Prolific and critically-acclaimed poet Allan Safarik has reached the point in his career where a “New and Selected” anthology of his work is well-warranted. Safarik’s made Dundurn, SK his home for many years, but he hails from – and is inexorably bound to – the West Coast, and it’s that watery landscape which receives his literary attention in The Day is a Cold Grey Stone.
Safarik’s introduction explains his steadfast connection with Vancouver; the ocean and its myriad creatures; birds (as a boy the poet sold squabs in Chinatown); and the colourful characters (family included) he’s encountered along the way.
The metaphoric and somewhat serious-sounding title is not representative of the work en total, which is often playful and entertaining, ie: a herring gull’s “like a starved\chicken with a complex.” There are numerous reminiscences from the writer’s childhood – running after the ice man’s truck; jumping off a garage roof; inhaling the sweet, blue smoke from his Czech grandfather’s Cuban cigars – and anecdotes about folks, including the toothless and wine-stained man in “Fish Candy”: “[He] digs his penknife\into the [cod] heads dislodging eyeballs\tosses them into the air\catches each one in his mouth\with a loud sucking sound”. As the story goes, a gull swoops to catch one of the tossed eyeballs and pecks the man, “leaving a brighter red spot than\on the forehead of an East Indian wife.”
In the lyrical title poem, the poet watches a “crazy woman,” “hacking\at the flowers with a stick,” and he’s witnessed her “quarrel for an hour\with a solitary tree.” In this poem, as with many in this collection, we see how Safarik walks the line between narrative and the lyricism he’s best known for. The latter is especially observed in the poem’s ending: “the void is a fearless wind\in a throat soft as water\O how the moon must hold her by its light.”
The poet often presents a twist with his final lines, as evidenced in “The Veranda,” which focuses on the old Czech men Safarik’s grandfather played cards with, and ends with what almost feels like an afterthought, but is indeed the line that resonates: “Chestnut trees were blooming on the boulevard.”
Personification’s a poetic device Safarik’s clearly at home with it. “A black car stares,” “Blood crawls over the floor,” and “The Sun gawks overhead like a voyeur\through the canopy of blushing trees\crushed plants applaud.”
Like a painter or photographer, this poet also utilizes light to full advantage. He describes a jellyfish as “A birth of light\Mouth of milk”. Delightful! In “Sea Wind,” a poem so rich with description it’s a textual landscape, he describes “Flashes of landlocked fish\Spine-silver needles in the sun”.
“As long as I can remember my family has had a working relationship with the ocean,” Safarik writes. Clearly the West Coast got its hooks into this poet, and his fans will appreciate the veritable net of arresting poems – 25 new and a school of selected – that he presents in The Day is a Cold Grey Stone.
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