Spring Collections: Rain; road; an open boat by Roo Borson

April is National Poetry Month, and in the coming weeks, CBC Books will be celebrating the occasion with a Spring Collections special: each week, we'll showcase a recently published book of poetry with a Q&A with the author, and a sample poem from the collection.

We've also got a special Spring Collections contest. We're giving away one grand prize of a Sony Digital Reader and a prize pack of three poetry books, and two additional prize packs of three poetry books. Go here for details on how to enter.


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Today's featured poem is from Rain; road; an open boat by Roo Borson, published by McClelland & Stewart.



In one corner of the room, beneath the open window, lies an unabridged

dictionary becalmed on its stand. Pressed between its pages are

buttercups, sage blossoms, several summers' lavender and rose petals,

even a small moth that fluttered in haphazardly one evening just as

the book was being closed. These mementos have stained the pages

brown, becoming light and friable, more insubstantial over time. The

book itself is a code, a key, a lock, an implement that stands for an

earlier time and other customs, containing only those things that need

not exist, but do so nonetheless, carrying them forward as a maple seed

is carried forward by the wind.



Roo Borson has published 11 collections of poetry and a book of essays, Personal History. Her previous book of poetry, Short Journey Upriver Toward Ôishida (2006), won three major prizes: the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Governor General's Award for poetry and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Apart from her solo work, she writes collaboratively with poet Kim Maltman under the pen name Baziju. She lives in Toronto.

Rain; road; an open boat is a collection of delicately layered poems that drift back and forth between the present and the past, revisiting various places and experiences in vivid, evocative detail. In essence, it's a poetic meditation on time and change.


Q: Rain; road; an open boat is an evocative title. What do those three things suggest to you?

RB: Let me take a short detour first. For a few years the manuscript had a different working title, one I wasn't satisfied with. I was in a hotel room in Paris, rereading the poems of Ezra Pound, when I came across a line in the Cantos that had a similar structure, with two semi-colons. Something about that structure appealed to me: its slowly unfolding concatenation of images. That structure remains in the title, but with images appropriate to the book. The first two, rain and road, occur a number of times over the course of the book -- a book that explores, implicitly, various approaches to the sense of time, time's stillness or passage. The last image seems to me a kind of figurative summary, or metaphor, incorporating along with the other two a sense of movement, weather, travel.

Q: You once said that much of your work is about memory. Why is it such a major theme for you?

RB: We rely on memory every day, constantly, without thinking about it. If we're lucky, we remember how to get from where we live to the corner store. Yet memories can also startle: an experience suddenly comes back out of the blue and we pay attention in a new way, make new connections. In the very moment a new connection is made, a sense of meaning blossoms. I think this is very close to the workings of poetry.

Q: Like your previous book, Short Journey Upriver Toward Ôishida, this new collection reflects the influence of classical Chinese and Japanese poetry. What are the characteristics of that work that appeal to you?

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RB: Growing up on the West Coast it was natural to think of Japan and China as lying "just across the water." While my earliest experiences were of poems written originally in English, I was lucky to grow up during one of the great eras of translation from both Chinese and Japanese literature, an era that began in the wake of World War II. If there are characteristics of those literatures that could be called exclusive to them, those characteristics are probably embedded in the languages themselves, and may not survive translation. Having learned a little Chinese, I can appreciate something of the brevity and gorgeous ambiguities of that classical poetry, qualities that remain out of reach in English. What I've always looked for, I think, is a sense of breadth, of open possibilities. It seems to me better to look across two oceans, both the Atlantic and the Pacific, than just one. I like the fact that from here in Canada, England and Scotland are in the far east, while Japan and China lie far to the west.

Q: How did you come to write the poem Dictonary? What was its genesis?

RB: The genesis of Dictionary is very straightforward. I grew up in a house with a huge old-fashioned Webster's Unabridged Dictionary on a stand beside the dining-room window. It was used very frequently, both for looking up words and for pressing flowers.

Q: What's your favourite poetry book (aside from any of your own)?

RB: Impossible, I'm afraid. I might as well try to choose a favourite flower, a favourite 20th-century novel, a favourite fact about the world.

Q: And finally: complete the phrase "Poetry is..."

RB: Poetry is always on my dining-room table.


Photo of Roo Borson by Steve Schwartz


Want to check out the rest of the Spring Collections special? Here's the list of books featured so far:

Paradoxides by Don McKay

Rain; road; an open boat by Roo Borson

Echo Gods and Silent Mountains by Patrick Woodcock