The playful poetry of Pearl Pirie 

By Anne-Boys Hope –

In her new collection of poetry, Pearl Pirie introduces readers to pet radishes, wild dust bunnies and secret agent squirrels (we’re looking at you Westboro squirrel!) that live in and around her Wellington West home.

Pearl Pirie is an award-winning poet, whose latest work is one of the most anticipated poetry books for spring 2015. Photo by Kate Settle
Pearl Pirie is an award-winning poet, whose latest work is one of the most anticipated poetry books for spring 2015. Photo by Kate Settle

Released on March 5, the pet radish, shrunken contains 60 poems by the award-winning poet. Several years in the making, Pirie is excited to see her poems out in the world.

“Poetry is an act of communication. If it falls into a void, it might as well not have happened,” says Pirie.

No worries there: the collection has already been embraced by Ottawa’s thriving poetry community, and recognized as one of the most anticipated poetry books for spring 2015 by 49th Shelf, the largest online resource for Canadian literature.

Pirie’s publisher, BookThug, says the collection deals in “the poetics of sound, language, and play.”

Consider a surprise meeting with a bumblebee (all fuzz and buzz), the beauty of a plant uncurling in springtime, and snippets of conversation that waft over the garden wall.

Many of the vivid images in Pirie’s poetry are inspired by time spent in her garden. Having a place to dig in the dirt was one of the many reasons Pirie and her husband Brian bought a home in the neighbourhood three years ago: “We lived in a condo for many years, and wanted to touch the earth for a long time.”

Pirie also considers the flora and fauna living inside our homes. She conjures up ants marching military style across the living room floor, and wild dust bunnies in cahoots with secret agent squirrels. The title poem – “the pet radish, shrunken” – was inspired by the shrivelled vegetables found hiding in the back of the fridge.

“It started with a joke about finding that soft radish that’s been there so long it’s like a pet,” she says. “Can we get rid of it? Or do we have some duty to this creature? We’ve had it for three months, that’s longer than the cat at this point.”

The question is: “What is our responsibility to others—animal, animate, inanimate? This is a question which underlies a lot of the poems,” explains Pirie.

Questions yes, but easy answers, no. “My poetry is not saying the world is orderly, it’s not saying the world is smooth or coherent. It’s admitting it’s absurd.”

the pet radish, shrunken is Pirie’s third collection of poetry. Her first collection been shed bore was published in 2010. Thirsts, published in 2011, won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She has also published numerous smaller poetry booklets, called chapbooks.

Born and raised in the Ottawa Valley, Pirie started writing poetry in primary school. She was first published in a community newspaper when she was 14 years old.

Ottawa has been her home for the past 25 years. She studied linguistics at Carleton University, and worked as an English as a Second Language teacher for 12 years.

Today she works full time in the literary world—as a poet, publisher, freelance editor, event organizer, community radio host (CKCU’s Literary Landscape), blogger, and more.

Pirie’s anticipating a busy spring with the launch of the pet radish, shrunken, and a book of poems about chocolate, called Cocoa Cabin, by Canadian poets (published by her own small press, Phafours).

Through her work, she hopes to dispel the notion that poetry can’t be funny. “I think it’s meant to be a conversation for people to jump into. I think people are allowed to laugh.”

No worries there, she had us at pet radishes and secret agent squirrels.

Pearl Pirie’s the pet radish, shrunken will be launched at Ottawa’s VERSeFest on March 27 at 7 p.m., at Knox Presbyterian Church (120 Lisgar Street). The collection is sold at bookstores and online at bookthug.caCocoa Cabin, Phafours Press chocolate chapbook, will be launched on the evening of April 8 at A Thing for Chocolate (1262 Wellington Street West).

For more information about the author and upcoming events, go to pearlpirie.com.

if only it worked for national policies (by Pearl Pirie)

weeding, my hands come up
smelling of spearmint

its rhizomes go-go-gadgets
its spaghetti thru the soil.

my mint shampoo
hints incognito/continuity.

something lands oddly.
I pat my head, stroke

the back of a bumblebee.
we each freeze, realize

the mistake in progress. each
takes the necessary actions

of distance. correct courses
dissolve into non-incident.

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