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Patricia Keeney
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Swimming Alone
Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1988. 96 pp. Poetry.

They warn you not to
dangerous they say
what if you get into trouble
what if
in the early morning when pellets of rain
rip the mist like whispered rumour, loud
in the dark fir circling
what it
the majesty of one
deliberately fracturing glass
moving down through pools to make
a footprint on mud that's swallowed whole
slipping behind the raft and out of sight
breathing under the whirled pearl smoke
brooding and dreaming, what if

one becomes enough
or meets another single creature
ploughing through this lake
also swimming alone
for the first time since childhood
in cunning furtive spasms
until the strokes are long and steady

what if we two angry isolates
touching souls together
ignoring all the prohibitions, expectations
swimming especially in lightning
white nudes between each sizzling shaft
and always at night, when the sky falls down
and we push through fuming stars
barely missing the moon's pale hiss
what if we two, wrinkled and cold and buoyant
never come out of the lake

swimming alone is for the brave and desperate

_______________________________________________

New Moon, Old Mattress Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1990. 94 pp. Poetry

You and I have just finished
facing the emptiness, killing
the old year, the old life, leaving
the house that started us off.
New moon and old mattress.

I say goodbye
to powdery laundries
in the warm cobwebby basement
arch rooms we walked through
secretly wedding and wedding
white squares where things were
oily grime we hid so well
behind it all.

Roof-high monster-mouth
snorts in the lane
gobbling up our insiders
(living offal)
through a slit in the wall.

The house caves softly down
like a gutted fish
slimed in ancient blood
scales, a tarnished silver
dropping off.

Our children turn to snow
build people, branchy-limbed.
I long to make with them
this clean clod life.
Stand instead a shivering mockery
with bags in each hand-
pots and pans and radios
calendars, chopsticks, scissors-
unable to dispose of anything, anywhere

at the festival of light.

Then you arrive, my dark flame
grinning at the new door.
Little leaded triangles
chiseling diamond.

We settle quickly into safe ways
eating elaborate breakfasts together
share news in steamy doughnut shacks.

The children attach and detach
a melodrama of marvelous mood and poses.

Mincing on barren ice
you sing out your frozen soul
in high falsetto pitch
like a lobster boiled red and
shrink under winter's late livid sun.

Forgotten lovers, we meet unexpectedly
over garbage-cans and washtubs
throw dishes in this domestic revolution
sound the arias of our helpless hysteria
and perform like deposed monarchs
the ritual of meal preparation
testing things with fingertip and grimace.

Ragged king and queen
dreaming in exile.

You and I began
in the same impossible place
of flowers and fire
spruce boughs, baubles and animal breath.

Innocently you bring us remembrance.
A single wisdom moves us now
slowly growing tentacles
pulling ourselves up
slipping into the stream.

It's dim and foggy and touching
a big-eyed alien mystery
the getting there

where love tears and screams
in high old flight
and dazzling pain.

_______________________________________________

The New Pagans Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1991. 120 pp. Poetry.

Someone is singled out for celebration
like a saint the Church decides on
counting up miracles
good works in multitudes.

Is there an act left to sanctify
some area of living not media-blessed?

The whole department is here in costume
nervously congratulating themselves
understudies suddenly given starring roles.

I sit out their ululating silliness
in the suburbs
with immature trees
and that clean country-fishbowl look
on the back deck.

Fiery-eyed woman waiting to incinerate.

Beyond the starry shadows of my hiding
houselights and applause
announce the canonization.
A man I've known for years
tearing his way through
just like the rest of us.

Affection is rampant
the things he's taught us all
says a trembling secretary.

There's only on lesson here, my dear
that fame like history is a matter of timing.
He gave everybody exactly
what they wanted and now
the gratitude pours in.

I, however, would like to make a speech
about this wife, his children, his friends
who keep on going.
I would like to make a speech
about those the Church condemns
heretics and wanderers
clustering at the gate
making it hard and holy.

Sparks still shooting from my head
I invoke the new pagans
rising up remote from stony walls
with bodies and voices like an earthquake.

To start again with flame and rum
with flesh and bone
and sacred circle of ground.

_______________________________________________

The Book of Joan Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1994. 80 pp. Poetry

COMING OUT

Joan begins dancing at the edge of the sea.
Soon she's half a mile over the waves
whirling in a tiny pavilion
to boom of surf and whistle of spray.

Angel, extravagant at play.

Suddenly the sea's alive with wings.

Two by two the twirling girls weave
through wind and sleet, swaddled
in scarves and shiny macs
crinkled and squeaking like newborns
these embryonic belles
charging into the dark.

Gangs of them sit at tables drinking barley
watching, wincing with lemonade
sugaring down the acid to a smile

making appointments with boys they like
for next night under the clock-tower
or if they don't leaving expectations there

desire running out
on the bright inexorable face
ticking away hope with large hands
banging out humiliation
every hour on the hour.

Graduated to gala dances
the tipsy girls topple and sway
on pointed silver. Wings and wands
encrusted with brine.

Women by enthusiastic acclaim
they drive far into green land
where woodsy men wait for embraces.

Drink ginger-beer from old stone bottles
swirling a lovely coloured marble at the mouth
of their potent potions.

Joan and her burgeoning friends.
The perfect children of gypsy parents.

Black-haired barmaid shaking brass earrings.
Innkeeper puffing away at barrels and kegs
filling frothy mugs under silver and oak.
Shirtsleeves rolled up so muscular wisdom can work
on young girls who pass through his doors.

Passing through. Passing on.
Never keeping anyone in.

_______________________________________________

The Incredible Shrinking Wife London, Ont: Black Moss Press, 1995. 160 pp. A post-feminist novel.

Chaper IV - Ping Pong

Katie arrived at Backwoodwaywardforwardawkwardarkwoodamnwoodinwoodreamworldwonderwood Writers Retreat a day late. Organizing two weeks away from Corey and from teaching so early in the fall had not been easy. But Charlie had insisted she take the two weeks and finish the novel she had been working on for so long. Perhaps that was all she needed. But she hadn't counted on this particular camp atmosphere.

She felt ill at ease among so many established writers.

Joe Germaine, on the other hand, was the veteran at camp.

"Two weeks without a complaint," as he put it to her that evening at dinner. Trying to be unobtrusive, she had occupied the one available chair, opposite him.

So casual. But Katie felt his presence strongly. He was all edges, slanting at her. Dangerous cutting edges. Angles that caught the light like blades; sharpness aimed from the quiet pull of dark corners.

Sitting across the table, she felt knives sheathed and fixed. Social chat was impossible. He was already telling her too much with his black bony look and burning blue eyes. He had a face sculpturally set at youth and racing stallion - purebred black, flying along perimeters pounding out the old tracks, hooves beating down virgin territory smooth under him, grazing on delicious tidbits while the sweat settled. Where did these images come from? Was he sending them out or was she making them up?

Somehow she knew this man was a roamer and a gambler. And indeed she wasn't far wrong. In fact, Joe was already involved with an attractive novelist and TV interviewer at the camp, named Sally. She was 50 and he, at least ten years younger, rested comfortably in her sensual companionship.

Katie was struck by the fact that Joe's demeanor seemed to take her back before her marriage and the complications of Miguel to her ancestral fathers. Men who strode out of the Canadian West with chivalry bred in their small town hearts. Big masculine presences with a weakness for quite pretty women. They all moved with the long stride of pioneers and preachers, settling the wilderness and then leaving someone else to maintain order. Joe was tall and rangy like they were. Taut.

Joe's writing, it turned out, was full of unexpressed violence - sexual master-slave games. These were dramatic tricks maybe, and interspersed with lyrical flights. But if (as Katie suspected from her own tortured fantasies) it's true that you write what you can't live, then these fantasies promised their own seduction as a clue to him.

Katie was finally trying her own hand at wish fulfillment. Or revenge. She was determined to write a novel - the life of a philandering female poet. Liz Lively.

She was going to turn the tables on all the male poets she'd studied for so many years, who saw history and current affairs in the shape of the female body, where revolutions spawned from dark and secret wombs. Who condemned small lives. Who demanded magnificence every moment.

When they wrote about nature, it was not soft but savage. they raped sensibilities with language - ravenous wolves, evil-eyed tigers, the very engines of cosmic unrest, roaring pitiless mountains.

In gruff drunken voices, they described domestic pathos - black eyes, broken noses, handfuls of hair pulled out. Their mates committed suicide, went mad, or lived out a nasty vengeance. Their children wrote exposés and made fortunes.

And somehow these creative giants triumphed. They all fled to Greek islands with mistresses and, imbibing sunshine and retsina, convinced themselves that guilt cannot survive a completely pagan live.

Katie wanted to turn all that around. Put a woman in charge for once, creatively upsetting the older order. The Joes of the world following rather than leading. but she wouldn't reveal Liz Lively to anyone. Not just yet.

_______________________________________________

The Selected Poems of Patricia Keeney Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1996. 152 pp. Introduction by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

I love you
because your eyes are blue-with distant water
your speech the nervy racket of urban streets.
I love you because you fight it and fail
because you make me feel-easy, uneasy, foolish,queenly
plunging between blushes and hunger.
I love you because you take me whole
giddy and prayerful, cautious and headlong
my carnival of masks tied to a moody rock
that can fly in the right wind.
I love you because you are charting me
passion's cartographer numbering every blade of grass.
I love you because you have time
because you've seen me awkward, stranded
in a room accused before strangers
your only instinct to protect and later protest
"You were not strong enough. Your are too strong."
I love you because you desire strength and understand weakness.
I love you because you talk to me, and at me
stubborn resistance wearing down at last
forcing the flow both ways until our boxing is dancing.
I love you because you bother me
because I can't hide from you
because you let chaos in, inch by liquid inch
like an ocean through the wall's bright ugly gap
I love you because you won't go away
I love you

_______________________________________________

Global Warnings Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1999. 134 pp. Poetry

There are thunderstorms in Paris
Eiffel Tower's a mist screen.
Winged things, giant flies
with blue and orange eyes
drown in heavy waters
of the Seine.

Because we are no longer reverent
the fabulous statues gleam and glower
stubborn abstractionists permitting only
a light behind leaves.

It is good to see anything
in this frozen culture.

Before us grins the monkey king
trembling operatic heaven, ecstatic
at his practice scale of arcane gestures
written infallibly by ancestors.

With delight he strokes and curls
a quivering feather crown.
Elegant fingernail paints the stars
where gods butt out their good cigars.

Such odd and antiquated wit
sits high above an open sea of faces
chanting freedoms in the square.

Responding, we embrace oblivion.

Polish vodka lifts us high and low
through clanking unsafe buildings
caged with friends who speak
no tongue we know but liquor
gets us to their gypsy mystery
violent need they substitute for love
ugliness that keeps them sullen and alert.

A week of global warnings brings us sober Sunday.

Rough plank places yawn awake
take clover baths where people swarm to hilltop shrines
a drone of honey in their hymns. Our blistered feet
climb steep and narrow streets until we reach
the steam of yes and no.

Wrapped in coarse towels
we squat on fragrant balsa benches
sweat out sins and beat our backs with birches
in the savage sauna that is spring

until we come to clench
and burst of skin
around seeds

hardy first folk
in some forgotten history
happening again.

_______________________________________________

Vocal Braiding (with Penn Kemp) London, Ont.: Pendas Productions, 2001. 48 pp. An experiment in poetry and theatre bringing together "a braided version" of several long poems by Keeney and Kemp. Performed in Jaipur, India and for Indian television, the work was later done in a number of theatrical and poetry venues in Canada. /Vocal Braiding /also exists as a CD
   
Penn: Vocal
Pat: Braidings
Penn: (to Pat) How did you sleep?
  Would you please open the blind and close the window?
  Let light replace the sound of the morning traffic.
Pat: (to Penn) My mind's a port town quiet water under waiting hulls.
  The mast is tipped to fishing patience.
Penn: Care for a coffee?
  Dawn begins in courtesy.
  Day frays us to night afraid of one more dark vision.
  Light another candle please.
Pat: We wander crooked wharves breathing rubber and the rusty brine cannot tell boat from home or how the sea and sky are rigged at constant agitation.
Penn: Sequestered in our pink room behind a pink shade
Pat: Because today I am impelled by no strong force or passion nor following design the ping of things at anchor
Penn: We curl breast to back against each other.
Pat: Starving squall from roving gulls needles, cuts the nerve. Yet
Penn: Home is where the heart stays. Home is where the heart stops. Home is
Pat: this whitish float of fixed
Penn: answer to your question
Pat: and moving parts - holds us.
Penn: Rest and the rest is easy
Pat: snuggling forward in the wind bulky solid in a salt collage.
Penn: You say.
Pat: We start to trust in harbours feel we could find work
Penn: and I write it down to remember when I am restless
Pat: hauling in and launching
Penn: your kindness on the eve of your fiftieth birthday.
Pat: Leaving the harbour
Penn: at last.

_____________________________________________

You Bring Me WingsToronto: Antares Press, 2011. 278 pp. Poetry and intercultural conversations between Patricia Keeney and Mexican poet Ethel Krauze. The conversations cover such areas as the challenge of the female artist working and living on either side of the American border, approaches to writing poetry, surviving love and living life fully. Each section is illustrated with a number of poems, Ethel having rendered Pat's work into Spanish and Pat having rendered Ethel's work into Spanish.

  1. LOVE
  The Conversation
  Two women writers sit facing each other on opposite sides of a desk in the airy front room of an apartment in Mexico city. Dark-haired and intense, they huddle close in conversation. Pat and Ethel. Canadian. Mexican.
   
Ethel: Sometimes I think I suffer from ontological oppression. Perhaps all women do. To be ourselves and also, to be the image in the mirror. We are always watching ourselves. Why?
Pat: Do you think it's uncertainty?
Ethel: I don't know.
Pat: Perhaps it's self-scrutiny. Or maybe, just self-doubt. I mean we know that we know and we know what we know. But is what we know what we should know?
   
Slowly absorbing their surroundings, the private space of their mutual friend, an actor, they realize they are not the only ones victimized by mirrors.
   
Ethel: Ontological oppression leading to ontological anguish.
Pat: He too wears a mask.
Ethel: But that is his profession.
Pat: As it is ours, right?
Ethel: You're right. Almost every poem that I ever wrote, every novel, every story hides a ghost narrative.
Pat: For me too. It's the subtext.
Ethel: The story behind the story.
Pat: Let's not worry about what it's called. Let's just talk about what interests us.
Ethel: And hopefully, it will interest them.
Pat: Them?
Ethel: Women
Pat: And men?
Ethel: Only if they're interested in women ... the way an actor is.
 
They look around at his theatre posters and baroque art, breathe in the musky, pampered body scent of his elaborate theatrical transformations.
   
Pat: Let's just have a real conversation ...
Ethel: ... about women.
Pat: About literature.
Ethel: About women's literature.
Pat: It always seems to start in conversation. Doesn't it? conversation with other women. Conversation with ourselves.
Ethel: I began writing in a diary.
Pat: My point exactly. A conversation with yourself. A very positive thing.
Ethel: I'm not sure most men would think so.
Pat: But it's what keeps us going. As women. As writers. Conversation. It changes us.
Ethel: We grow. I'm certain of that.
Pat: Conversation empowers us ...
Ethel: ... as writers. As thinkers. Even as lovers. It lets us explore ...
Pat: ... and move into areas that are perhaps forbidden.
Ethel: The exploration so often goes back in time. to our mothers. Grandmothers.
Pat: Our foremothers. The through line is matrilineal for us.
Ethel: Always ending with ourselves. Woman to woman through the generations.
Pat: All of our work is drawn to conversation, I think, because it contains everything . Literally.
Ethel: We put it all together and it changes us - as women and as writers. I talk therefore I am.
Pat: We write and therefore we are. I learn who I am through my writing and through sharing with my generations of women.
Ethel: Through the female family and friends.
Pat: But until I put it all down in my work, until I recognize those relationships in my writing I don't quite know who they are or who I am in relation to them.
Ethel: To put experience into words makes it real, doesn't it? Proves that we exist. Conversation - sharing, identifying this way - this is the flag of our nationality as women. Yet it's rarely taken seriously by men. The result is that we so often just go silent, especially in their company.
 
Their eyes stray to gauzy curtains set against blank grey walls as they spray out over rooftops in the wind that whips off Chiquita, breezing through and breaking down their sense of isolation.
 
Pat: So we keep diaries and journals. No one else has to see them. They've been an enormously important form of expression for women.
Ethel: An outlet. Perhaps the silence around them is why so many women find such inspiration in simply talking with other women.
Pat: It's kind of creativity - those particular words have never been spoken before.
Ethel: And men never understand, "You have spent eight hours talking about stupid things. What are you talking so much about?"

_____________________________________________


First Woman Toronto: Inanna Press. 2011. 96 pp. Poetry. Juxtaposed against a range of cultures, this new volume of poems is a series of personal and political journeys examining "the interior life".

I want to tell you
about the first woman

my first woman

because you should know
fable and fact.

Her breasts surprised me, pliant
fingered questions there
for the asking, startled points
of exclamation.

Her face comes ancient
iconography under flickering eyes
shut tight, gone swimming in the stream
of fire I feel run through me

from all women:

Sappho, an island of women
devoted to grace
soldier of love
and metric versatility.

Lilith humanizing Adam up
from his boring beasts
unbound in her hair

eschewing angles
for demons, whip light
cracking the globe
on its furious round.

Her milder daughter, Eve
stuck with a serpent.

How does it start?

An afternoon of language
excited by itself
luring words, ours for others

hers and mine for you

and you and you

a woman disclosing her fear:
what poetry might unleash
to whom I say, this art contours
controls, soothes and smooths

(this treacherous art)

candles and goddess song
a witches' brew of nectars
swirling in glass bowls

bursting brush fires on our heads
the hiss and spit of grapes on vines

scorching us with each other

snakes curling hair
mouths flickering tongues

playing with light
simply the freedom

drunk at a kitchen table
our orbits fixed
circling each other
broken only by attraction

that pleases me
(assuming it is more
than vanity).

*

What ore has she struck
alive, sleeping vein missed
by you, deep as you've delved?

The moment between
things held, breath before
dance begins again
the old slow gravitation
to and from.

You

lie over us listening.
Log house moans.
Old world hewers and drawers
we pioneer hard
at work.

Should you
join, interrupt, intercept

leave and let love?

Understand

I cannot do this
without your. She
extends us. Through me
you can have all

the she
you desire.

There is talk of strong women
what they contain, places she wants
to go, walls I've smashed down
so much you've sidestepped
to let me storm through

dangers I've courted.

You tell her
she's bedding the patriarchy.
I prefer putting paternal to rest
like the mothers we are

devoted to children.

*

Later comes morning
your arm around her
consoling a fear
I feel, the ice
of betrayal.

Days
I wander our rooms
smelling her
in opium dreams

_____________________________________________


One Man Dancing

(Inanna 2016). A political novel, a human novel, a theatrical novel, One Man Dancing isset in Idi Amin’s Uganda and looks at the precarious and powerful role that art can play under a dictatorship. Based on true events, it follows the life of Charles Tumwesigye –an actor-dancer with the legendary Robert Serumaga’s Abafumi theatre company – who survives the horrors of war only to find himself lost in Europe as a political refugee and then physically shattered in a Canadian tornado. One Man Dancing moves from bold experiments with tales of traditional Africa told through music, myth and dance to the darkest worlds of international politics, artistic risk and personal endurance.

From the novel:

Charles looks up at the stage and studies this Robert Serumaga. Solidly built and very sure of himself, Serumaga clearly comes from money and privilege. But the things he is saying are extraordinary. Masks. Dance. Inner self. Africa. Drums and colors and chanting.  Charles is thrilled that Joro has brought him here to Abafumi, to Robert Serumaga.

They sit silent for many hours. It is a Baganda story that Abafumi is telling with their bodies, with their bead skirts and elaborate hairstyles, with their headdresses and knives. It is a story Charles knows. The story of Nakayaga, demon of storms and whirlwinds, who demands the limbs of many victims before being appeased. The story of a victim who pleads for mercy, pleads with his song and his drum to be spared, pleads because he is a father and a husband, because his family needs him.

The intensity of the rhythms stops Charles cold. His heart hammers and he breathes hard. This is not an imitation of life. It is larger than life. Not just a story but the imaginative inside of a story. “Where understanding begins,” Serumaga is saying.

_____________________________________________


Orpheus in Our World

(NeoPoiesis, 2016).  Based on the oldest of Greek songs in verse – the so-called Orphic Hymns, written even before Sun and Moon became gods in the pantheon, this breakthrough volume is a conversation between ancient and modern worlds, between myth and contemporary reality. The poetry of the gods enters into an active dialogue with Male and Female in a unique mix that is at once poetry and theatre. Keeney’s Orphics speak to the eternal connections between the grandeur of the cosmos and the intimacies of human psychology. 

 From the volume:

Uranus (The Cosmic Dance)

spin daddy spin

whirl around the world
your long bright ribbons
for every living thing

turn me loose and flutter me
pull me tight again

          revolve yourself                          
          devolve yourself

spin daddy spin

            *

she:  I’m bored  

he:   you’re bored because you’re not passionate about anything

she:  what do you suggest?

he:   do something drastic
        involve yourself

_______________________________________________
 

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