About the book

  • Winner of the QWF A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry

A pink bathrobe turns into a kingfisher; a kitchen floor displays the stigmata of an oncoming storm; a Stone Age axe-head surfaces in France for someone from Newfoundland to stumble over; the covers of a book vibrate through broken intimacy. Here, friendship has the power to transform; love, to disembody. In a series of radical translations of the Earl of Surrey's sixteenth-century sonnets, a garden of plastic delights uproots the pastoral scene; a gallant compliment on social pedigree translates as salacious appreciation for a chef's handling of a ripe tomato. The poems of Volta turn place and time over on themselves, examining how we make what we call home, and what it is to be in relation: to people, to place, to history. A shape-shifting speaker rejects the idea of a singular self, and invites the reader to join a quest for that hypothetical meeting-place where community beckons but is never reached.

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.

Excerpt

Love poses a Question

Once there were answers: things corresponded,
the planets in motion struck
heavenly chords, all was
as it should be. If the humours
got out of sorts, the gods laughed
and fetched healing elements
from the four corners; if Pan, sprung,
made pandemonium, it
was answered. The world
is noisier now, and depleted
of explanations. Who can say
how we are nourished
by land-mines or car-bombs?
What is a bomb? Tell me,
because my heart trembles.
Brothers and sisters, the earth is a question
that swallows sense. Walking with you
in the Alberta hoodoos, laying a hand
on the bark of a lodgepole pine, letting
the long flowering grasses wash clean
the crowded mind; world-as-it-is.
You asked, I listened;
this much was given.
Mornings, the sun rises
and traffic intensifies for a time;
oceans flood, then recede;
modulations without end.
The world, with you in it; then
kingfishers, rattling over the plain.

 

This is not a loss exactly

I buried the cat in the hill I look at every morning over coffee.
Dug the hole, laid it in, tamped the clod over.

It used to purr when you played your tapes of Oum Khalthoum,
Empress, Nightingale, Star of the Nile. You sang along

swirling the offbeats and drones I never could
wrap my tongue around. I spoke like the cat

you said. I couldn't look as I buried it
but now most days I can look at the hill

without thinking of it, and this is not a loss exactly.

But something spins when I look away;
at the edge of hearing, a voice warms up.

Reviews

Intelligent, sophisticated, witty, this is poetry of both technical virtuosity and feeling. Its language is tuned so finely it can move from the mundane to the rhapsodic in a... >>

— Mary di Michele

At the literal and figurative heart of Susan Gillis's estimable second book, Volta, is a series of 15 "translations" of the work of the Earl of Surrey, the 16th-century poet.... >>

The Winnipeg Free Press

Gillis's interpretations of the 16th-century earl of Surrey's poems are the gems of her second book, Volta. Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, was beheaded by King Henry VIII for... >>

The Montreal Gazette

Volta begins with the warning of "widespread damage." It's never made clear what the damage is, but the calamitous mood is certainly everywhere in these new poems, Swimming... >>

— Carmine Starnino Montreal Review of Books


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