The trick to building houses was making sure
they didn’t taste good. The ocean’s culinary taste
was growing more sophisticated and occasionally
its appetite was unwieldy. It ate boats and children,
the occasional shoe. Pants. A diamond ring.
Hammers. It ate promises and rants. It snatched up
names like peanuts. We had a squadron of cooks
specifically catering to its needs. They stirred vats
of sandals and sunglasses. They peppered their soups
with pebbles and house keys. Quarts of bottled song
were used to sweeten the brew. Discussions between
preschool children and the poets were added
for nutritional value. These cooks took turns pulling
the cart to the mouth of the harbour. It would take four
of them to shoulder the vat over, tipping the peeled
promises, the baked dreams into its mouth.
And then the ocean would be calm. It would sleep. Our mistake
was thinking we were making it happy.
Sue Goyette, “Eight” from Ocean. Copyright © 2013 by Sue Goyette. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Source: Ocean (Gaspereau Press, 2013)
- What do you notice about how the poem is put together? What kinds of stanzas does the poet use, for example? What kinds of poetic strategies does she use? And how does the shape and form of the poem connect to its content?
- It’s helpful to know that this poem is from a book called Ocean in which all of the poems are about the ocean and each poem has a number rather than its own title. In this poem, what is the relationship between the ocean and the people who live at its edge?
- How is the ocean portrayed?
- Make a list of all the things the poem says the ocean “eats” — what does this list tell you about the people who live there? Does it give you a sense of the range of loss?
- How does the poet ground the poem’s imaginative leaps — the dream-like logic of cooking stews for the ocean so that it won’t be so hungry it eat your house, for example — in careful details so that it feels real to the reader?
- If you were going to recite this poem, what tone would you use? Where would you pause? Where would you speed up or slow down?
- Write a short poem that acts as a modern folktale, imagining the ways people might try to negotiate with a natural force powerful enough to be destructive — like the sea, the wind (tornadoes, hurricanes), or the earth (earthquakes). Choose one force and personify it; imagine it as a person and write a short biography for it. In a dream-like world, how would people try to appease this force of nature? What would they sacrifice to protect their lives, families, communities? Look at the list you made in response to question 4 and weave these items into your poem. Take imaginative leaps.
This poem appears in the Griffin Poetry Prize–nominated collection Ocean. Watch Sue Goyette read another poem from this same book here: http://www.griffinpoetryprize.com/awards-and-poets/shortlists/2014-shortlist/sue-goyette/#excerpt
Though Sue Goyette grew up in Quebec, she currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She talked about writing a biography of the ocean in poetry with Shelagh Rogers on the CBC show The Next Chapter here: http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/The+Next+Chapter/ID/2425608736/