Winter is fast approaching, and for many Canadians that means bundling up, strapping on some skates and hitting the ice. From highly-organized leagues to friendly pick-up games on a local pond, our nation's love of hockey has endured for over 100 years. Governor-General's Award-winning poet Richard Harrison understands this well. His first love letter to the sport, Hero of the Play (Wolsak & Wynn), is currently celebrating it's 25th year in publication. To celebrate, Harrison has released 25: Hockey Poems, New and Revised (Wolsak & Wynn), a brand-new collection that explores the roles hockey has played in his own life as well as its ever-evolving place in our national conversation.
Warm, nourishing and effortlessly-evocative, the poems that comprise 25 find Harrison honouring hockey as a sacred pastime, uniting not only families but entire generations, its relationship to Canadians always changing but never far from our hearts.
We're very excited to share an excerpt from the book today, which you can read below.
Excerpt from 25: Hockey Poems, New and Revised:
TWO POEMS FOR EMMA, AGE ONE
1. Public Skating at the Olympic Oval
After 3 years’ absence, I’m back
on the rink. Right now, you are too young to
appreciate the irony of steel between
me and a Herculean pond where I forget
everything I ever knew how to do on skates – yes,
I lost all my body once possessed of soaring
a circular breeze among schoolchildren turning
and turning the untiring gyre of a truly Canadian
O. Ms. Harrison Rouleau,
for the part of you from Britain and France, the part
to which we are supposed to bend in literature and speech,
this ice is the perishing of the world.
But here, where knees are bent on a frozen lake
to give power to the moving figure, this ice teaches, this ice
is the birth of play. Here are my hands. You reach up,
grab them and run the only way you know: head forward,
torso like a skater’s at the angle of falling,
working the carpet like a pair of foot pumps;
you are getting ready for this abandon, this disproportion,
and I, learning how not to think
of my body again and just go and go,
The puck is dropped. Naming begins: This is a puck.
Puh,she replies; puh,she whispers.
There are only so many apologies,
so many startings over.
This is one, a baby at thirteen months saying, puh,
holding the flat, hard face to her face, her breath
sketching itself in the winter air against the new moon
in her mittened hand.
After confession and prayer, the slate is wiped clean
for the truly repentant. This is how I understand it,
how it is mocked by the lie and faith
reasoned in a circle.
The puck participates in both the sphere and the cube.
I slide it down the grey sheet of ice like a curler with
first rock. On this ice, I can teach something
about force and motion.
Puh,she says, and points. Let’s go get it, I say. Let’s go!
Every year the ice – new like the fresh page, conception,
birth, a life converted mid-sentence – we say,
has seen the light.
If the Earth were just that bit further from the sun
(say the planet was a human head, I mean
the length a hair grows overnight) it would be
winter everywhere, and Christ in buried Jerusalem
would have said,
This is the water upon which I build my church.
Zamboni has come! Rejoice!
That which is old shall be made new –
and right before your eyes, to boot –
in scalding water, a spinning brush
and a Celtic love knot’s route
around the rink at a pace that says, There is no rush.
The stage is flat, and everything worth watching
will happen where Zamboni spreads the world
to all four corners of its map. Arena tractor, boxy
as a child’s drawing of a truck, it breaks the game
to make more game, and then departs by its
circus-elephant door. And there it is: before
the players take the competitive ice again,
the moment, serene in neither victory nor loss,
the time between the answer and its prayer.
Richard Harrison’s eight books include the Governor General’s Award–finalist Big Breath of a Wish, and Hero of the Play, the first book of poetry launched at the Hockey Hall of Fame. He teaches English and Creative Writing at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, a position he took up after being the Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Calgary in 1995. His work has been published, broadcast and displayed around the world, and his poems have been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. In On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood, Richard reflects on his father’s death, the Alberta Flood and what poetry offers a life lived around it.