Of Place and Time (2)

As well as whirling our minds to the other side of the world, the click of a key on Google can help us look back in time. It’s not that we should compose historical poems, but that we have the learning resources to expand our writing through allusion. To illustrate, consider Robert Finch’s poem “Morning Glory”. He begins by describing the blossoms:
          …their twirled crepe-paper
          pop open into cornets
          at the first tug of sun, they are faces then,
          with one large mouth or one large eye
          with insets.

However, what might have been simple description of a particular morning glory is taken further as Finch compares a different flower of another age:

          As the Old Dutch
          bizarre and bijbloemen tulips
          were marked that were so in vogue
          in the 17th century.
          Indeed, in 1830, a single seed
          from Japan’s rarest strains was a luxury
          far outreaching gold …
How refreshing to feel the mind leap temporal boundaries in one poem. Finch’s historical reference pushes past simple aesthetic admiration. There is more involved than “frosted lips / around a tongue or zones of eye-white / glassing a moonstone pupil.” This morning glory, enriched by a link to the past, reminds that we are not prisoners of digital time, but have a history behind us also. Yet how many current Canadian poems reach back to such connections?

We do use myth, the oldest form of history, on occasion, but perhaps somewhat self-consciously, as though setting the picnic blanket with borrowed antique silver. Instead, why couldn’t we pick up threads from the past as part of our human inheritance, then sew the threads into our work to make a new and stronger fabric? Imagine a poem on a contemporary subject that slips its needle in and out of time.