Monday, May 14, 2012

Patrick Friesen's A Dark Boat

I've been loving this little book of poems by Patrick Friesen, called A Dark Boat.

Full of striking imagery and haunting lyricism, the book explores common every day themes (travel, working, nature) but with a dark twinge to them. This one, for example,


two tulips bent
like gravity a death
a third defiantly

the room wants
to leave through
the open window

a widow walks
the hallway
looking for a way
back in

she catches her breath
there is no one to
touch her ever but
the yellow tulip
where she sat
at the sill rain falling
on her hands

It's so simple on the surface: tulips growing juxtaposed against the notion of widowhood, but then the poem delves into a complexity with unusual phrasings like "the room wants to leave through the open window." There are passing references to Lorca (and a poem addressed to him) insofar as Lorca believed that "the timelessness of a poem depends on the quality and coherence of its images" (citation). Though on another side, there is a universality to these images and a debt to Lorca since the book seems to take the form of a kind of travelogue through Spain, made up of all the infinite number of moments or passing experiences that happen when we travel. And how can a poet travel through Spain and avoid nodding to Lorca?


the alley is as long as anyone's life
it bends like anyone's life
you sit on a cold stoop in the dark
waiting for the song you've waited for
gypsies walk by in black
guitars slung over their shoulders
laughing out of the east like a memory
the moon tilting into the courtyard
drunk with age and ancient youth
and tonight the rain is thirsty
tonight you are finally visible

tonight the rain is waiting to fall
filled with its longing for earth
a mongrel sidles near and stops
raising its snout to howl
then slowly lowers itself
looking up at you or the moon
you extend your hand
and it eases its weight fully
into the buckled cobblestones
and you don't know your age

you hear the heat
somewhere over the wall
somewhere in that courtyard
the staccato of black shoes
hand claps and a familiar guitar
and yes the rain is thirsty
and the stone gutter waits
for the running water of music
and tonight you will return
to your room on horno de oro
awake to the splattering rain
on the street outside the window
to the rain that falls
on a tile roof on a cedar tree
the rain that falls through you
in your sleep

tomorrow you'll
listen to the darro rippling by
in the shade you'll watch
christ swilling sangria
with a spanish thirst

The shifting back and forth between images of thirst and water, of dryness and wet splatter, then, again, the occasional odd juxtaposition or phrasing: the dog backing up when the protagonist extends his hand and that perplexing line, "you don't know your age" (some kind of reference to not acting one's age?) and then the ending imagery of Christ drinking sangria (which, of course, has the same root as the word blood). The complex images and the simple language give these poems such a charming accessibility and I find myself repeating certain phrases over and over (it also makes me long for Spain).

Occasional photographs (taken by the author?) allow the poems open up somewhat when sitting alongside an image of a quiet street in Granada or boys swimming in a river. I really love this book.

Formerly of Winnipeg Friesen now lives on Vancouver Island. He's written many volumes of poetry and is also a translator and playwright.

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