- Antonio D'Alfonso (Translator) and Louise Dupré (Author)
The Blueness of Light. Guernica Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Karen Shenfeld (Author)
The Fertile Crescent. Guernica Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- B. W. Powe (Author)
The Unsaid Passing. Guernica Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Neil Querengesser
The poems in Louise Dupré’s The Blueness of Light, the first edition of her poetry in English, selected by the author and translated by Antonio D’Alfonso, are intensely introverted, the majority of them in prose. They focus on minute details of the speaker’s consciousness, the personal pronoun often shifting from first to second to third person as she probes the different facets of her awareness of herself and relationships with her partner and environment. She views ordinary activities, such as a morning stroll in the garden, through complex lenses of almost painful introspection, as in these lines from “Voice Over”: “I bury my brain under the leaves near me, and wait. My head like a dead tree trunk, torn off; my eyelids completely useless. I can’t hear a sound. Later, I’ll make my way to you.” Such vivid imagery is the norm, and while I found myself appreciating similar instances of this technique, I longed at times for a more objective perspective as a respite from the constant inwardness, especially in the final section, “Notes on Survival.” Here, the poet reacts to the news that the man she loves has a potentially fatal disease, never named, but involving “cells gone wrong.” There are few events in life that focus one’s attention so dramatically, and what follows is a sensitive, heartfelt examination of her hopes and fears, and her ultimate recognition of the powerlessness of poetry in such situations. Consequently, although the section ends with a resilient affirmation of poetry after the doctor’s good news, these “Notes” are generally as intentionally unpoetic as possible. However, while readers will certainly rejoice at the positive diagnosis and conclusion, many may feel more like eavespers on the whole process, as often is the case elsewhere in the book. There is a gifted and sensitive consciousness at work in these pages, but it too often achieves its effects by the exclusion of its audience.
B.W. Powe is best known for his stimulating if idiosyncratic essays on Canadian writers, artists, and intellectuals and the idea of Canadian nationhood, as well as for Outage, his controversial 1995 novel of technological disconnect. His prose has provoked a variety of reactions, perhaps the most extreme being Barbara Amiel’s preposterous likening of it to the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski’s manifesto. For all that, Powe’s writing embodies a persistently romantic optimism that is most significantly expressed in this, his first collection of poetry. The Unsaid Passing is, at first blush, an eclectic compilation of—to quote from the back cover—“meditations, drafts, fragments, lyric samplings, glimpses, notes, reveries” from 1995 to 2004. But these fragments have a way of bleeding into each other to create a thematically unified work that expresses the poet’s deepest longings for a return to an Eden that is just “one inch” away from us. Many of the poems are personal and immediately accessible, ranging from his contemplative life to his many relationships, especially those with his beloved children, Katie and Thomas. While the poems, as a result of their very accessibility, sometimes teeter toward the prosaic, they maintain overall a competent balance. Some of the best are found in the central section, where the narrator steps outside of his confessional self and adopts the voices of several significant romantic figures and of those most closely associated with them. We hear moving words on the death of Arthur Rimbaud from his sister Isabelle, on William Blake, from his wife Catherine, and on Clara Schumann, perhaps from her husband Robert, perhaps from Johannes Brahms. The most poignant of these is “Song for the Superman,” in the voice of the abused coach horse wept over by Nietzsche in what may have been his final moment of sanity. While some of the poems in this collection miss their mark individually, a cover-to-cover reading reveals some subtly textured themes that affirm the importance of the romantic voice in these troubled times.
The Fertile Crescent is Karen Shenfeld’s second book of poetry. Her first, The Law of Return, won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Poetry in 2001, and there is no reason why this present volume should not also win an award from someone somewhere. Shenfeld has remarkable poetic gifts and has clearly worked hard at perfecting her craft. She attends to the finer details of diction, patterns of sound and image, and subtle rhythms and phrasing that result in many polished poetic gems. To take only two examples, auditory and visual imagery combine to create palpable impressions of delight, as in these lines from “Girls at the Well, Laughing”: “Laughter announces their presence, / circles / like birds / the silver music of / bracelets and anklets, / as they walk, single file”—or of divine terror, as in these lines from “Take Thou Thy Son, Thy Only Son”: “All night, / hooves trod / the cracked earth / your herd’s fugue / darkening to a dirge.” The settings of these poems are exotic, from a Canadian perspective, ranging from Latin America to the Far East, from North to South Africa. They also range in time, from the biblical time of Abraham and Sarah to the present day. Although unfamiliar place names and exotic common nouns may occasionally challenge readers, they unfailingly reward the persistent. A delicately shifting “I” weaves in and out of these poems, much like the threads of the woven rugs that figure so often in them. The female and the feminine are celebrated in many ways, with brilliance, with dignity, and with some archness as in these lines of a portrait entitled “Woman at the River, Washing”: “You have no business / watching her, but do,” where the final verb oscillates artfully between the indicative and imperative mood. The collection ends with a homage to South African poet Tatamkhulu Afrika, whom Shenfeld met and interviewed several years earlier and whose influence on her has been significant. I recommend this book.
- Trusting in Movement by Susan Drodge
Books reviewed: Autobiography by Marilyn Bowering, Debriefing the Rose by Mary di Michele, Dream Museum by Liliane Welch, Garden of Sculpture by Elizabeth Brewster, and Wading the Trout River by Carolyn Zonailo
- Divergent Perspectives on Grace and Memory by Sharanpal Ruprai
Books reviewed: Valley Sutra by Kuldip Gill, Enter the Chrysanthemum by Fiona Lam, Fish Bones by Gillian Sze, and Reticent Bodies by Moez Surani
- Self-Assured Catastrophe by Adam Beardsworth
Books reviewed: Mean by Ken Babstock and River Suite by Joe Blades
- Canadian Identity: Maples and Chinatowns by Jennifer Jay
Books reviewed: Maples and the Stream: A Narrative Poem by Lien Chao
- Open Meditations by Karl Jirgens
Books reviewed: The Tapeworm Foundry by Darren Werschler-Henry, Burn by Paul Vermeersch, Chess Pieces by David Solway, and Light-crossing by Michael Redhill
MLA: Querengesser, Neil. Diverse Explorations. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #193 (Summer 2007), Canada Reads. (pg. 129 - 131)
***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.