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Stephanie McKenzie poem in Southword Journal 19

Stephanie McKenzie has published two collections of poetry with Salmon, Cutting My Mother's Hair (2006) and Grace Must Wander (2009). She is co-editor and co-publisher of The Backyards of Heaven: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry from Ireland, Newfoundland & Labrador and However Blow the Winds: An Anthology of Poetry and Song from Newfoundland, Labrador & Ireland and co-editor of The Echoing Years: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and Translation from Canada and Ireland. McKenzie holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Toronto and is also author of Before the Country: Native Renaissance, Canadian Mythology (University of Toronto Press, 2007). She is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial University of Newfoundland.





"In a 1928 letter to Eric Brown, then director of the National Art Gallery, [Emily] Carr bemoaned the deterioration of totems along the Skeena River and the apparent change of styles in newer totems.
            'I fully appreciate the difficulties (of restoring them), but there is too much catering to the 'beastly tourist,' she wrote.

            'They (the poles) have to be made so blatant to please them (the tourists) that the subtle beauty disappears.'"(Carr, qtd. in Ross, Andrew. "Carr Gallery Offers Homage to Past." Province, Monday, July 11, 1977, 23) ͥ

"What grieves me at the Louvre is to see their Rembrandts getting spoiled and the cretins in the administration damaging many beautiful paintings. Thus the annoying yellow tonality of certain canvases by Rembrandt is an effect of deterioration through humidity or other causes..." (Van Gogh, Painted with Words: The Letters of Émile Bernard, Monday 30 July 1988, 239).




Apologies for Changing of the Gods



Your master's paintings now jaundice even the figure of Christ.

Had I chosen theosophy, beliefs of my time, I'd turn my right

eye blind. But I've grown old with my Lord, wish to see him

touched by Rembrandt, not the money changers.


Still, I am an ocean away and have my own cares now.


Vincent, the Rembrandts here are worse for wear. They are carved

from boles of trees, have not turned to paper. But stone blind

people slap paint on red cedar narratives as old as the tablets

Moses carried down from his mount.


Like leaving Rembrandts in a west coast forest, rain

wind and salt their guards, we ruin fragments of a sacred

art once watermarked by rings of trees out in the open air.


Glaring spectacle, reductive tourist praise, we raise

our hands to gods in fields of sombre green, turn

red and varnished black believers, settle into hardened

pews for changing of enormous guards.




Reports from Van Gogh's Europe


Had I travelled to these worlds, smoky tones of west

coast lands, my palette would bear different hues.

Grey blue for horizon, green black for the trees,

grey wisdom of stringy clouds.


But I am hunkered in all of Europe's past, trace

colours in the south of France and those brought

here by friends who borrow tropics.


Could you teach me to pray your way, I'd board the ocean

liner bound for B.C.'s coast, take the tablet of an earthen

host rich with wettened clay and praise to the gods


live out days beneath your forest's earthen shrines.


But the gods, you say, wither in their upright

towers like Rembrandt yellowed in small

office space.


Nothing that's real survives, save crows in golden

wheat, the beat of their wings pure calling to altars.

Their songs unchanged may lift men's hearts or plummet

them to early deaths, though blackened

throats are constant and no one dares

make motley of their tunes.



ͥ Emily Carr (1871-1945) is one of Canada's most important and revered artists. In both her writings and paintings, she relied heavily upon the influence of the First Nations (Aboriginal peoples) of her day.


©2010 Stephanie McKenzie




Author Links


Salmon's Stephanie McKenzie page

Review of Grace Must Wander in the Munster Express

'The Disciples of Winter' by McKenzie in Verse Daily








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