This week, I’m sharing with you (by permission of the author) two poems by Anne Compton from her first poetry collection, Opening the Island. This poetry collection won the Atlantic Poetry Prize in 2003, and for good reason – the poems are spectacular.
Anne Compton is a Canadian poet who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, New Brunswick. I bought a signed copy of this book, and of her second book, Processional, when I was in Saint John on my cruise vacation, and I recently got in touch with her to seek her permission to include some of her poems here, and to see if she’d agree to an interview – which, I am pleased to say, will be coming soon!
About Opening the Island
The "Island" in the title is Prince Edward Island, an island province in eastern Canada, where Anne Compton grew up. The book is organized in five sections, entitled At the Bridge the Body Rises: poems about PEI, including some that seem to be about her childhood there; Women Writing Men: an imagining of correspondence from women throughout history (real and fictional) to men, including titles such as "Hester Prynne’s Letter to Surveyor Pue" and "Rheumatic Fever: any nineteeth-century poet to her mentor"; Inherit the Light, a grouping of poems that have to do with light, including a number of ekphrastic poems apparently based on or inspired by famous paintings; Body my house/my horse my hound/what will I do/when you are fallen: the title of this section is a quote from May Swenson, and the poems within it are sometimes about the body, and sometimes about something else as metaphor for the body (or vice-versa); and finally is the last part, Closing the Island: these poems are autumnal, they talk of closing houses, leaving the island, moving on from the past.
The first selection today is from Women Writing Men, and is called "Do Not Write Any More." I feel the need to add that after I read this one, I feel the need to sit and think for a few minutes, so by all means, feel free to do the same before moving on.
Do Not Write Any More
by Anne Compton
love forgone lives on
a lit lamp in a cupboard, bolted
yet in that room where the cupboard is
light leaks out
&emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp though no one says
&emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp they see
over there years away by water or whatever
the everyday things you’re doing
have my notice, my part
passed into flame
The next selection I have for you is from Body my house . . . , and is entitled "The Womb Lies Beneath the Heart." This one makes me think of my college boyfriend, and all those unanswerable "what ifs". I think it’s the solo line in the middle that’s particularly devastating, in the best possible sense of the word.
The Womb Lies Beneath the Heart
by Anne Compton
There was a child &emsp too beautiful to bear
I could not call her down &emsp be her way into the world.
Dear friend, do you ever think of that child
and the tall likeness of your ways she’d be to-day?
Can we give names to the unconceived?
I do not ask now about you and me, and the way
it went. But with the lilacs blooming by the porch
a stone turned and I heard a heart beat.
I thought of us in her, and her in me.
Usually, I do not hear a sound.
Speech is slow and small after such silence.
Anne Compton’s book, Opening the Island is available online from U.S. and Canadian booksellers. And do stop back in the next few weeks – I will be interviewing Anne and discussing more of her work soon.