Thursday, March 1, 2007

Overhead Crane

In the summer of 2001, I spent my weeks off work in Vancouver. In the giftshop of a BC Ferries boat, I came across a book called Going for Coffee, an anthology of poems about work edited by Tom Wayman. I was interested in work poetry because I was writing quite a bit about my own job at the time, loading airplanes in Nunavut--poems that I would eventually publish in my book Unsettled--so I bought the book. Most of the poems in Going for Coffee were pretty forgettable, anecdotal, haphazardly crafted things. But one poet, Peter Trower, stood out. He had a few poems in the anthology, and all of them were miles above the rest; gritty poems about logging and industrial work, but with an individual music of the sort a poet doesn't just find accidentally. On the trip back across the Strait, I bought Trower's Chainsaws in the Cathedral, his collected logging poems, and I've been reading him ever since. My poem "Forklift Operator Wanted; Recreational Facilities Provided," I dedicated to Peter because, although I wrote it before encountering Pete's work, my poem was a kind of cousin to his "Overhead Crane," which was one of the poems in Going for Coffee that I first fell in love with.

After trading a few letters in 2005-06 and a few phone conversations after I moved to Vancouver in November, Pete and I finally met in person towards the tail end of last year, in North Vancouver, where he lives part time. Not surprisingly, even though Pete's in his mid-seventies and I'm just a pup, we got on like a house on fire. After that meeting, I wrote this poem:


Dear Peter,

The day was auspiciously fine;
Riding my Shadow in unusual sunshine
On this wet west coast in December
Simply sublime. Can’t remember
Ever having her out this late, much less
Enjoying the weather. After I crossed
The bridge over Second Narrows, I passed
Thru Dollarton, Lowry’s haunt, headed west
Along the tracks down Low Level, past
Those godawful elevators, looming
Colossal over the grain cars. Christ,
The pharaohs built nothing to beat em! The grass
Was green between the rails and the scent
Of rye and wheat’s boozy ferment
Entered my nostrils to lodge in my noggin.
(You and me both have distilled the cost
Of following that whiff too far, tobogganed
A little amok.) I thought of us and of
The women persistent in their perverse love—
Your Yvonne, so lately departed,
And my Rachel, better judgment
Bested only by the muscle of their hearts—
While I watched the densely packed zooming
Of pigeons above. It’s a sentimental
Lie that doves mate for life, never unfaithful—
But that does fuckall to disprove
The existence of endless love.
I was glad to find you as well
As can be expected, despite all you’ve lost.
Pete, let’s do this again before long.


Here are a few other things on Pete from the web:

AUDIO of me reading "Overhead Crane"

A short essay I wrote about Pete's "Industrial Poem" for Arc

My review of Haunted Hills & Hanging Valleys, Pete's Selected Poems

Carmine Starnino's review of HH&HV (well worth the read)

A review of There Are Many Ways

Another one

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