Monday, April 30, 2007

Icelandic Translation of When I Married Halldór Laxness by Agnes Walsh, translation by Adalsteinn Ingolfsson

Back in October, 2006 Rattling Books ran a Translation Contest in Iceland. We invited translations of the poem When I Married Halldór Laxness by Newfoundland writer Agnes Walsh. The winning entry, selected by Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir, was a translation by Adalsteinn Ingolfsson. On this last day of Poetry Month 2007 we are delighted to share it with you here.


Þegar ég giftist Halldóri Laxness (tileinkað Sam B.)

Ég horfði á froðuna skreppa saman og gulan mjöðinn mæta henni til hálfs. Ég hallaði glasinu, það valt um og vökvinn rann yfir ellistirt hné hans. Ég leit undan en baðst ekki forláts. Með fallegum beinaberum fingrum buskaði hann frá sér froðunni í aðskiljanlegum ögnum, sem væri hún kusk séð um síðir fyrir einskæra tilviljun.

Nú veltur ákvörðunin á þér.

Hann neri miðinum inn í buxnaskálmina. Ég varpaði öndinni. Báðir valkostir voru banvænir.

Ætlarðu að dandalast í þessu landi ljósvakans til eilífðarnóns?


Jafnvel þótt ég hengdi þig upp á hárinu?
Jafnvel þótt ég hellti upp í þig sjóðheitu vatni?
Jafnvel þótt ég gerði þér indjánatjald úr birkihríslum?

Sjáðu mig.

Hann lét sig hverfa.

Kvöldið eftir hringdi síminn.
Ég skal hitta þig á mótum Jökulbrúnar og Kompáss. Ég verð að geta treyst á þig.
Ég verð þarna í þrjú kvöld í röð.

Þrjú kvöld í röð var ég á stanslausum en árangurslausum þeytingi milli staða.

Föstudagskvöldið hringdi dyrabjallan. Hann rétti mér tvær bækur eftir Aksel Sandemose. Ég lagði fingur mína á hlý fingraför hans á efri bókinni og lokaði hurðinni. Ég las og beið.

(Í flóðbylgju gekk kona glugga á milli með kerti í hendi meðan hús hennar barst út á flóann. Henni var bjargað í St. Lawrence.)

Þegar þú ert reiðubúin, ef þú verður það nokkurn tímann, skaltu kveikja á eigin kerti.

Tveimur árum síðar hélt ég skjálfandi hendi á eldspýtunni. Hár hans hafði gránað við kollvikin og hann stakk feimnislega við fæti.

To read the original English text of When I Married Halldór Laxness click here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Poem a Day at Words at Large website

For a poem a day fix you can visit Words at Large, a CBC website about Canadian Letters. Today it's a poem by Dionne Brand.
Yesterday it was a poem by Don McKay.
The day before that it was Michael Crummey.
The day before that Roo Borson.
The day before that Michael Ondaatje.
The day before that.
The day before.
The day.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

No Delusions: By Clare-Marie Gosse (St. John's) The Independent, April 20, 2007 - article on Joel Thomas Hynes

No delusions
By Clare-Marie Gosse (St. John's)

The Independent

Friday, April 20, 2007

Something that’s been troubling Joel Thomas Hynes for a while is the thought of complacency. Of getting to a point where everything seems to be ticking along so well, no worries, that he doesn’t really feel the need to try hard anymore.

After all, Hynes is a successful, award-winning writer with a brand new novel, Right Away Monday, set to hit stores May 5th; his first book, Down to the Dirt, which met with international acclaim, is about to be made into a movie (shooting with Newfound Films begins in June); and as an acclaimed actor, he’s currently preparing for the opening of his own one-man show, Say Nothing Saw Wood, at the LSPU Hall, May 7th.

It would be easy to understand how he might feel like settling back and relaxing over life’s general concerns — comfortable the work will just roll in, that he’ll always be a great parent, that he no longer needs to work on sobriety.

“I really think that f—king everything passes you by as soon as you get that attitude into your head,” Hynes remarks. Or worse, instead of passing you by, life smacks you a curve ball while you’re looking the other way.

One such incident helped inspire Say Nothing Saw Wood. The play, which started out as a short novel, is about anti-hero Jude Traynor, a sentenced murderer, “working himself out in front of an audience” as he reflects on a split-second decision he made a decade before in his late teens. The decision culminated in the death of an elderly woman and changed Traynor’s life forever.

The play, or “dramatized recitation,” is a story Hynes says he always intended to write. It’s loosely based on a sensational murder that took place in his hometown of Calvert on the Southern Shore in the 1970s, but it’s also the result of a serious wake-up call he himself experienced at the age of 17.

A self-confessed “hard ticket … largely considered to be a nuisance,” Hynes says he was strolling down a lane after a night of drinking, when for no particular reason, he picked up a fist-sized rock and hurled it into the air.

“While it was still in the air, out around the side of this shack — and this was about seven o’clock in the morning — there was a man walked out that I couldn’t see when I threw it because of the bend in the road. Suddenly he was there, and he had two little girls, hand in hand, and I threw this rock and I just saw it going right for the girl on the outside, and she must have been two or three … everything just stopped; that was my life right there.”

The rock just missed the girl, but the incident hit Hynes hard.“

I’ve just been quite fascinated by how close you can come sometimes to really just ending everything by chance and I sort of worked that concept into this story.”

Say Nothing Saw Wood has already won a Best Dramatic Script Award from the 2005 Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters competition, which bodes well for a production Hynes describes as a return to oral story-telling theatre with no “bells and whistles.


Say Nothing Saw Wood runs at the LSPU Hall May 7-13.

To read an excerpt from Say Nothing Saw Wood on this Blog click here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Excerpt: Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, installment #6

The following excerpt is from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience, the story was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company. The unabridged audio edition narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence is available from


I had not drifted more than half a mile before I saw my poor komatik disappear through the ice, which was every minute loosening up into the small pans that it consisted of, and it seemed like a friend gone and one more tie with home and safety lost. To the northward, about a mile distant, lay the mainland along which I had passed so merrily in the morning, - only, it seemed, a few moments before.

By mid-day I had passed the island to which I had crossed on the ice bridge. I could see that the bridge was gone now. If I could reach the island I should only be marooned and destined to die of starvation. But there was little chance of that, for I was rapidly driving into the ever widening bay.

It was scarcely safe to move on my small ice raft, for fear of breaking it. Yet I saw I must have the skins of some of my dogs, of which I had eight on the pan, if I was to live the night out. There was now some three to five miles between me and the north side of the bay. There, immense pans of Arctic ice, surging to and fro on the heavy ground seas, were thundering into the cliffs like medieval battering-rams. It was evident that, even if seen, I could hope for no help from that quarter before night. No boat could live through the surf.

Unwinding the sealskin traces from my waist, round which I had wound them to keep the dogs from eating them, I made a slip-knot, passed it over the first dog's head, tied it round my foot close to his neck, threw him on his back, and stabbed him in the heart. Poor beast! I loved him like a friend, a beautiful dog, but we could not all hope to live. In fact, I had no hope any of us would, at that time, but it seemed better to die fighting.

To be continued.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Shore Pebble from Author David Weale: The Apparition

The Apparition

I can’t even remember what it was I had forgotten. A book? My road coffee? It doesn’t matter. What I do recall is that when I pulled my truck back into the yard behind the house I glanced across the field to the east and spotted at the edge of the woods a big yellow dog which I took to be a Labrador Retriever. My place is on the Five Houses Road in Ft. Augustus, and as the name suggests, there aren’t many of us living there. Because I was almost certain no one on the road had a dog like that, it roused my curiosity and sent me scurrying off in search of my binoculars. When I located them I hurried to the bathroom window, from which vantage point I knew I would have an unobstructed view of the spot where I had seen the dog. I feared it would be gone, but a quick glance assured me it was still there, standing motionless and looking across the field in the general direction of my house. Good! I dropped to my knees on the floor, placed my elbows on the windowsill to steady myself, and raised the binoculars to my eyes.

“Lord Liftin’ Jesus! What do we have here?”

It seemed impossible I was seeing what I was seeing -- but I was. There was no mistake. What I had assumed was a large dog of some kind was not a dog at all. It was, incredibly, a very large cat – large enough to be mistaken for a full-grown Lab. I noted the small pointed ears, the squared face, and especially the long thick tail with a succession of dark rings along its length. It was magnificent, whatever it was.

Islanders, of course, aren’t very good at identifying large cats, since there aren’t any that live here, or so we all thought. I knew there had been lynx, or bobcats, on the Island when the European pioneers arrived, but that they had killed them off as quickly as possible, with the last of them disappearing in the late1800s. Just a few months before my sighting I had heard at Dave Wakelin’s store in Ft. Augustus that someone’s dog had been badly mauled in the woods by what, they speculated, might have been a bobcat from the Cape Breton Highlands that had found its way to the Island across the ice during the previous winter. But bobcats aren’t yellow, and they most certainly don’t have long tails with rings. No, it wasn’t a bobcat; more like a cougar, or a mountain lion, and it was fifty or sixty metres away, on the edge of my field, staring at my house. Perhaps, at me. I was dumbfounded.

After what seemed like about fifteen seconds the big cat turned gracefully, moved off into the woods, and disappeared. Its motion was so smooth it seemed almost to be gliding. I thought briefly about heading across the field for the chance of getting a better look, or of seeing some tracks, or perhaps some scat, but prudence prevailed, and I stayed put. I waited at the window a short time hoping for a re-appearance but after a few minutes I put away the binoculars, gathered up whatever it was I had forgotten, and headed for town.

I knew I had a great story to tell but realized I might not be able to share it without raising serious questions about my mental state, or perhaps my use of consciousness-altering substances. Would even my closest friends believe that I had locked eyes with a cougar or mountain lion at nine o’clock in the morning on the Five Houses Road? Did I want to run the risk of being known as a person who saw things that weren’t there, or who made up fantastic stories to fabricate a more interesting life? Not especially. But, on the other hand, how could I possibly keep such a thing to myself? It was just too good a story.

Before the day was over the raconteur in me won out, and by the time I headed home that evening I had related the event a number of times. Predictably, my hearers were largely incredulous. No one came right out and questioned my sanity or my sobriety, but I think there were a few who had doubts about my eyesight. On balance, however, the pleasure of relating the account outweighed the risk of possible side effects on my reputation, so I told it often, and here I am telling it again.

Over the years the core facts of the story haven’t changed in my telling, but I have drawn a meaning out of it, which is what storytellers do to make a good story better. I still am not willing to concede that, for some reason or other, I wasn’t seeing clearly that morning and that what seemed at first a Yellow Lab was, in fact, a Yellow Lab. My inclination is to interpret the sighting as a sign, and reminder, of all the animals that have been driven off this Island, and, in some cases, off the very face of the earth. When I tell the story that way, I get to remind myself and others of the disappearance from our Island of the walrus, sturgeon, black bear, otter, bobcat, deer, moose, passenger pigeons, and great horned owls. I get to remind them, and myself, of how vain and short-sighted we were to leave no place for them, and how, in doing so, we diminished the landscape and impoverished ourselves by removing the genius and grace of their wild ways, and the haunting reminder of their wild calls. And the more I tell the story, the more inclined I am to view that big cat as an apparition, or visitation, and to recognize that if I don’t understand why it appeared, it can never come back.

Within a few days after spotting the cat I called the Fish and Wildlife Department to report what I had seen, and possibly to have my sighting confirmed. The officer on the other end seemed a bit uncomfortable, and I was imagining the look on his face, and how he was probably gesturing for his secretary to pick up the other line, all the while pointing at his receiver, as if to say, “This is a weird one.” However, after a short silence he told me that, oddly, there had been a similar report from the same general area a year or two before. And that was the end of it.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Poem: not man's time from The Grey Islands by John Steffler

not man's time here.
sun's time.
rock's time.
I begin to feel it.

days blink by - light
and cold flowing over - tide
breathing smoothly, evenly, I

slip between half-seconds, flash
light-beam pinball-style, do
ten thousand vanishing things
in a breath.

This poem is from The Grey Islands by John Steffler. Originally published in print form by McClelland and Stewart (1985); Brick Books (2000). The unabridged audio edition of The Grey Islands is narrated (in order of appearance) by John Steffler, Frank Holden, Janis Spence, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings and Darryl Hopkins with island soundscapes recorded off the coast of Newfoundland.

unarticulated poem #7

Friday, April 20, 2007

HearYe Hear Ye: Monday nights at da Spur in St. John's will forthwith be forthwrite at the mic

For anyone in St. John's Newfoundland on a Monday Night take note:

Monday nights, commencing April 23rd., will be poetry/prose open mic night at The Spur (just down from the Ship). There will be no featured writers but all are welcome. Reading order will be according to the luck of the draw. It begins at 8:00 PM.

Excerpt: Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, installment #5

The following excerpt is from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience, the story was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company. The unabridged audio edition narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence is available from


I had decided I would rather stake my chances on a long swim even than perish by inches on the floe, as there was no likelihood whatever of being seen and rescued. But, keenly though I watched, not a streak even of clear water appeared, the interminable sish rising from below and filling every gap as it appeared. We were now resting on a piece of ice about ten by twelve feet, which, as I found when I came to examine it, was not ice at all, but simply snow-covered slob frozen into a mass, and I feared it would very soon break up in the general turmoil of the heavy sea, which was increasing as the ice drove off shore before the wind.

At first we drifted in the direction of a rocky point on which a heavy surf was breaking. Here I thought once again to swim ashore. But suddenly we struck a rock. A large piece broke off the already small pan, and what was left swung round in the backwash, and started right out to sea.

There was nothing for it now but to hope for a rescue. Alas! There was little possibility of being seen. As I have already mentioned, no one lives around this big bay. My only hope was that the other komatik, knowing I was alone and had failed to keep my tryst, would perhaps come back to look for me. This, however, as it proved, they did not do.

The westerly wind was rising all the time, our coldest wind at this time of the year, coming as it does over the Gulf ice. It was tantalizing, as I stood with next to nothing on, the wind going through me and every stitch soaked in ice-water, to see my well-stocked komatik some fifty yards away. It was still above water, with food, hot tea in a thermos bottle, dry clothing, matches, wood, and everything on it for making a fire to attract attention.

It is easy to see a dark object on the ice in the daytime, for the gorgeous whiteness shows off the least thing. But the tops of bushes and large pieces of kelp have often deceived those looking out. Moreover, within our memory no man has been thus adrift on the bay ice. The chances were about one in a thousand that I should be seen at all, and if I were seen, I should probably be mistaken for some piece of refuse.

To keep from freezing, I cut off my long moccasins down to the feet, strung out some line, split the legs, and made a kind of jacket, which protected my back from the wind down as far as the waist. I have this jacket still, and my friends assure me it would make a good Sunday garment.

To be continued.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Physical Location of the Grey Islands

Grey Islands, group of 2 islands off NE N.F., Canada, in the Atlantic. Largest isl. is Bell Isl. or Grey Isl. South (34 sq mi/88 sq km), 50 mi/80 km N of Cape St. John; 10 mi/16 km long, 7 mi/11 km wide; 50°44'N 55°35°W. Site of lighthouse (SW) and radio station. N of Bell Isl., 7 mi/11 km, is Groais Isl. or Grey Isl. North (16 sq mi/41 sq km); 7 mi/11 km long, 4 mi/6 km wide. Both isls. are hilly, rising to over 500 ft/152 m. Village of Grey Islands Harbour at Rocky Bay, S end of Bell Isl.

New release from Canada's Poet Laureate: Rattling Books announces launch of audio edition of John Steffler's The Grey Islands

Tors Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador - April 19, 2007- Rattling Books releases unabridged audio edition of The Grey Islands, by Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate John Steffler.

Narrated by John Steffler, Frank Holden, Janis Spence, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings and Darryl Hopkins, this audio edition of Steffler's classic The Grey Islands is the first new title from Canada's Poet laureate since his appointment in December, 2006.

Launch Event
John Steffler will celebrate the launch of The Grey Islands and read from his work April 24, 2007, at the Tree Reading Series. The event will take place at the Royal Oak II, 161 Laurier East (near King Edward), Ottawa, Ontario.

Tree Readings are every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at the Royal Oak II Pub at 161 Laurier Avenue East in Sandy Hill. Open-set commences at 8:00 p.m., with featured reader to follow. Admission is free. For more information, please contact Dean Steadman at 613-749-3773 or mail to:

John Steffler

John Steffler was born in Toronto and grew up in a rural area near Thornhill, Ontario. He studied at the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph. He lived in Newfoundland from 1975 where he taught in the English Department at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook until his recent retirement.

His books of poems include Helix: New and Selected Poems (Signal Editions, 2003), That Night We Were Ravenous (M&S, 1998), The Wreckage of Play (M&S, 1988), The Grey Islands (M&S, 1985; Brick, 2000), and An Explanation of Yellow (Borealis Press, 1981). He is also the author of a novel, The Afterlife of George Cartwright (M&S, 1992; Henry Holt, 1993), and an illustrated children's book, Flights of Magic (Press Porcepic, 1987).

In addition to winning the 1992 Smithbooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, his novel, The Afterlife of George Cartwright, was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Fiction and the Commonwealth First Novel Award. That Night We Were Ravenous won the Newfoundland and Labrador Poetry Prize and the Atlantic Poetry Prize in 1999. Helix: New and Selected Poems won the Newfoundland and Labrador Poetry Prize in 2003.

In December 2006, John Steffler became Canada's third Parliamentary Poet Laureate, a two year post.

The Grey Islands

A novel in the form of poems, a physical exploration of Newfoundland's past, a search for ghosts in an abandoned settlement on an abandoned island, this is the story of a come-from-away determined to immerse himself in the physical reality of Newfoundland in an abrupt and inescapable way.

A modern classic of Canadian poetry, The Grey Islands is one man's meditation on the interplay between nature and human society in the rugged setting of coastal Newfoundland. The boats and houses of those who tried to live on the Grey Islands have disappeared, but their stories survive in the neighboring settlements - stories of treks on the sea ice, of near-starvation, of hunting ducks at night with muskets loaded with everything from nails to the parts of a gold pocket watch.

This is a book of such excellence that someone in future is liable to say about the author: "Steffler - Steffler? - oh yes, he wrote The Grey Islands, didn't he?"
- Al Purdy, Books in Canada

The Grey Islands is a piece of genius, a psychological drama in poetry and prose...
- Andrew Brooks, Canadian Literature

The Grey Islands is, I suspect, one of the finest long poems written in the last 10 years.
- Mark Abley, Montreal Gazette

Listen to a clip from The Grey Islands.

The Grey Islandsby
John Steffler
unabridged audio edition, Rattling Books 2007
Originally published in print form by McClelland and Steart (1985); Brick Books (2000)

Narrated (in order of appearance) by John Steffler, Frank Holden, Janis Spence, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings and Darryl Hopkins
Island soundscapes recorded off the coast of Newfoundland
Directed, recorded and mixed by Janet Russell

Listening Time: roughly 2 1/2 hours10-digit ISBN: 0-9737586-0-013-digit ISBN: 978-0-9737586-0-3
Audio CDs (2) $24.95
Digital Download $14.95

Rattling Books

Rattling Books is a not just SMALL, but fine Canadian audio press, publishing poetry, fiction, and historical outdoor adventure non-fiction from a perch over looking the Northwest Atlantic.

For background, news and excerpts, visit our blog. You can also visit us on MySpace

Rattling Books are distributed in Canada through House of Anansi Press by HarperCollins. Our titles are available in the US from Ingram Books and Overdrive. Additional distribution information is available on our website.

Anyone interested in obtaining a review copy or interviewing the Author please contact the Publisher :

Rattling Books
Janet Russell
Phone: (709) 334-3911

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bicycle Samba: A video by John Hendicott

Bicycle Samba

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Don McKay on How does poetry connect us with our environment?

Currently the Poet for April on the Words at Large website is Don McKay.You can read Don's response to a set of questions there which include the following:

How does poetry connect us with our environment?

On this subject I have written quite a lot in Vis a Vis. Briefly, I think the qualities of attention that are endemic to poetry—a longing which is, unlike many other versions of desire, without the urge to possess—are also attitudes which we ought to bring to the naked world. Poetic attention assumes that the other is valuable in itself, and not solely as a category of human affairs (a "resource" or an aesthetic adornment, for example). The genre sometimes known as "thing poetry" often encourages that attitude by approaching ordinary objects as mysterious, independent beings. If you can find the secret power in a chair or spoon, finding it in granite will be a snap.

read more here

Don McKay Poet of the Month: CBC Words at Large website

Don McKay is the Poet of the Month for April on the CBC website Words at Large.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Excerpt: Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, installment #4

The following excerpt is from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience, the story was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company. The unabridged audio edition narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence is available from


It was impossible to make any progress through the sish ice by swimming, so I lay there and thought all would soon be over, only wondering if any one would ever know how it happened. There was no particular horror attached to it, and in fact I began to feel drowsy, as if I could easily go to sleep, when suddenly I saw the trace of another big dog that had himself gone through before he reached the pan, and though he was close to it was quite unable to force his way out. Along this I hauled myself, using him as a bow anchor, but mch bothered by the other dogs as I passed them, one of which got on my shoulder, pushing me farther down into the ice. There was only a yard or so more when I had passed my living anchor, and soon I lay with my dogs around me on the little piece of slob ice. I had to help them on to it, working them through the lane that I had made.

The piece of ice we were on was so small it was obvious we must soon all be drowned, if we remained upon it as it drifted seaward into more open water. If we were to save our lives, no time was to be lost. When I stood up, I could see about twenty yards away a larger pan floating amidst the sish, like a great flat raft, and if we could get on to it we should postpone at least for a time the death that already seemed almost inevitable. It was impossible to reach it with0ut a life line, as I had already learned to my cost, and the next problem was how to get one there. Marvelous to relate, when I had first fallen through, after I had cut the dogs a drift without any hope let of saving myself, I had not let my knife sink, but had fastened it by two half hitches to the back of one of the dogs. To my great joy there it was still, and shortly I was at work cutting all the sealskin traces still hanging from the dogs' harnesses, and splicing them together into one long line. These I divided and fastened to the backs of my two leaders, tying the near ends round my two wrists. I then pointed out to “Brin” the pan I wanted to reach and tried my best to make them go ahead, giving them the full length of my lines from two coils. My long sealskin moccasins, reaching to my thigh, were full of ice and water. These I took off and tied separately on the dogs' backs. My coat, hat, gloves, and overalls I had already lost. At fist, nothing would induce the two dogs to move, and though I threw them off the pan two or three times, they struggled back upon it, which perhaps was only natural, because as soon as they fell through they could see nowhere else to make for. To me, however, this seemed to spell “the end.” Fortunately, I had with me a small black spaniel, almost a featherweight, with large furry paws, called “Jack,” who acts as my mascot and incidentally as my retriever. This at once flashed into my mind, and I felt I had still one more chance for life. So I spoke, to him and showed him the direction, and then threw a piece of ice toward the desired goal. Without a moment's hesitation he made a dash for it, and to my great joy got there safely, the tough scale of sea ice carrying his weight bravely. At once I shouted to him to “lie down,” and this, too, he immediately did, looking like a little black fuzz ball on the white setting.

My leaders could now see him seated there on the new piece of floe, and when once more I threw them off they understood what I wanted, and fought their way to where they saw the spaniel, carrying with them the line that gave me the one chance for my life. The other dogs followed them, and after painful struggling, all got out again except one. Taking all the run that I could get on my little pan, I made a dive, slithering with the impetus along the surface till once more I sank through. After a long fight, however, I was able to haul myself by the long traces on to this new pan, having taken carre beforehand to tie the harnesses to which I was holding under the dogs' bellies, so that they could not slip them off. But alas! The pan I was now on was not large enough to bear us and was already beginning to sink, so this process had to be repeated immediately.

I now realized that, though we had been working toward the shore, we had been losing ground all the time, for the off-shore wind had already driven us a hundred yards farther out. But the widening gap kept full of the pounded ice, through which no man could possibly go.

To be continued.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Don't forget, Poetry, the next latte

Poem: Known Unto God by Robin McGrath

A new poem from Robin McGrath, now living in Goose Bay, Labrador home of the FiveWing Airbase.

Known Unto God

At the rededication of the Vimy Ridge monument,
The visitors, interpreters, politicians,
Roam among the graves. The ages of the dead
Stand out for them—twenty-five, twenty-seven,
Nineteen! Many have no ages, no names,
Are known only to have lived and died.
“Women should run the country,” one visitor says.
Usually there are no tour buses, just
Fog and grass and a few silent pilgrims.

Fewer still make their way through the woods,
To the graveyard at FiveWing Airbase.
Here, the ages are younger still—three, five, seven.
Polio epidemics, gastroenteritis, perhaps
A congenital defect at birth, stole them
From their parents in this far flung outpost.
More small graves have no names, no dates, just
Plain white wooden crosses, uniform brass plaques
Etched with those three sad, simple words.
The graves of these babies far outnumber
Those of the soldiers and airmen buried here;
Thrown away, abandoned, forgotten, some whisper,
While others answer my questions with silence.

Each season, some woman, still a child herself
When she gave birth, visits the last row, ties
Tiny gifts of flowers, toys, dollar store mementos,
To each cross in the row, unsure which is her child,
Covering her bets and mourning all the babies.
Who waged this war against infants? Who decreed
That this military cemetery would take
To its sandy breast so many children?
If women ran the country, the monument would be
As big as that at Vimy Ridge, the nation would mourn.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

unarticulated poem #6

Excerpt: Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, installment #3

The following excerpt is from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience, the story was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company. The unabridged audio edition narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence is available from


There was not a moment to lose. I tore off my oilskins, threw myself on my hands and knees by the side of the komatik to give a larger base to hold, and shouted to my team to go ahead for the shore. Before we had gone twenty yards, the dogs got frightened, hesitated for a moment, and the komatik instantly sank into the slob. It was necessary then for the dogs to pull much harder, so that they now began to sink in also.

Earlier in the season the father of the very boy I was going to operate on had been drowned in this same way, this dogs tangling their traces around him in the slob. This flashed into my mind, and I managed to loosen my sheath-knife, scramble forward, find the traces in the water and cut them, holding on to the leader’s trace wound round my wrist.

Being in the water I could see no piece of ice that would bear anything up. But there was as it happened a piece of snow, frozen together like a large snowball, about twenty-five yards away, near where my leading dog, “Brin,” was wallowing in the slob. Upon this he very shortly climbed, his long trace of ten fathoms almost reaching there before he went into the water.

This dog has weird black markings on his face, giving him the appearance of wearing a perpetual grin. After climbing out on the snow as if it were the most natural position in the world he deliberately shook the ice and water from his long coat, and then turned round to look for me. As he sat perched up there out of the water he seemed to be grinning with satisfaction. The other dogs were hopelessly bogged. Indeed, we were like flies in treacle.

Gradually, I hauled myself along the line that was still tied to my wrist, till without any warning the dog turned round and slipped out of his harness, and then once more turned his grinning face to where I was struggling.

To be continued.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Poem: She loved him with a fierce appetite from Coasting Trade by Robin McGrath

She loved him with a fierce appetite

She loved him with a fierce appetite
Patting and prodding his flesh
Like a reliable, well-trained chef
And once, while they embraced,
She pinched the tender meat behind his hip,
Said “If we were stranded on a desert island,
And I had to eat you,
This is where I would begin.”

Over the years she tasted every part of him,
Sleepily chewed the lobes of his ears
In bed in his arms on cold winter mornings,
Licked the jam from his fingers at breakfast,
Then nibbled the tips to still her hunger,
And often she told him he was so sweet
That she could eat him alive.

When he died she
Feasted for the last time,
Spit up bones and hair like an owl pellet
And slept with it under her pillow for luck.

Listen to Anita Best reading She Loved Him With a Fierce Appetite.

The above poem is from the audio collection Coasting Trade: a Performance for three voices with soundscapes, from Rattling Books.

Coasting Trade is the product of a collaboration between author Robin McGrath, radio producer Chris Brookes and actors Robert Joy, Rick Boland and Anita Best. It follows the voyage of a Yankee trading schooner, circumnavigating the island of Newfoundland sometime after 1865. As the vessel puts in at various ports, lyrical narratives weave back and forth through a century of change while the 19th century sailing notes adapted from Sailing Directions for the Island of Newfoundland by J.S. Hobbes (1865) remain timeless.

Friday, April 13, 2007

unarticulated poem #5

Excerpt: Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, installment #2

The following is an excerpt from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience, it was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company. The unabridged audiobook edition narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence is available from Rattling Books.
It was late in April, when there is always the risk of getting wet through the ice, so that I was carefully prepared with spare outfit, which included a change of garments, snowshoes, rifle, compass, axe, and oilskin overclothes. The messengers were anxious that their team should travel back with mine, for they were slow at best and needed a lead. My dogs, however, being a powerful team, could not be held back, and though I managed to wait twice for their sleigh, I had reached a village about twenty miles on the journey before nightfall, and had fed the dogs, and was gathering a few people for prayers when they caught me up.

During the night the wind shifted to the northeast, which brought in fog and rain, softened the snow, and made traveling very bad, besides heaving a heavy sea into the bay. Our drive next morning would be somewhat over forty miles, the first ten miles on an arm of the sea, on salt-water ice.

In order not to be separated too long from my friends, I sent them ahead two hours before me, appointing a rendezvous in a log tilt that we have built in the woods as a halfway house. There is no one living on all that long coast-line, and to provide against accidents – which have happened more than once – we built this hut to keep dry clothing, food, and drugs in.

The first rain of the year was falling when I started, and I was obliged to keep on what we call the “ballicaters,” or ice barricades, much farther up the bay than I had expected. The sea of the night before had smashed the ponderous covering of ice right to the landwash. There were great gaping chasms between the enormous blocks, which we call pans, and half a mile out it was all clear water.

An island three miles out had preserved a bridge of ice, however, and by crossing a few cracks I managed to reach it. From the island it was four miles across to a rocky promontory, - a course that would be several miles shorter than going round the shore. Here as far as the eye could reach the ice seemed good, though it was very rough. Obviously, it had been smashed up by the sea and then packed in again by the strong wind from the northeast, and I thought it had frozen together solid.

All went well till I was about a quarter of a mile from the landing-point. Then the wind suddenly fell, and I noticed that I was traveling over loose “sish,” which was like porridge and probably many feet deep. By stabbing down, I could drive my whip-handle through the thin coating of young ice that was floating on it. The sish ice consists of the tiny fragments where the large pans have been pounding together on the heaving sea, like the stones of Freya’s grinding mill.

So quickly did the wind now come off shore, and so quickly did the packed “slob,” relieved of the wind pressure, “run abroad,” that already I could not see one pan larger than ten feet square; moveover, the ice was loosening so rapidly that I saw that retreat was absolutely impossible. Neither was there any way to get off the little pan I was surveying from.

To be continued.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

unarticulated poem #4

Poem: Making the Fish by Michael Crummey

Making the Fish

Once you'd got the catch pitched up on the stage head, you got down to making the fish. Assembly line. Cutting table, blades of the knives pared almost to nothing by the sharpening stone. Woolen gloves soaked in fish guts, the water running red out of them when you make a fist. The cod passing through your hands llike knots in an unbroken string as long as the sea is wide.

Cut Throat
Get your fingers into the gills of a cod and lift it to the table, 15, 20 pounds some of them and the ache in your arm after three hours like the chill in a church hall on a February morning. Two motions with the knife, across the throat below the gills anad along the bare length of the belly, like a Catholic crossing himself before a meal. Push the fish along the table, the left hand of the man beside you reaching for it, he doesn't even turn his head in your direction.
Get your fingers in the gills of a cod and lift it to the table.

The open body, the knife in your right hand. The head taken off clean, as if you were castrating a young bull. The liver scalloped from the chest and pushed into the oil barrel, left there to ferment like fruit going bad. The tangle of guts lifted clear, the cod flesh pulled from beneath, a body freed from a messy accident. Organs and offal dropped through a hole in the cutting table to the salt water beneath the stage.
The gulls screaming outside, fighting over blood.

A good splitter could clear his way through 5 or 6 quintals an hour if the fish were a decent size, a full boat load done in three and out to the traps for more. Two cuts down each side of the sound bone, curved keel of the spine pulled clear and the cod splayed like a man about to be crucified. Dropped off the cutting table into the water of the puncheon tub, the next fish in your hands. Two cuts down each side, sound bone pulled clear, splayed cod dropped into the puncheon tub. Two cuts, sound bone pulled clear, cod into the tub. Two cuts, pull, into the tub.
By nine o'clock it is too dark to see properly, eyes as tender as skin soaked too long in salt water. The wicks are lit in bowls of kerosene: oily flame, spiralling spine of black smoke.

Empty wooden wheelbarrow set beside the puncheon tub, the flat, triangular sheets of fish meat hefted from the elbow-deep water.
Dead weight of the loaded barrow a strain on the shoulders, the bones shifting down in their sockets, the tendons stretching to hold them as the feet shuffle into the store house. A hogshead of salt beside the bins, a handful strown across the white insides of each fish before they're stacked. Weight of the pile squeezing water from the flesh.
Turn with the emptied barrow. Squeak of the wheel, squish of feet soaked inside the rubber boots. Arm fishing into the puncheon tub, elbow numb with the cold.

The Bawn
Wait for a fine day in August. Sweep a stretch of beach clear, put stones down over any patch of grass that might spoil the fish.
The salt cod taken from the bins and washed by hand in puncheon tubs, front and back, like a child about to be presented to royalty, the white scum scrubbed off the dark layer of skin. Carried to the bawn on fish bars and laid out neatly in sunlight, 150 quintals at a time, the length of the shoreline like a well-shingled roof.
Two fine days would finish the job, a week and a half to cure the season's catch. The merchant's ship arriving in September, anchoring off in the Tickle; the cured cod loaded into the boat and ferried out.

What it Made
You could expect $2 a quintal for your trouble, a good season for a crew was 400 quintals. anything more was an act of God. The Skipper took half a voyage, out of which he paid the girl her summer's wage, and squared up with the merchant for supplies taken on credit in the spring. The rest was split three ways. $130 for four months of work, it could cut the heart out of a man to think too much about what he was working for.

Listen to Ron Hynes reading Making the Fish.

This poem appears in the collection Hard Light by Michael Crummey, printed by Brick Books. A selection from the book, 32 Little Stories, of which this poem is a part, was recorded by Rattling Books. Hard Light: 32 Little Stories by Michael Crummey, narrated by the author, Ron Hynes and Deidre Gillard-Rowlings is available from Rattling Books.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Excerpt: Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell

The following is an excerpt from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience it was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company. The unabridged audio edition narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence is available from

It was Easter Sunday at St. Anthony in the year 1908, but with us in northern Newfoundland still winter. Everything was covered with snow and ice. I was walking back after morning service, when a boy came running over from the hospital with the news that a large team of dogs had come from sixty miles to the southward, to get a doctor on a very urgent case. It was that of a young man on whom we had operated about a fortnight before for an acute bone disease in the thigh. The people had allowed the wound to close, the poisoned matter had accumulated, and we thought we should have to remove the leg. There was obviously, therefore, no time to be lost. So, having packed up the necessary instruments, dressings, and drugs, and having fitted out the dog-sleigh with my best dogs, I started at once, the messengers following me with their team.

My team was an especially good one. On many a long journey they had stood by me and pulled me out of difficulties by their sagacity and endurance. To a lover of his dogs, as every Christian man must be, each one had become almost as precious as a child to its mother. They were beautiful beasts: "Brin," the cleverest leader on the coast; "Doc," a large, gentle beast, the backbone of the team for power; "Spy," a wiry, powerful black and white dog; "Moody," a lop-eared black-and-tan, in this htird season, a plodder that never looked behind him; "Watch," the youngster of the team, long-legged and speedy, with great liquid eyes and a Gordon-setter coat; "Sue," a large, dark Eskimo, the image of a great black wolf, with her sharp pointed and perpendicular ears, for she "harked back" to her wild ancestry; "Jerry," a large roan-colored slut, the quickest of all my dogs on her feet, and so affectionate that her overtures of joy had often sent me sprawling on my back; "Jack," a jet-black, gentle-natured dog, more like a retriever, that always ran next the sledge, and never looked back but everlastingly pulled straight ahead, running always with his nose to the ground.

To be continued.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Poem: Close-up on a Sharp-Shinned Hawk by Don McKay


Concentrate upon her attributes:
the accipiter's short
roundish wings, streaked breast, talons fine
and slender as the x-ray of a baby's hand.
The eyes (yellow in this hatchling
later deepening to orange then
blood red) can spot
a sparrow at four hundred metres and impose
silence like an overwhelming noise
to which you must not listen.

Suddenly, if you're not careful, everything
goes celluloid and slow
and threatens to burn through and you
must focus quickly on the simple metal band around her leg
by which she's married to our need to know.

This poem is among those selected by Don McKay for his upcoming audio release with Rattling Books: Songs for the Songs of Birds.

Don McKay shortlisted for Griffin Poetry Prize once again

The following excerpt is from an online CBC article.
Read the whole article here.

Canadian Don McKay shortlisted for Griffin Poetry Prize
Tuesday, April 3, 2007 1:29 PM ET
CBC Arts

Canadian poetry veteran Don McKay and Frederick Seidel, one of the founding editors of iconic literary magazine The Paris Review, are among the seven shortlisted poets vying for the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Canadian poet Don McKay received his third nomination for the Griffin Poetry Prize on Tuesday. McKay, a two-time Governor General's Literary Award winner, logged his third Griffin nomination at the shortlist announcement in Toronto Tuesday for one of the world's most lucrative poetry honours.

"Don McKay is up for the third time because he is a really, truly great poet. I would be surprised if he wasn't [nominated] regularly," prize founder Scott Griffin told CBC Arts Online moments after he and trustee David Young unveiled the 2007 finalists.

"The fact that some of the names are coming up and recurring for the second or third time, that gets people familiar with these poets and, hopefully at some point, they say, 'Well maybe I should try and read some of these guys and see what it's all about.'"

Read the rest of this article here.

Don McKay has a title forthcoming from Rattling Books this spring. Songs for the Songs of Birds is a selection of poems on the theme of birds, birding and flight selected and read by Don McKay.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

unarticulated poem #2

Poem: Yet by Mary Dalton, from Merrybegot


Moll doll his chin;
Her hair birch-
Chalk and cheese, they said;
Cradle and grave,
They said;
You could smell
The smouldering, sparry,
Whenever they met.

This poem appears in the collection of poems by Mary Dalton entitled Merrybegot. The unabridged audio edition of Merrybegot published by Rattling Books in 2005 is performed by Anita Best with Patrick Boyle on trumpet and flugelhorn.

For more information or to purchase the audio edition of Merrybegot visit

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Rattling Books owner quoted by Globe and Mail and New York Times

Tired of beating off Globe and Mail and New York Times paparazzi disguised as gulls eating garbage, Janet Russell, owner of the dazzlingly successful, befouled by money Rattling Books, emerged from the seaside villa company headquarters in Newfoundland today and granted a brief interview on the meaning of April.

“Poetry is not just the next latte." Russell said "It’s all about Fraud Prevention.”

unarticulated poem #1

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Starting Poetry Month with a Poem: Percy Janes Boarding the Bus by Agnes Walsh

Percy Janes Boarding the Bus
a poem by Agnes Walsh

I was going to the Mall for a kettle
waiting on the number five,
when the number something-or-other
pulled up.

I was looking past it for mine,
when I saw him, an arm raised,
running softly.

I jumped to life, beat on the bus door,
siad to the driver: "Mr. Janes.
Mr. Percy Janes wants to get on."

He raised a "So what?" eyebrow.

Mr. Janes straightened his astrakhan hat,
mumbled thank you and stepped up.
As the bus rumbled on
I continued under my breath:
"Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Percy Janes,
Newfoundland writer, poet,
just boarded the number something-or-other."

If this was Portugal,
a plaque would be placed
over the seat where he sat.

As it is, you have me
mumbling in the street
like a tourist in my own country.

This poem appears in the collection entitled In the Old Country of My Heart by Agnes Walsh.