Volta

By Susan Gillis

Volta
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A pink bathrobe turns into a kingfisher; a kitchen floor displays the stigmata of an oncoming storm; a Stone Age axe-head surfaces in France for someone from Newfoundland to stumble over; the covers of a book vibrate through broken intimacy. Here, friendship has the power to ... Read more


Overview

A pink bathrobe turns into a kingfisher; a kitchen floor displays the stigmata of an oncoming storm; a Stone Age axe-head surfaces in France for someone from Newfoundland to stumble over; the covers of a book vibrate through broken intimacy. Here, friendship has the power to transform; love, to disembody. In a series of radical translations of the Earl of Surrey's sixteenth-century sonnets, a garden of plastic delights uproots the pastoral scene; a gallant compliment on social pedigree translates as salacious appreciation for a chef's handling of a ripe tomato. The poems of Volta turn place and time over on themselves, examining how we make what we call home, and what it is to be in relation: to people, to place, to history. A shape-shifting speaker rejects the idea of a singular self, and invites the reader to join a quest for that hypothetical meeting-place where community beckons but is never reached.

Susan Gillis

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.

Excerpt

Love poses a QuestionOnce there were answers: things corresponded,the planets in motion struckheavenly chords, all wasas it should be. If the humoursgot out of sorts, the gods laughedand fetched healing elementsfrom the four corners; if Pan, sprung,made pandemonium, itwas answered. The worldis noisier now, and depletedof explanations. Who can sayhow we are nourishedby land-mines or car-bombs?What is a bomb? Tell me,because my heart trembles. Brothers and sisters, the earth is a questionthat swallows sense. Walking with youin the Alberta hoodoos, laying a handon the bark of a lodgepole pine, lettingthe long flowering grasses wash cleanthe crowded mind; world-as-it-is. You asked, I listened;this much was given. Mornings, the sun risesand traffic intensifies for a time;oceans flood, then recede;modulations without end. The world, with you in it; thenkingfishers, rattling over the plain. This is not a loss exactlyI buried the cat in the hill I look at every morning over coffee. Dug the hole, laid it in, tamped the clod over. It used to purr when you played your tapes of Oum Khalthoum,Empress, Nightingale, Star of the Nile. You sang alongswirling the offbeats and drones I never couldwrap my tongue around. I spoke like the catyou said. I couldn't look as I buried itbut now most days I can look at the hillwithout thinking of it, and this is not a loss exactly. But something spins when I look away;at the edge of hearing, a voice warms up.

Reviews

“At the literal and figurative heart of Susan Gillis's estimable second book, Volta, is a series of 15 "translations" of the work of the Earl of Surrey, the 16th-century poet. These poems, however, are not exercises in academic hermeticism. Rather, these "permutations" are entirely original turns on a particularly suggestive source, "translations" into distinctively modern and passionate revisions. Throughout the quietly lyrical Volta, Gillis wears her learning both light and well. These poems bespeak a balanced, measured, and unpretentious sensibility that takes love as it principal theme”—The Winnipeg Free Press

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