The April Poems by Leon Rooke
Leon Rooke’s latest collection of poems concerns itself with an irrepressible heroine, adopting a variety of distinctive perspectives on her life, her loves and her losses.
April is pluck, prink and plumelets. April is an intellectual colossus who travels with a shotgun under her dress. Marriage to April is like the beauty of pure math ... or like juggling bricks in a hurricane. April is a pearl of a girl, mother and daughter, lover and beloved. April has spit. April is A Developing Story.
In his newest collection of poetry, Leon Rooke, author of Hot Poppies, A Good Baby and the Governor General’s Award-winning novel Shakespeare’s Dog, presents a collection of poems about the beguiling, inimitable April. Adopting a variety of distinctive perspectives of her life, her loves and her losses, he builds a picture of his irrepressible heroine and the follies and foibles of the lives through which she passes.
Rooke’s poems challenge and amuse, stimulating the senses and subverting expectations. His inventive language and imagery, and his cast of delightfully idiosyncratic characters, allow him to hold up a mirror to society and expose the planes and angles of humanity, all the bumps and hollows of it.
Table of contents
1. April’s Father
2. April’s Town
3. April Defined
4. April’s Diary
5. April in Haiti
6. April Lost
7. April’s ‘Quoth the Raven’
8. Not With That Attitude, Miss
9. April’s Pets
10. April’s Continuation of the James Tate Poem ‘Lewis and Clark Overheard in Conversation’
11. April’s Note on Her Repeated Continuation of James Tate Poems
12. April’s Hundred-Yard Run
13. April’s Soul
14. April’s Narrow Escape: The Early Years
16. FOUND (TWO)
17. Island Woman
18. April and Henry James
19. April’s Fashion Statement
20. Utter Calm
21. April’s Park Avenue Hats
22. Her Crossword Wars
23. Another Narrow Miss
24. Back to the Future: Is it all Folly?
25. Fragments Not From the Rose Room (6th floor, Princess Margaret Hospital, October 4, 2008)
26. Just to Be Clear About April’s Politics
27. April and Harold
28. April Down South
29. Like Tractors Clearing a Road
30. April’s Mattress Poems
31. My Personal Story
32. April’s Great Google Deal
33. April’s Bad Husband Day
34. April Dressed to Kill (Sam)
35. April’s Fling
36. April: A True Love Melody
37. My Bride (Revisited)
38. What We May Learn from Dr. Phil About Becoming a Good Husband
39. April’s (Bobby Darin) Song
40. Lunch with April
41. April Makes Her Stand
42. April’s ‘No Frills’ Poem
43. April and the Bad Bees
44. April’s Clunker Car
45. On the Ropes
46. April Contemplates God
1. God Wakes Today
2. God’s Snit
3. God’s Haircut
4. God Is Not In Today
47. Come On, Lamented April: Be Happy
48. April’s Deep Remorse
49. April Affirms She Married Well
50. Thou Beside Me Singing
In Leon Rooke’s imaginative, surreal world, it is always April.
In The April Poems, Leon Rooke bridges the gap between poetry and fiction with an array of poems that, while wildly experimental at times, form an overarching narrative about a woman named April.
The collection is a kind of fictional biography told through individual poems, a conceit worthy of housing a book’s worth of experimentation. It provides a structure in which Rooke’s blend of unique voices and magical realism can shine while keeping the larger perspective of the book in focus.
As the word "experimentation" implies, not all of Rooke’s efforts succeed. There are some longer works that veer a bit too far off the main path. Likewise, some of the short, one-note poems, such as "April’s Continuation of the James Tate Poem ‘Lewis and Clark Overheard in Conversation’" (a clever play on the original poem, which, as with Rooke’s continuation, consists solely of the line "then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs"), may or may not catch a reader’s fancy.
That said, all of the far-ranging styles and techniques make the moments that hit home that much more effective, as in the glimpse into domestic life provided in "April’s Bad Husband Day": "April and the children looking / chills raking the spine / knowing they knew him / from somewhere"
In "April’s Clunker Car," an encounter with a tow-truck driver who confesses to having wished he’d married April years before gives rise to thoughts of what might have been: "Yup, well, here you go, he said, / pulling into a hustling hub, / next time you’re in trouble / breathe deeply and I’ll be on your bumper / like a hurricane."
Unlikely as it is that every one of Rooke’s poems will hit the mark for individual readers, it’s just as unlikely that readers will not be amused, or moved, by any of them. Rooke is playful, but skilled enough to pull off most of what he attempts.
Rooke is known for experimentation, and for the distinct voices of his characters. He has received acclaim for many of his works, particularly his novel Shakespeare’s Dog, which has also been staged as a play. Rooke has been invested into the Order of Canada, and has received many other awards and prizes, including the Gloria Vanderbilt Carter V. Cooper Fiction Award in 2012.
The April Poems is a novel (pun intended) way of telling a story--episodic, disjointed at times, full of imagery and surrealism. It is a grand experiment, one that readers are encouraged to assist in conducting, and one that many will find successful.
—Peter Dabbene, ForeWord Reviews
‘Rooke takes the everyday happenings of a domestic relationship and makes them wonderful, not by elevating or magnifying them, but by insisting on them just as they are -- squalid and splendid, banal and profound, playful and earnest’
—Jeremy Luke Hill, From Word to Word
‘Leon Rooke’s The April Poems are a bit like walking into a batting practice with the home-run champ. Leon Rooke’s free verse musings on April explode off of the bat with the confidence of someone who always knows where the sweet spot lays. This guy is used to knocking them out of the park.’
‘One of the most touching aspects of this collection is that the poems in April’s voice seem altogether quieter, almost wistful, and are distinct from the viewpoints of those (including Sam) who would mythologize her, or whose grandiose descriptions belie the depth of her soul. Her vulnerability, ultimately more endearing than any exploit, is revealed.... Even seen through multiple viewpoints, it’s clear that April is more than the sum of these parts, as is this collage-like collection. Like that long and happy marriage, April is here to stay.’
—Rhonda Batchelor, Arc Poetry Magazine
‘The April Poems by Leon Rooke focus on appearances and acts of perceiving in order to convey experience. If [other poets] have used self-reflexivity to challenge boundaries of subjective and objective identities, then Rooke uses self-reflexivity to portray these boundaries as they are seen from the perspectives of two lovers separated by death.... [T]he deceptive self-reflexivity of these poems ultimately blurs identities between lovers, and speaks of the transference that sometimes occurs when in love, and when grieving.’
—Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Canadian Literature
Excerpt from book
3. April Defined
– What was it that attracted you to April?
– How I was made dizzy through love. How I came to see beauty
in the strangest things. How modern art suddenly made sense. Her
pluck, her prink, her plumelets. Her elegant feet.
– That’s it?
– Clothes on the body, then the floor. I was eighty miles away
and saw her naked in bed. She was saying smart things. I licked blue
plates in cheap diners, thinking of her. Knowing that she was smarter
than me. She was an intellectual colossus, big, big, and bigger. Call
her up, you got busy signals, you got guys from Nantucket, Singapore,
the Darwinian Isles. Because of her I could speak the language of wild
dogs. Gypsies jumped from blackberry fields, shouting her name. Bees
sacrificed their own air time to fly with her. Even wasps.
– What was it about you that made her keen?
– She liked digging me out of holes, where insects buried me. I
introduced her to invisible birds which made nests out of her hat bands.
I was a man of action who went out nights in a flying suit, in dyed
underwear, stopping trains that otherwise would crash. I diverted
streams so they’d trickle by our bedroom. I was savvy in the kitchen,
slicing beets. I was a brave son of a bitch in the workplace,
turning hot-headed thugs into limited-edition songbooks, Fords
into schooners on Lake Huron. I enacted legislation making Mother’s
Day an extended foray through Greek isles.
– So you’re saying your marriage worked out?
– Like the beauty of pure math. What did she say?
– Like juggling bricks in a hurricane
‘To lose the one we love, through illness – how can we bear this? We can’t and we must. This is the wilderness, the wildness, of these poems; grief scours us and sorts through us; incomprehension and painful seeing. Few books are as brave as this one, with its “black hope”. Leon Rooke has always been language-mad for the world, in all its complicated grace. This book thrashes against loss and, in doing so, names a deep tenderness.’
—Anne Michaels, author of Fugitive Pieces
‘The April Poems reveals the joy of loving – and the grief of losing – a “mature damsel” who travelled “with a shotgun under her dress” and boasted “Ideal cleavage too”. These poems and prose poems merge elegaic lament and rollicking lyricism to express the transcendent spirit of committed, coupled, household, marital love and the hurtful truth that is at “death do us part”. Supremely gifted in his art, Leon Rooke presents April and her husband Sam as exemplars of the casual, comic surrealism of real, everyday, domestic life. In this verse narrative that reads like a Federico Fellini film scripted by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, chuckles catch in the throat like sobs. Zany episodes contrast beautifully with sorrowful reflections: The April Poems underscores the madcap stress and exhuberance of marriage as well as the pitiful and maddening sadness that occurs when one of the couple passes away. It is a superb, poignant, and memorably humorous work, where April can declare her desire “to go at love / Like we were tractors clearing a road.”’
—George Elliott Clarke, author of Execution Poems
‘Leon Rooke has long been recognized as a great fiction writer, a master of the short story, a prestidigitator of tone, drama and humour. Fortunately, he brings these gifts to bear in his poetry, as well. As poet, Rooke is an outsider in the best sense – a mad scientist, a breeder of wily hybrids – immune to trends. In Rooke’s lines, there are shades of Pinter, Pasternak and Baudelaire. Read this book carefully, for it contains poems that can show us how to lose ourselves, and to recognize love, in any age.’
—Paul Vermeersch, author of The Reinvention of the Human Hand
‘These poems trace the anatomy of a love story through all its permutations – from outrageous humour, to erotic confrontation, to profound connection, and loss. No one can break the syntax of the poetic line, of love and of the heart like Leon Rooke. Such a poetic tintinnabulation! Oh glorious April!’
—Rosemary Sullivan, author of Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape and a House in Marseille
An energetic and prolific storyteller, Leon Rooke’s writing is characterized by inventive language, experimental form and an extreme range of characters with distinctive voices. He has written a number of plays for radio and stage and produced numerous collections of short stories. It is his novels, however, that have received the most critical acclaim. Fat Woman (1980) was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and won the Paperback Novel of the Year Award. Shakespeare’s Dog won the Governor General’s Award in 1983. As a play, Shakespeare’s Dog has toured as far afield as Barcelona and Edinburgh. A Good Baby was made into a feature film. Rooke founded the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival in 1989. In 2007, Rooke was made a member of the Order of Canada. Other awards include the Canada/Australia prize, the W O Mitchell Award, the North Carolina Award for Literature and two ReLits (for short fiction and poetry). In 2012, he was the winner of the Gloria Vanderbilt Carter V Cooper Fiction Award. Recently, Rooke’s works The Fall of Gravity and Shakespeare’s Dog were produced in new editions for France and Italy, two countries where his work has been greatly admired.
For more information please visit the Author’s website »
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