On Browsing through the Books on Margaret Atwood's Shelf

For you I wish that these poems were rubies,
borne by my own caravan from Xi’an out of Shaanxi,
through Persia, along the northern Silk Road

--- S.Peralta, from Twelve Stones on a Necklace

Friends, most of you who visit this blog know me as a writer of verse. I've spent the last few years actively working with poets' communities, writing columns on structure and form and metaphor, publishing poetry books both in print and as e-books, with some small success. It's been an amazing part of my life, due in no small part to the readers, like you, who found something to like in my work.

Last year, I found myself in a bookstore, admiring the poetry of Margaret Atwood. She has, at last count, around twenty volumes of poems.

From the shelf I pulled out The Journals of Susanna Moodie and leafed through pages of indescribable beauty, pain, insight. Every poem was a poem I wish I’d written.

And yet, of Atwood’s array of volumes on the shelf, all iconic titles – The Edible Woman, The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Surfacing, Life Before Man, The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam – none were poetry, save one.

Or are they? Atwood’s prose reads beautifully, almost as if it was poetry.

Reading the works of other authors, works like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Sandman by Neil Gaiman, I have come to believe that poetry can be found everywhere, even in the novel.

Telepathy is like radio. When you first tune in, you’re flooded with static, ambient noise, the almost-too-strong blare of someone else’s song. Knowing roughly where you want to be – the music you’re looking for – you ignore the static, turn the dial to scan for that frequency that will bring you the swell of strings... Slowly, you push into the envelope of the target’s thoughts. Perhaps you go a little too far, and the signal drops, enough that you know you’re vectored away. You reset triangulation, back up just a touch, and you’re there. Mozart.

--- S.Peralta, from Trauma Room
That extract is from Trauma Room, a short story set in the world of a novel that's been simmering in my mind for the last little while. It's a novel of speculative fiction about a telepath - a man able to breach the labyrinth of the human mind – called Labyrinth Man.

Folks, as with you all, I juggle a day job, and family, and my writing life... and many other things as well.

I sit on corporate boards, write songs for bands, and lately I’ve paid forward what small success I've had in poetry by investing in over 50 independent films, including as associate and executive producer of several films, one of which just premiered in London.

Some of you will know that I’ve tried to write novels – some in verse – but over the years, I’ve failed again and again.

I admit to watching in envy as some of my friends completed their novels, and I struggled. (I still bought their books, though, and some were excellent.)

Last year, in that bookstore, I looked at that shelf, at Atwood’s array of celebrated novels, her neglected poetry volumes, and despaired. Until now.

Somehow the world of Labyrinth Man has taken a life of its own, a life that encompasses both prose and poetry. And I have to embrace it...

Come with me on this journey - the best is yet to come.

N. poeticus

It started with your voice, your shimmering breath
spiraling downward through the water's depth -

calling - so strange! - my name. I rose, undreamed,
and came to you. Across that space it seemed

the world unfolded of itself, a findern
flower, pheasant's eye, the unfilled cistern

of your heart. Then I came upon you, lost,
pitiful - until you saw me there, ghost

of your ghost, shade of your shade, reflection
of your longing. You bent to me, passion

finding mirrored passion, the gloaming coal
of mouth, of lips, of whispered betrothal.

Tethered, as a fevered dowry, to this
our conjugated sin, we pledged our kiss.

The Passage

Only the sea keeps
crossing the chasm

Inside the tornado,
the conjuror’s bird
the possible past:

the hundred secret senses,
the gates of exquisite view

And You As Well Beloved

Moonlight cast its perfumed spell, beloved,
Down on me – and you as well, beloved.

Unworthy, I beheld you, veiled; but O
The heavens parted, and I fell, beloved.

I would sweep across the desert rampart
To your side, this thirst to quell, beloved.

I would bind myself to sanctuary
In your arms, embrace this cell, beloved.

God sever this cursed tongue and stitch these lips,
Should I ever say farewell, beloved.

But if that God should turn his back on you –
I would be your infidel, beloved.

For all my soul desires is to be yours,
Your supplicant, your Samuel, beloved.

Cento from the Diary of Anne Frank


Here in the secret annex

Look – how a single candle can define
and yet defy the darkness


The reason I’m starting a diary is that I
have no real friend

Neither I nor anyone else,
for that matter, may be interested
in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl

It doesn’t matter. I feel like writing.

The young are not afraid of telling the truth.

But more than that, I want to draw out what lies
buried in my heart

shake off everything, vanish
my sorrows, rebirth


A new prescription for gunfire nerves:

As the shooting gets louder, make your way
to the nearest wooden staircase.

Run up and down a few times, being sure
to stumble at least once.

With all the scratches, the din of running
and falling, you won't even hear the shooting,
much less worry about it.

Yours truly has put this magic formula to use,
with tremendous success


Why is mankind so insane?

Why make enormous planes, bombs,
and pre-fabricate houses for reconstruction?

Why spend millions on the war each day,
and nothing for artists, for the poor?

Why do people starve, with mountains
of food spoiling in other parts of the world?

There is in humanity simply an urge to
destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and

Rage. Until all the world, without
exception, undergoes a transformation,

Wars will be waged, everything that has been
built up, cultivated, and grown will be

Destroyed, disfigured, after which
the world will have to begin over again


The world will keep on turning without me

I've reached the point where I hardly care whether I
live or die.


Love, what is love? I don’t think you can
put it into words

I love you, with a love so great that it couldn't
keep inside my heart, but had to leap out
and reveal itself in all its magnitude


Who has inflicted this upon us?
Who has made us different from all other people?
Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?

Crying may bring relief, as long as you don't
cry alone

I want to go on living even after my death
I don’t want to have lived in vain


I realize that this period of my life
has irrevocably come to a close

gone forever

Let’s not talk about it anymore, but if you still
want anything please write

write because I can say what I mean
much better on paper

Paper has more patience than people

Don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty
that still



I see 
the world gradually being turned into a wilderness.

I hear
the ever-approaching thunder, which will
destroy us.

I feel
the sufferings of millions and yet,
if I look up into the heavens,

I believe
- not everyone has the gift
of believing in heavenly things -

I believe
in spite of everything

I still believe
that mankind is really, at its heart,


A single candle

Here, in the secret annex

how a single candle
can defy the darkness