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Wednesday June 24, 2015 in Books
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-historic” 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.
“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 Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which includes a French horn of warning for the “have-not” province.
The intermezzo, “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 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.
ISBN 13: 9780889229402 | ISBN 10: 0889229406
6 W x 9.5 H inches | 176 pp pages
$18.95 CAN / $18.95 US
Backlist | Poetry
QUOTES OF NOTE
“Morse writes in the dense, trickster-like tradition of the so-called Prairie long poem … the reader willing to pay close attention will spot a series of unifying ideas. Prairie Harbour is, at its core, about the long and continuous attempts at erasure of aboriginal identity, and how the First Nations voice literally needs to fight against the margins, against the very idea of margin, to make itself heard. Morse lays out many aspects of his own heritage in doing this, but what he creates never feels forced or didactic. … His poetry energizes us to the threat of colonial erasure, hinting at the great spectrums of light that await us if we can move beyond the harm it brings. … This is a book that does not hold back its sense of hope.”
– Mark Sampson, author of Off Book (2007) and The Secrets Men Keep (2015)
“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
“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
“A whoppingly huge act of synthetic imagination, & an exciting example of the modernist (& post-) collage long poem. … What Morse has done in both his earlier Discovery Passages & Prairie Harbour is to radically complicate both the representations of & his readers’ responses to that history while also offering a fascinating reading experience to any willing to give these poems a go. … Prairie Harbour offers readers an engagement they will not soon forget.”
– Eclectic Ruckus (blog)
Finalist for the 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry
About the ContributorsGarry Thomas Morse
Garry Thomas Morse’s poetry books include Transversals for Orpheus, Streams, After Jack, Discovery Passages (finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Prairie Harbour, and Safety Sand. Morse’s books of fiction include his collection Death in Vancouver, and the three books in The Chaos! Quincunx series, Minor Episodes / Major Ruckus (2013 ReLit Award finalist), Rogue Cells / Carbon Harbour (2014 ReLit Award finalist), and Minor Expectations, all published by Talonbooks.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts; the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF); and the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council for our publishing activities.