There’s a Poem for That: Catherine Owen + Moving to Delilah

For National Poetry Month, Catherine Owen tells us why her poem “An Abecedarian for the Garden” from Moving to Delilah (Freehand Books) would win Most Likely to Make You Happy about Death.


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There's a poem for that... NPM on All Lit Up.

An interview with poet Catherine Owen

All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about Moving to Delilah and how it came to be?

The cover of Moving to Delilah by Catherine Owen.

Catherine Owen: Moving to Delilah is a book of poems about my 1905 house, her evolving garden, and the surrounding neighbourhood. It’s also about the process of a West Coaster relocating to the Prairies due to the exigencies of economic itinerancy as she sheds grief and re-grounds in the now. The collection was composed over the five years I’ve lived in Edmonton and it unfolded through daily observations, the impetus of forms, and the fascinations of research. 

ALU: What sparked your initial love of poetry?

CO: When I was three, I was given The Golden Anthology of Poetry, a tome featuring poems by Emily Dickinson, ee cummings, William Carlos Williams and others. I was entranced and spent many hours absorbing the texts and images. Then around four I wrote my first bit of, yes, bad verse under a tree and was hooked. Doomed no less.  

ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?

CO: I read like a crazy fiend, from at least 7-8 books of poetry a day plus a wide range of other genres. But I’m currently relishing a re-read of Eugenio Montale translations, Charles Wright’s later poems and Donna Kane’s latest, Asterisms, which I just reviewed on my Marrow blog on WordPress.

ALU: If your poem were to win a yearbook superlative (e.g. “Most likely to…”), what do you think it would be? 

CO: Most Likely to Make You Happy about Death. By that I mean that at their finest, the elegies I often write transcend their grimness and provide the elation that only deep song can bring, thereby giving the reader a kind of arts-grounded joy regarding the inevitability of mortality in general.

ALU: If you were to set your collection to a soundtrack, what song is at the top of the listing?

CO: Motley Crue’s Home Sweet Home of course 😉

There’s a poem for fresh beginnings…
“An Abecedarian for the Garden” from Moving to Delilah

Alas I know so little about gardening
Because, raised by busy parents in the suburbs,
Crops were mostly bean sprouts on the countertop, yet
Digging is cathartic and once you gouge out a square,
Earth’s muck beneath the useless grass, you may as well
Flick a few easy seeds from their bright packets, your
Ground rich, raddled with plastic bits, dreams, not
Harvests, just a ripple of fierce green tips
Inching. On the prairies they say don’t plant before May, but
June could also be nippy with slush, or hard rains that
Kill all the full sun needs. Little ambition, mostly
Love – of beauty – sends you to greenhouses, garden centres, to
Mail-ordering trees that arrive as freeze-dried sticks,
No hope they will soon yield. A putterer, you’re
Open to positing, randomness, seeing what happens when,
Posing what ifs to the soil, weather, location, engaged in slow
Queries. The former owners planted bitter cukes, a thatch of irises,
Red tomatoes that stayed green in downpours, became
Spectral by fall – mainly, they built raised boxes, then moved.
The now is up to you. What remains, what you’re quickly
Uncovering mixed with decisions regarding future
Visions – happy accidents, imagined glories and the ever-present
Weeds you cannot pull, entirely, drawn always to the free and wild amid
Xanthisma’s spiky blooms, a plot of broccoli, peas in their twisting climb,
Yarrow against the dandelion, perhaps some carrots, two shades of kale,
Zinnias down every border, the generosity of zucchinis and (why not?) a rose. 

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A photo of Catherine Owen.

Catherine Owen, from Vancouver, BC, is the author of fifteen collections of poetry and prose. Her work has won and been nominated for awards and has been toured across Canada 12 times. She edits, hosts the series 94th Street Trobairitz, and runs the podcast Ms. Lyric’s Poetry Outlaws from her home in Edmonton, AB.

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Thanks to Catherine for answering our questions, and to Freehand Books for the text of “An Abecedarian for the Garden” from Moving to Delilah, which is available to order now (and get 15% off with the code THERESAPROMO4THAT until April 30!).

For more poetry month, catch up on our “there’s a poem for that” series here, and visit our poetry shop here.