Swimming Among the Ruins

Swimming Among the Ruins



About the book

  • Shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award
  • Shortlisted for the ReLit Poetry Award
The submerged foundations of a ruined city, ancient statuary and place names, a drop of water echoing in an empty tomb, heat left on a path walked by generations—Gillis examines these remnants of passage, looking back toward their origins and forward into the possibilities of transformation.

About the author

Gillis, Susan

Susan Gillis has lived on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada, and now lives most of the year in Montreal, where she teaches English. Her poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, and her first book, Swimming Among the Ruins (Nuage/Signature 2000), was shortlisted for the 2001 Pat Lowther Award and the 2001 Re-Lit Award. "Kitchen Floor," a limited-edition broadside illustrated by Lori Doody, was published by Delirium Press in 2002. Volta is Susan's second book.


Blackberries, Brambles

Akhmatova wrote, "O look!—that fresh dark elderberry branch
is like a letter from Marina..." And she was right, branches criss-
cross, words sharpen. We lop them down, fit them
into envelopes. But I forget: you don't do letters:
Too much tangled in thickets and desperation.

Did I say envelopes? I meant elevators.
See, I've snagged favourite sweaters
in high rises, snarled hair in hedges, given up
skin scrapings for blackberries, tongueburst, the sweet
stain, explosion under light canine pressure.
Don't you just wish you were a dog sometimes?
No panic. Romping through brambles.

Even in delirium, near death, Akhmatova remembered.
Her bitter friend had been dead a long time.
Love. Don't think I'm thinking about you.
Anything but you.



The lake is still, after the flash rain.

A water spider crosses from shore to dock
propelled by snapping legs fine as a strand of hair.

I lie on my stomach on rough cedar,
watch through one of the gaps
a green wedge of this strange world.
The sun wraps me in a warm skin,
dries the damp behind my knees
and in the small of my back,
brushes the hair on my neck.
Heat passes through me.
I am cooled in stripes
by the fresh water under me.
A young eel writhes into the green,
spirals between minnows like a lost necklace
falling through time into obscuring grass.
I miss you.
My fingers slip
into the crack beside my eyes.


Susan Gillis' wonderful debut collection is a risky adventure into the always difficult poetic terrain of love of men and women, of places known and unfamiliar and, ultimately, of self. Her particular slant on the subject is the notion that… >>

— Michael Harris

In her debut collection, Susan Gillis transforms the familiar themes of 'poet abroad/poet in love' into a work that is both new and remarkable. with haiku-like attention to both mood and description, Gillis takes the reader along with her as… >>

Canadian Bookseller

Rapt, wholly attentive to the tang of the moment, Susan Gillis' poems take us to moods we thought familiar and reveal them as thresholds of risk and awakening: they remind us that vulnerability to lyric beauty is always the necessary… >>

— Don McKay

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