Roy Kiyooka, Pear Tree Pomes

Lovely, lovely! I had only vaguely heard of Roy Kiyooka until this spring, when a colleague suggested - forcefully - that I look at including his 1997 Pacific Windows: Collected Poems in my BC literature course. Really, she meant that I should include his Pear Tree Pomes, so I was delighted (in a mixed sort of way) to find an edition of the earlier book among Margot Louis' books for sale in the department.

I didn't know what to expect, in spite of the recommendation, because I didn't add the book to the course, and I didn't go track it down to see whether and why I should have considered doing so. See, I'm still overcoming some surprisingly enduring biases that I acquired unaccountably in my late teens and early twenties, in my abrupt and incomplete transition from math geek to literature nerd. Chief among those biases was a general discomfort with what I think of as 70s poetry - the misspelled and underpunctuated, like that of bill bissett and bpNichol. Bits and pieces of their work amaze me, so beautiful they are, but in a bulk reading I develop something like fatigue, intense enough that I lose interest in the work. Very strange experience for a compulsive reader. The infrequent and glancing mentions of Kiyooka had me thinking of him as one of Those, so to speak.

But Pear Tree Pomes is utterly fantastic. It was written between 1982 and 1985, after the departure of Kiyooka's wife for another woman, and there's a persistent and gentle sadness behind and among the poems of this volume. They're certainly not elegies, though, not by any stretch - his reflections on the pear tree's place in his life, in his family, in his community are coloured by the experience, but alternatively one might say that his recollection and re-telling of the experience are coloured by the intimacy of his awareness of the tree.

I didn't read this book for the biography, though, and you shouldn't either. In any case my pleasure doesn't come from the story. It's all about the phrasing, the wording, and - to a lesser extent - the pairing with David Bolduc's illustrations. The apparent clarity of its phrasing and the seeming transparency of its communication are seductive, really beautifully seductive, but don't trust me - read some of it.
just the other day i ate up the last bowlful of

your preserved pears and wasn't it just the day before
'yesterday' we stood in the back-alley looking up
at its array of white blossoms and under our breath say
how lucky we are to find such a splendid clapboard
house with its own tall pear tree . eight brimfilld years
spoke to me as i put the last sliver in my mouth and
suckt up all the sweet pear juice . from here on in i'll
have to go it alone if i'm to compost another spring .
i'll miss your preserved pears your paring knife and son .

p/s there's a dozen pears rotting on top of the camper
(p. 41)
This book goes into my regular list for re-reading, as of now.


Hedgie said…
What a coincidence. I just ran across Pear Tree Pomes this past week (in The New Long Poem Anthology, 2nd ed., edited by Sharon Thesen) and immediately fell in love with it. It's certainly one of the most moving and beautiful longer poems/sequences I've read in quite some time. It's too bad it's not readily available currently.

I hope in a few days to post a short discussion of it at my "Compost Heap" blog.
richard said…
So where's the promised post, Hedgie? I look forward to seeing your thoughts!
Hedgie said…
Sorry -- I was distracted by something bright and shiny. I hope to have it up in the next 3 or 4 days.
richard said…
Hey, no need to apologize! I was just curious to see what grew in the compost....
Hedgie said…
Still working on it. I have added your blog to my blogrolls, though.
richard said…
Thanks for the traffic, Hedgie - and honestly, I don't mean to make you feel pressured! It's just fun to see what someone else has to say about a book you've read as well.

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