Biography of Ken Babstock
Ken Babstock (born 1970) is a Canadian poet. He was born in Newfoundland and raised in the Ottawa Valley. Babstock began publishing his poems in journals and anthologies, winning gold at the 1997 Canadian National Magazine Awards. He currently lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Babstock discovered poetry in his teens, growing up in Pembroke, Ontario, in the Ottawa Valley.
Babstock's first collection in 1999, Mean, won him the Milton Acorn Award and the 2000 Atlantic Poetry Prize. According to the official edition of 1999, Mean is a "stunning exploration of the threshold and divide between our primeval origins and the meanness of our everyday lives." Babstock has since published a second collection, Days into Flatspin, which has also come in for high critical praise.
He was the winner of a K.M. Hunter Award. His poems have won Gold at the National Magazine Awards, have been anthologized in Canada and the United States, and have been translated into Dutch, Serbo-Croatian, and Latvian.
Babstock worked as Poetry Faculty at the Banff Centre for the Arts and currently lives in Toronto. He is currently the poetry editor for the Toronto-based press House of Anansi.
Babstock's collection, Airstream Land Yacht, won the Trillium Book Award, was shortlisted for the 2007 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize, and was nominated for the 2006 Governor General's Award for poetry.
Babstock's most recent collection, Methodist Hatchet, won the 2012 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize.
Ken Babstock Poems
The Sling Of Two Arms
I held her not well, didn't hold her well, jumped my gaze from one eye to her other, seeing neither, pinned one
Carrying Someone Else's Infant Past A Co...
Summer gnats colonized her molasses black eyes, her flicking, conical ears. She moaned, a badly tuned tuba, and tassels of ick dripped from her black-
Awareness was intermittent. It sputtered. And some of the time you were seen asleep. So trying to appear whole you asked of the morning: Is he free
Fending Off The Conservatism In Adorno
At the festering corner of Boston and Queen The Tasty Chicken House clings through May to its Christmas tinsel, and is not long for this world. Sanctioned colour murals under bubble script tags
Hunter Deary And Hospital Wing
Hunter Deary emits noises like peach pits; dry, scrotal humming that punctuates fits. When a hip comes loose it comes loose before breakfast and she pops it back in
The Minds of the Higher Animals
are without exception irresponsible. Which sounds alarming and is, admittedly, an aberration (perhaps not funny) of a more valid, thinkable notion, that dolphins, wolves, chimps, etc., flip a switch in us, casting klieg light on the frightening solitude engendered by the very Fifties idea — I know — that we alone are responsible for our own consciousness. A friend, who'd taken work as tutor to a high-school student, leaned over the back wall of a booth in a pub and told me: of all the thumbnail sketches he'd done for her, from Plato to Pascal and beyond, this Sartrean concept of taking ownership over all that you know, feel, and do, had proved the most opaque, the singularly most inconceivable stupidity ever designed to befall a girl, driving her to kick some shitty desk chair in frustrated disbelief. Now, Reader, make a face that's meant to express some woeful sense of pity and surprise, while feeling a cold sickness underneath. That was my face. I was mumbling things so far from the truth of what I felt, I could have been a clergy entering the manse, touching tops of heads, asking how days went, seeking food, while wishing one or the other end of this circus dead. The sight of a pint glass didn't cause me to vomit. I didn't reel, sweating and murderous, out into the street; but my mood stiffened, grew intractable, opaque; I felt blue flashes inside that were flares of all the moments I'd sought causality, a why for each failing of character, somewhere outside of myself, amounting to a web of reflexive sophistry that reached back into the years of my life like illness discovered late, or how rot sets into wood compromising the strength of a structure by softening its centre. Rising from my seat, I went and faced a woman whose caress had eased my passage through some months I couldn't pass through on my own, she'd been more than kind, I'd found I couldn't love her at the time, and fled. So I faced her, and apologized as best I could, given the mass of people in the pub. ‘This is a poem,' she said, ‘and that's not good enough. Around here, we don't let art, no matter how acutely felt, stand in for what's necessary, true, and right. Next time you face me, maybe leave you here. End quote.
We were more than a little sullen on the descent — ticked, really, at the dead-calm state of the air at the summit of Topsail. Like a row of penitents, we'd hiked the hard-scrabble straight up, lugging beer and a designer kite. It was blue and red and meant to funnel gusts through its windsock frame. Far from catching a mean updraft, it spent the afternoon nose down in the crowberries and fir. What monarch butterfly in Sumatra was so spent, so drugged or lifeless it couldn't flap one ear- shaped wing just once and cause a breeze, at least a dent in the Wedgwood stillness we stood inside up there? We coiled it and came down. And down on the crescent of shale, four different kids tugged on the guide wire of four different kites and hollered and bent backwards at the strength of their flight. Composure legged it back to the truck, we lit smokes and began to vent into our chests. Colin moved first, sidling over near a glib little pilot and flicking open a Leatherman blade. I went with it, thumbing the grind-wheel of my Zippo under the thin string nearest me. It left as if snipped. A parent saw what his boy had lost and ran over full of hot air, clutching tongs that pincer-gripped a heat-split wiener. We shrugged and sniffed as the appendix of string burnt to a cinder. We were up in the rarer atmosphere, the social layer, where it often gets hard to breathe, and silent. A new constellation just then visible over Belle Isle, specks leaving, signs enacting what signs meant.
That's not what we liked. It wasn't for us. It was pinned to a stream. Ear-marked. The arriviste mashed up with the avant-garde. We didn't go for that. That wasn't us. It wasn't quite right. Lacked focus. Might have tickled the kids, the simple, Or those others on that other coast, but not us. It wasn't what we liked. It was riding a riptide of research from Pittsburgh. Big deal. Where was the spit, the spark, the goatish smell of the real? Who could tell air from gas, music from dirge, dinghy from ark amid all that saleable merch? I'm saying we didn't like it. And we didn't. How much? Not much. We couldn't get in. There were no knobs on its doors. Goes to show some prefer building walls and floors to keep us here, outside, looking in. That's not what we liked and we disliked when we did with some vigour. Active. Off the couch and out with the X. Heave to with No, No, No, and especially Not. If there were a key here I'd make that ‘No' bigger. Is it clear what wasn't on for us? It's about cutting out rot. About rigour. About the men in acumen and the small made smaller. We didn't like it from the get go. It was under the sheets as boys, now it's everywhere and not. Not liking's like affirming we're here while stretching here to include whatever isn't. And we're right. Show me something we didn't like and I'll show you airtight. Excruciatingly tight. It wasn't for us and won't be. Ever. Trust me.
TO WHEN WE NO LONGER DIE
We have all we don't want now and can't know need, though the Victorian terminal's still visible from here. Its shell freshly sand-blasted, and what iron still veins those windows gives them a lumpen aspect, like trowelled-on mud in the winter of an era deeply previous to — unnamed calendrical marker fading fast into movie wars, pundits in seizure, and fragments from Lincoln's speeches. Latin U's appear as V's, we can't help wondering were they missing a particular chisel blade. Rock doves decorate the gothic cake in cack. Shot in black and white, we're to choose colour tone and contrast later, in post-production, once we're past the very teenage tristesse of imagining ourselves gone, all art-house taciturn, crises of finitude, and very little make-up. Ranks of the as it was ever it shall be, still smoking. Treble clefs of black squirrels, meanwhile, change to bass as a wind gets up in the far-off branch work. We'd like to be remembered for not mucking up the place. Are songs litter? Is there an alley we have yet to piss in? Accelerating heads whip past in illuminated diorama, flip-book depicting the one head. Our own train slows. We re-take our seats in separate compartments, tot up turkey vultures, imports from Arkansas, glaring at congested cloverleafs. Mid-range drone of turbines above sugar beets and alpaca. Appearance proclaims itself the original mystery. Northern life migrates north.
Morning desacralized, the quack science of fog. Moisture condensing around airborne granules of salt, it's cloud when we make out the silhouette of a duck. Spit, the air hits supersaturation and spits back. Gulls beyond the first veil: clown's horn lashed to the handlebars with stiff wire — Hermit thrush on the near fencepost, beaded meniscus in the bleached syringe. Electroshock, duster, blot. One crow's drawn-out ablutions. If Berkeley, as we hope, misfigured the contents, and ideas are like other things, here, on a porcelain toadstool sprouted from powerlines, is the sum of all past assertions on essence. Underfoot sponge, mystery mounds, moss ottomans, and everyone's addition shearing away from first additions. Wild rose, tin well cap, purple iris in the juniper tangle where a brook bogs out from up on the cape's moonscape. Shrew and owl. Confectioners table of black shale where the clapboard claps out. Tut's lost prick a wasp drips out of. Whoever it was ransacked the ossuary built this hitching post doohicky for the clothesline's antipodal pulley. Scalded wrack. What's the local term? Sippy cup in the shed near the chainsaw and widowed oar. Breaking the Bakelite surface out there, a minke bends into the first, the only, race gate — two grebes — of his zen GS. On day one of the home fishery, Michael, over a platter of cod, "The real is not mental, it's mental" as the pup tent fwaps, lifts anchor. Evening's a tranche of kids on bog bikes, Big 8 Cola, the dew line, Sikorski bolts, Purity Crackers, WikiLeaks, and sea smoke.
Sky a motif of cowslip in clear ice, mayflies make moon-dials of the flagstones. One hawk. Second hawk. They were up there earlier, as sand toads tacked from grass tuft to grass tuft, up the pressed dune's incline. Divots under the pin oak. Lake level's low. Unlike This American Life's female executive producer's testosterone . . . E. coli trucked in on lettuce, bocce lessons, pine beetle. The shooter games vibrate in Balm Beach Arcade so we squint, the better to look the part and later leak over The Guardian. Re-apply after bathing. Contrail or cloud pattern? We're late arrivals, like winter. One week, cedar fence to the waterline. Next, a passion play of flip flops. Husqvarna. An arm splint.
A.M. Axe or adze? Blame the tang on Stelco. A crow's shadow shoots the full length of the black locust — down, then right back up it again. The dew already burnt off the carrots. Dog's nose, or detonator tip of an upturned shuttlecock like something silo'd under the mown lawn. Original Thingist, remember Texas? Jackrabbits mimicking oil derricks, to less effect, though they suffered the earth's shudders. I just make it up — cheap Cuervo, flea flickers in shopfront chapels, and the tumoured bench seat of a Rambler with a history. What if it's all meant to work the way it's fashioned now, no other binding property or force? In the coming work stoppage, front-end loaders will dragon off to pick their teeth barracked in the municipal pit. There's a food cache near the tire swing. Crow knows you know it knows you know. When the prop shark died its tooth became first talisman then decorative then forensically interesting in a two-part episode of Hoarders. World-view of a killhorse, loosehorse, not that you ever saw it coming but you saw a Cassandra coming. Quarter mile from the Polish men's choir of frogs near a culvert, their kekking and blanging bewilderment's agent on earth. Night's idiot vestments now piled in the gorge. What an accomplishment, the scarred softball! Stand inside the dome of sumac — what, phantom, do you feel?
AUTUMN NEWS FROM THE DONKEY SANCTUARY
Cargo has let down her hair a little and stopped pushing Pliny the Elder on the volunteer labour. During summer it was all Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the — she'd cease only for Scotch thistle, stale Cheerios, or to reflect flitty cabbage moths back at themselves from the wet river-stone of her good eye. Odin, as you already know, was birthed under the yew tree back in May, and has made friends with a crow who perches between his trumpet-lily ears like bad language he's not meant to hear. His mother Anu, the jennet with soft hooves from Killaloe, is healthy and never far from Loki or Odin. The perimeter fence, the ID chips like cysts with a function slipped under the skin, the trompe l'oeil plough and furrowed field, the UNHCR feed bag and restricted visiting hours. These things done for stateless donkeys, mules, and hinnies — done in love, in lieu of claims to purpose or rights — are done with your generous help. In your names. Enjoy the photo. Have a safe winter outside the enclosure.
Wandering wordless through the heat of High Park. High summer. Counting the chipmunks who pause and demand the scrub stand by till their flitty, piggybacked equal signs can think through this math of dogwood, oak-whip, mulch. Children glue mouths to ice cream and chips, punch and kick at the geese, while rug-thick islands of milt-like scum sail the duckpond's copper stillness - Over-fat, hammerhead carp with predator brains . . . We can wreck a day on the shoals of ourselves. Cramped, you broke last night and wept at the war, at the ionized, cobalt glow that fish-tanked the air. We're here to be emptied under the emptying sky, eyes cast outward, trolling for the extraordinary.
The Sling Of Two Arms
I held her not well, didn't
hold her well, jumped
my gaze from one eye to her other,
seeing neither, pinned one
deadwood arm that numbed, then
fell. I held her unwell.
The veneer headboard bent, wavered,
its false grain a-swim like