Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

The editors at Encore apologise that Ephemeris hasn’t appeared this week in its normal Friday time slot. However, Norm Sibum’s bi-weekly column will return in two weeks to its regular schedule.  

We poets who plume ourselves on learning, on discrimination in our choice of arguments, who pretend to a judicious consideration of our diction and conceits, and who take pride in the curiosity of our figures and the daring of our imaginative expeditions – we are, in truth, no distance at all from the pot house and the coomb – as resort we do to the very same sources that inspirit the shepherd and the farmhouse scullion. In this way we share our work with them. We are indeed them and they are us. And no man, poet, shepherd, cleric be he, has a right to any claim to pride of differentiation from another. We belong together and we are each other – and thus at one and more or less identically we sing like this girl who does not sing for me – and must therefore be reconciled to a co-existence in solitude—

from Tom Lowenstein’s From Culbone Wood – In Xanadu, notebooks and fantasias, Shearsman Books—Morning. Nikas. And if I say that intense blue Christmas lights all perky on a tree burn into a window scene of thickly blowing snow out there, I do not mean to come off poetical. And I certainly do not claim for myself what may or may not inspirit. Apropos of apparent national standards, purplish prose is a summum bonum. Nonetheless the poetical is frowned upon. End of story—For all that, a Jerusalemite man of verse who looked me up the other day declared Canadians to be, on the whole, the least corrupted people of the western world’s lot of peoples. I regarded him long and hard and with some amazement, just as he regarded me back without batting an eyelash, as if he was in possession of pocket aces and had the intention of building the pot. Well, the Americans are nuts; we all know that. The Europeans are brilliant but hopelessly decadent. Or was it the Brits the Jerusalemite poet was on about? But Canadians with their wide, open spaces? Those wide, open spaces, cancel, as it were, anything smutty on the collective soul, like a past with Indians; like a present with Indians, like a share of NSA surveillance duties and God knows what else, like neo-liberal economic policies; like environmental abuses. Then there are all the professional truth-tellers who are to be found under every rock, or on every rock – like the Lorelei luring bad guys to their doom. Those wide, open spaces. Does the man think us Apaches? Enter Irish Harpy along with retinue (hubbie). In a flash, to his face, and her delivery is tantamount to a cobra strike, she lets Eddie the cook know he is full of the proverbial. Where does he get off, turning down the thermostat during closing hours? “Ah, Kooba,” he answers, meaning Cuba. It is his ubiquitous response to all who would trifle with his broad grin and the good nature for which the grin is the ad. A finger is wagged: “Young man, I’m telling you your behaviour is not up to scratch.” (Eddie the cook has hit his 40s and has familial responsibilities, so that, even if he is not up to scratch, what complicates his life is, to be sure, scratch-worthy.) Do you think she is kidding? Nope. Dead serious. All the while Alexandra the waitress hums to herself and would lure all her awful customers to their doom were she a Rhine maiden. Mid-life, and she is learning to drive a car. This has made of her something of a contemplative of late—All this against a backdrop of Mandela’s funeral. Oh, and Peter O’Toole died. And with whom would one rather have a beer? Mr Bush? Current President? The latter man, apart from other matters that have bedeviled his term of office, and they would include his colour of skin, has a somewhat patronizing air. Mr Bush’s aw shucks dipsy doodle smile was always something of a ruse; it helped get him sort of elected and it may just salvage his sorry legacy. Alright then, dumb question, this business of the beer; but it and other items of high import were discussed at the Moesian’s in the course of an evening of poker. I can hear Thistle’s hoot of disgust now as we speak; there is – and yes, what about him? – there is Mr Harper lightening the rich of their load of taxes and raiding the poor and their government services so as to recoup the shortfall in the governmental coffers. Now there is something to talk about. Fiscus, anyone? The Jerusalemite poet is an interesting man. He in his sixth decade has yet to publish a book. In fact, no one has bothered to take his poems seriously, not here or anywhere; only, apart from his expertise on the state of the Canadian soul (he was reared up in Montreal and used to pal around some with Dudek – hence the intimate knowledge of a mirage), I am taking the poems seriously: the man has a poet’s ear, however incredulous you may be to hear of it. He pretends to no intellectual attainment and yet, here he is deeply learned. He bears some resemblance to an old hippy who continues to like his weedsmoke and beer; who has read extensively in the Old Testament; is intimate with a lot of religious esoterica; who has read his historians and adores Cavafy’s oeuvre and is steeped in the canon. Otherwise, his god is Muddy Waters. I have not often come across the likes of him, but then I have lived a sheltered life—There was some chat at the Moesian’s concerning the art of literary reviewing and whether or not negative reviews ought to be permitted. If a book is an outright dog are we now going to say it purrs like a cat? One sort of negative reviewing that should be put out of its misery is the one that resorts to character assassination and enables both rookie reviewer and old pro to notch his or her smoking piece with notices of target acquired. So that, even if the book is well-written, well, you will not often hear mention of such excellence, as excellence is, in any case, an elitist preoccupation, and we do not do elitist here, ergo: excellence is neither here nor there. What is here or there and everywhere is sufficient moral ascendancy. The only game in town. Has been so for years. The winners may boast of a more savoury bouquet of excreta than may the losers. Or so it seems. It seems so awfully much. And while I, too, wearied of the professional reviewese one still encounters in the more august literary journals, still, one wonders why we must overcompensate and talk of authors as we would footballers and the end zone dances peculiar to them. Then again one suspects there are lots and lots of authors who deliberately tailor their deliveries so as to make their products more amenable to the new reviewese. Isn’t that what nature’s all about: blend in and ambush? Branching away from this cheerful region, runs a nether-world current, which is charcoal in complexion and which, in truth, has been converted from an infusion of the stream water which has already been filtered from some inaccessible strata of peat country. Thus while a first splash on the drinker’s palate excites apprehension of its surface glamour, what memorably lingers remains the inner current  which has found its way through the lips and the teeth from an underworld of old romance: and which is expressive of a melancholy humour which speaks to us, by inference, in a deep, terse, solemn, sempiternal and reluctantly communicative poetry which copies the earth’s brown and is shy of daylight. Now I ask you: could I pass up this passage from the book From Culbone Wood – In Xanadu, notebooks and fantasias? Moreover: If spirits that have been distilled are sluggish in their interaction with us and dwell mainly in a lunar quiet, cider, by contrast, is effervescent, quick (in both its senses) and solar  in both genesis and implication. And while whisky may pretend to hold aloof from the grain out of which it has developed, cider seeks no such independence and is happy to have flowed directly from a tree—And perhaps I ought to quit while I have got a good healthy stack of chips—Young Eric, however, did provide me with a tutorial in social media as we sat in the Cock ‘n Bull on Ste Catherine’s. He did not have all that much with which to recommend the phenomenon, but he did say that, at least, it has ‘returned music to the people’. Jerusalemite Poet, on the other hand, did say that the roll has gone out of the rock—