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Rank Songbirds by Leon Rooke  

Leon Rooke’s Rank Songbirds delves into dramatic and intense relationships, politics and the quirks of society, celebrating humanity’s resilience in spite of—or perhaps because of—its flaws.

‘Tonight / I’ll serenade you / With kisses / Modestly dressed...’

In Rank Songbirds, Leon Rooke deploys his considerable wit and his signature whimsy to explore the joys and the burdens, the hilarities and the anxieties of modern life.

These are poems that revel in a piercing look at foibles, saucy verbal sparring and the possibilities of artistic expression while recognizing the fallibility of humanity, with its voracious appetites, its complicit silences, its convoluted politics. And though it may be that ‘Those angels serenading us through / Hazardous night were rank songbirds chirping away / Mindless of hawks zooming overhead,’ these poems remind us that today isn’t last week’s curse, that freedom is getting the high notes right and that, in a pinch, one might ‘apply love’s bandage to the shattered heart / This minute pooling blood about your feet.’

Excerpt from book


My beloved cannot, may not, will not execute
The unworthy act     hold
Her pretty feet to the fire     set
Entire cities ablaze     prod
Her with the ironmonger’s hot poker,
Withhold lemonade, shout a vigilante’s heated threat
She will in no way tolerate the unworthy act though thieves waylay her,
Waters be shaken by hurricane,
Collapse of the very streets on which her feet set down.

Here, she says, hold my hand
Say me no platitudes
Lower no empty bucket
Into my well
Simultaneously don’t be suckered by a girl’s soft speech     flush
Of rosy cheek     flash
Of leeward limb
The bonny disposition of starlets on parade     look:
Me once a mere old-fashioned girl faint of heart, grace, and intellect     see
How pigeon-toed and halting my every step, an imbecile child     stirred
To tearful disarray by any shadow haunting floor or wall     an unkind word
Found the woman you are said to love     shivering
Through night’s repast     Fathom me
Now chewing to the bone
These very fingernails, my ratcheting sobs     was
That only yesterday?


Leon Rooke is an energetic and prolific storyteller whose writing is characterized by inventive language, experimental form and a wide range of engaging and often absurd characters with distinctive voices. He has written 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 and toured as a play 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 invested into the Order of Canada. He lives in Toronto.

For more information please visit the Author’s website »

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


ISBN-13: 9780889844483

Publication Date: 2022-03-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 88

Price: $16.95