Heart Residence

The collected poems of Dennis Lee comes to about an inch and half thick, bound together in a volume called Heart Residence.

I tend to prefer my poetry books slim and able to hold in one hand, plus this one was due back at the library, so I only read the poems marked 1996, 2017 and a smattering of others. The somewhat arbitrary selection of poems worked out well, because they were a little angry and depressed and that matched my mood.

In ‘Nightwatch II’ he writes:

But when did it all go by?
The scotch is gone. My body’s shot. And the years come
faster now, year by year they come,
                             faster and
               pass me with their cargo of phantom aches and coronary alters,
                                       I have squandered whole decades, it’s
late to late to start and yet too
soon to pack it in …

Who hasn’t felt just like that, that time is crashing past and there’s not enough time to do anything? I feel like I’ve had that exact conversation with more than one person.

Lee writes about careers and family and the things that control us.

In Blue Psalm (I) he writes:

            Nicotine owns me.
                           Cholesterol too, and the sweet deadly
booze owns my body.                          And in my mind:
                           money, security, fame — how many non-stop
               compulsions repeat their
                                                                    imperious ticks in my ego?

Lee’s Nightwatch series does much to capture the manic, half-lucid, angsty, argumentative insecure thoughts that plague anyone sleep deprived and drinking too heavily at night. Nothing is clear; everything is awful. How reassuring to know we’re not the only ones to think so in the middle of the night.

Lee is a Governor General’s Award winner, a Office of the Order of Canada and was the first poet laureate of Toronto.

Dennis Lee was at Events 61 (Poets in the House) and 90 (Dennis Lee and House of Anansi: A Celebration) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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