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Excerpt Month: Witty, Tough, Flirty, and Wise - Don't Miss a Glimpse of Leon Rooke's Rank Songbirds

OB_february excerpts

book cover_rank songbirds

As we continue with our February spotlight on excerpts, we would be remiss if we forgot our poetry lovers. Today's excerpt, from CanLit icon Leon Rooke's Rank Songbirds (Porcupine's Quill), will give a glimpse into the new work from one of the most playful and prolific poets in the country.

Rooke's signature wit and charm are on full display here: Underpinned by a foundation of longing and toughness, the fun, funny, and sometimes just a little bit sexy poems in Rank Songbirds are pulsing with life and verve. The passing of time, and the absurdity of our inability to predict the future or let go of the past as fallible humans, runs throughout this collection, which presents a kind of pugilistic joy at taking necessary knocks in the strange ring of being a person.

We're excited to present these poems, courtesy of The Porcupine's Quill, today.  

Excerpt from Rank Songbirds by Leon Rooke:

Come now, let’s
Roll around on the floor like
We are God’s scruffy minions
Let loose from paradise on a day pass or to enjoy a weekend in the country
I will hold your hand I will say sweet words into your ear
I will comb your hair after a cooling swim in the river of mirth or
Read to you a gentle story as night falls                oh
The night is enchanting is it not though
What a relief when morning faithfully arrives
And with it a breakfast of sorts, hot coffee at any rate,
Make mine Cuban Mexican French Italian Greek in a pinch
Do you employ sugar, madam?      certainly not
Cream?      beg pardon, cream never      surely
I am not perceived as one of those effete creatures installed
In green garden high on a plinth
In expectation of redeeming luxury     to put it another way
How long must I live with you before you learn my name or
Is my name finally the name of all those you’ve professed adoration for
Through your expansive holiday with love      all
That hand-holding business which comes to nothing I
Might well say my hopes were dashed the moment I
Hooked up with you, hooked, did I say hooked,
Hooked is not the word I would utilize for what
Assailed me although it is true your lovely poodles and I
Loved you with full heart in every corner of the corridors of desire
In full expectation of the occasional expectation of merciful understanding
If rarely such was ever to be glimpsed, a man thing I suppose, whatever
Those in the higher realm of witchcraft might claim.



What I ask you, oh great traveller, means this Statement of Charges from the Odeon Hotel, Paris, France, one week’s stay at 1,800 euros, and this one, by rumour a Balzac and Chateaubriand hangout, La Closerie des Lilas, 500 euros for your daily foie gras de canard, your grilled turbot, how can this be when you know not a syllable of French, when you have been by my side every minute of every day, why was I not with you on the gay journey, I who have words to say to this Balzac’s chase of rich widows through the whole of his immature life. And here in this sheaf I see Morocco, a month-long sit-down with your pal Bowles, not to mention that strung-out pile of beat-freaks or radiant wordsmith Jane. Hell’s bells, don’t attempt extricating yourself, you will only dig a deeper hole, the guilt, your eyes express the bitter truth, and another thing, kindly stop pawing at me, get yourself a dog if you’re wanting love, as for me I have booked a morning flight, my shoulder bag is packed, I have serious need
            for new shoes
            steep in the heel
            that I may tower
            over everyone.



Time to call in the children for a confab. Sit down and be quiet, please. Understand, dear children, we are off to Zurich in the a.m. in a big leap for world peace, uniting of the Koreans, Cuban relief on the front-burner, flaming of remaining Nazi bunker high on the agenda, revitalization of world court a priority, restoration of looted antiques, reunion of lost sweethearts, elimination of ceaseless weeping whatever the cause. Unfortunately leaving your ears unwashed, broken goblets unswept from the floor, the rent unpaid, your stomachs unfed, grievous omission given that we take parenting seriously in this neighbourhood. Your schooling was, we trust, sufficient, your outlook adequate to the circumstances. Look for us not tomorrow or next week. What a relief to be shut of you always underfoot, phalanx of squealing rodents, accept that the Holy Ghostly Triad stands in awe of your sacrifices, your fine factory work the moment you ceased wetting your bed, that is if you had beds. Why, we have asked ourselves, coddle a child, who was there to coddle us, despite which it is your innocence, your welfare, we hold most dear. That’s it, kids, the broken cup of mercy is obliterated, our best magicians have gone suicidal. Pardon, please, the dark moment, daylight is, you know, an illusion, full darkness beckons. To hell with it, to hell with everything, time to make entry into the Parlour of Inconsolable Gents and Maidens, to hell with them as well, when did you last ask yourself, why go on?



Those angels serenading us through
Hazardous night were rank songbirds chirping away
Mindless of hawks zooming overhead.
A new city ordinance decrees possible arrest, detention,
For our fake smiles 

Like you’re fleeing on foot from a robbed bank,
You’ve stuck up the dour employee 

At We Cash Your Cheques, now your phony smile
At police officers blazing away.
The city believes you had this coming.
Is this not your city? Had you decamped
To Florida that day? 

When you yesterday said
Today’s sky would be blue

Were you thinking of me?


Excerpt from Rank Songbirds by Leon Rooke. Published by The Porcupine's Quill. Copyright 2022 by Leon Rooke. Reprinted with permission. 

Leon Rooke is an international reveller, skirt-chaser, and former wastrel whose celebrated oeuvre may have been ghosted by his wicked half-sister, or maybe his mother, or an eighteenth-century 'Keeper of the Lamps'. But not this one. We may wonder why. Also, he’s a raffish [ed. note: charming] bum.

Buy the Book

Rank Songbirds

‘Tonight / I’ll serenade you / With kisses / Modestly dressed...’

In Rank Songbirds, Leon Rooke deploys his playful wit and slantwise perspective to explore the joys and the burdens, the hilarities and the surprises of life in its absurd, charming, tragic minutiae.

These are poems that revel in foibles, saucy verbal sparring and the possibilities of artistic expression while ever mindful of the fallibility of humanity, its voracious appetites, its complicit silences, its convulsive politics. And though it may be that ‘Those angels serenading us through / Hazardous night were rank songbirds chirping away / Mindless of hawks zooming overhead,’ these poems remind us that today is not to be confused with last week’s curse, that freedom is getting the high notes right and that, in a pinch, one might ‘apply love’s bandage to the shiftless heart / This minute pooling debris about your feet.’