February 24, 2014
How the Gods Pour Tea by Lynn Davies
I think I’ve finally got the hang of how to read a poetry collection, or at least one which is not structured around an overarching narrative. And the way to read such a collection, I’m learning, goes a lot like the advice of the late Mavis Gallant on reading short stories: “Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.”
So I’ve been reading poems from Lynn Davies’ How the Gods Pour Tea over the past couple of months, shutting the book, coming back later. It’s a thin book too, one I’ve been tucking into my coat pocket to read while I’m watching Harriet’s swimming lessons, or waiting for her in the playground after school. Its a beautiful book, printed in Toronto at Coach House, but in its travels with me the edges of the cover have become worn, the baby has chewed on it once or twice. I was reading in the park on Friday when snowflakes started falling, and they left tiny prints on the page, and this was so absolutely perfect for this book in which the line between books and nature seem to have been obliterated: “The squirrels have pulled apart my diaries for their enormous nest…” from “In the Bookstore.”
Though in a way, there is an overarching theme to this collection, which is a sense of sadness and being bereft, there being an absence which has shifted things and made the narrator pay close attention to things she hasn’t noticed for awhile. Nature as something almost monstrous, certainly wondrous. When I started to read the book, I was reading the poems in order, deciphering each one for a central message, a sign. I almost managed to catch “On Mercy” in a net, and I loved the poem for my accomplishment. I was besotted with “On My Knees at the Strawberry U-Pick,” this poem about scattered pieces of conversation eavesdropped on, Davies’ lines like, “How the boys lay down/ to ponder infinity, how the idea of fruit flies/ spurs me on.” The way these poems manage to so perfectly and curiously mingle the ethereal and down-to-earth, moving from one place to another with such ease.
But then I put the book down because to decipher each poem was too much. I was starting to realize that these weren’t poems that would ever make perfect sense, no matter how much I broke down line-by-line. And when that was finally understood, it all was easier, and I would pick up the book and flip randomly for a page that seemed to call me, and these callings were alway so perfectly timed.
Reading “Ice Storm” just before Christmas: “We’re blinded/ by the extra light/ knotted in trees,/ our feet pulled/ out from under/ us again.” “Power Poles” which poses questions about a pole with the same reverence we’d give a tree, its wild cousin, who is not “bristly with staples and bits of old post.” The end of “Alone”: “I leave books open/ in every room/ of our house.” Reading “The Golden Roofs” this past week, about images of Kiev. Reading “How Much?”, which wonders if equations can be posed for anything, which is the same conceit as France Daigle’s For Sure, which I’m reading right now.
“Fireworks” is like “On Mercy”, which is that I can’t quite pin it down, but I understand precisely what it’s grasping at—the closest these poems get to clarity: “Could be the rowdy city/ cousins of aurora borealis. /How the Gods pour tea.” And ending with. “A parachute/ for all the nights ahead of us.” (I think that with these poems I’m also finally beginning to understand “sublime.”) There is a poem about cheese, about the space between blue cheese and cheddar, a daughter’s perspective of a father “who so rarely pretended or played at anything.”
Reading “Footins” in the park the other day,” Three-headed February and freezing rain/ coats the road. I’m reading Chekhov and Gilbert/ and cookbooks.” Which becomes a trip through the dictionary: “What sea did f cross to get here,/ that failing grade…”
I don’t know what a “footin” is, or why February has three heads. Who is Gilbert? Why the squirrels are in the bookstore either. I haven’t read all the poems in How the Gods Pour Tea, but I’ve realized I don’t have to, or at least not in order. This is not a book that will be caught in a net, but instead, I’ve let it live alongside me, carried it in my pocket. These are poems that will cast spells in their own sweet time. Indeed, these are poems that can wait.