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Rank Songbirds by Leon Rooke  

Leon Rooke’s Rank Songbirds delves into the drama and humour of love and desire, politics and the passing of time, celebrating humanity’s resilience and its inherent frailty.

‘Tonight / I’ll serenade you / With kisses / Modestly dressed...’

In Rank Songbirds, Leon Rooke deploys his playful wit and slantwise perspective to explore the joys and the burdens, the hilarities and the surprises of life in its absurd, charming, tragic minutiae.

These are poems that revel in foibles, saucy verbal sparring and the possibilities of artistic expression while ever mindful of the fallibility of humanity, its voracious appetites, its complicit silences, its convulsive politics. And though it may be that ‘Those angels serenading us through / Hazardous night were rank songbirds chirping away / Mindless of hawks zooming overhead,’ these poems remind us that today is not to be confused with last week’s curse, that freedom is getting the high notes right and that, in a pinch, one might ‘apply love’s bandage to the shiftless heart / This minute pooling debris about your feet.’

Review quote

‘As it challenges the status quo in literature, politics, and relationships, this collection demands attentive reading. Rank Songbirds explores important questions of who is in charge and who is responsible, and it does so while assuming familiarity with broad swaths of Western culture.’

—Michele Sharpe, Foreword Reviews

Review quote

‘Personification, wit, adornment and adjournment, the oxymoron of ineffable splendour, and the fallen floozie join forces in Rooke’s decentred ventriloquism of eye-catching et cetera.’

—Michael Greenstein, The Miramichi Reader

Excerpt from book


My beloved cannot, may not, will not execute
The unworthy act     hold
Her pretty feet to the fire     set
Entire cities ablaze     prod
Her with the ironmonger’s hot poker,
Withhold lemonade, shout a vigilante’s heated threat
She will in no way tolerate the unworthy act though thieves waylay her,
Waters be shaken by hurricane,
Collapse of the very streets on which her feet set down.

Here, she says, hold my hand
Say me no platitudes
Lower no empty bucket
Into my well
Simultaneously don’t be suckered by a girl’s soft speech     flush
Of rosy cheek     flash
Of leeward limb
The bonny disposition of starlets on parade     look:
Me once a mere old-fashioned girl faint of heart, grace, and intellect     see
How pigeon-toed and halting my every step, an imbecile child     stirred
To tearful disarray by any shadow haunting floor or wall     an unkind word
Found the woman you are said to love     shivering
Through night’s repast     Fathom me
Now chewing to the bone
These very fingernails, my ratcheting sobs     was
That only yesterday?

Unpublished endorsement

‘Rooke manages to form a cohesive narrative across the pages of all the individual poems, including the sonatina at the end.... The reader is given glimpses from various perspectives into the poet’s mind, the lover’s reaction, and the pastoral world that they embody, but we are never told that these events are connected. The end result is a collection that is constantly playing with how the reader interprets the previous poems and shows how powerfully one can present a narrative when it has been fractured into pieces.’

—James Bader


Leon Rooke is an international reveller, skirt-chaser and former wastrel whose celebrated oeuvre may have been ghosted by his wicked half-sister, or maybe his mother, or an eighteenth-century ‘Keeper of the Lamps’. But not this one. We may wonder why. Also, he’s a raffish [ed. note: charming] bum.

For more information please visit the Author’s website »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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POETRY / Canadian


ISBN-13: 9780889844483

Publication Date: 2022-03-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 80

Price: $16.95