Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL

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Someone asks me what’s the most important skill a poet can have and I start to say the power of observation. The world awaits us with all sorts of small truths that can’t easily be seen. When I lose touch with the details around me, I have a devil of a time expressing myself. I don’t mean facts here; facts aren’t always sacred. But the various ways that life identifies itself, shakes its tail feathers, empties its pockets of coins and stones, bathes in vats of light.

But then I think of music, how a poem sings when the rest of the room is chewing on gravel. What would we have without the music inside the words? Shopping lists, prescriptions, scribbles. A close rhyme can cash in on a harmony that sends shivers through my entire skeleton. A smattering of alliteration and a nail sinks into a hard piece of wood. A touch of assonance and even woodchucks hum.

Or maybe it’s the ability to leap from tree to tree like a squirrel. Or a knack for metaphor, always something standing in for something else. Could it be a grand vocabulary? A willingness to state the truth and nothing but? An ability to make an echo chamber out of your obsessive nature?

I get confused over what comes first: the word or the speaking. “Being alive” I finally say. You have to be alive to observe, to hit the high notes, to bang and whistle, to love language so much that nothing else will do.

1 comment

I've been enjoying this blog very much, and today read a delightful review of Invisible Dogs in our Halifax paper. I thought I'd share the link:
http://thechronicleherald.ca/b...

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Barry Dempster

Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections, two novels, two volumes of short stories and a children’s book.

Go to Barry Dempster’s Author Page