Earle Birney’s “El Greco: Espolio” and the Banality of Evil


“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

–Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

Our actions often have unintended consequences. Things we create have the power to affect others in ways we couldn’t imagine. Canadian poet Earle Birney explores this idea in his moving poem “El Greco: Espolio”, which examines a famous incident in Western culture and takes a look at the often less thought about players in the scene.

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“Put Away Childish Things”: Jeffery Donaldson’s “Figurine”

Jeffery Donaldson is exactly how I picture a poet should be. Not one of those tortured, angsty types, unchecked in their spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion and morbidity (you can find some of them skulking about on tumblr), but one who balances piercing intelligence, extensive cultural knowledge, lyricism and emotional depth into his work expertly. If you have an excess of any one of these elements, the poetry can become cold and inaccessible or can overwhelm the reader with unchecked affect or even become plain boring. However, Donaldson performs the balancing act well. In other words, he makes me think thoughts and feel feelings. One of my favourite of his poems is from his latest poetry collection, Slack Action (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2013) about a dollhouse:

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