George Elliott Clarke reads an excerpt of WAR CANTICLES


Cathay Answers (1860) | from War Canticles, No 34 in the Vallum Chapbook Series


The Anglo-French—comic-opera buffoons—
unsophisticated like all “messiahs”—

looking clytenish,*
and mincing—

pure eunuchs despite their gunpowder
(our invention and their loot),

descend like fussy, prissy swans
upon our harbours.

The amusing aviary, preening, crooning,
vaunt cannon resembling sable wings.



Let us minister our pepper—

where most propitious
and skewer the French duck

and goulash the Anglo goose,
so Mortality trumps Vulgarity.

Channel our shots to bastinado
the pallid poultry,

skin white like plucked chickens;
our cannons savour chewing up

the pallid waterfowl;
yet, we’ll also cut em by blade—

to aid the cannons’ Digestion.
We want the Yangtze to resemble

a starry-gazy pie—
with the blond heads of the white devils

gazing upward from rivulets of rapids,
like fish-heads gaping upward from pie crust.



Amid blooms of fire,
their blood must fly as sheer rain,

or flow in rubicund, jocund flood,
tiding the Yellow River orange.

Horses’ green meal—pure grass—
should turn russet.

The blank-faced hordes swerve
out of the sea’s blue void,

to try to thrust Cathay into Hell.
But we outnumber their mirror steel:

We’ll enact immeasurable blockage,
Mass and drive the rampant rats

back into the sea—
the bone-white abyss,

the candid periphery.
Press these miserable carnivores

into crimson’d corners
where our shark-tooth-sharp blades slick.

Their phosphorescent bodies
will foam a homely botch—

a scissors-and-paste blotch—
red papier-mâché and Plaster of Paris.

Even their kings will end as weeds,
garbed in silk.



They crave to sic Opium on us—
to fashion us phthisic, jaundiced wantons.

But our Philosophy mandates
their morose Biology:

Eggs into larvae, larvae
into pupae,

pupae into mosquitoes….
Thus, blandishments and carte blanche

end as wave-bleached and sea-beached bones.
Picture flaming ships and charred, drifting dead.



I advise the Emperor:
Cease twisty discussions,

any predilection for Dogma,
sermons, gargoning*

To plaster over shit
won’t make it solid.

Edge Statecraft into Warfare.
Destroy the Caucasoid crooks

leaguing against Cathay!
Guillotine their dazzle!

Rob em of Power
by robbin em of breath.

Ants can swarm, yes,
but a foot crushes em.

Let Hippomachie* replace Diplomacy
with stallions, cannons, blood-washed gold-braid!

We cannot be doubtful conquerors.
Kill the Caucasians contumeliously!

Ensure all that remains
is livid, putrid garbage.



If we demonstrate diligent Malignity
we’ll be delirious in making War,

so joyous unmaking Peace,
til London and Paris are ruins.

Victory is a hammer
wielded against an egg!

[Annapolis Royal (Nova Scotia) 23 mars mmxiv]



* Sickly, pale.
* Jargon.
* Fighting by horseback.

By Melanie Janisse

The 4th Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and the 7th Parliamentary/Canadian Poet Laureate (2016-17), George Elliott Clarke was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, in 1960. A professor of English at the University of Toronto, Clarke has also taught at Duke, McGill, UBC, and Harvard. His recognitions include the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Centre Fellowship (US), the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry, the Premiul Poesis (Romania), the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (US), and International Fellow Poet of the Year [2019] (China). His acclaimed titles include Whylah Falls (1990, translated into Chinese), Beatrice Chancy (1999, translated into Italian), Execution Poems (2001), Blues and Bliss (selected poems, 2009), I & I (2008), Illicit Sonnets (U.K., 2013), Traverse (2015), and Canticles II (MMXX) (2020).