Poems by James Pollock

Audio of James Pollock reading from Sailing to Babylon at the Governor General's Literary Award Finalists' Reading at the Atwater Library in Montreal, Canada, on November 1, 2012.
Video of James Pollock reading from Sailing to Babylon at the Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Reading at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada, on June 12, 2013.
"Northwest Passage" - at Poetry Daily
"The Museum of Death" - at The Griffin Poetry Prize
"The Poet at Seven" - at The Griffin Poetry Prize 
"My Grandmother's Bible" - at The Griffin Poetry Prize (includes video clip)
"Sailing to Babylon" - at the National Post (scroll down to the poem)
Prague” - at the Del Sol Review


The kitchen dark, the summer night air warm,
And my father at the kitchen table, radio

Turned down low, alone, listening to baseball.
My mother and I come inside from our swim,

Toweling off. The crowd is restless. Long silences
Between pitches in the play-by-play.

Look how he holds the radio in both hands
Like a steering wheel, thumb on the tuning dial

To catch the wavering channel, fighting static.
His eyes glitter like a field of fireflies.


(Originally published in Maisonneuve Magazine, 27, Spring 2008.)



(To listen to James Pollock read "Northwest Passage" at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in 2005, see below.)


The Franklin Expedition, 1845-48                                           

                         after Cavafy

When you set out to find your Northwest Passage
and cross to an empty region of the map

with a headlong desire to know what lies beyond,
sailing the thundering ice-fields on the ocean,

feeling her power move you from below;
when all summer the sun’s hypnotic eye

won’t blink, and the season slowly passes, an endless
dream in which you’re forever diving into pools,

fame’s image forever rising up to meet you;
when the fall comes, at last, triumphantly,

and you enter Victoria’s narrow frozen Strait,
and your Terror and Erebus freeze in the crushing floes;

in that long winter night among the steeples
of jagged ice, and the infinite, empty plain of wind and snow,

when the sea refuses to be re-born in spring,
three winters pass without a thaw, and the men,

far from their wives and children, far from God,
are murdering one another over cards;

when blue gums, colic, paralysis of the wrists
come creeping indiscriminately among you;

and you leave the ships, and set out on the ice,
dragging the lifeboats behind, loaded

with mirrors and soap, slippers and clocks,
into the starlit body of the night,

with your terrible desire to know what lies beyond;
then, half-mad, snow blind, even then,

before you kill the ones who’ve drawn the fatal lots,
and take your ghastly communion in the snow,

may you stumble at last upon some band of Inuit
hauling their catch of seal across the ice,

and see how foolish you have been:
forcing your way by will across a land

that can’t be forced, but must be understood,
toward a passage just now breaking up within.


(Originally published in The Paris Review, 157, Winter 2000-2001.)