On cutting open a poet—Edmonton Poetry Festival

In view of the Edmonton Poetry Festival, here’s a poem for poets and other kinds of surgeons.

I read this poem for “Gettin’ Gritty” at Zocalo, but it has changed, and while it’s still operable, may change still. So hey, until it’s stitched up, should you have an organ or colour to add, feel free to drop it in the comments.PoetryatZocalo

Photo by Randall Edwards


On cutting open a poet

In the end—after staring into the sun for signs,
after listening to the soundless dark
in the compline of countless nights,

after the abandoned mines of first lines,
the cut and paste of the half-baked
—you find your way by groping.

You can see this in the entrails of any poet.
Cut one open, spill the viscera out on the table,
get a butter knife and your almanac,
and go to work.

Look, parts will be bloodless,
windblown-dry and stiff as crinoline,
from years of howling
about absence and desire.

Parts will be galled green,
like Shylock’s gizzard,
fighting that old war of grudge and glory.

Parts will be black as a skillet,
from days standing in the kitchen
with the oven door open.

Parts grey, recalling days when joy
was turned away,
for fear of its natural leaving.

Some will cast a redeeming red,
from grief versed in earnest, tell
of sorrow’s beast—hobbled by
the transubstantiation of a line.

And some will glow, coral-pink, sing
of the mornings you left your room,
felt your way outside, taking only
your blindness and your hope.



  1. I taught a short poetry seminar this morning and what joy. Brilliant white flash of grey matter as they opened a vein and bled all over the page, sharing snippets of where they’re from and spilling cleansing rain from new eyes.

  2. After reading Joyce’s contribution, I know that I shall never be a poet, let alone teach the stuff. I tend to plod through life, unobservantly stomping on the daily poetic flourishes that I subconsciously suspect are out there.

  3. I am no poet…but I keep coming back because the words name that which I recognize but for which I have no language….with grateful thanks….

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