Culture & Conversation

Bad Apples & Other Random Metaphors

The other night, I got poemed. Not me personally, at least not exclusively. It happened at a dinner party held in honour of my friend Sylvia Taylor.

The last of ten guests still to arrive was Rover editor Mike Mirolla, a little late (half an hour). He’s been known to forget social occasions so I slipped upstairs and phoned him, just in case we were waiting for nothing. A minute or so later he was at the door, ball cap tilted low over a fierce Italian glint.

“Sorry,” he said, “I got held up.” And before taking off his coat, “Would you mind if I read a poem?”



“Hm. How about after the soup?”

Decades of throwing dinner parties have taught me that it’s all an act of theatre, and the director’s hand must be invisible. Next to running out of wine, the worst that can happen is the “bad apple guest”, the invitee who for whatever reason – bad day, unexpected presence of a nemesis – drops a trace of rancour and sends the mood down.

While I’ve known Mike since our Gazette days in the Eighties, I also know the bad apple is very often someone you think you know. Even my beloved husband has stepped into the role. More on him later.

The soup was great. Sylvia, who is president of the BC Writers’ Federation and half Italian, made a delicious minestrone out of garden fresh vegetables. (Her secret is grated carrots and a spoonful of honey.) As it was well after eight before we sat down to steaming bowls and chunks of crusty bread, people were appropriately hungry.

I’d forgotten about the threat of poetry when Mike jumped up and produced his sign, RANDOM ACTS OF POETRY, followed by a brief explanation of the cause: a cross-Canada poetry intervention week wherein some 31 bards will treat strangers and unsuspecting friends at impromptu locations. Documentation being an element of the campaign, he called for a volunteer to handle his camera and began re-composing the table.

Having warned us to expect dark, he read The Art of Walking from his recently-published collection, Light and Time.
The roadkill rises, eyes rimmed in red. / The racoons, the rabbits, the rats. And you….
For an encore, Life, by Miltos Sahtouris. Powerful and much appreciated by the startled guests. Then he passed the sign to my husband, who muttered, “You didn’t tell me about this,” and disappeared upstairs.

Ages later, or so it seemed, I went up to find him still rebooting an old computer, looking for his poem containing the word fart. While we argued sotto voice, he commanded the search engine to scan for the word that would bring the house down. I saw it light up blue. While the printer chugged, I went back down to assure the assembled we would soon be moving forward. Not that it mattered. In our absence, conversation had taken off. I could easily have slipped them the main course and hung back to rinse the soup bowls.

This is good, I thought. Poetry is good.

In the dank dark days of winter / Wild winds the land did rasp / And whip our fearful faces / With a bitter biting blast…

Following Gwyn Campbell’s much appreciated poem about three boys having their bath on a cold Welsh night, Mark Abley recited from memory, The Spur by W. B. Yeats and, at our insistence, his own poem Kootenai.

A conversation of ravens, hurled into / the wind as it pushes low /across the dry forget-me-not ridges…

After which silence fell, and then the main course. I highly recommend Random Acts of Poetry. Planned acts could also be fine.

P.S. Here’s the poem I might have read had I not been shy and focused on the food:

Everybody’s doing it doing it making poems.
One step forward two steps back
Poems pile up. Some look like prose
Others wander. I do like those.
Everybody’s doing it doing it making poems.
Two steps forward one step back.
Poems for Christmas birthdays too
Verse for love and death and worse.
Careless words left in the street
Copied down and tailored
Nip and tuck and dotsie doe
Found poems for poets on the go
I had no need of poems till
Now they come to me in flocks
With spindly legs and leave me eggs.
I had no need of poems till you.

(Pause, quick loving glance at husband.)
The end.

Random Acts of Poetry, Oct 5 – 11, a celebration of poetry and literacy now in its sixth year, is a project of the Victoria READ Society, a non-profit literacy organization, established in 1976.

For those who just can’t enough, here are the two poems in their entirety recited by Michael Mirolla and Mark Abley.

The Art of Walking by Michael Mirolla

The roadkill rises, eyes rimmed in red.
The racoons, the rabbits, the rats. And you.
We dwell on the edge of somewhere. Like angels perhaps
flirting between possibilities. Like angels maybe
licking each other’s wounds.
A gaunt cow stands knee deep
in a sub-divided field. Stares out in the fervent hope
of slaughterhouse. That quick clean cut to the jugular.
Here, the signs come fast and furious.
Oops! You’ve just missed Camelot.
An exclusive enclave. For the millionaire. In each of us.
Sheep manure for sale. By appointment only.
Call Art.

The highway leans hard into the wind, its dull roar
like a grinding machine for the future. It spits out
detached housing
evergreen rugs.
One-legged flamingos stalking the elusive fast-food wrapper.
Cars snapping at the heels of brittle corn stalks.
The highway leans hard into the wind. Behind it,
civilization’s stubborn convoy.
Impressions of faces against taut plastic.
Crucifixes around the necks of mourning doves.

In the distance, the hills continue to ovulate.
The trees strain against their leashes.
The windmills ride off half-cocked.
The snakes, the skunks, the squirrels are rising. And you.
We live on the edge of nowhere.
In a quiet cul de sac.
We reside on the edge of nowhere.
In a quiet cul de sac.
The sign at the end of the street:
Roadkill ahead.

Kootenai by Mark Abley

A conversation of ravens, hurled into
the wind as it pushes low
across the dry forget-me-not ridges,
the green flats of the Bow,

echoes off the scree like verbs from the tongue
of travellers who knew each gap
in the cloud peaks, harvesting the valleys,
retreating before the snow,

verbs in a language without relatives,
a relic on a ripped map,
mouths that possessed a word for “starving, though
having a fish-trap.”

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