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Girls and Handsome Dogs by Norm Sibum  

A lonely woman in the country attempts a crossword during a thunderstorm. Police stop a suspicious character who endeavours to explain his unusual behaviour. On his way to a dinner date, a man walks and wonders if his ‘need’ is too obvious. Often comic, sometimes somber, these poems offer a narrative of the exotic and the ordinary, the ridiculous and the sublime.

‘One good swipe with the sword at the feet and the skeleton of the poem falls down laughing. That is Sibum’ signature. To get an idea of how it looks on the ground, imagine taking an anthology of Victorian, pre-Raphaelite and Modernist poetry, tearing all the pages out, scattering them around on the floor in a central library in Baghdad, letting the looters walk over them for a few days, and then reassembling them -- or what’s left of them. The resulting combination of randomness and order would approximate what can found between the covers of Sibum’s bed.’


2002—A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry,

Review text

‘Norm Sibum has lived in Canada for over 30 years, and has published a dozen books of poems, yet is still little known. This, I suppose, is because he gives every indication of being a loner. He is a poet fascinated by incongruity and odd juxtapositions. He tends to pose as an inconspicuous observer commenting wryly on the strange people and events he sees around him in a dead-pan and highly allusive style. This style is erudite in reference, requiring readers not only to keep their wits about them but also to be imaginative enough to make connections between statements that often appear challenging and discontinuous. Girls and Handsome Dogs, attractively produced by the Porcupine’s Quill, possesses the same quirky wit and insight that characterizes his earlier work. Prominent within it is a long poem, Aginthorpe on the Divan, that follows its main character through the drunken aftermath of a party in a series of poems that have the surreal vividness of a dream -- and may, in part, be presented as dream. In it we encounter a view of the contemporary world in all its bemusing combination of the absurd, the sublime, and the horrific. It is one of those puzzling if somewhat infuriating poems that do not give up their secrets easily but reveal enough to intrigue the mind and invite continued rereadings that prove more rewarding each time. Sibum, then, is his own man, and writes poetry that, for good or ill, is like no one else’s. It can be as challenging as a cryptic crossword (one of his poems is actually about a crossword) and can become similarly addictive. An acquired taste, perhaps, but one that deserves to be both sampled and savored.’

—W J Keith, Canadian Book Review Annual

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‘Sibum has a natural gift for meditative narrative, a quite powerful instinctive sense of appropriate form, and a wonderful and diverse eloquence in the old sense of that word.’

—Michael Schmidt, Director, The Writing School, Manchester Metropolitan University

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Girls and Handsome Dogs by Norm Sibum is an eccentric work. Halfway into it, I confess I felt like the lady in Sibum’s poem ‘‘A Bash at Aginthorpe’s’’ who is not shy to admit to her host: ‘‘I haven’t the foggiest/As to what you could possibly be on about.’’ Yet, preparing this review, I found myself copying out line after line, quotes that I coveted as guarantors of Sibum’s talent.’

—Andrew Steinmetz, Montreal Review of Books

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‘One of our most modern poets.... There is no nostalgia about his classicism, no resignation in his satire.’

—Carcanet Press

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‘He creates a very original kind of dialectic between present and past, in which each illuminates and penetrates the other ... there is in his approach none of that bright post-modern cynicism that makes everything grist to the solipsistic mill of the present.’

—Poetry Nation

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‘A world is glimpsed from the corner of his eye, a multiplicity of voices is briefly overheard. From these Sibum has made a rough, durable fabric; he is a Browning for our times while at the same time having developed a voice that is completely his own.’

—Marius Kociejowski

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‘It is difficult to write poetry about God, alcohol, the disenfranchised, and spiritual identity without rewriting every post-modern poetic cliché offered up over the last fifty years. Poet Norm Sibum is up to the challenge, though, and in Girls and Handsome Dogs he spins interesting poems on the big subjects, rife with imaginative symbolism, quick wit and naked clarity of thought.’

—Quill & Quire

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Girls and Handsome Dogs is a return of sorts for Norm Sibum. He has never been widely read in Canada, and his two previous collections were published in England. A terse citation in Michael Schmidt’s influential Lives of the Poets can be credited with starting a Sibum renaissance, for only two Canadian poets are so much as mentioned in that vast tome. Schmidt bruised a lot of egos with his cursory treatment of Canadian verse, but he also piqued the curiosity of more than a few readers. Sibum’s neglect within Canada is a travesty, but an understandable one, for he writes verse that is urbane, stately, aristocratic, and decidedly unfashionable. Much of his work recalls early Eliot in its tone, its flexible yet regular sense of form, and its half-modern vision of the world. His previous collection, The November Propertius, is aptly titled, for there is something of the aging yet playful Roman about much of Sibum’s verse.’

—Jack Illingworth,

Excerpt from book

The Inspiration

Redhead with big brown eyes
   And a certain sex appeal,
Nobody’s fool, everyone’s pal, popular here,
         a waitress,

It just now hits me how you have
   Insinuated your loneliness,
Your desperation and bravado
         into my material.

Shall we make it official then and I put to work
   A breezy, amatory measure, some equivalent of
Ovid’s rising six, falling five,
   And get thee in a garter belt
         and me from out of my straitjacket?

Excerpt from book

I Went Out West

The woods in Massachusetts might thaw in the Spring
And robins hop over the ground,
And girls and boys link arms and sing
And the old suspect gladness in the first flowers.
The sun, bearing down on Rome, might make her
Too warm and evil, inhospitable to virtue.
It might blister the wastes of old Persia and
Bake to imperishable hardness
Poems from time out of mind,
But men, muttering anywhere, shine --
Inside their bowl of sky --
The dull gleam of the propitiation
Of well-being. Even so, I shivered
As my prayers settled on my bones.

*   *   *

I left behind some stockade.
I burdened animals, followed rivers.
The winters snapped at soul and limb.
Men stamped their feet next to the campfires
Far from their fathers’ realms
On account of the brutal cold.
How did I keep going?
To whom did I pray?
We penetrated deeper.
Spring once more and the blooms again
Began to article the clouds for spirit
And flesh and manageable truth.

--Solitude was the god. The god, one day,
    Would come like a pleasant evening
    To bless many a civil scene,
    Many a stoop and veranda.
    Or, ghost-ship, it would drift
    On the seas of the ever-changing.
    It’d be a strange land, this,
    Always fair for the dead.


Norm Sibum has been writing and publishing poetry for over thirty years. Born in Oberammergau in 1947, he grew up in Germany, Alaska, Utah and Washington. He has published several volumes of poetry in Canada; two recent books, The November Propertius and In Laban’s Field, were published by Carcanet Press, Manchester, England. His most recent collection, Girls and Handsome Dogs won the Quebec Writers’ Federation A. M. Klein Prize. Sibum currently lives in Montreal.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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POETRY / Canadian

POETRY / General

ISBN-13: 9780889842304

Publication Date: 2002-02-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.62 in

Pages: 128

Price: $14.95