About the book
- Winner of the QWF A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry
In Volta, Gillis plays with the “turn,” exploring new directions, new angles, and changing forms.
“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 few beats of the line, in the space of a breath.” —Mary di Michele
About the author
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.
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.
“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 treason at the age of 30 but established the form of…” >>
— The Montreal Gazette
“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 few beats of the line, in the space of a breath.” >>
— 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. These poems, however, are not exercises in academic hermeticism. Rather,…” >>
— The Winnipeg Free Press
“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 Among the Ruins, Susan Gillis's debut collection, showed readers that she had…” >>
— Carmine Starnino Montreal Review of Books