While Breath Persist by Gael TurnbullWhile Breath Persist by Gael Turnbull

While Breath Persist

byGael Turnbull


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Gael Turnbull's first book publication was in 1954 with the Contact Press in Toronto in Trio, a volume featuring the first poems of Phyllis Webb, Turnbull, and Eli Mandel. The next year, while living in Iroquois Falls, Ontario, he published, with Jean Beaupré translations from the French of Hector de Saint-Denys-Garneau, Roland Giguère, Giles Hénault and Paul Marie Lapointe.

Influenced by Raymond Souster and the Contact Press movement and by Cid Corman and the Black Mountain poets in the States, he returned to England where in 1957 he founded Migrant Press, one of the pioneer small presses for modern poetry in Britain.

Kenneth Cox writing in the Australian magazine Scripsi said of Gael Turnbull's longer poems (many of which are collected here): `Technically these poems are among the most original written in English during the past two decades.'

Turnbull wrote a brief but significant autobiographical comment for a small pamphlet of poems prepared to accompany a reading he gave in 1962 at the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto for the Contact Press (fifth) Readings Series: `My father's family are hereditary freemen of Berwick-on-Tweed, so that I suppose I am a ``borderer' ... but the Borders for me are not just those between England and Scotland, but between those countries and Canada and the United States as well ...'.

Gael Turnbull was born in Scotland in 1928 and raised and educated in Winnipeg, Cambridge and Philadelphia. He received a BA from Cambridge (England) in 1948 and an MD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951. He worked as a general practitioner and anaesthetist in Canada, the USA and England until 1989. He was an important precurso...
Title:While Breath PersistFormat:PaperbackDimensions:160 pages, 8.72 × 5.57 × 0.5 inPublisher:Porcupine's Quill

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0889841330

ISBN - 13:9780889841338

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Table of Contents

A Cairn 7
Thanks 9
Inscription for a Mirror 10
Lines for a Cynic 11
An Irish Monk on Lindisfarne About 650 AD 12
A Lamb 15
Seven Snapshots, Northern Ontario 16
Homage to Jean Follain 18
Black Spruce, Northern Ontario 19
A Hill 20
Now That April's Here 22
A Kite 23
Riel 24
Make Some 25
George Fox, from His Journals 26
Thoughts on the One-Hundred-and-Eighty-third Birthday of J.M.W. Turner 28
Twenty Words, Twenty Days 29
A Blindfold 52
Thighs Gripping 53
They Have Taken 54
Five/Four Time 55
Six Country Pieces 56
Daft About 58
At Witley Court 59
Witley Court Revisited 60
A Meagre Song 62
Residues: Down the Sluice of Time 63
Residues: Thronging the Heart 84
Knarsdale 88
Babylon 89
Scarcely I Speak 90
Remake 97
A Racing Walker 98
Buzzard 99
A Clown 100
The Woodlouse 101
There Are Words 102
The Almost Lost Poem 104
A Voltige Act 105
On the Somme 106
Langholm: MacDiarmid's Grave 107
Nowhere 108
Mornese 109
By the Tweed 110
Takings 111
And I Think It Yours 112
The Unwavering Sun 113
As the Wind 114
How Much Hurt 115
As from a Kiln 116
These Rings 117
It Is Not 118
Your Hands, Their Touch 119
A Winter Wedding 120
A Wind from the North 121
Into the Chasm 122
Hour of the Wolf 123

Constructivist Poems

To Tell Us 127
Though We Must Have Coals (1815) 128
John Bunyan: of Grace 130
From the Director's Book of Josiah Spode 132


Spaces 137
Homage to Cid Corman 137
Yes (1) 138
Yes (2) 138
Homage to Edwin Morgan 139
New Year 139
The Ever Presence 140
A Wedding Ring 140
Edinburgh 141
For Shari 141
Beneath 142
A Last Poem 142
For Us: An Invocation and a Processional 144

A Note on the Text 147

Some Afterwords 149

Notes on the Poems 153

Acknowledgements 158

Editorial Reviews

`These poems reflect a classical education, rich experience, and love of words. Eclectic style and subject, they include epigrams, long poems, narratives, prayers and ``constructivism'', the reweaving of a text. For the last example, Turnbull transmutes thoughts and images from Bunyan's autobiography. Other more personal poems, like ``Twenty Words, Twenty Days'', express his experiences as a doctor, father and husband in a style similar to T.S. Eliot's. He also has connections to Canada throughout his medical career, and recalls in several poems his time in Iroquois Falls. A dry wit emerges in ``Now That April''s Here'' and ``On the Somme'', an antiwar reflection, but a clear love and respect for the common person ever informs his work.`For his imagery, Turnbull often pays homage to the skills of other artisans, such as Sode and Turner. ``The sun has disappeared leaving part of itself adherent to / several fragments of vapour. ... The blue / has taken the strain by splitting into radial fissures of / indigo. Tack it together somehow with rivets of / carmine.'' Here are the haze and flames of the Fighting Temeraire captured in words. Then comes the drumming alliteration of Skelton, or even Beowulf: ``Brewer of beakers,/ bitter's your liquor! / Froth is a ferment for / fools.'' The poet retreats from this boisterous energy into the quiet prayers of ``For Us: An Invocation and a Processional'', a personal religious experience. This collection will amuse and delight and instruct.'