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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Poetry of Pat Connors' "Scarborough Songs" - Terry Barker

Lyrical Myrical Press, Toronto, Canada

McGee-Leninism Reborn? The poetry of Pat Connors' Scarborough Songs*

                                                   by Terry Barker

The field of People's Poetry in Canada in the last eighty years or so has been affected by reactions to what might be called the ideology of Mackenzie/Papineau-Leninism, the distinctively Canadian Communist cultural vision (on the analogy of the "market-Leninism" of China, or the "Marti-Leninism" of Cuba). Events in North America and around the world in the new millennium, however, have called into question the viability of the Canada which came into being on the basis (partly, at least) of the liberal populist elements of the British North America colonies of the 1840s, and thus, of the Marxian version of their thinking. A revision of this intellectual enterprise thus seems to be in order.

As I have argued elsewhere, a rejected radical tradition at the time of Confederation was that represented by Thomas D'Arcy McGee, the Irish-born Roman Catholic reformer and cultural critic. While verse by McGee became a well-known building block of Canada's emerging historical identity, his distinctive political perspective found no direct successors, its influence being confined to such Christian Communists as the Roman Catholic poet Joe Wallace (d. 1975), and the High Anglican People's Poet, Milton Acorn (1923 - 1986), a student of Wallace's work. That point of view combined social reform with cultural preservation and recovery within the framework of a genuinely Catholic Christianity. 

Recently, an echo of this what might be called "McGee-Leninism" has emerged in the circles of the "Catholic Left" and others in Canada influenced by Latin American "liberation theology". Notable in the poetic field in this regard is the Torontonian Patrick Connors, whose first collection of verse, Scarborough Songs, appeared from Lyricalmyrical in June, 2013. 

Although a traditionally slim volume, this eighteen-poem chapbook contains many nuggets of spiritual reflection combining personal and social dimensions of the author's experience in a highly compact Romantic manner. For example, Connors writes in "Renaissance":

                                Allowing the bounty of limitless grace
                              Growing in love we grow within each other
                                Bonding together, made ever stronger
                          Instruments of the divine by way of the sublime

The personal and the social are interwoven here in a way reminiscent of the "Romantic theology" of Britain and Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and indeed, the only direct literary debt mentioned in the collection is to Coleridge's "Something Childish, but Very Natural", a stanza from which is the epigraph for Connors' "Something Mature and Very Unnatural: Written on the border of Scarborough". In this poem, Connors (in a way similar to that of Coleridge's inspirer, the mystic philosopher and critic of Hegel, F.W.J. von Schelling), extends the vision of the Romantic tradition from the intramundane to the transmundane truths, noting in its last stanza:

                         Sleep stays not though a monarch bids:
                                  Me to wait and let Him redeem
                                           What's won before;
                        Vision revealed - opened the eyelids
                                               See all that I sought and more

Growing up the son of working-class immigrants from Newfoundland in and around the somewhat bleak eastern Toronto suburb of Scarborough, the poet seems to have become acquainted with the muse who inspired Wallace and Acorn, both of whom had roots and associations with Eastern Canada as well as Toronto. Active with both his church and the Communist movement as they were, Connors has been prominent in the work of the International Festival of the Poetry of Resistance (IFPOR) group in Toronto for several years. This organization, set up in 2009 by Lisa Makarchuk and Maria Elena Mesa, later assisted by Carlos Angulo, the late Charles Roach and others, was established to promote poetry "on social justice themes" with what used to be called a "New Left" perspective. Currently, Connors' writing seems to be reflecting the tensions that are present in New Left ideology (and organizations based upon it) between the strong subjectivism of its Existentialist content, and the strong objectivism of its Materialist form. This philosophical problem is brilliantly described by Connors in his poem "Window", published in Northern Voices Journal:

                                              I imagine
                                              Laying down on
                                              The middle
                                              Of the ocean

                                              Looking down
                                              Through the clean clear ice
                                              At the bottom
                                              Of the world

                                              Wondering what
                                               Mysteries lie
                                               On the bitter
                                                Rocky floor

The bibliography is available on request from Terry Barker:

Terry Barker is a retired college teacher and independent scholar living in Toronto. He is the author of After Acorn (1999), Beyond Bethune (2006) and Continuing Chesterton (forthcoming, 2014).

*Scarborough Songs was published in Toronto in 2013 by Lyricalmyrical Press

Republication of this piece is encouraged, with first publication credited to this blog, Riffs and Ripples from ZenRiver Gardens.  

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

a bushrat's intimations of mortality at Callahan's Rapids


in memory of Joe and Bob Hill

guy at the liquor store
old dude like me
12 pack on the conveyor belt
asks if the snow on my empties
is from ice fishing on Crowe Lake

'nope, just snow drifted into my porch
haven't been on the ice drinking beer
hoping for a pickerel bite in decades'

'Say, you must know some friends of mine?'
I answer with the Hill brothers,
Joe & Bob
old bushrat brothers who taught me
to fish & hunt when I moved here
quarter century ago
both been dead for a decade or more

'Don't know them,' he replied
what about Fred Smith?
yeah, he was a neighbour for a while
beautiful wife
'yeah, she left him for down south'

I say, 'I'd rather have liquor than a wife!'
half joking - maybe not
yeah, Joe & Bob Hill
they had a bunch of other brothers
but it was those two bushrats
who showed this big city kid
the ropes of rural life

Cordova outlaws - yeah
some tall true tales from those two
fought like all brothers
told some nasty stories on each other
maybe true
medals from World War Two
but which one!
or both

hydro crewmen
dynamite, booze
cooking in camps
on the hydro line cuts
which civilized this area
if Al Purdy had held a steady job
he'd a been one of them

Bob & Joe
tried to teach me to fish pickerel
Scott's Dam - bottle of rye
in my back pocket
sipped it to impress them
& dull the black fly bites

flies leave me alone now
they don't like bushrat blood
anyway - 
but flies sure loved my
virgin rye-laced freshness

after the LCBO drop-off
Chase & I wander Callahan's Rapids
the haunted trail - den-laced cedars
tracks everywhere - underground creeks
as well - careful every step
Chase & I take or we could be stranded
broken legs

and I think back on Bob & Joe Hill
can't remember if I promised not to write about them
crazy blood brothers who lived in this
halfway land of muskie rivers, creeks, swamps
Bob bragged he'd fucked on every island
in Cordova Lake
a challenge I've never followed
(well once or twice)

Bob & Joe
dead too young from alcohol
& doctors who don't respect bush people

Bob & Joe's stories reverberate:
the big bank robbery in Havelock
robbers had a boat stashed across Belmont Lake
when the dirt track ended the cops' chase lakeside
they paddled across smooth as silk
money & robbers never found -
some still looking for both

never thought before
but was it them?
my old bushrat buddies
Joe drove a new Lincoln
but his money I bet
came from his slicko gambling
slyer than the Campbellford
doctors & lawyers from campsite poker
he'd suck them in with mispronounced words
lose a few hands to the city suckers
then bang down big when the pot grew large

or ...........
all this aft's walk I thought of Bob & Joe
long, long gone to that big swamp in the sky
bushrat brothers, Bob measured his winters
by muskies lying on the snow of Blairton Bay

guess I'm the next generation now
not half as tough, but still upright
growing craggy & beer bellied
still walking the trails they showed me
the secret fishing holes
the icy islands where they lived & loved

Chris Faiers

January 20, 2014

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On 2014-02-12, at 11:06 PM, Ursula Pflug wrote:

love the poem, you should send it to the link maybe -UP

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On 2014-02-12, at 8:18 PM, Kathy Figueroa wrote:

Hi Chris!

Thank you, once again, for the kind words!  I'm glad that you like the photographs!  I think that the hardest part of putting this book together was choosing which picture(s) would best accompany each poem. 

The colour photos are going over so well that I've been considering producing a photo illustrated collection of some of the poems in my first book, "Paudash Poems."  Maybe I'll create a small chapbook featuring colour floral photography and garden poems.  ;o)

Thanks for letting me have a look at your new poem, "a bushrat's intimations of mortality at Callahan's Rapids."  It's very evocative and certainly reminds me of some people that I've met, over the years.

I hope that all is well with you!

Best wishes,


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Ancestral Roofs has left a new comment on your post "a bushrat's intimations of mortality at Callahan's...":

Chris I like this a lot. My uncle Harry was a bushrat- you captured his voice and his view of the world. Hard life hard men. They'd cringe to be made poetry. But you did it.

Posted by Ancestral Roofs to Riffs & Ripples from ZenRiver Gardens at 14 February 2014 13:57

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On 2014-02-14, at 5:05 PM, Lindi Pierce wrote:

Love that poem - it really sticks to the ribs - the imagery. I can feel the cold and the hard life. Did you ever visit the Logging Museum at Algonquin Park? Somehow they recreated not just the images, but make the visitor feel the physicality (hunger, cold, injury, danger, even the smells of the shanty) of the life. You did that here.

Things are just beginning to form up for the A-frame season. The Purdy Picnic date has been set as Saturday July 26 - or did I tell you that already? Jean is lining up some poets, with Writer in Res Katherine Leyton, for the day. Michele and I will round up local writers - and we hope you can come down.

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(my reply to Lindi)

Hi Lindi,
Many thanks for your compliments on my 'bushrats' poem!  I suspect it will become one of my 'party pieces' - a poem which I inflict on listeners at as many poetry events as possible ; ) I'm very pleased with the responses it's received from several initial readers such as yourself.

I'm mulling over which A-frame volunteer activities to sign up for as listed in your earlier email - I don't remember there being the remains of Al's personal library in the A-frame - is it still there? If not, as both a retired village librarian & a poetic acolyte of Big Al & Milt, I'd like to start a CanLit library collection for the use of the A-frame writers-in-res, volunteers & visitors.

thanks again for the encouragement - we all need it to survive ;  )
peace & poetry power!
Chris ... & Chase Wrfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff!

p.s. I've visited the Algonquin Park visitor centre at least twice - the first time with my mother almost 2 decades ago, not long after it was built. Yes, it is evocative, & the second visit was with my friend, Sylvia, after a PurdyFest. Years ago we decided to hike the Centennial Ridges Trail in Algonquin on Halloween ... we misjudged our hiking speed, & it soon got dark, then it started to snow - we were hopelessly lost until my dog, LaToya, found the trail & guided us out to safety. Halloween howling wolves & wandering bushrat ghosts narrowly avoided.

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Saturday, 1 February 2014

Old Orchard - James Deahl

Old Orchard

         Purdy Country Literary Festival

The water mill’s been gone

three generations, perhaps longer,

but the Moira contains its music.

Frogs have taken over the old pond;

Joe-Pye-weed lines the river’s banks.

The reading over, the poets disperse —

some to the forest, others walk upstream

in search of the beaver dam.

A few apples ripen on the boughs

of an abandoned orchard

despite the late spring, the cool summer.

Mahler could have understood

such isolation while nurturing

his bittersweet 9th Symphony,

a work he would never live to hear,

his health failing, his wife unfaithful.

Mahler finally died never knowing

the great acclaim that was to come.

No one will pick these apples.

They will remain long into November.

If the Moira holds the mill’s song,

truly the silent branches of these

enduring trees embody all the grace

of the extended adagio that closes his 9th.

       James Deahl

         Set in ZenRiver Gardens (Moira River)