When Earth Leaps Up – Anne Szumigalski


“And here I am trying to plant that tree once more, trying to build that house again, the one with the angels sitting on the sill of the East window.  The sun rises behind their bowed heads.  They lean down and write with the fire of their fingers.  They may be themselves, they may be myself.  I can only copy their words.”

In my adventures with poetry this Bookstravaganza, a genre I never usually gravitate towards, this collection of poetry was by far my favourite.

At times beautiful prose, at other times simpler poetry, this is the kind of poetry that uses just enough words to convey gorgeous meaning.  It’s not sparse, the way that modernist poetry can be, and it’s not dense the way poetry was historically.  It’s just right.

Anne Szumigalski was a British-Canadian poet who died in Saskatchewan in 1999.  In this work of poems, some published posthumously, Szumigalski meditates on peace, age, and even cats.  I found myself dog-earing every second poem, since so many of them had such gorgeous verses – I could have made this entire review a collage of every gorgeous sentence.

I will conclude this review with the final poem (it’s more prose than structured poem) in the book, which definitely struck a chord with me.

To Be A Pilgrim

A woman travelling in a far city is walking up the steps of a church.  She has a brochure in her hand which explains the life of the saint who is buried in this very place, who was martyred here right at the top of this hill, the apex, the brochure explains, of holiness.

The woman thins of the past, how this whole landscape was once nothing more than the bed of a great sea, how primitive sharks and coelacanths darted heavily about without a thought, except of course for their prey.  Standing there amongst them she imagines a primrose butterfly fish swimming daintily between her legs.

Give the earth a few more years, she explains to herself, and once again the sea will rush in and crabs will scutter along these ledges happy to find a place to teach their young how to walk on slippery surfaces.  But then she may have to discard this picture if she remembers that crabs are not maternal enough to teach their young anything, let alone how to dance the dance of future ages.  She tries her best to recall everything she has ever read about these creatures, but nothing comes to mind.  Nothing that is but that shuffling side to side, in and out.

Now she looks down at her feet, which are becoming tired from so much climbing, and yes they have acquired a definite sideways movement, crablike possibly.  Never mind that; she struggles determinedly on.  Up up she goes, but, however many steps she climbs, the house where the saint dwells gets no nearer.  It still is small in the distance, grey and a little vague.  True there is a choir singing, but the sound of those voices gets no louder, no louder than a musical whisper, a faint fluting.  Yet she knows that up there far above, her children are carefully enunciating words in a language she once used every day and even now, after all these years, still has not quite forgotten.

Books read: 17


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