by Barry McKinnon
into the blind world –published in Ottawa by above/ground press
the new life – the essential tremor /refusal
I see in a double
space – conjunction & irony, that part blind I’m made
to see. it is not Dante’s forest exactly. More
so a sense
/a kind of open door
is beginning /closing – dark turning
- light I didn’t expect.
old flesh renews, that the dim
eye makes almost nothing matter. looks to
what I find ahead.
I believe -
me speaking, or all would cease to be. so I spoke & the forest flew by
& city lights distorted – the cold stars of love and dark – the beginning, a journey, a descent
the ghost of myself still
to address the infected world, to stall & cease advance, to the forest one fears
sad desire/ without a mask –
to journey solely at night dark to the armies
circling themselves – the forest of knives
invisible to those who never make it
desire: one heart to pull
the other retract - that the gap maintains its depth & distance
to hell – the hidden road & the river one dares
This poem/fragment is based on a selection of lines sent to me by Arianwen Goronwy Roberts, a young student, poet, and artist who I jokingly referred to as Virgil one night when she soberly drove me home after a drunken literary event in the fall of 2009. I got Arianwen curious to read Dante’s Divine Comedy & at some other drunken literary event asked her to send me the Dante lines or sections that she liked or stood out for whatever reason. This she did from an on-line translation (http://www.readprint.cm/work -7/inferno-dante-alighieri: The Divine Comedy: Hell - no translator given). Within those stanzas, verses, and narrative fragments I could see certain words/phrasings and images that prompted my own “translation” and improvised responses.
I’ve made no dramatic attempt to describe sinners being dipped upside down in hot tar – or include any of the other dark & menacing monsters contained in Dante’s hell - or developed the relationship between Dante and Virgil, his poet/guide through hell. Instead, I took only words, phrases or images from Arianwen’s choices that I could then reconfigure without, I decided, any presumption to condense the narrative in Book One, or make any literal reference to snakes, lizards, and lions etc. (though somehow a lone fox trotted in).
The “ending” does not wholly contain the sanguine possibility Dante recognized in Canto xxxiv – a “return to the bright world”- “to look once more upon the stars”. More so, I believe it when the poet Robert Creeley writes - “the darkness surrounds us” - yet within it we must live and experience whatever range we are given or decide.
When the writing stalled, I also took lines/ideas from Arianwen’s poem – the forest of knives image, Mateusz Patryka’s poem for his line the ghost of myself, Cecil Giscombe’s email - these days the sisters incoherent, unrequited, incomplete and Robert Creeley’s line happy in hell – sources that kept me going for awhile longer on the hidden road.
Otherwise, all else is missing.
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Barry McKinnon was born in 1944 in Calgary Alberta, where he grew up. In 1965, after two years at Mount Royal College, he went to Sir George Williams University in Montreal and took poetry courses with Irving Layton. He graduated in 1967 with a B.A. degree. In 1969, he graduated with an M.A. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and was hired that same year to teach English at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George where he has lived and worked ever since.
Barry McKinnon’s The the was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1080. Pulp Log was the winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Award for the B.C. Book Prizes in 1991 and Arrhythmia was the winner of the bpNichol Chapbook Award for the best chapbook published in Canada in English in 1994. His chapbook Surety Disappears was the runner-up for the bpNichol Award in 2008.
His most recent trade collections include In the Millennium (Vancouver: New Star, 2009) and The Centre: Poems 1970-2000 (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2004).
Barry McKinnon reads in Ottawa on Sunday, March 4, 2012 with Paige Ackerson-Kiely as part of Ottawa’s second annual VERSeFest poetry festival.
To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 402 McLeod St #3, Ottawa ON K2P 1A6 or paypal at www.robmclennan.blogspot.com