For work with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Blaine Marchand travelled extensively, on missions to fifteen African countries (his fiction, African Journey, is set in Zimbabwe, but he’s also been to Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, Swaziland, South Africa), to Thailand and Hong Kong, the Caribbean and Central America, as well as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Marchand retired from government work in 2011, which enabled him to return to Pakistan several times to visit friends there. In March 2017, he was invited to participate in the Islamabad Literary Festival.
In addition, he has furthered the work of other poets and writers. For example, he co-edited, with Pakistani poet and artist, Ilona Yusuf, a special issue of Vallum poetry magazine devoted to Pakistani poets writing in English. He was a co-founder of the Canadian Review, Ottawa Independent Writers, and the Ottawa Valley Book Festival. Marchand was president of the League of Canadian Poets for two years.
On posting in Pakistan, Marchand lived in Islamabad from 2008-2010. Of his time “going into other cultures,” he says he was careful not to write “postcard poetry” but to try to maintain an objective point of view. Indeed, his poems about Afghanistan (Aperture) and Pakistan (My Head, Filled with Pakistan) are written as if looking through a camera lens (albeit held by a foreigner), while his more recent poems about his mother, in Becoming History, for example, are more subjective. The poems I’ve selected below are from these two styles – the earlier more objective poems from Pakistan, and a more subjective poem from his work in progress, Promenade, in which he inserts himself into the landscape.
Leaves, Birds, Marigolds, Sky (Inspired by Sadia’s balcony garden) The heat relentless but here amid the overhang, a canopy of trees, cascades shade, sanctifies this hidden balcony encircled by elongated green foliage, fans unfolding from clay pots, thrown and shaped by women’s hands, inflorescence of flowers, perched like white birds spreading wide their feathers, infuse the evening air. Marigolds, orange saffron, garlands, dyed cloth, spicy food placed here and there among woven jute charpoys strewn with compliant pillows on which friends lounge, one foot always lingering on the floor, cupped hand propping heads high, and the talk, passionate, open as their hearts, words spiral, whirling Sufi dancers, arms uplifted, embrace the omniscient sky. --Blaine Marchand, My Head, Filled with Pakistan (Catkin Press 2016), p. 4.
Overnight, came a flurry of photos. Snow in Islamabad. The indigo Margalla Hills, backdrop to the city, transform to foliated white marble, a crochet prayer cap; the minarets of Faisal mosque to shards of an iceberg; while behind photoshopped polar bears the Supreme Court gleams, a glacial mass. of selfies at Pir Suhawa, men and women with grins like kids, suspended in mid-air as they leap and twirl in the crystal flakes, or splay out, create silhouettes in the accumulating drifts. of Instagrams in the market, where parents toss woolens, jackets, boots aside, search for exact fits for children and the stalls of wallahs sizzle and steam with spicy soups, pakoras, milk froths in cauldrons of tea. --Blaine Marchand, My Head, Filled with Pakistan (Catkin 2016), p. 22.
Inscribing the River Along the bank, some stones are smoothed by water-spill and algae; others dry, pock- marked, glyphs grooved on the surface. In a few, tracings of ancient marine creatures. Some days, the river, pushed by wind, vibrates. Others, stentorian, it pounds rock layered over centuries. On calm afternoons, it is fricative in the narrows of erosion. Today, as I walk, it is pluvial, inflects my shoes, incises my head with memory. Here, I swam as a boy; there on that concave of boulder, I sunbathed. I slip and slide. Both then and now, my footfall persistent, sequential and dogged. --Blaine Marchand, Promenade.
Blaine Marchand’s poetry and prose has appeared in magazines across Canada, the US, New Zealand and Pakistan, including a monthly column in Capital XTRA for nine years. In addition, an essay on his mother, “A Long and Lucky Life,” was published in the anthology Love and Loss (New Zealand: Exisle Publishing, 2020). Poems about his mother’s life are published in Becoming History: A Life Told Through Poetry (Aeolus House, 2021). He has won several prizes for his writing, including the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry for his book A Garden Enclosed (Cormorant Press, 1991). Aperture (Buschek Press, 2008) and The Craving of Knives (Buschek Press, 2009) were short-listed for the Archibald Lampman Award in 2009 and 2010 and were on the Relit Awards longlist. In addition to African Journey (Mediasphere, 1990) and the chapbook, My Head, Filled with Pakistan (catkin press, 2016), Blaine Marchand has published seven books of poetry, a children’s novel and a work of non-fiction.
- Blaine Marchand will be reading from his work on April 22, 2023, for “Memories of Tomorrow,” a virtual event organized by Poetry Across Cultures India.
- Poets from Pakistan, in Vallum (9:1 “Poets from Pakistan”, 2012).
- Archibald Lampman Award winners.
- Aeolus House, Buschek Books, Exisle Publishing
- Claudia Radmore (publisher of press) blog.
- David Brydge’s review of Becoming History for the League of Canadian Poets.
Header photo of Ottawa River: Blaine Marchand.
This is just fabulous. Thank you.
Comments are closed.