Author portrait by Helen Castor /
”The inaugural recipient of The Writers’ Trust Latner Prize for a body of work in mid-career, Ken Babstock is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently, On Malice (Coach House) and Methodist Hatchet (Anansi) which won The Griffin Prize for Poetry and was finalist for The Trillium Prize. Airstream Land Yacht was also a finalist for The Griffin Prize as well as The Governor General’s Award and won The Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Babstock lives in Toronto with his son. New poems have appeared, or will appear soon, in New York Review of Books, Granta, Poetry Magazine, The Manchester Review, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rialto, The Fiddlehead, Brick, Conduit, and elsewhere.”
‘Milk and Hair’
Buffalo south over the marbling lake seen
pitching an errant new mall. Clear mornings
I’m meant to be comfortable with the American
vernacular, it was meant to happen between channels.
Stop pretending you can just up and start thinking—
it’s mostly snooker, sardines over ham, the sense
of having pointed to door number 3
at the business end of some steamy
ruminations. At ease nowhere in the murk
of Rathmines, the gaffer hid me behind a ventilator
hood while union reps inspected the worksite. Illegal
labour stashing pay packets in a heatless Georgian squat.
Equanimity in the face of aggression such
a virtue among flowers of the meadow, the rest
of us should express ourselves— ‘One
eye sees, the other feels’ said Klee, and Andromeda
there in the feed being gold leaf on cake trailing
coordinates. Space, right? Then ghetto spider. Kid can
dance. Presence shuts the lid of its music box. To refer
to oneself in Bremen one points to an egg. If you
manage to tear it clean from its spindle, clingfilm
does what it’s told, keeping the dead alive
that little bit longer. Yes, I’ve gone camping. . .
Am I coming across as a man speaking? I’m not
proud of it, the silk underlayers, the sharkskin
DINTEX soft shell Tactical hoodie. At least I
refrain from song before a fire. This year, to
choose between the Barbed Wire Museum
in Kansas and the Goderich salt mine, I’m
throwing a garden spade at a targeted ad,
spending my miles on what mammals hold
in common, debt, nerves, milk and hair.
Milk and Hair: A Translation
Upstate New York’s up to its usual shit, I suppose,
though I can’t see it from here, unlike my shoes.
If you find that compelling, I have hash I can sell you.
You keep saying you know what you want, that you
arrived here after a series of difficult choices, that
you’re not one to be fucked with or disrespected.
I’ve been where you are and turns out I didn’t and am.
Don’t ask about the goat in Howth. Or Miss Havisham.
Wildflowers are cool enough, it’s just they’re
not of much use, being neither purple or
delicate. I stare at shit on the phone and am amazed.
Then get sick to my stomach at having eaten nothing.
‘I have two words for you: Plastics.’ One word. What?
Yes, I’ve slept in the ‘Canadian Wilderness’… It
is like the nightmare where you’d kill for a place
to shit while everyone’s screaming through their face,
pointing out patches of poison oak. Help yourself.
Here on in I stick with my kind. Sectile bricks
to crumble and spin up, eyes like deep-set tureens, priced
out of the city along with the florists and choice dealers.