Clichés and Landscapes
- Jane Munro (Author)
Active Pass. Pedlar Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Elizabeth Greene (Author)
Moving. Inanna (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Debbie Keahy (Editor)
Unfurled: Collected Poetry from Northern BC Women. Caitlin Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Di Brandt (Author)
Walking to Mojacar. Turnstone Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Alexis Foo
In her collection Moving, Elizabeth Greene’s narrative voice provides a clarity that almost
hits the reader over the head with its personal revelations and epiphanies. Readers are taken on a voyage that spans Cairo, Santiago, Mount Parnassus, and even the seedy Chelsea Hotel. Greene’s sense of place is both haunting and imagistic, and she successfully transports readers into each poem with natural ease, whether it be the
underworld cathedral of a cave in Greece, or the
tangle of tiny winding streets of Old Cairo. The strongly autobiographical collection is laden with moments of self-proclamation. In
Wires of Necessity, the speaker heals and triumphs after her broken marriage has ended:
Step by step, my days enlarged: coffee / downtown; days in Toronto. I learned to heal; / my tears (mostly) dried. . . . Now I float down the steps, fling open my arms. / World, here I am! In
Imaginary Music, the speaker recollects her desire to recover
Vinteuil’s petite phrase / that short run of notes Swann / hears and falls in love, finally, / with Odette. She laments,
I thought / if I could find those notes, I’d find love, / like Swann, art like Marcel, but now / I know I must dive deep into / Imagination, feeling the thickness of water / as I descend, then emerge, gasping for air. The self-awareness of the speaker that is ever-present in this collection is rather blatant; it as though the poems of Moving are almost too aware of themselves as being
exalting, leaving little to be deciphered or pondered by the reader.
The poems of Jane Munro’s collection Active Pass resonate with zen-like sensuality. Munro invokes twelfth-century Indian poet Mahadeviyakka in her poem,
Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds. Shine! in which the speaker envisions the poet
gripping silks of sunlight / daylong / layering leaves licking wind / six colours aflicker creepers / lush trysts. Munro even pays homage to the practice of yoga in
Empty your hands and your feet, your words and your thoughts—a poem divided into six sections, each dedicated to a specific pose. In
Mountain Pose, she amalgamates the body, mind, and natural world.
A sacrum drops, floating ribs rise . . . Flesh at the edge of mind’s light-well / tingles, bells as it hollows. The twenty-one poems under the title
Active Pass provide a disjointed array of lines that question mortality, memory, and loss. From the decaying carcass of a doe—
the ravens are bloodying her, but she still has fullness, to
human fat—pale, dimpled— / in a jar on a shelf in St. Paul’s hospital, Munro does not hesitate to provoke readers with her abject images. Her language is lush and her voice is at times darkly ironic as her poems manage to find solace in raw imperfection.
Many of the poems of Unfurled, an anthology of poems of Northern BC Women edited by Debbie Keahey, rely on cliché phrases. From the line,
I am from cold silences and scathing rages, in a poem exploring the emotional scars of domestic abuse titled
Fragments, to the deliberate announcement in the poem,
I stand in the Shower—
its flow washes over me and I / do not resist the power / of memory / or of metaphor. In
Wishing you Bread, Wishing You Roses,
this is for / you / for all the times you act honourably / even when nobody is looking / when you fearlessly fight injustice and ignorance. Some poems in the collection push beyond the contrived.
Wet Siren laments,
a cigarette is such a long time to sit still. / yes, love is a truck with no windows, and
Ode to tea drinkers stands unique in its examination of the mundane habit:
Deep Roiboos sucks in the drinker, / fooled by a name so inflated and round, / it won’t release you / until every syllable of its flavour is drawn in like pipe smoke. These moments of originality, however, are scarce in this collection. I would recommend Unfurled to a reader who is looking for a light, feel-good read and does not mind a few large doses of sentimentality.
Di Brandt demonstrates a variety of poetic styles as well as translations in multiple languages in Walking to Mojacar. This rich collection speaks with an unwavering confidence, with the brash, sometimes sarcastic voice of each poem challenging the reader to discover the multiple worlds that the poet inhabits. From the streets of Barcelona to the
barbed wire gates of Detroit, Brandt’s poems manage to create unity in disorder and a strange serenity in destruction with an undercurrent of bravado.
Hymns for Detroit invokes German hymns from the poet’s Mennonite childhood, often contrasting nursery-rhyme sounds with the urban backdrop of a city in ruins. The voice behind these poems is often sardonic and slightly jarring.
Jesus saves. / Mummy said don’t eat / The fish, / Watch them on TV. The
Eliotique influence throughout this collection is clear. In the first hymn,
Nine river ghazals, the poet alludes directly to Eliot’s famous line from The Waste Land,
by the waters of Leman I sat down and wept, with
on the banks of the Assiniboine we sat down and wept.
Gracias, the final poem of the collection, echoes The Waste Land with its disjointed landscape of
blooming, jasmine-scented, / in the desert and
this valley / of the shadow of the heart, / where the world / begins / and ends. The
What the Thunder Said even make an appearance in this poem that reads like an amalgamation of Eliot’s Waste Land and Four Quartets. The span of Walking to Mojacar is impressive, and the poet proves that she is widely read as she invokes a sense of literary consciousness and history by alluding to a pantheon of well-known poets such as Dorothy Livesay, Leonard Cohen, and Rilke. There is a feeling of heaviness that comes with the constant need to decipher references as well as the many translations that are present in this collection. Brandt’s strongest voice emerges with rhythmic momentum in
Poets in New York:
And now here come / the beautiful / cowboys of New York, / equally at home / chasing bulls in Pamplona.
There is something undeniably Canadian about the naturalistic landscapes of these four collections of poetry. I confess that I keep hoping for Canadian poetry to push beyond the confines of familiar themes such as mourning, solitude, and the recognition of the self in relation to the natural world that is often present in our literary culture. I found glimmers of expansion beyond these tropes, of boundaries being pushed in these collections, but we might not be quite there yet.
- Lyrics in Flight by Gillian Jerome
Books reviewed: The Drunken Lovely Bird by Sue Sinclair, Robinson's Crossing by Jan Zwicky, and Anthropy by Ray Hsu
- Corps à corps by Emmanuel Bouchard
Books reviewed: Comme une seule chair by Paul Chamberland, Entre l'acier et la chair by Isabelle Gaudet-Labine, and Tout Comme by Marie Bélisle
- Figures of Memories and Cities by David C. Waddell
Books reviewed: asking questions indoors and out by Anne Compton and This Way Out by Carmine Starnino
- Recent Western Writing by Nicholas Bradley
Books reviewed: Pye-Dogs by Tammy Armstrong and George McWhirter, Understories by Marc Ory, River of Gold by Anusree Roy, and Hooker & Brown by Shirley Mahood and David Yee
- Art of Sinking in Poetry by Jon Kertzer
Books reviewed: Iridium Seeds by Sylvia Legris, Queen Rat: New and Selected Poems by Lynn Crosbie, and Poems Selected and New by Heather Spears
MLA: Foo, Alexis. Clichés and Landscapes. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 22 May 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #212 (Spring 2012), General Issue. (pg. 155 - 156)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.