Montréal Lit: Starnino’s poetic stompers

by La Belle Province

By Gregory McCormick, Director of English Programming for the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.

I have this friend who constantly complains about his upstairs neighbours and the noise they make above him in his Plateau apartment. Not as sensitive to noise as other people, perhaps, it’s a gripe that I often find exaggerated and surprising. Living in the centre of a city has down sides (many more upsides, of course, or we wouldn’t do it), and the price we pay for having everything within a 10 minute walk is precisely that we have to deal with an abundance of noise. There are extremes, though, and this common domestic stress is a spirit that Carmine Starnino captures in the following poem from in his collection, This Way Out. The book is full of nods to domestic life, letters to friends while traveling, good-natured ribbings and the noise, humour and hubbub of city life. In this poem he does his best to turn a common city gripe into a moment and feeling that anyone living in the city can easily relate to, replete with his playful use of idioms and his girlfriend’s annoyance captured in a single word:

TO THE COUPLE IN APARTMENT 949

Stair-stompers, all-hour furniture-draggers,
hear me out: what did we do to deserve you?
Who kill time by killing peace and quiet.
Who keep your shoes on and sound like a mob.
Seriously, Jen says, looks up at the ceiling

Delivering the thump of two drunks taking a tumble.
It’s no laughing matter, this spigot of noise
left on and flooding our flat. We’ve learned
to play it by ear: bonks, konks and crashes,
bashes, rattles and clanks. Never sleeping,

you keep us awake. Bipedals running roughshod.
Soon enough you’ll huff and puff and plod
this house down. We’ve abandoned all hope.
Our walls a boom box for the pots and pans
we yearn to brain you with, knock on wood.

This delightful little poem captures a general urban reality but there is a spirit to it that seems also to capture some aspect of Montreal specifically since so many of us live in the triplexes and old walk-ups that are so common in the centre of the island. My friend is certainly not the first person to hate his neighbors due to their exuberant and stomping evenings and he surely won’t be the last.

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