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Poetry in Motion: Alice Major + Knife on Snow
Founder of Edmonton Poetry Festival (and Edmonton’s first-ever poet laureate) Alice Major returns with her twelfth collection, Knife on Snow (Turnstone Press). She reads “The Dream Opens” from the collection and tells us how anger is everywhere – in the world and throughout this collection – how can it be used to bend people’s wills, but also, ultimately, how people can find something like liberation in embracing anger.
“Alice Major is Angry”
“The Dream Opens” – About this Poem
One of the themes that runs through Knife on Snow is my concern about anger—how pervasive it is, how easily we can be manipulated into feeling it and how deeply it is rooted in “human nature”. Yet at the same time, it’s a necessary emotion that many people—especially women—have a hard time expressing.
I’ve always remembered two significant dreams that came to me decades apart; poems based on those two dreams became the first and last pieces in a section of the book that’s specifically about anger. The first, “A dream of anger” recalls a nightmare that frightened me as a young woman. In it, I faced a closed door guarded by a strange woman. I knew that if I went past this point, the rage beyond would destroy me. But a second dream, many years later, was intensely liberating. I was driving a pick-up truck (which I could not do in real life!) in a strange, oppressive environment and came to a barrier and a guard. This time, I could go past.
I wrote this particular poem in terza rima, the form with three-line stanzas and interlocking rhymes that Dante used for his massive journey in the Commedia from inferno to the heights of paradise. Any time you invoke a dark wood in a poem, Dante waves at you from the background, so I wanted that reference to resonate for some readers—though it doesn’t particularly matter if you don’t notice. It’s just a little extra context.
Other sections of Knife on Show deal with anger in various ways. In the long title poem, anger becomes an axis that our species whirls around, dragging all of us through the innumerable conflicts of history. The final section of the book, “Travels in the Solar System,” segues to a satiric voice where, for instance, dust storms on Mars become a metaphor for the political use of anger as a distraction.
The arc of voice is always a consideration for me in putting together a manuscript. This book is not as ‘personal’ as my other collections have been. The two long poems in the first half do reflect my own experiences (in travelling through the smoke caused by increasing forest fires, or thinking about how I’m a colonist in this particular region of Alberta), but those experiences are placed in a larger context of history, myth, and science rather than the here-and-now of the lyric. The voice in the final solar-system poems lifts off from the personal almost entirely—except that the poems do come from the snarky side of me. The poet isn’t giving you information about her life, but is telling you what she thinks of human foibles.
However, I was worried readers might find the collection to be dark; I also wanted to ground the big pictures with the poet’s immediate response. So I’ve interspersed a few personal lyrics between the book’s various sections. Along with the two dream poems, these pieces allow me to express a journey from anxiety about our difficult times through acceptance and towards a kind of joy.
Alice reads “The Dream Opens” from Knife on Snow
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Alice Major has published 12 collections of poetry, two novels for young adults and an award-winning collection of essays about poetry and science. A long time advocate for the arts, Alice is the founder of the Edmonton Poetry Festival and was that city’s first poet laureate. Knife on Snow is her twelfth poetry collection.
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For more Poetry in Motion, click here.