A native of Penticton, BC, Christine Thorpe is the Development Co-ordinator for Poetry London.
Before settling on English Literature as a field of study, she studied biology, mathematics and computer science. Her two books, A Rind of Sun (Serengeti Press, 2008) and Tendered Arms (Manifold Books, 2011) are co-authored with James Wood, whose drawings "complete" selected poems.
Her poems "are addressed to 'those who feel in each bright stream, the pull of an underground river.' Willing readers are drawn from personal crossroads into subtly strange lands where skies may be truly falling but the play of imagination endures. Each poem tells its own tale."
What Passes for Conversation
We sit at right angles, you and I
with a curious lamp
attentive in the corner,
light probing each face
flowing over the planes
coursing the deeper lines
The light casting thought
onto a shelf of shadow where,
unattended, it desiccates
then drifts away
on the eager breath
of pretense and prevarication.
After the Circuit
A girl, styled in ferocity,
hair spiked, skin studded,
stands at the locker-room mirror
perfecting brows, angular,
Black on pale forehead.
She turns to me, mimes
the unplugging of ears
(I paused my MP3 novel)
and asks me, treadmill-tired:
Can you see if they're straight--
I don't think they are, can you tell?
I assess her brows for balance,
offer reassurance, turn away
this too-disarming gaze...
before shields, breastplates clatter about us,
before we sit down amongst the ruins
and weep for lost tenderness
Tendered Arms, Manifold Books 2011
Agrotis ipsilon, unobserved
Toes, cool on evening patio stones,
curl, imagining leaf-mould,
damp soil in garden depths
beyond the conversation.
Tongues, wine-eloquent, compete
for fragments of attention;
the fingertips of friendship
settle, then flutter off again.
Talk becomes exclamation
at sparks above the grass
of an undefended zone, dark
outside our civil circle.
We are wise
and put neither fireflies in jars
nor fallen stars in pockets.
We know consequences.
But the motivations of the firefly
are beyond us, and we turn our backs
to the black cutworm in his tunnel feasting
on a harvest of impatiens.
Borders have shifted, dew intervenes;
skunks, slugs slip through the hostas,
and we, being short-sighted, remain
captives of delight.
Tendered Arms, Manifold Books 2011
In the kitchen where words
are exchanged for knives,
and embarrassed tears
for crescents of ice,
I choose the straight blade,
you the serrated, to chop
this pepper, fennel, tomato.
We work the cold from our shoulders,
pour scotch, stir pots, sweep
eggshells from the floor,
out to the garden’s farthest edge
where asparagus sprouts
on its fire-blackened bed.
Next in Line
You gave her skates on her birthday
and an afternoon of being
mother/daughter rollers in the park.
You demonstrate the stride;
she’s awkward in the wake
of your practiced glide.
She imitates and stumbles
after speed and grace,
a taut grimace at your back.
The path between you stretches;
attention’s tether snaps
through hot air, wavy over asphalt.
Your smile leaps forward
to an undercover evening
with a yet-to-be admitted lover.
Ahead and on your mobile
in a giddy conversation,
you loosen the knot of good intent.
She’s fisted desperation,
spattered with your free and easy laughter.
It isn’t the prospect of death
so much as approaching decrepitude
and the irresistible pull of disorder
that has me downcast.
The way the house tends to sag and leak
or the car to squeak and rust.
Pay the money, make the repairs,
blame the laws of thermodynamics.
I find my equilibrium,
for the moment forgetting
the same laws pertain
to this personal frame.
Muscles are dwindling, arches have fallen,
thinning bones are constantly cold,
and this cashmere sweater has more pills
than the super-sized bottle of vitamin D
I bought to defer the damage
which living does to the DNA.
Today I was wiping dust
from the tops of doorframes
and musing about fallout
of various sorts, all carried
in the fine-ground cosmic drift.
Tendered Arms, Manifold Books 2011
It might fall
from the leaves
of a tedious book
you never could finish,
Your heart in a letter,
a letter not sent
in a novel unread,
marks the place
where you stopped
for the story and what I thought
of your valiant erudition.
Marks the day you withdrew
your heart from mine,
transcribed with haste,
misplaced in shame,
at the time
You’ve a crafty lure
fashioned from rainforest feathers
and in it you’ve stitched
a barbarous hook designed
to snag what swims in the past
yet longs to be remembered.
You’ve also a spoon
curved to sparkle, dipped in spices
enticing to shades of the unrecalled.
Your angled line draws them up
from the endless drift that rocks
a barnacled wreck of dreams.
The catch is assured
by silent oars and patient landings;
they’ll flop for a time in the panicky air
then pass through memory’s foyer
into the salty larder which feeds
the urgency of your story.
Tendered Arms, Manifold Books 2011
How old were you when you first starting writing poetry and what was the impetus for that?
As many do, I wrote poetry at times of emotional storms and then stopped when the weather cleared. But as far as taking writing poetry on as a craft in a dedicated way, that was only about 10 or 12 years ago.
What poets influenced you the most over the course of your writing career? Do you have any specific favourites?
Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Don McKay, Jane Hirschfield, W.H.Auden, the Psalmist. Lately, I’ve been spending time with the ancient Chinese wilderness poetry. This inspires me in a curiously indirect fashion.
Your first love seems to have been science. What led you to move more into English literature as a professional pursuit?
Easy answer there: I had to work, and the job interfered with my ability to take three-hour sections of the day to do lab work. English courses I could fit into lunch hours and then apply myself to the material in the evenings. Studying English literature has always been a delight to me and I had been busy reading in the "canon" even as a science student.
For a while, I thought I would be a mathematician and write brilliant computer programs. Unfortunately, I love math only when it is completely abstract and found that I have little interest in practical applications. Besides, I was only a mediocre student there. So I returned to do graduate work in English.
You’ve mentioned to me that you have traveled quite a bit. How have those different journeys influenced your poetry? Is there any particular type of imagery that comes back to you again and again and is used in your poems?
Each place inspires me in different ways and these are pretty random. But birds, usually the birds or any other wildlife I encounter. Also the smells and sounds and general feel of a place. Tromping about in a crowd of tourists simply tires me out. The experience of sitting on my Brazilian cousin's verandah overlooking the garden and seeing a flock of parrots fly over and tiny monkeys swing through the canopy is more precious than anything I can hold in my hand or catch with a camera.
I came home with an altered consciousness. Only one Brazil poem, though. Did I mention that I don't really like to travel? I need a lot of persuasion--and luckily I get that.
What have been the biggest influences on your poetry through the course of your life?
To be honest, it has most often been taking good advice from other poets and learning to discern and disregard the fashionable trends in verse.
How do you think your poetry has evolved during your writing career and what has especially influenced that evolution?
Somebody wise said that sentimentality is unearned emotion. I also think it a mark of emotional immaturity. So I have needed to avoid taking the short-cut of sentimentality and to be willing to both earn and own the genuine emotions capable of powering a more mature poetry. Beyond that, it is a matter of practice and imitation; practice in the writing but also practice at observation and catching inspiration on the fly. (It flies like a bird.)
I love the fact that your book has been paired with drawings by James Wood. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a beautiful kind of poetry book like this before. What inspired you to do this? What was the collaboration like for the two of you?
It began when I had all these tiny poems, none substantial enough to hold down a page. I gave them to James to see if any inspired him. His responses involve quite a lateral shift and this delights me. So both books have these poem-drawing combinations. I think only one of them has worked in reverse--where I respond to a drawing by James. Collaboration can be tricky because there is always the possibility of hurt feelings and these are especially painful in a loving relationship.
What is in the future for you in terms of poetry?
To be quietly persistent, open to new directions and to become a better poet/person. My more recent poems are populated by animals of various sorts. Perhaps it’s a return to biology for me. These poems come very close to my heart for reasons obscure to me.
Loved your poem, 'Dustward'! Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process you went through to write that poem?
I think it began with buying an old house. I had never lived in such a home before, and after the first few surprises it began to feel as though all the house wanted to do was subside into the hole dug for its foundation. The old car was needing careful maintenance too. Moreover, I have gotten to the age where one accepts that the body isn't going to improve, that all the exercising and eating well only defers inevitable decline. The poem came from that consciousness. And then I rather liked it; it was new and shiny and quite cheered me up!
Many of your poems contain imagery of birds. Why do you think that is and what is your attraction to birds -- or is this merely coincidence?
When I was four the orchard where we lived was sprayed with an insecticide called Parathion. The birds dropped dead from the sky. I remember holding a limp robin in my hand. This was a horrific experience for me and for my parents. Ever since I have had nearly unbearable feelings of tenderness toward birds. They are seemingly insubstantial; they don't share with us the heaviness of flesh; one can see how they've come to represent spirit. So often we are neglectful of or callous toward the spirit. As an adult I began noticing birds in New Zealand really. James was working long days at Weta Studios and I had lots of time to go exploring Wellington and area. New Zealand has a lot of birds you won't find elsewhere, many of which need protection. I've retained the habit of appreciating birds.