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That Night We Were Ravenous

That Night We Were Ravenous by John Steffler
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A beautiful new edition of the award-winning collection from Canada’s new Poet Laureate.

Newfoundland-born poet John Steffler is one of this country’s most accomplished writers. Recently named Canada’s national poet, he is the author of The Grey Islands (poems) and the award-winning novel The Afterlife of George Cartwright, both of which have become classics in our time.

That Night We Were Ravenous is Steffler’s most recent book of new poetry. In this extraordinary gathering of poems, he follows the trajectory of some of his earlier work with poems situated in Newfoundland’s coves, on trails, and in communities that testify to the pure bite and edge of this terrain. Other poems in the later sections of the book, more intimate, are set in Southern Ontario and Greece.

This is poetry that captures the imagination and activates the heart. Simply by looking through Steffler’s eyes, we come away with an enlarged sense of the natural world on the one hand, and of our own humanity on the other.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
McClelland & Stewart; February 2009
128 pages; ISBN 9781551992242
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: That Night We Were Ravenous
Author: John Steffler

My hand moves below
in the bright element, turning
a page. The deck chair’s bleached

arms, my feet bare on the flagstones: all
mute, opaque as at home.

Nor are the cypress, the lemon, though trimmed with bookish
eager to break their poses and dance.

I thought sun and the island’s beauties would dive
into my eyes, out of my mouth in poems.

Nearby, small lizards are skirting
the foot of the wall: quick
green marginalia,
foreign script.

Overhead, the Grand Prix. Burly helmeted flies come
whining down the blue straightaway over the mulberry tree
and smack the sun-covered house,

drop flat bullets around my feet. Tiny,
terrible headaches. Twiddling legs.

The lizards scribble, licking them up.

Green, independent flames.

A Word about the Poem by John Steffler
I wrote this poem on the island of Naxos, in Greece, where I’d gone in the hope of returning to writing after a long exhausting year of teaching. There I had the fairly familiar experience of reaching a longed for, idealized destination — expecting in this case that the beauty and history of Naxos would somehow revive my imagination and my sense of being excited by the world — only to discover a place with a surface of factual reality that was no different from home. In a sense I did find strangeness there, but not of the sort I’d anticipated — more a foreign opacity or silencing mystery than the vestigial Arcadia I’d stupidly hoped for. Partly it was as simple as discovering once again that I couldn’t escape from myself. Partly it had to do with needing to come to terms with a place as it really was, not as I’d visualized it beforehand. The disturbing energy stirred up by these collisions was in the end reviving and exciting in unforeseen ways.

I wanted the poem to convey and evoke a perplexed, estranged, almost convalescent state of mind.

From the Trade Paperback edition.