Wednesday, February 07, 2007

a brief note on the poetry of Michelle Desbarats


I like the idea of eating peas
after they've been used to kill someone
because it just goes without saying
it would take a lot of peas
to snuff someone,
finally after a constant
bombardment, they go crazy, die
and I like peas, sitting down
with a whole mound of them, hot
butter making them slippery.
Maybe someone could kill someone
with one pea shot hard and fast to
a crucial area on the neck
or forehead,
one deadly pea,
but I wouldn’t be interested in
getting to know that person,
they wouldn’t have a sense of the
abundance of things. (Last Child to Come Inside)

An Ottawa favourite for years now, the perpetually modest poet and bookseller Michelle Desbarats is the author of the out-of-print trade collection Last Child to Come Inside (Ottawa ON: Carleton University Press Harbinger Poetry Series, 1998), published by the same now-defunct poetry series that also brought first poetry collections from David O'Meara, Anne Le Dressay, Mark Sinnett and Ronna Bloom, as well as author of the chapbook Eve'n Adam (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 1998), which was later reprinted in Groundswell: best of above/ground press 1993-2003 (Fredericton NB: Broken Jaw Press / cauldron, 2003). An award-winning poet, she has been short-listed for the CBC Literary Contest (poetry) a number of times, starting in 1996/97 and most recently in 2005. Born in Winnipeg and raised in Montreal and Charlottetown, the daughter of Peter and descendant of George Desbarats, Ottawa printer, Michelle Desbarats' Last Child to Come Inside was the fastest selling poetry collection that McGill-Queen's (who purchased Carleton University Press a number of years ago) has ever had, and is still in demand. Supposedly, she has been slowly and quietly working on a second collection for years now, parts of which can be seen in places such as Groundswell and the new anthology Decalogue: ten Ottawa poets (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2006).


If you don’t know what something
eats, try feeding it anything and
see if it starts to die. (Decalogue: ten Ottawa poets)

There is a strange and surreal quality to Michelle Desbarats' poetry that doesn’t really show up in writing by too many other writers; I think she could easily fit with the "Toronto surrealists" that emerged throughout the 1980s, including Stuart Ross, Lillian Necakov, Gil Adamson and Kevin Connolly, most recently showcased in the anthology that Ross edited, Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian poets under the influence (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2004).

Eve had ladybugs all over her the day
of the fall she had gone to sleep too close to
a bush where they lived during the night
they’d crept onto her warm skin
because it was smooth they liked
her belly button when she woke they were
strolling on her geography
their tiny black feet making her crazy
made her reach for
something as it happened a piece of forbidden
fruit within arms reach could have been
another stick there were so many in the
Garden of Eden the ladybugs rose to their
full heights on her body, the wind
squeezed under their squat abdomens, plucked them
from her skin, what Adam saw; her bringing
the fruit to her lips, a cloud of red lifting
swirling from her nakedness, her mouth filling. (Eve'n Adam)