There’s something so special about reading a book by someone you’re acquainted with after it has finally been written and published.
When I came home from an evening walk and saw a slim cardboard box leaning against my apartment door, I knew right away what it was.
I ordered it from Indigo way back in February (which I realize isn’t that long ago but now feels like another decade). The poet created it over 7 years.
I was sad the poet couldn’t see me rip it open. That would have been gratifying for her, I’m sure.
Her name is Tanja Bartel, the “j”, the Finnish give-away, perhaps.
She was one of my SFU Writer’s Studio peeps and by day she’s a high school English teacher in Mission, something she’s done for a very long time. She appears to be one of those high school teachers kids talk about into their futures and at reunions.
She’s been published in a bunch of literary journals: Geist, New Poetry, Antigonish Review, Rusty Toque, Grain, Maynard and others. This is her first book of poetry.
She’s of Finnish heritage with white blonde hair. She’s a wife and a mother to two children, now grown, including a son who lives with a rare genetic mutation. It’s almost guaranteed that she must be the only poet to have written an article that’s been published about a member of her family in the American Journal of Medical Genetics.
She has an old yellow lab named Romeo who, in Facebook photos, I love. She loves to walk Romeo on the dikes near her home in Pitt Meadows. And she’s a woman with a mind full of intrigue and eccentricities as I expect poets to be.
What I have just told you is pretty much everything I know about Tanja.
Her book is called Everyone at This Party, published by an imprint (icehouse poetry) of Gooselane Editions in New Brunswick. It’s 71 pages. And it has a fantastic cover you can see above by artist/photographer, Alexey Turenkov.
She’s agreed to let me write this blog post and to share a poem from the book with you. I picked the poem, Whisper Street, because it really captured me, including the line about the “caged hamsters,” or maybe especially that line. A commentary on suburbia that anyone who has ever lived in suburbia could relate to. While the themes can be dark, there’s a lot of humour in the poems as well.
When I told Tanja which poem I’d picked, she told me it was the last poem she wrote, added to the book in the eleventh hour and one of her favourites.
There are so many other poems I loved every bit as much, like Oxygen, Everyone at This Party, Sawmill Town, Backyard Wedding, Best Laid Plans and others.
People are not as friendly as you’d expect
in places that run on friendliness.
I came to see all co-workers and all partygoers
as one rude unit.
And to view myself as an only
(a single rude unit).
On my street, crumbled clouds, a half-eaten sun.
Agony rolls underground.
Something stings my wrist in the fattest vein.
The day ahead itches and I embark on a radiant
laziness in an effort to mimic the way
of dogs, envying their thoughtlessness.
My deaf dog’s hauled his shapeless old self to bed.
I’d follow, but for all the noise:
One thousand caged hamsters crack
sunflower seeds. Neighbour removes the Earth’s crust
around his property with a pressure washer.
Toddler next door screams blue murder
that he won’t go to bed. A mirror busted in half.
Rubber gloves snapped off and flung to the tiles.
I want to live on Whisper Street where a lounging
willow tree soaks up all our consequences.
Where nobody kills dandelions and everyone
grows yellow roses that hug one bee per blossom.
Violins play from tree houses.
No one mows their lawns and laundry blows by
like sails down a stream.
Green traffic lights that say you’re allowed to keep going,
but you don’t have to.
Good luck that won’t let me be.