Prairie Harbour Front Cover

Paperback / softback
ISBN: 9780889229402
Pages: 176
Pub. Date: September 21 2015
Dimensions: 9.75" x 6" x 0.5"
Rights: Available: WORLD
Poetry / POE011000

  • POETRY / Canadian

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Prairie Harbour

By Garry Thomas Morse

In this contrapuntal follow-up to Governor General’s Award finalist Discovery Passages, Garry Thomas Morse traces multiple lines of his mixed ancestry. These include the nomadic “pre-historical” movements of Wakashan speakers who were later to form various West Coast First Nations; the schismatic mindset of Jedidiah Morse, the “father of American geography”; and eternal struggles of European Jewish relations, artists, and close friends against perennial anti-Semitism. Set around the vigilantly maintained border/lines that mark the relatively “unsung” decline of natural prairie life, this unromantic “wrecklogue” radiates outward from a new real-estate development in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The first section, “Company Romance,” is a sequence of sardonic “heritage minute” poems that examine the intensely aggressive capitalist aspects of colonization that drove the fur trade in Manitoba and deeply influenced our contemporary sense of cultural and national identity. They also draw parallels between the shift in nomadic hunter/warrior culture to our own transformation as global consumers.

The second part, “Prairie Harbour,” a long poem in twenty-four parts, takes the form of postexilic elegies that transcend the dominant tradition of Canadian prairie poetry, infusing it with epical echoes of poets John Clare, Charles Olson, Louis Zukofsky, and William Carlos Williams. The work reaches its stride in a hearing of the Regina Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Gustave Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which includes a French horn of warning for the “have-not” province.

The finale offers aesthetic fragmentation of Stephane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés and “The Untroubled Mind,” a poem by Saskatchewan-born abstract expressionist Agnes Martin, salvaging space for an inner landscape and a “harbour” for the mind.

Short-listed 2016 Governor General's Literary Awards for Poetry

“Of course, one of the best-known difficulties of the long poem is how to end it, and I think that Morse’s provision of a safe and quiet harbor for the mind is especially apt. With his intense examination of what the prairie harbors – including much ugliness and substantial racism – some shelter is needed, especially if the mind is expected to go on producing, or to go on at all. … His use of collage and deep engagement with place are clearly indebted to second-wave modernist poetics, and like many second-wave modernist works, they do much to complicate and enliven the place they represent. … Even as Prairie Harbour concludes, it demonstrates that there is enough drama in suburbia’s little boxes to keep us all going for a good, long while.”
Cordite Poetry Review

“Prairie: Haven for the fugitive. Harbour: Epicentre of epic. In Prairie Harbour, Garry Thomas Morse drafts a fugitive epic that represents the full flowering of all those seeds of thought that Robert Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue ‘planted’ almost fifty years ago. This ingenious masterpiece is Morse Code ransacking Brit Lit up to Dylan Thomas, but from the vantage point of Canuck redoubts, such as Fort Garry. Imagine Billy Shakespeare shakin’ his spear at paleface invaders of Native land, or think of Eli Mandel, armed with Greco-Latin allusions, attacking Indian Act racism, and you’ll have an inkling of the finicky, spiky, thoughtful, beautiful verse that’s unfolded herein. How does an Indigenous intellectual imagine the arrival of the ‘filles du roi’ to Nouvelle-France? Here you go: ‘There is not even a sketchy sketch / of twelve year old orphan girls who / wince under old lechers, only lying / back and thinking of a new colony.’ Fugitive reader, get thee into this epic!”
—George Elliott Clarke, Toronto Poet Laureate, author of MMI

“ingenious masterpiece”
—George Elliot Clarke, Toronto Poet Laureate, author of MMI

“Beware: when you delve into this book you are in danger of being ‘devoured by voles (or vowels?).’ And then there are the hares. No words, no words, no words can do this book justice. The poems explode every boundary – geographic, historic, linguistic. They leave you shriven as if the cold North Wind has found your bones. An incomparable verbal exuberance and quick, wide-ranging intelligence fuel and Garry Thomas Morse’s operatic howl.”
—Lorna Crozier, author of The Book of Marvels

“Visionary and discordant, reverent and relevant, Prairie Harbour is a symphony sounding the world. With an ear pressed to the troubled heart of history, art, the economy, and the environment, Morse’s lines pulse and click with urgency and incomparable wit. Strikethroughs, erasures, silences, and ever-shifting margins further animate and complicate the composition. Always challenging, always moving, this astonishing music of change is fully present and fiercely engaged. A powerful and masterful work.”
—Brenda Schmidt, Author of Flight Calls: An Apprentice on the Art of Listening

“Garry Thomas Morse lays bare all the connotations of safety and shelter that the word ‘harbour’ conveys and brushes these back against the bare, howling plains’ colonial history and present. Walking poems and documentary gestures track the ticking down of a heritage minute that refuses to end. The music of the spheres and the songs of the slough ring in our ears, asking what kind of a harbour is the prairie? Or what exactly does the prairie harbour?”
—Sarah Dowling, International Editor, Jacket2

“No words, no words, no words can do this book justice. The poems explode every boundary ...”
—Lorna Crozier, author of The Book of Marvels

“Visionary and discordant, reverent and relevant, Prairie Harbour is a symphony sounding the world.”
—Brenda Schmidt, Author of Flight Calls: An Apprentice on the Art of Listening