Poems to take with tea in the morning

Heather Pyrcz
Gaspereau Press, 2002. Pp 91
ISBN 1-894031-57-1
french binding

Reviewed by JANEEN KEELAN*

Poetry from the hallowed halls of Academia is often inaccessible to even the most fervent lover of words. The tendency of the institution is to deconstruct, defamiliarize, avante-gardiate and post-modernize until the beauty and meaning of an idea is hidden in symbols only understood by the initiated poetry for an elite class of poets and cognoscenti. Heather Pyrcz's Viaticum thus comes as a pleasant, even wonderful, surprise.

While Pyrcz has an impressive academic resume an MEd. and an MA, a part-time position in the faculty of English at Acadia University, and in progress a Digital History of Canadian Poetry for the League of Canadian Poets (which can be found in the Teacher's Lounge at www.youngpoets.ca), the poems of Viaticum (literally, provisions for a journey) are a banquet of wisdom and rhythm and familiar images, aimed to feed the soul as well as the intellect. These are poems to take with tea in the morning.

In pieces like Talking, Travelling Backwards, and Provisions, Viaticum fulfills the promise of its title, inviting the reader to disengage from the ever-increasing pace of everyday, to contemplate and refuel. Other poems, such as Calamity's Children, a beautiful ode to the great Canadian poet Al Purdy, Parallel Lives and Firewalls are biographical and human, exploring memory, relationships and the author's own life journey. Firewalls is part of the cycle Earth Air Fire Water, in itself worth reading the book for. The cycle evokes a strong sense of place in both the North and Atlantic regions scents and textures, sights and sounds that most Nova Scotians know a little or a lot about.

Pyrcz has an obvious sense for language. She uses soothing words and combinations, and enough classical device to create a slow lullaby that runs the length of Viaticum. These poems deserve to be read out loud.

Viaticum is Pyrcz's third collection of poems, joining, Town Limits (1997) and Nights on Prospect Street (1999). She has written for the CBC and the National Art Gallery of Canada by commission, and for numerous anthologies and publications. Users of Metro Transit might even remember the haunting two-line for John Thompson she wrote for Poetry on the Way in 2002. The pervasiveness of her work is a testament to its accessibility, her ability to share her ideas with a reading public, beauty and meaning intact.


We are seduced into believing meaning
resides in the consumption of things;
render necessary statuary or gilded glass
to fashion ourselves, insist
we need this and this and this
until we can no longer ride the mules up the mountain,
nor cross the pass with our bloated outfit,
falling with it, trapped by an early winter
until wind consumes the remains
stark reminder for those

who come later


2. Forest Fire

There's an acrid smell in the air tonight
like it's coming from South Mountain,
but the news says it's a diuturnity away,
a wall of fire in the New Brunswick wood:
a long funeral pyre, and this wake on the wind
stays all night and into the next day
Even though the fire's burning elsewhere
all you crave is rain in the trees,
the leaves shuddering, a drumming on roofs,
and in the streets long, cool, running rivulets
but rain seems even farther than fire
(you convince yourself you can't breathe)
Three days, the wind has driven
the stench into every nook and cranny,
like dust on the prairies in the thirties
Somewhere this choking air is thicker still,
black smoke billowingand someone is
full of fear, appalled not only of pine
but towns burning, houses, crops, livestock,
violate clothes on a line, telephone wires,
birds burning, books burning, photographs,
even the fire trucks. Thinking with Buddha
all, all is burning


to Al Purdy

I wanted to tell you

when I wandered out of the north,
17, lost, a stranger in my own country,
clutching a couple of arctic rhododendrons,
telling myselfthat if university
felt like Marilyn's residential school,
(you are not good enough, not good enough,
obviously not good enough)
perhaps I, too, could be self taught
that I needed you
(as the hero needs Tiresius)
to say "here is the road."
I am one of the guilty trying to acknowledge
my guilt, not knowing how
to start, not knowing where
my own stops and history begins.
I'm hoping to talk to you,
having come through
Persephone's enterance,
at the blood pit, the best place
for heroes and lovers and
others who need to know
what not to kill by accident
or folly or hatred or
I need the way home, now
that we are all calamity's children
having failed Jerusalem.

*Janeen Keelan, a graduate of the University of Alberta, was an editorial intern with shunpiking magazine for two years until the fall of 2002, hosting "Hikes, Rambles & Outings", before returning to her native Alberta. She aims to enter the publishing program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC.