Autumn, publishing season. John’s new book arrived the other day. Forecast:Selected Early Poems (1970-1990), published by Harbour Publishing. It gathers together the work he published in chapbooks and small books now out of print. Harbour did a lovely job of production. When Anna Comfort O’Keefe was designing the cover, she and John exchanged ideas, various images, and came up with something I think is really interesting. (I took this photograph in the sunroom with today’s sunlight dappling the book.)
The front cover shows a window opening, newly-framed. Looking out, you see trees (the trees out our windows), a full moon that provides the “O” in the book’s title. And the back cover shows the same window opening several decades later but you’re looking in, the trees reflected in the old glass. That’s our blue window, the one in our dining area. And the book’s trajectory covers a similar span of years.
I know these poems so well. There are some from books published before I met John in 1979 and in fact I’d read some of them before I knew him. “The Crossing” is one of my favourites, from Port of Entry. Its preoccupations — place, how we find ourselves a place and how we write into it and out of it — forecast much of our life together. Here are the final lines:
not until arrival does the journey
focus. but that is late and looking
back distorts the purpose
we cannot hold our coming through the world
A book’s arrival always seems a little anticlimactic. So much work goes into the writing, then the editing, the copy-editing, then the proof-reading, proof-reading again, approving covers, cover-copy; and all the while, you are so eager to hold the actual book in your hands, reading your own words again in an unfamiliar font, experiencing again the sweep of imagination and time that took you from page to page. While John was doing this work on Forecast, I was in my own room downstairs, working on Patrin. My copies are (as they say) “in the mail” as I write this. A bottle of prosecco waits in the fridge.
But this book is one I’ll read again and again for the poetry, for the evolution of my husband’s craft, for the play and care of his mind, and for the moments when I see other work in evidence: the framing of a window, and then other windows, until there was a whole house; the first words of our children who appear in the poems one by one; and the dogs that lived here, the woodshed filled with the winter’s logs; and the table set for another celebration. In the cover’s image, I see it all, and remember it. Here are some lines from “Days in the Dark of Building”:
Days in the dark of building —
board on board and tile to tile.
A comfort in the tiredness
blinds me; the windows screened
against no-see-ums blur the stars
so I can’t say
what vision knows — its furthest reach
requires a mind expansive and specific
and mine sighs, Oh goodnight.
Note: despite some coaching from a WordPress tech guy, I haven’t been able to format the lines of poetry properly. There should be a stanza break between the third and fourth lines of the first quoted passage. And there should be stanza breaks after “stars” and “specific” in the second passage. I’ve tried the appropriate code — < > — but the formatting won’t hold in the published version. So please imagine those breaks?