by Stephen Dafoe
Morinville Author Christopher Raine has just published his second volume of poems. The book, Where the Grasses Wept, is a follow up to his 2018 book Vacant Morality: Poems of the Past.
Vacant Morality was a mixture of poems Raine wrote since 2010 with older works dating back as far as the 1980s. The second volume is a collection of new poetry crafted by the author since the completion of his first book in 2017.
Raine said the two books are quite different from one another both in material and tone.
“Where the Grasses Wept is a journey through life. It begins with childhood and progresses through time, ending in acceptance,” Raine said of the collection. “The work in this collection consists of a selection of free-verse and lyrical poems written from 2017 forward, and I believe a better representation of where I am at as a writer in terms of character, theme, and craft.
“Vacant Morality: Poems of the Past, on the other hand, is a collection of poems I wrote over thirty years, loosely interconnected through themes of music and hardboiled nostalgia. There is a lot of personal suffering involved with this volume. Its greatest strength lies within the flow of rhythm and rhyme.”
One similarity, however, between the two books is the number of poems Raine has selected for each volume.
“Each book contains eighty-eight poems in reference to the number of keys on a piano,” he said. “In amateur radio, the figure translates as a sign-off meaning ‘hugs and kisses.’ There are many associations with this number, some good, some not. My specific use is to these two meanings.”
Like most poets, Raine’s work, including the poems in both volumes, is based on personal experiences. He sees the old truism that writers should write what they know equally applicable to poetry as to prose.
“It should apply to everyone, but yes, I’d say that’s a truism,” he said. “What we know comes through experience and the wisdom accumulated from living through those experiences. If you are writing about something beyond that, it shows. An authentic life will read what you wrote and call ‘bullshit.'”
Raine said a lack of authenticity is often the bane of younger writers, who have a lack of life experience.
“You need to work some shit jobs, get kicked around, and have life burn off some of that youthful ego,” Raine said. “If you’ve gone through some things, you are more likely to have empathy for others. That’s what I’m talking about in terms of ‘write what you know.’ I think Charles Bukowski said something about it in terms of being ‘blessed with a crappy life.'”
Raine realizes that his longer-form poems, both his freeform pieces and more traditional rhyming poems are becoming less and less a presence on bookstore shelves, where books full of Instagram-style poetry of a few lines dominate both shelf space and sales.
The author is hopeful that there is still a place in the market for the more traditional forms of poetry that he and others continue to write.
“It’s not up to me to decide, but I hope so,” Raine said.
“If you never read anything longer than three or four lines, you are far too illiterate to recognize a cliché when it’s right under your nose. You have no idea of what or how things were said before, everything is fresh to your eyes.”
The poet draws a comparison with visual arts, like painting, where the viewer can usually tell if someone knows what they are doing.
“Take the idea of perspective; if the artist gets it wrong, you immediately see it,” he explained. “You might not have the training to say what is wrong, but you know it just by looking. If you are knowledgeable of the art, you can see it and identify it immediately. It’s the same when you are knowledge of anything, whether you’re a poet or a bricklayer.”
Raine has been vocal on his social media about the Instapoets, as those drawn to the three- and four-line world of poetry on Instagram are called.
“I keep hoping that the cliché nightmare will end and that motivational poster ideology fades out like a one-hit-wonder,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t see many signs of that happening in terms of popular culture. Then again, popular culture is often wrong, and if you’re heading in a different direction, it is probably a good thing.”
Raine likens the genre to people who do all kinds of stupid things for popularity because they know the formula to get clicks and likes.
“Instagram and other forms of social media poetry have proven that,” he said. “I’ve seen decent poets posting absolute shit, knowing that it’s shit, but they do so to obtain popularity. I won’t do that. I’ve posted excerpts from longer works, but I won’t pander.”
Raines sees social media’s problems as a two-fold situation. The first is that anyone can have a platform or voice.
“While it sounds utopian, it isn’t,” he said. “Much in the same way that social media has provided a venue for conspiracy and fake news, it has also had a similar effect on eroding our culture.”
The author sees the psychology of social media as the second of its problems.
“We are addicted to notification ‘pings’ to get us salivating again like some narcissistic version of Pavlov’s dog,” he said. “It is a culture that programs you to move quickly or risk missing out on the next hit of cocaine.”
Raine is also critical of the notion that poetry can be anything, something he believes has been taken too far out of context.
“If a definition of something is ‘anything’ it no longer has any meaning at all,” he said.
For the author, poetry, in its more traditional form, is something he continues to enjoy.
“I think of poetry as a shortcut to the human experience,” he said. “It is a medium that relies on the reader’s participation almost as much as it does the author. It can take your imagination to a place and allow you to feel a moment in a way that no other form of written discourse allows. There is no other written medium that can perform in this way other than music, but a song has the advantage of music where poetry must rely on rhythm, rhyme, and innovative language use.”
Raine had scheduled a book launch on Apr. 18 at Audrey’s Books in Edmonton; however, that event has been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Down the road, a new date will be selected for the launch and reading.
Below is an excerpt from the book, a poem called Dashboard Vinyl.
trailed behind us
black pavement drawing
grease pencil lines
on smooth butcher paper
while shimmering air danced
making love to the horizon
the scent of dashboard vinyl
played like an old record
in the passenger seat, she smiled
her hair restrained beneath a silk scarf
eyes hidden beneath dark glasses
the wind buffets at that speed
making conversation impossible
but it didn’t matter; we didn’t need any
ahead blue skies kissed the clouds
while the sun god laughed
tomorrow was always ahead
yesterday in the rearview mirror
and the in-between
a distant memory