The Exile's Papers: Part 4 by Wayne Clifford
The Exile’s Papers Part Four: Just Beneath Your Skin, the Dark Begins, is the final chapter of Wayne Clifford’s sweeping sonnet sequence. In this volume, the exiled poet questions notions of truth, identity and salvation in his quest to describe and interpret a journey through life that is both familiar and unfamiliar.
The culmination of decades of effort, Wayne Clifford’s The Exile’s Papers is a four-part poetic journey that explores narrative duplicity, familial and romantic relationships, the correlation between love, sin and life, and finally, the notion that human life cannot be explained—or saved.
In this fourth and final volume of the sonnet sequence, Just Beneath Your Skin, the Dark Begins, the exiled poet adopts the role of the skeptic, calling into question religion and science, myth and history. Truth is subjective, beauty cannot be articulated, and redemption rests in the acceptance of one’s end. In this bleak, unfathomable, unknowable and inexpressible world, the exile’s struggles to live, to love, and to find meaning are bitterly honest and intimately familiar.
With endlessly varying sonnets ranging from the surreal to the straightforward, the mythic to the narrative, this volume of The Exile’s Papers unequivocally proves Clifford’s mastery of poetic form.
Quote from review of previous edition
‘The Exile’s Papers is sonnet-writing on a grand scale. An unfolding odyssey of personal revelation brimming with quixotic ruminations and existential paradoxes, Wayne Clifford’s strapping new collection offers a masterclass on how a single form can assume a protean variety of shapes, sounds and voices. It also confirms the incantatory powers of one of our most unpredictable poets.’
Excerpt from book
We’ve established by proving, further and further back,
a past insulting our obvious gifts, our speech,
our social graces, intellects creating participles
that can sustain true notyetness. At points,
some among us mutter, "The fools’ve got language
all mixed up with meaning. Meanest wins!"
but curiosity reaches even into lies,
where ape, with paw caught in the jar’s surprise
grasp, learns it’s hard, inventing stories
when we know so much, that in frustration we dig
up graves and pick our dead out of accreting
"See? See?" we taunt our doubter. "Own
what’s Yours. Who’d You think You were fooling? Angels?
We’re sometimes right!"
You fade into the next question.
The spruce here pillar up to close their height
against the sky. In their arcade I am,
the berry edge of open.
duel through dapple of two butterflies, flight
that spirals up beyond, before they scram
on wind the speed of breath,
is mostly hoax,
a way that butterflies come up with jokes
they brag as though someone might give a damn.
Much like these lines that go where rhyme provokes.
The city. Country. Somewhere one has worth.
The only rhyme that makes some sense is death.
The only one that might convince the folks.
If fluttering the tensions makes a fight,
spruce-shade goddess, what’s the good I write?
Wayne Clifford was born in Toronto in 1944. He studied English at University College at the University of Toronto in the mid sixties during which time he came to be associated with a small coterie of students that included Stan Bevington, Dennis Reid, Doris and Judith Cowan, and David Bolduc. Wayne also remembers Tangiers Al, but not clearly, which says something about the time. While still an undergraduate Clifford won numerous Norma Epstein prizes for his poetry and also one E. J. Pratt Award (1967) that he shared with Michael Ondaatje. (One poet kept the money, the other, the medal. In the end each felt equally cheated.)
Stan Bevington had started his fledgling Coach House Press in 1964 and asked Clifford to acquire a few poetry manuscripts suitable for book production of an experimental sort. Wayne secured early work from George Bowering, Victor Coleman, bpNichol and Michael Ondaatje. At the founding meeting of the League of Canadian Poets (1966) Wayne proposed a Writers’ Anonymous akin to other, similar, twelve-step programmes. Clifford’s idea was not seriously considered. Shortly thereafter, Clifford left Toronto to pursue graduate studies in creative writing at the University of Iowa. Clifford began working at St. Lawrence College in Kingston in 1969, when the College was just new, and was involved in the Creative Writing program and the Fine Arts Program, until both were discontinued in the 1980s. Clifford then joined the General Arts & Science Program (GAS -- and yes, he does enjoy this irony of this acronym) and began teaching remediation in language. He retired in June of 2004. He was working on a poetry collaboration (unpublished) with bpNichol at the time of bp’s death in 1988.