The Dirty Knees of Prayer

Timothy Shay

The poems in The Dirty Knees of Prayer are hot and dark as night rain. The new Honeywell fan blows whips of simmered air against Shay’s glistening back. He suspects a dystopian future and apparently it has arrived. These poems shrug at death. A tide of smoke rises and hovers over the city. Shay’s picture is taken for his collection of grief and apocalyptic love.

These poems speak of sadness and self-fated things, how the heat blurs everything, the clouds send shrouds of water down. Here a thin gruel of hope is celebrated and dark elegies are showcased against the former truculence and lying promises of history, the placebo of mythology. The wry humour of mourning in an age of grief.

Here is a picture of Shay against a green hedge. The poems do a rain dance. A five-step tango is executed with the ghost of Kubler-Ross. Songs of ruined breakfast are sung. Rags of pressed roses rise up from an old brittle Bible, its ochre pages ashen by exposure to the sudden light, become the dust on the roads of many summers.

“Tim Shay’s poems in The Dirty Knees of Prayer unflinchingly reveal lives illuminated by a bleak light: he is not afraid to portray ‘the corners where dark night / stores its darker hollows.’ Yet the tough vision of dysfunction the poems offer—’a family where everyone broken / reached out to everyone broken’—is redeemed by a sparkling precision of observation and a confident deployment of language. Shay can capture a landscape during a specific moment in late autumn as accurately as any camera: ‘Snow did not give / yellow leaves the time to depart.’ The indifference of nature, or the divine, to human failings or suffering is encapsulated with reference to ‘the Earless Infinite.’ An elegy for a miner father, stoic in the face of a fatal occupational disease (‘always silence leading to silence’), ends with a powerful haiku-like image: ‘No one returns to the empty chair. / The shadow there appears to give speeches.’ Indeed, all Shay’s poems in The Dirty Knees of Prayer give eloquent voice to darkness, while the poet’s command of craft lets us listen absorbedly to the wisdom and insight his poems have to convey.”

—Tom Wayman

“I first read Tim Shay’s poetry in 1973 in Nelson when we were impossibly young. But even then I knew there was a mammoth talent in his voice. It was so clear. At first, Tim’s poetry reminded me of Al Purdy, Milton Acorn and Allen Ginsberg, but over time there was a wonderful seam of the metaphysical and whimsical in Tim’s gaze that drew in other voices like Eliot, Cohen and Blake. Tim is the real thing. He is such a good ‘makar.’ The fact that he is not a household name is simply part of the same crazy cultural affliction that besets the jazz community in North America. But as in jazz, other players know how good Tim Shay is, and that’s what’s important. The Dirty Knees of Prayer is a great baroque feast of beautiful poetry. We’re lucky to have it.”

—John Lent

“Revelation—like the crow that appears so often in this wonderful collection—wears a dark uniform. There is much here, much. That is most of what can be said, aside from an appreciation that these singular pieces are crafted, cast and crystallized by many days, nights, lifetimes of … the oily coffee/tastes like old lead pencil shavings.”

—Dennis Bolen

 “The collection is accessible, and grapples with important, interesting issues universal to to human experience. The poems are varied and monologic in nature, so the reader is exposed to an ambitious breadth of themes and speakers. I believe this will be appreciated and enjoyed by a great many readers.”

—Eliot Gilbert, Existere

“The journey I travelled while winding through the pages of this book was one well worth taking and some of the passages will remain indelibly etched in my memory.”

—Candace James, Canadian Poetry Review

2017 Shortlist for the 4th Annual Fred Cogswell Award For Excellence In Poetry