Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician currently residing on Salt Spring Island BC, is a multiple Pushcart nominee with over 1,500 poems published internationally in magazines such as Poetry, Rattle, and the North American Review. His books are The So-Called Sonnets (Silenced Press); An Unbecoming Fit of Frenzy (Cawing Crow Press); and Like As If (Pski’s Porch), Hearsay (The Poet’s Haven).
Fishbowl: So, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started writing poetry.
BMc: I started writing poems because of my raging insomnia. Instead of just staring at the dark, I write. I’m a musician, and I had written a number of songs. So, I was getting my lyrical thrills, but after attempting performance poetry in London in the 90s, I began writing and sending off poems to journals. I wasn’t writing or publishing until I was in my 40s.
Fishbowl: How would you describe your style of writing? Where does it come from?
BMc: I suppose my writing reflects what I read, although it seems, sometimes, poems spring almost fully formed from my subconscious. On a good morning, let’s say, I’m eclectic and I write to amuse myself.
Fishbowl: What are you reading right now?
BMc: I haven’t read fiction in 30 years, and my favourite poets are mostly dead or next door to death. I do enjoy reading. This week: Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson; Marine Life of the West Coast; American Predator (Israel Keyes); The Star of Bethlehem, an Astronomer’s View; The Atlas of Indigenous People in Canada; Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand (50 wonders of the universe).
Fishbowl: So, shameless self-promotion time. What projects do you have going on right now?
BMc: I’m piss-poor at that sort of thing. I’ve just started writing for a new collection, that will keep me out of harm’s way till next Spring. I’ve had 115 poems accepted for publication so far this year, so I do get around. I’m chewing over the future.
Fishbowl: Any social media links you would like to share so our readers can connect and learn more about you and your work?
BMc: Here are two places to see and hear my music and poems.
Fishbowl: So, tell us a bit about your featured poems.
BMc: These were written in the wee hours in Victoria BC about 10 years ago. I don’t write poems like this anymore. Influenced by East European and Beat poetry. Some of these have been put to music.
Fishbowl: Let’s take a look at the pieces.
Stop The Clock
you were pointing a stick
at the moon.
It was the day before
the wolf bit you.
Near to that incident
with the toothpick.
You were with a girl
who rubbed brass for a living.
you had a signed edition
of a box of bags
and were dating an ex-nun.
Around the time
of the breakout.
Sure, and as I recall,
you were studying wych elm,
or was it moonwort?
that was the same summer
they moved the graveyard
into the secret forest.
You had that awful sunburn
and a lung had collapsed;
the very same day
as the mudslide . . .
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Makes you think
In the mind of the chickadee
is a ball of sparks,
a knot of entrails,
the planet’s littlest vacuum.
The chickadee’s mind whistles,
colour fusing to colour.
It smells of beetles’ fears.
It tastes like summer.
Actually, phantoms there
stroll between atoms of moonlight
and lordly Titans gambol
over the seemingly endless vistas.
There are great thoughts,
and these crackle like spruce tinder.
Like soda bubbles, but they weigh tons
and feel barbed to the touch.
Like wind over a hilltop.
Like lines intersecting wires.
Like smoking campfires of the Mongols,
as seen from a blood-red sky.
Cries Of The Innocents
Trees going mad.
The church door inside me closing.
Fear shaving a plank.
Disenchantment at twelve o’clock.
Hate riding its pony backwards.
Dog-mind licking its tender genitals.
A fly alighting on your cereal.
Memories like bubblegum.
Your family skewered on an old bone.
Monsterisms in the bloodstream.
Daylight pouring out its invectives.
The cataclysmic bawling.
I think this is how the bee sees
or light meets a diamond’s many facets.
I believe this is water merging
with other water, the two Niles
cutting into each other,
raindrops melding and forming a flood.
Or it’s the many cries of the innocents
rising as one from the fire,
an unholy choir echoing in the rafters,
conflict mothering the invention
of prayer-wheels and the iron maiden.
I think this is death’s handwritten letter.
It’s causing an eye infection
or worm in the mind.
It’s humming that same old song,
the one infused with a viral decree.
And there’s nothing nice about it.
At The Appointed Hour
I was just talking to God.
He was sitting on his helmet.
He was pissing into the rosebushes.
Every other word was a world destroyed.
He mentioned he was fed up in Heaven
and longed to go it alone,
start a business repairing furnaces,
invest in racehorses,
breed show dogs on the side;
he said it was quite lucrative,
that the market was wide open.
No, you just missed him, a god’s god,
about yay-high, blue eyes,
icy fire where his hair ought to be.
We’re playing cribbage next Friday.
We’re going to a strip club,
and probably a few drinks after.
And he knows you, he said.
He’s well aware of your little ‘problem’,
would really like to help you out,
but he’s taken a pledge;
didn’t elaborate much though.
And he’s chubbier than you’d imagine.
Too many cupcakes, he confessed,
a bit sheepish about it, too.
He was just in the neighbourhood
and thought he’d drop by.
At least that’s what he told me.
And I can’t imagine he’d lie about it,
not something petty like that.
I can’t imagine he’s even capable
of lying; or if he was
that he would or he did.
A Whistle And A Kiss
Hell’s bells and all’s well.
Seeing the sun come up
in the back of my mind,
a little butter on my roll,
the light alighting.
Putting a positive spin
on the blue bottle
of a new day,
jumping out of my jim-jams,
thinking good things
happen if you think
Walking off the bee sting
of bad dreams,
washing my hands
of the dirt dished out,
today’s bright morning
like a clean bedsheet,
the orange and lemon
of bells being rung
tart and tangy
on my talkless tongue,
at the golden ring,
feeling like a new penny,
as sweet as a nut,
and ready and waiting
for my kiss Mrs. God.
I’m good and ready.
Fishbowl: “Stop the Clock” is an interesting piece, Bruce. The world really keeps on turning, doesn’t it? There seems to be a sense of randomness—a quiet chaos, really—to it, at first, but the ending gives you a bit of a cold slap and gives us the concept of “connectedness” to gnaw on for a while. Is that how you see the world? If so, how does that feed your poetry?
BMc: Endings are so important. I’m fond of images and imagery, of the surreal and the cinematic, so ‘meaning’ is up for grabs. I must pluck stuff from dreams too, but then it’s easy to sound pretentious when commenting on “capital-A” Art.
Fishbowl: Now, I say this with the utmost honesty…I think “A Chickadee Thinking” is, perhaps, one of the most sensual poems I have ever read. (That should actually mean something, as I literally just read “Song of Myself” last night). It doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with “extra flavor” but subtle traces of substance (that in their own right) bite and pierces eyes, ears, and tongues with their presence. This couldn’t have happened without the achingly sweet simplicity of the piece. Truly, I am jealous. Walk us through the process of writing this piece.
BMc: Thank you! These were written so long ago I can’t recall details. Also, I write 5-10 poems a day, when I’m actually writing, which is only about 4 months a year, so it’s all a blur, the basic routine being ‘read, write, revise’. Ad nasueum. I spend more time revising poems than writing them.
Fishbowl: I can relate. For me, the excitement in creating poetic pieces is literally in the creating, which take little time really. It is the obsessive revision and self-questioning after that takes its toll. Once that process is over, however, I am ready to kick those lil’ bitches out of the nest (I say that with love, of course).
Fishbowl: “At The Appointed Hour” was the one piece in this collection that stood out the most me. The humanization of The Almighty (with all his angst) struck me as ‘endearing’ at the first read-through, but when I read it again, the resonance sort of melted away and I felt a bit alone, as if ‘something’ no longer had my back. Was that the intention? If not, what is the message here?
BMc: This seems based on the premise that it’s possible to hold a dialogue with a deity, albeit an elusive one. Perhaps it’s a comment on the human need to anthropomorphize gods. Poetry is a bit of a Rorschach test. We see what we see.
Fishbowl: True that.
Fishbowl: What is next for Bruce McRae?
BMc: An on-going attempt at a state of grace. Barring that, just to keep waking up in the morning. I have a number of unpublished books I’d like to have people read if there are any publishers reading this…
Fishbowl: Great, Bruce! Any parting thoughts? Advice for aspiring writers out there?
BMc: Revise! Revise! Revise!
Fishbowl: Last question…What would you want the epitaph on your gravestone to say?
BMc: I see dead people
Fishbowl: Yes, I suppose at that point one would. LOL!