention to both mood and description, Gillis takes the reader along with her as she travels through foreign landscapes of both an external and internal nature. "?Canadian Bookseller "Rapt, wholly attentive to the tang of the moment, Susan Gillis? poems take us to moods we thought familiar and reveal them as thresholds of risk and awakening: they remind us that vulnerability to lyric beauty is always the necessary danger. "?Don McKay "Susan Gillis? wonderful debut collection is a risky adventure into the always difficult poetic terrain of love of men and women, of places known and unfamiliar and, ultimately, of self. Her particular slant on the subject is the notion that "what?s hardest is not to know why / but how anything happens. " As if to nail down the "how" of it, her poems brim with sensual, exact images of the natural world, in a voice that confirms a natural ear for the music of her lines, and a mastery of craft that is a pleasure to watch at work. "?Michael Harris.