Today I want to talk a bit about processional by Anne Compton. (And yes, the title has a lower-case "p", which I will ask Anne about in her interview. She does not, as a rule, use only lower case letters, a la ee cummings.) Her first collection, Opening the Island won the Atlantic Poetry Prize. This book, processional won both the Atlantic Poetry Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry in 2005. The GG is one of Canada’s top literary prizes. That gives you some idea of how remarkable the quality of Anne Compton’s poems are.
The poems in processional are organized into five sections. The section titles are:
The Mind in Winter
The House, One Field Away
And Now to Play
Too Late in the Wrong Rain
We Have Had Our Summer Evenings
If you’re guessing they’re seasonally organized, then you’re partially correct – but there are some overlaps, and the sections are grounded in place and experience as much as in time.
Today, I share with you by permission of the author two poems from processional.
The first poem I’d like to share is "From Vernal Equinox to Solstice," one of the poems in the first part of the book. One I love for it’s sly humor at the start, and it’s wisdom and dark humor at the end (no pun intended).
From Vernal Equinox to Solstice
by Anne Compton
Day before yesterday, Spring comes down the road, cheeky
bugger. Unpacking promises: peddler to the housebound.
Opens his carpetbag: sunlight columns floor to ceiling,
That’s nothing, he says. By solstice, I can keep it up for hours.
Spills his goods over the cold ground and a great fog rises.
Out of it comes an old woman with bad breath, muttering.
Fools. Stops at your house to steal words, the bright ones
you’ve kept in a button box all winter. Saved up for a boy
whose good looks, you’ve heard, gain with every passing day.
Fingers the mid-Lent cake. Simnel. Bites off sentences:
The most of light’s the beginning of darkness. You’ll see.
Rendered tallow, the look of her. A croaky laugh, Of course
you won’t. You’re besotted. More’s the pity when it comes to light.
How much do I love the possible double meaning of that last sentence? Do you really have to ask?? For those wondering, "simnel" is a light fruitcake, covered in marzipan, and eaten on Mothering Day (the fourth Sunday in Lent, when people traditionally returned to their "mother church" for the day, thereby reuniting with family as well). In some Church of England churches, Mothering Sunday is the only day during Lent on which marriages may be performed.
The second poem I’d like to share is from the fourth section of the book, "Too Late in the Wrong Rain." The section gets its name from a line from a poem by Dylan Thomas called "On a Wedding Anniversary." It’s called "If I Lived with You," and there’s a wistfulness and a warmth to it that pulls me in. I’m anxious to hear what all of you think of it, and of the other poem as well. Ordinarily, I’d add the poet’s name between the title and the body of the poem here, but in this particular case, it gets in the way.
If I Lived with You
You’d fix up everything broken in my house.
And I’d fix up your spelling. With my best scissors
I’d trim your beard, not even noticing the grey bits.
I wouldn’t have a problem
&emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp with squirrels in the walls
&emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp &emsp mould in the cellar.
And I’d find your glasses by evening. Promise.
We’d have mealy pudding on Robbie Burns Day.
Fish through Lent. Keep house by the Julian calendar.
And I’d tell you, once a day at least, the sound
Of your voice in my head when you’re absent.
Oblate as two breaths. That’d be the difference.
You’re way late is something I’d never say.
Wouldn’t have to. We’d both know time’s long at the last.
Friday would not evaporate as soon as we’re through with it.
As for all the other stuff,
In a small room we’d call sonnet, I’d make up a bed as usual.