Page, P.K., Coal and Roses. Erin: The Porcupine’s Quill, 2009.
Completed: 19 July 2010
Coal and Roses was part of larger purchase I did from Porcupine’s Quill. It is a sad fact that in Canada it is almost impossible to find books by Canadian publishers in Canadian book stores. Most book stores would never deign carry small, independent publishers, hence it is necessary to order directly from the publisher.
This is the first Page collection that I have read and it probably wasn’t the best one to start with. The book is composed of 21 glosas. A glosa is a poetic type I was unfamiliar with before this book. It begins with a quatrain from another poem. This is followed with 4 ten-line stanzas that end with one line of the opening quatrain, in consecutive order. The 6th and 9th line are suppose to rhyme with the final, borrowed 10th line.
Page provides a brief biography of each of the poets from whom she borrows the introductory quatrain and identifies the poem from which the quatrain comes from. The authors that Page draws from are from all over the world: Margaret Cavendish, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dionne Brand, Gwendoline MacEwan, Zhingniew Herber, to name a few.
The glosas are a neat trick and Page pulls them off very well. The borrowed lines blend into the body of the glosa very well. There in was the problem for me. I found that I was distracted by the technical challenge of having the original lines broken up and incorporated into a new poem. When I did step back from the technical aspects of the poems, I found my responses to be mixed.
In the case of the title poem, Coal and Roses, the original poem was from the Russian author Anna Akhmatova. Page’s poem takes Akhmatova’s lines:
Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death’s great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?
and turns them into a lament of what we are doing to the planet. Environmental degradation, global warming, cluster bomb, greed, laziness are all elements that come up in Pages poem. It felt like Page was putting words into Akhmatova’s mouth. As Akhmatova died in communist Russia in 1966 it is unlikely that she knew of things like global warming.
That being said, the Wallace Stevens’ glosa worked very well for me and was my favourite. The Stevens quatrain was sufficiently interesting in itself that I followed it up and read the original poem, The Blue Guitar.
They said ‘You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.’
The man replied, ‘Things as they are
are changed upon the blue guitar.’
It is my plan to try to read at least one poet from each province or territory. P.K. Page is my Ontario selection.