Griffin Poetry Prize 2007
Book: Airstream Land Yacht
Poet: Ken Babstock
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
Ken Babstock is the author of Mean, which won the Atlantic Poetry Prize and the Milton Acorn People’s Poet Award, and Days Into Flatspin, winner of a K.M. Hunter Award. His poems have won Gold at the National Magazine Awards, have been anthologized in Canada and the United States, and have been translated into Dutch, Serbo-Croatian, and Latvian. In addition to being shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, Airstream Land Yacht is the winner of the Trillium Book Award for English language poetry. Ken Babstock lives in Toronto, Canada.
“The feature of Airstream Land Yacht that seems most striking, on a first reading, is its range: here we find a poet who can do almost anything, both formally and in his exploration of such subject matter as romantic love, landscape, the body, the city, physical pain and a joyful awareness of the sensory details of a world full of marvels and riddles. Yet no matter what his subject matter is, or how he chooses to approach it, he never settles for effect: Babstock can be terse, darkly funny, tender, elegiac, wise, mysterious, but he is always fresh and always honest.
On a closer acquaintance, however, it is Babstock’s exemplary compassion that dominates this extraordinary collection. His is a poetry that sees through our errors and wishful thinking, a poetry that recognises that ‘it’s what we think we saw that sticks, never what we see’, yet, in a series of poems of formal and philosophical rigour, he is able to conclude that ‘we should be held and forgiven’. Airstream Land Yacht is a book with a vision, one in which a reasoned celebration emerges:
The earth on the roof. Voles over shingles.
Seven kinds of moss softening the gables.
And inside, each step a ride
On the backs of sea birds to a bed on a floor all sky.”
Airstream Land Yacht is Ken Babstock’s third collection of poetry. In this work, poems of conscience collide with the problems of consciousness and the concrete and conceptual find equal footing. As in his previous collections, Babstock displays formal beauty but mixes it with imagistic brinksmanship and playful humour. The clutch of love poems contained here are key to unlocking the larger collection, a love song to the wordless world.
Note: Summaries are taken from promotional materials supplied by the publisher, unless otherwise noted.
Ken Babstock reads Compatibilist
Compatibilist, by Ken Babstock
Awareness was intermittent. It sputtered.
And some of the time you were seen
asleep. So trying to appear whole
you asked of the morning: Is he free
who is not free from pain? It started to rain
a particulate alloy of flecked grey: the dogs
wanted out into their atlas of smells; to pee
where before they had peed, and might
well pee again – thought it isn’t
a certainty. What is? In the set,
called Phi, of all possible physical worlds
resembling this one, in which, at time t,
was written ‘Is he free who is not free – ‘
and comes the cramp. Do you want
to be singular, onstage, praised,
or blamed? I watched a field of sun-
flowers dial their ruddy faces toward
what they needed and was good. At noon
they were chalices upturned, gilt-edged,
and I lived in that same light but felt
alone. I chose to phone my brother,
over whom I worried, and say so.
He whispered, lacked affect. He’d lost
my record collection to looming debt. I
forgave him – through weak connections,
through buzz and oceanic crackle –
immediately, without choosing to,
because it was him I hadn’t lost; and
later cried myself to sleep. In that village
near Dijon, called Valley of Peace,
a pond reflected its dragonflies
over a black surface at night, and
the nuclear reactor’s far-off halo
of green light changed the night sky
to the west. A pony brayed, stamping
a hoof on inlaid stone. The river’s reeds
lovely, but unswimmable. World death
on the event horizon; vigils with candles
in cups. I’ve mostly replaced my records,
and acted in ways I can’t account for.
Cannot account for what you’re about
to do. We should be held and forgiven.
From Airstream Land Yacht, by Ken Babstock
Copyright © 2006 Ken Babstock
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Photo credit: Laura Repas
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