Tag Archives: Colin Morton

Poetry in English and Spanish at Santa Rabia Poetry

The Peruvian literary site Santa Rabia Poetry features five of my poems in English with Spanish translations by Colombian poet Maria Del Castillo Sucerquia. The set is called Scar Atlas.

Scar Atlas

My father leaned over the sink
to study his face in the mirror.
With a sterilized needle he probed,
prodded, nudged out a sliver
of bomb casing risen to the surface
years after he came home from war.

Field doctors had removed the larger bits,
phosphorus that glowed in the dark,
then smoothed on a sheet of skin
borrowed from his body lower down,
and when the patient regained his sight,
sent him back to the battle.

As he lay on the sofa watching TV,
his legs thrown across my lap, I traced
a route with my fingers on the map
of shrapnel scars that pitted his shins.

He watched in silence the scenes of war
staged as heroics on the small screen,
never spoke of his own, said only
that the scars no longer hurt.


Four poems by Colin Morton in Event magazine

Now in its 51st year of publication, West Coast literary magazine Event gave me a boost by publishing me with “six new poets” in the 1970s. I am just as pleased to be published by Event in 2023. Here are the new poems, which revisit my post-war Calgary upbringing and that time someone in England published my poems as his own. The first is a prose poem.

Arriving Late

I don’t remember what movie we saw or whether it played at the Capitol or Palace, only that my sister and I arrived late, walked in partway, and stayed for the next showing. When we reached the scene where we came in, I was ready to go but she wouldn’t leave. So I stood by myself at the bus stop downtown on a Saturday afternoon, 1959.

I couldn’t tell how old the man was, the one I’d learn to call a drunk. Shaky on his feet, he squatted beside me on the sidewalk, staring into my eyes, almost crying. He put his arms on my waist and asked me to hold him, so I reached out.

Next thing, a uniform stooped over me,. A second cop pulled the man up by the collar of his dirty coat, asking me if I knew him and did he hurt me. Frightened now, but innocent, I shook my head. More questions followed, but what stayed in my mind ‒ what I talked about later ‒ was my ride home in a police cruiser, radar on the dash, siren wailing when we stopped a speeding motorcycle.

These memories have stayed with me ever since, specific and unchanging. But something is missing from the story, something everyone else could see but I could not: the blood-red birthmark splashed across my face.

Of course the police had to check, but maybe the man on the sidewalk was no molester but the one passer-by who looked at me and cared. Run in for a show of kindness. Maybe he was a war vet, as all men seemed to be, and the sight of me brought him flashbacks of ruined towns, crying children.

I didn’t wonder about any of this then, nor afterward for many years. My memories, if fragmentary, were secure. It was the summer a neighbour’s new Edsel parked in front of our house, and when the squad car pulled up behind it, our front door stood open. My sister called out that I was late for supper, but cobs of corn were boiling on the stove.

Sunday Afternoons

Sunday afternoons my father sometimes slept till five,

weary from a week of work.

Weary too from his year at the front

of the war that defined our world.

A survivor, one of the victors, he earned his rest.

Other Sundays he would lie fully clothed on his bed

and smoke. If I passed the door he would call me,

have me lie down beside him. In silence

we lay, his arm around my shoulder, breathing slow.

I inhaled when he inhaled, exhaled when he did,

trying not to breathe his smoke.

For a few moments, a meditation, we breathed together

and after the time it might take to fall asleep

I would rise and quietly leave him

smoking, perhaps remembering.


One week in summer, disinherited tribes

were allowed to camp as their ancestors did

where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet

and wear regalia for once-banned rituals.

Inside the stockade of Stampede grounds

we watched in awe as boys our age

arrayed in feathers and coloured beads

stamped and whirled to pounding drums

near the arena where, last winter,

between periods of a hockey game,

we Scouts performed the Musical Ride

on skates, weaving patterns on the ice.

Clumsy black costumes hung from our shoulders

like bumper cars with wooden horses’ heads,

but our privilege fit so well

we hardly knew we wore it.


When my poems resurfaced

under another man’s name

I found second selves in cyberspace.

In the midst of a bull market …

I ran the table …

scored from mid-field …

spent a night with the Stones …

between campaigns for Palestine …

Then these chilling words.

Last seen wading into the ocean

in boxer shorts on Christmas Eve …

On site after site the headlines read

Local man missing, feared dead.

Poems online

Some of my poems have been appearing online recently, one at Bywords.ca (http://www.bywords.ca/) and three more on the Poetry Super Highway (https://www.poetrysuperhighway.com/psh/poetry-from-leslie-dianne-and-colin-morton/).

The Bywords poem might get lost in the shuffle, so you may read it here:


It’s under something it’s
behind something it’s in
the right place for something else.

No it’s on something it’s
in front of something it’s where
you don’t see it because you know it’s not there.

It’s your only one it’s
always there when you need it it
will come to you in a minute.

It’s on the tip of your tongue it’s
what you used to do with whozit you know
what you were talking about just no

Over on the Poetry Super Highway are three more poems. The first two, “Travelling” and “Nimrod,” take a sidewise view on desperate times for refugees, especially in the Middle East. This third poem looks back at a post-war childhood in Calgary.

Nose Hill Revisited

No horses graze above the city now.
Mint and sage, the prairie’s scent remains.
Abandoned cars we found as boys,
home to families of fox or skunk,
have long-since been hauled away.

I leave the gravel path,
follow deer trails into willow brake,
through damp coulee where spring runoff pools,
look out at mountains snow-capped in the sun,
or east toward the vague horizon,
the mirage I chased so far.

On the frontier of a growing city
poised between boom and bust,
we walked to schools named for Mounties
‒ Colonel Irvine, Colonel Macleod ‒
grew up itching for a fight
or challenge, enemy or rival.

We roamed hills known for eons
to hunters who left little trace.
Wrote our initials in fresh cement,
instant fossils of the post-war boom.

We’d do anything to matter
though we saw what it did to our dads.
We climbed a slope where we cast a long shadow,
shouted our names to the wind.

In person poetry readings are starting up again. My next will be July 1 in the park at Kingston ArtFest.

Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes on World Music Day

It’s music day every day in my household, thanks to my wife Mary Lee Bragg.

This poem appears in the new Community anthology from Gertrude’s Writing Room.

Satie’s Gnossiennes

Day one of the lockdown she said

she would play the Gnossiennes each day

until the plague passed over and real life resumed.

Now it’s nearing day four hundred

she’s quarantined and the ICUs are full

still the light play of fingers on the keyboard

brings a few moments’ peace to her day.

It’s spring again. She opens her window

and spreads the music’s calm composure

over the socially distanced street.

Colin Morton

P.S. On World Music Day 2022, COVID-19 goes on, and so does the music.

Video poems on YouTube

Since summer 2021 I have been collaborating with musician and producer Alrick Huebener on a series of video poems based on my writings. Works we have completed so far include:

Tinnitus <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUsWPn2wAHA>

The Weather <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWWRFcch_Uk>

At a Nameless Bend in the River <a href="http://<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0OQtz2G5vo&quot; data-type="URL" data-id="<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0OQtz2G5vo>

Alrick Huebener’s YouTube channel includes other video poems he has created with poets Claudia Radmore, Susan McMaster, and of course his musical collaborators.

Four poems on aging

The Canadian magazine The Typescript is honouring Robert Kroetsch with a selection of poems on getting old and older. Here is my contribution, poems called Lost, Senior Swim, CPR Practice, and Visitation. Do visit the other Canadian poets’ contributions to The Typescript’s feature.


It’s under something it’s
behind something it’s in
the right place for something else.

No it’s on something it’s
in front of something it’s where
you don’t see it because you know it’s not there.

It’s your only one it’s
always there when you need it it
will come to you in a minute.

It’s on the tip of your tongue it’s
what you used to do with whozit you know
what you were talking about just now.

It isn’t coming back it’s
as if it never was as if it’s
not what you thought it is at all.

Colin Morton

New poems by Colin Morton

Two excellent Canadian literary magazines found room for my work on their pages this winter.

I recommend you check them out, and to get an idea of the kind of work they print, you could start by reading my poems here.

Prism international, based in Vancouver, includes my “Tinnitus” in its new issue:


I read John Cage and, in a silent room,
listened to the low thrum of blood in my veins,
the hiss of nerves in my head.
Proprioception I called it, after Olson.

For years I believed what I heard
was the microbiome of my inner ear –
cells living out their lives in there –
and I wondered about this thing called me.

How much of me is a population
of microbes doing I don’t know what
to or for me, living and dying
as I say these words?

Now I accent the first syllable,
call it tinnitus, as if that’s an explanation.
I told the doctor, I guess there’s little I can do.
You can complain, he said.

Waterloo, Ontario magazine The New Quarterly includes two of my poems, and I have written a blog post about one of them for the TNQ blog. Here are the poems.

Dark Flower

What fresh hellebore is this that flowers
deep purple, deeper than its shallow
sunny fellows?
How deep
to flower in winter, face frost
and snow, to know when to bow,
how not to break.
Burgundy bloom,
have you a tincture for me and my fellows?
A word to the wayward perhaps?
Or a charm to scare the devil
out of any who cross us?
Would you at least come live with me
and be my dark midwinter comfort?

Please forgive my forwardness.
You are, and that’s enough for me.


Wind in the branches
Whispering waves

How much of our poetry is

the abalone bed for
a single small pearl

found on a petal
or a rainy street

on the crest of a breaker
in the beak of a raptor

in the depths of the sea
or the eye socket of a skull

If you could see its gleam
without the setting

you’d be left without
a poem to learn

It would turn in your mind
like a moon

Poetry online and in the family

We’ve been away from the computer a lot this summer, but have been keeping up appearances online, with poems at these wonderful web zines:

In the U.S., Ascent published my “Crepuscule” many years after editor Scott Olsen asked to talk about aging.

Valparaiso Poetry Review reached back millions of years with my poem “Footprints.”

In Canada, the new Juniper Review allowed me to give a birthday gift to my wife Mary Lee Bragg with the poem “Amnesia.”

Not incidentally, Mary Lee Bragg has just published her first full poetry collection, The Landscape that Isn’t Therefrom Aeolus House Press. It is the mature work of a lifetime, as you know if you heard her read at the Aeolus House launches in Toronto and Ottawa recently. She will be giving readings from the book in Ottawa at Tree in October and in Victoria at Planet Earth in January.


So we’re quiet here, and spend much of every day in silence, but all along, things are humming.

Trimming my shelves

To get ready for some renovations in the basement, I am shedding books. Shelves have to go, and so do most of their denizens.

Trimming the bookshelves has become a pastime in recent years, as I have moved to smaller digs and must make room for the books I continue to buy every week or so. This time, the trimming is radical. I have four messy piles: books and printed matter to recycle; books to trade in at the used bookstore; books to give to charity; books I’ll keep, at least until next time.

Trashing or recycling books seems reckless, but these ones have yellowed over the decades, or been read to tatters, and may have already been passed over by the bookstores. Along with them go dozens of the literary magazines I read and aspired to publish in back in the 70s, 80s and 90s (and later). I’ll keep the ones that do have my writing in them, for now. It’s interesting to look at the tables of contents and see not only friends but other writers I know now but didn’t know when our poems and stories and reviews were published together.

The signed and inscribed books, especially, are not for discarding. I don’t want my friends finding a copy of their own book on a discount shelf somewhere, their warm greetings to me on view to the curious. Even after my death, I’d prefer that they stay together, these three or four hundred personal invitations to art. I doubt, however, that there are enough libraries or poets’ centres or archives to make room for all these collection of preserved moments – for certainly hundreds of my fellow poets have similar book collections on their shelves.

Unfortunately, I know what will happen to a lot of these collections. After the death of the person who owned and cherished them, the books will be discarded by the harried inheritors – sold by the box at estate sales, broken up to disparate collectors, pulped, discarded, turned into cardboard boxes. This is the way of all things: they decay, they annoy, they take up space, they are taken care of to make space, they are gone, forgotten. There is a long history of lost books, and the digital age will not bring it to an end.

Against mortality, however, I’ve decided to look again through all these book signed to me personally, to remember the poet I shared a moment or an evening with, or many evenings over a lifetime, to appreciate that, yes, though I seemed most of the time to be waiting, striving, failing, I was also living the life of a writer, sharing that life with other writersThe bookstores are picky about what they will take in trade. For some, they already have enough copies; for others (especially the contemporary poetry books I’ve collected in the hundreds) there is no demand, and sometimes even disparaging remarks. The rejects can go to charity.

The keepers, of course, include books I’ve written myself and haven’t yet sold (if you want to have one, five dollars includes shipping); also books I still intend to read and ones I know I will reread – the books I love. Then there are the many books that have been inscribed to me by the author when I purchased them at a reading or festival. These will find a place on my shelves somehow. Still, in the midst of those messy piles, I take to time to look at them again, to read a few pages, and to enjoy the inscriptions written on the title page by the proud authors.

To linger over these shelves is to look back on what has been a long career in the ranks of aspiring writers. It’s a way of reconnecting with writers I’ve befriended over the years. And it’s a reminder that I’m one of them, regarded with respect by people I admire. Of course, there are many formulaic greetings among them: “best wishes,” “with respect” and so on. Some, often from first-time authors, are kind of humorous: “thanks for buying this book.”

Then there are the ones that remind me of strong bonds of friendship and the places those bonds were formed. Many years ago, I moved from Western to Eastern Canada, and the move is commemorated in some of the signed books on my shelf: “We miss you out west!” writes a Governor-General’s Award winner. Another, on a visit east, writes “in friendship, like poetry, that shows itself from time to time, and yet is always there.” Yet another prize-winner recalls, in his inscriptions, the first time we met: “with admiration and thanks for a fifteen year connection” he wrote in 2004, and in 2013, “thanks and admiration after 25 years.” Some writers will quote a line from the book they are signing, or will refer to the title of a book of mine. Others thank me, and I take a moment to recall what I might have done for them, and perhaps to regret that we have not kept in closer contact over the years.

Then there are the poets I will never be able to reconnect with because they have died. Only now do I wonder what became of the books I signed for them. (No, I’m afraid I already know.)

It’s a great privilege to have these books as a record of my life as a poet. Yet every shelf of books we choose to keep is a testament to a life as a reader. It isn’t easy to let go. It would be a tiny home indeed that had only one bookshelf in it. I am not at that extreme yet, and I don’t want to contemplate which books I would have to dispose of if I were. Time is eroding my mental space now, and in the end it will devour all. In the meantime, I’m taking a moment to look at each item as it leaves the shelves and is sorted into one of the piles. It’s a bit discouraging – so much effort gone to trash – but also very rewarding to have these reminders. I’m sure I will go down this well-worn path again someday.

Primed for Possession: A Haunting in Saskatchewan

Finding some old letters recall a curious episode from long ago:

In June 1979 a dozen poets, playwrights, essayists and fiction writers gathered at the Fort San conference centre in the Qu’Appelle Valley north of Regina, one of many writers’ retreats conducted there and elsewhere in the province over the decades. Each came to Fort San to work intensively for a week or a month on a manuscript. We shared close quarters, however, in the dorm of a former tuberculosis sanitarium, and became well acquainted at meal times and most evenings in the common room, where not so long ago homesteaders who had lived in sod shacks came to die from lung disease. Stories had circulated for years among the writers and others attending events at the centre: rumours of hauntings and possessions, nightmares and hallucinations; stories full of emotional intensity suited to the overheated expectations we writers had brought with us.

Healthily sceptical, I observed from a distance as the writers one by one became caught up in the psycho-drama. I doubted the explanations they grasped at for what they experienced, but I knew their experiences were real. Writing home to my wife each evening, I began to describe these hauntings or possessions as they played out in front of me. Afterward, on my periodic return to the prairies, I was sometimes asked what happened that time at Fort San. Rumours had gone round, but everyone wished they knew more. Only recently, while preparing for her own writing retreat in Saskatchewan, my wife turned up a packet of the letters I wrote her that June. I’ve removed unrelated personal parts of the letters, but apart from a minimum of punctuation, this is what I wrote at the time.



Echo Valley Centre, Fort San

27.5.79 – It was beastly hot today, so the institute serves roast beast potatoes & turnips. I suppose it’ll be the same story every day. The San itself is on a big park across the road from the lake and tucked under the hills which lead up to the prairie. It’s a resort area, but here on the site there are no disturbances. We’re sharing the huge institution with Alcoholics Anonymous & Prison Reform, minimum security group. Where they are I don’t know, it’s a big place. …

Who’s here: Lorna Uher & Pat Lane. Brenda Riches. Dave Carpenter, Edna Alford, Byrna Barclay, Kate Bitney, some others to come from Saskatoon, Lois Simmie & Gertrude Story I think. Anyway, it was low-key until Pat & Lorna discovered their choice rooms are next to the common area, so there was a general exodus upstairs where it is hotter, but quieter. Actually, it can’t be much hotter than it is down here, and I bet they can still hear a little of the conversation, even though they’re upstairs. Now, you’re going to think from this that I’m a really sloppy writer and there’s not much hope for me. But tomorrow, tomorrow. … Of course, there’s some cynicism about coming here to produce great poems, or to write by committee, but hell, what goes on in my room while I’m writing here is private. I can make it great if I damn well decide to and damn well work hard enough & am damn lucky. I’ll finish this letter tomorrow morning before mailing it, and enclose the key to the mail box. I’d appreciate your sending on anything that looks remotely interesting.

June 3 – They’ve been trying to scare themselves to death this evening over this ghost Lorna felt in Patrick’s room. They set up a little Ouija board on a table and with Kate & Lorna & Gertrude touching it ‘discovered’ the spirit was a woman who killed herself there (poison) because her lover left her. Trouble was the damn spirit can’t spell, so they established her fist language was Cree and developed the whole story by asking questions to which it could answer by circling to say yes & standing still to say no. It seems the spirit only appears to women and wants to give Gertrude a message but won’t frighten her. The ghost has a sense of humor though: it won’t mind if Gertrude wears her white underwear, and the only word it spelled out of a bunch of letters was t-i-t. I still hear the glass circling on the table. Wonder what’s up. For a bunch of intelligent people, you know – well, maybe I’d better not be disrespectful to ol’ BKAKSRFQP.

All right now – eight o’clock tomorrow morning – all have your ghost poems ready.

June 5 – Yesterday afternoon Henry had a shrouded figure lean over him during a 6-minute sleep and ask him if he was comfortable. Then between 2 – 4 a.m. he couldn’t sleep (nor could Lois & Edna upstairs) & he ended up snoozing on two chairs in the common room. Apparently, the A.A.’s next door often end up two to a bed because of the ghosts in their building. Could this develop into an epidemic?

Me? I worked till 2 last night, & all I heard was the rumbling of the hot water pipes under my radiator. Still, as a subject of conversation, this junk still beats the food.

June 6 – Curious & curiouser. Tonight Kate & Patrick took to the Ouija. Nothing much at first – too many spirits. Then they got in touch with one who could spell. Name of Tom, died at 66 in room 11 of T.B. Patrick asked, are you the one who spoke to me last night?  Yes. Are you the one who gives people a choking feeling? Yes (getting stronger & stronger). Why do you do this? Nothing. Do you do it to frighten people? No. Do you do this to show people how you felt, dying? Yes. Why: R-A-G-E- (glass whirling around the table now, slamming into the taped down letters. Patrick: Did you ask to see Gertrude? Yes. Why? It spelled out the letters fast, sounded to me like SEE HELL, but Patrick said it was She Knows – he felt it coming though him. Then Patrick said: Get off my chest Tom – forceful, then Patrick collapsed, choking. “All this rage went into me. The vibes coming through me were fucking insane.”

Now, after a breather, they’ve started again (just heard Kate yell “I knew it!”)

New development: it’s not our Gertrude he was asking for, but Gertrude his wife. They asked if she had died: yes. Did she die before you? The glass flew off the table, the whole thing broke up again. What next?

His wife died shortly after he did. She was here at the San but not in this building. They asked: How old was she when she died & the glass went berserk & spelled THEY DID IT. Who did it? DOC. Did Doctors do it? – YES. Then Patrick had to take another break. This is the weirdest for everyone involved.

When they started again it was a new spirit. Spelled her name – Alice – Said Tom went because he was mad. He is always mad. Said there are lots of spirits here. She is Tom’s friend. Then she left – just like that – Tom came back. Said his wife died of T.B. Then how did doctors kill her – EXPERIMENT. What kind of experiment? We are tired. Time exactly 1 hour (which Kate asked for at the beginning).

June 7 – I know this sounds weird. I didn’t believe a bit of it till last night when Patrick stopped breathing, and even there, he’d been working himself up for it. But the thing spelled so fast. Tome went away mad and Alice stepped in for him though she had nothing to tell us. And today it seems I’ll have to write about it too. (Maybe I didn’t tell you about that – people, like Edna, say they wish they could write about something else. Patrick showed the first poem he wrote here – unconsciously dictated stuff about ‘they’ occupying his room, into which he artificially interpolated a passage about his suicide attempt 2 year ago.)

June 10 – It’s been very quiet at nights since the séance. But Anne noticed the spirit in Henry’s room. He’d moved his bed away from a certain corner. Everybody – even I – felt something there, like an electromagnetic field. Tonight again at the Ouija. Anne & Kate, but very weak. Do you want Pat? Yes. He gets up there, strange doings. It’s Tom again. His message, repeated: FIND GERTRUDE. What can we do to find Gertrude? IT IS WHAT YOU KNOW BUT DON’T KNOW. Very confusing, new people here. It turns out: is it a place (where we can find Gertrude)? NO. Is it a state of mind? YES. Dream? NO (relief). Is it connected to a person? YES. Who? PAT. A break to think about it. They begin again. The glass spells GREECE 836. Did Pat know Gertrude in an earlier life in Greece in the year 836?: NO (relief). Spells: “Pat there and here.” Turns out Pat know Tom in Greece and her at Qu’Apelle. Was he a patient here? YES. What name did he go by in that life? DAVID. What year did he die? 1932. (I just heard Kate say out there: Triangle of course, because of the 3 places in Anne’s room where the spirit was felt). Earlier on, I forgot, it spelled: “We can’t go on.” (Unless you find Gertrude? YES.) Arghh. They just tried again. Is that Tom? No answer. Is that Alive? No answer. Who is that? E-N-D.

Can you believe it? Not unless you saw it.

I just went out and talked to you on the phone, five minutes after the séance. Thought I handled myself rather calmly. Actually, I don’t know whether I would have been impressed at all by tonight’s show if I hadn’t seen what went on the other night. But the things that are coming out – voices, apparitions, nightmares – are quite bizarre. Reg Sylvester stumbled in at 10:15 or so after a 12-hour drive from Edmonton. As soon as he went for his luggage, everyone went to bed. I feel I ought to go to work now, get as far along as I can. Maybe it’s more important to be fresh in the morning. Tomorrow should be a good working day. All the spirits are dispelled now.

June 11 – I’m sure the newcomers feel threatened by the weirdness around here. Anne C. complained at breakfast that she wants to get some work done so put the lid on it. Edna had a bad night last night – nightmares etc. – and says she’s on the point of leaving. I sat up with Reg till midnight last night because he’d been left on his own. He said it was all because of “that crazy goddam Irishman,” but he was spooked enough to have slept in his car because he didn’t want to go to his room in the dark. I’m glad none of this is happening to me, but it’s still making it difficult to concentrate on the very real problems I have with my manuscript. Anyway, it’s 9 a.m. Time to get started. Shut all that up.

This morning after ghost-talk at breakfast, Reg put up a picture of somebody dancing in a bag on a dark stage – rather ghostlike – and a notice saying that it’s a picture of the ghosts leaving this building this morning. He and Anne C. are intolerant, i.e. scared. Personally, I hope it works. I don’t like a) the way people feed their own imaginations on this stuff, and b) the implication that I’m a shallow person for not noticing a damn thing.