rob mclennan / There was something about the body: Sylvia Legris

rob mclennan

The recent disappointment that came as Saskatchewan poet and artist Sylvia Legris’ tenure editing Grain magazine ended is tempered, knowing that perhaps now she might return further to her own writing, hopefully another trade collection to a small list of published books, from circuitry of veins (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1996) to iridium seeds (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1998) and the Griffin Prize-winning Nerve Squall (Coach House Books, 2005). Whatever happened, I wonder, to those small prose-pieces she was writing, loosely taken from the films of Alfred Hitchcock?

For my money, Legris has been one of the few contemporary Canadian poets to understand the use of space on the page. While working at Coach House throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, Toronto poet and editor bpNichol explored the page as poet and printer both, attempting and achieving things with Stan Bevington’s machines that no-one had considered, yet so few since have really worked to explore the page-as-canvas, or, alternately, the bare bones of space so consistantly or so well as Legris. I’ve seen it since, but oh, so rarely, in poems by Jay MillAr, Lisa Robertson and even kevin mcpherson eckhoff. Even as her first trade title suggested, her poems explore the machinery of the body, pinpointing the minutae of language, and the smallest parcels of physicality. In her poems, big ideas exist in small. Her poems in this issue, 3.15, explore the physical aspects of breathing, between the body’s mechanisms, and the stories that we tell ourselves, the breath and the words of a song caught, captured and twisted within. In her poem “Lore (decoy),” she writes:


Nestling sostenuto. Ventilatory perfusion. Sound lingers
then leaves the nest percutaneously. Acoustical porosity.


Countersong sung pneumomnemonically. Lush pelagic
lungs. Sponge tissue spun with fowl grass and goose
feather. Down-lined gosling-chambers. Hollow allure.


Lung Shadow-Decoy. Lung Confidence-Decoy. Lungs
lure the nectarivoracious. The wet-nesters, nest-robbers.
Mimes. Mimics. Song-thrust, song-throttle.

Oh, the body, the body. In 1998, I spent over an hour with Legris on the phone from the lobby of Saskatoon’s Hotel Bessborough, the old Canadian Pacific Hotel mere blocks from where she was living at the time. Her breath was palpable. She preferred to remain on the opposite end of the phone line, where she was most comfortable. There was something about the body.

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