Today we are graced by letter D which is found heading up ideas, concepts, activities and artefacts in need of its dignified and decisive sound in words such as: discovery, dreams, dig, devour, design, dialogue, difference, desire, delicious, delve, detour, day, dog, diatribe, doorways, dimples, danger, diligence and direction — to name a few.
On Toronto’s less-than-stellar public transit system, there are things for people to read plastered along specially designed advert holders placed up over the seats. On the one hand, most of the ads are incredibly dull and boring. On the other hand, they reflect the current worries and social consciousness going on in the city. These days it’s about debt, selling gold for top dollar, men’s sexual dysfunction, women’s cosmetic surgery, all sorts of fast food and candy, education, getting healthy, weight loss, wealth generation, and calls for public support for various things — nurses and doctors and city workers and transit workers — as well as the usual marketing hype around movies, new books, drinks and music releases.
Advertising is boring and annoying, even if it is an industry that once fetishized copywriting and copywriters. Today’s mainstream advertising is boring. And transit ads are the worst. Why does hyper local have to be super cheap and doubly bad?
But all is not lost. Some very intelligent people decided that our transit system would introduce “Poetry on the Way, a cultural program placing short snatches of verse on every Toronto Transit Commission’s subway car, bus and streetcar in the city: a moving exhibit of poetry.” Here’s what the news release said:
“The idea behind it is that people on the subway, riding to work in the morning, have 20 minutes which would be better spent entertaining and transporting themselves, if I can use the pun,” says magazine publisher Denis Deneau.
“We believe it’s better for people to read some pleasant and evocative poetry than occupy themselves with all the stressful things they have to do during the day.”
The poems, one per car, will appear along the interior strip of advertising space above vehicle windows, tossing a bit of culture. The project mimics earlier poetry-in-motion programs in Paris, London, New York and Dublin. The Toronto version is largely a showcase for Canadian talent, past and present.”
I won’t comment on the very bad first quote or argue about the curious use of the word mimic in that last paragraph. Not a word I would have used, but then I wasn’t asked to write the release.
It seems that once many of us leave school that active interest of reading, finding and pondering of poetry exits our life. We have to work to find it, to think of it, to read it, to write it and to publish it. So sometimes we just don’t do the work and the interest is dormant, stirred up on occasion as love or another great life event opens heart and mind and we need the language of poetry to express what we feel, or to find in poetry what we recognize in us.
Sometimes, there are cultural programs like Poetry on the Way, that help poetry find us where we are and we remember that we liked reading and thinking about poems. Finding poems in a place where we are held captive for a time as our eyes seek out something soothing to land on in the visual landscape can only be a good thing.
One of the poems that’s up now is this one:
Water & Marble
by P.K. Page
And I shall tell him that the thought of him
turns me to water
and when his name is spoken pale still sky
trembles and breaks and moves like blowing water
that winter thaws its frozen drifts in water
all matter blurs, unsteady, seen through water
and I, in him, dislimn, water in water?
As true: the thought of him
has made me marble
and when his name is spoken blowing sky
settles and freezes in a dome of marble
and winter seals its floury drifts in marble
all matter double-locks as dense as marble
and I, in others’ eyes, am cut from marble.
On this day that I didn’t drive, when I am on my way back home, standing at the doors, listening to my I-Pod and looking at all the boring ads, my eyes landed on the poem. I read it too quickly the first time. My stop was coming up. I read it again. Breathed deeply as I looked at it and then read it again.
I was halted. Or it halted me initially and by the third reading, it catapulted me somewhere, or more precisely, sucked me in. Either way, I had become lost in the images, sensation, emotions that rushed up with each reading and as I left the train I walked away with a mind and heart sloshing and spilling; full of images water, double-locks, marble dust, frozen drifts icy waters, trembling, hardness of marble and followed the imagined: a mental transit system, each word a stop, leading to images, memory sensations, emotions. By the time I made it home, everything I remembered about the poem converged, coalesced fractally into what love does to lovers.
And then some days later:
“I was on the subway and read a poem by P.K. Page that I really liked about a lover being water and turning into marble and being seen by others as marble and there was a word in it I didn’t know. Do you know what dislimn means?”
I shook my head. I didn’t know what it meant.
So I looked; pulled out my huge and trusted The New Oxford English Dictionary. It wasn’t there. Then I checked my Oxford Concise English Dictionary, which is only slightly lighter than The New Oxford. Not there, either.
Sigh. Checked online, got a few ideas, then checked some etymology sources. Turns out that it’s an old word, first noted early 1600s, meaning: to cause to be dim, to become indistinct.
Hmm. I skipped thoughts lightly across my mind. The water metaphor suggests merger, but did she mean that she was caused to be dim, or was she intending to reference the permeable boundaries between lovers, and why “I in him”? Woman flowing into man? Why not we or us? Gender commentary? Loss of identity?
So we talked about that in the context of the poem and how interesting to use such an archaic word, but perhaps it fit and perhaps it didn’t but given it is not a commonly used word, it is reasonable to wonder about its usage because every word in a poem had better be there for a reason, if only to distract the reader, put up detours to send the reader away from the treasure of the heart of the poem.
And I wondered why that word didn’t stand out for me as much as it did for the other reader. And I wondered about intellectual dissection of a poem, of a piece of writing, and emotional reaction. I just wondered. Is it possible to dissect a thing so finely that it ceases to exist in its entirety. Gotta kill you to save you?
And then later, over dinner at a local Ethiopian restaurant, other reader and I were talking with a friend about many things and somehow landed on poetry which led to talking about the PK Page poem which led to a story about how a neighbour-poet of this friend had at one time met and talked with P.K. Page, well; not talked exactly, but did something quite dramatic which resulted in her receiving a poet blessing from PK Page and, later how this neighbour-poet and PK Page were both up for the same writing award, although by then PK Page had passed away.
I would not have talked about that poem: I’d have kept the experience of it to myself. The other reader, asking about a word in the poem I glossed over, helped me to go back to it and see it differently. And from there, sharing the story of the word in the poem, our friend shared a little known real story about the woman whose poem me and thousands of other people have read on the transit system.