Welcoming discomfort in poetry
Over the past few years I have existed in what I consider the most real and surreal of circumstances, as a mother of two young children, and a person from a big place who now lives in a small place, with all the beauty and derangement these entail. I have found ways of writing in the middle of other aspects of life: for example feeding people varying sorts of food, from my body and then the wider world; and doing endless laundry. Poetry has been the standard form of my writing, and I thought I knew how it mainly went, in fits and starts by necessity, but also what form it liked to take. But then there’s this: over the past three years or so poetry has been banging on my brain door and forcing my hand into increasingly unsettling territories. It’s a long-term practice, poetry, and I have gotten used to the idea of it just doing its own thing - connected to, via brain and fingers, but also independent of my intentions. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I have written the range – but I have become comfortable especially with the warm embrace of tangential surrealism. This appealed from a pretty early age – there’s something about wordplay and an ongoing exquisite corpse of line-work that has become quite comfortable and reasonable to me as an immediate mode of writing.
But things have been getting weirder in my writing, at least to me. I thought life was weird enough already, but it seems to be getting weirder still, so I guess poetry’s along for the ride. The work is more direct now (again, maybe only to me), clearer in its address, and this is a big thing to get used to. I think it may be mortality, as made apparent with the obvious reminders of aging – children growing, wrinkles forming, becoming closer to the age my mother died. I increasingly write poetry that scares me somewhat. The shadow is larger, but the light on the words is brighter – related, no doubt. Writing is more exhausting therefore than it was before, when I was not aware of what was going on. I can’t stop myself from big reveals, not that anyone’s asking, TMI. It may only feel this way to me, I’m not sure. Others seem to be affected more by my poetry now – perhaps it’s the explicitness that is more obviously understood than my earlier more triangulated poetry. It seems to please more people. I enjoy reading many forms of writing – the whole panoply – including traditional verse forms and vispo. My reading preferences haven’t changed at all to reflect this change in style. I don’t know what will happen next, but I’m both enjoying this process and cringing at it, because I know it’s embarrassing for some. For some reason I’m not embarrassed, although I feel sympathy – or is it sorrow? - for those who can’t take it. It’s tiring to dampen hot thoughts of all sorts, and life is short. It’s tiring to be “nice”, and a denial of the nature of the mind and heart. It certainly does no service to verse. So there you go. Hopefully there will be a lot more bold lines, uncomfortable but open lines, before I kick it.
Alice Burdick lives in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. She is the author of many chapbooks and four full-length poetry collections, Simple Master (Pedlar Press, 2002), Flutter (Mansﬁeld Press, 2008), Holler (Mansfield Press, 2012), and most recently Book of Short Sentences (Mansfield Press, 2016). Her work has also appeared in Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (The Mercury Press), Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Inﬂuence (The Mercury Press), as well as other anthologies, and in numerous magazines, online and in print. She co-owns an independent bookstore in Lunenburg called Lexicon Books.