Into & Beyond Bodies
- Jacqueline Turner (Author)
Into the Fold. ECW Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Anne F. Walker (Author)
Into the Peculiar Dark. Mercury Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Marianne Bluger (Author)
Scissor, Paper, Woman. Penumbra Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Sally Chivers
What brings these three poetry books together, and what drove me to select them from a larger group of female-authored texts, is their evocation of physicality through varied and variably successful poetic forms. But that is not the only aspect of the poetry worth mentioning. Jacqueline Turner, Marianne Bluger and Anne F. Walker walk a fine line between writing as women and being read solely as female authors. Each poet keeps her balance.
Jacqueline Turner’s first book of poetry hits home. Her dancing syllables survey spaces of British Columbia to open up a book that could only be written in and through Western Canada. In a series of triptychs, she explores the fold as structural device and as symbol. To follow Turner’s exploratory lines is to investigate conjunctions of cartography, desire and (auto)biog-raphy that meet in the fold.
There’s a gouge today in her ability to get
out of bed. She is gouged to the bed. The bed is holding
her in its gouge. She is unable to ungouge herself. She looks at
the clock, knows, it is time to get up. And yet. This gaping
gouge. Caught in the fold, the inbetween. Not sleeping but unable.
Caught. The bed— her. Stuck she can’t say. Seeping some
how, slipping lip to pillow.
Hinging on gouges, Turner’s long poem "Into the Fold" moves from narrative to sound in a mixture of forms that all build on a tripartite scaffold. Her own text design visually evokes the fold she explores, like paint-splatter butterflies from an elementary school art class. Amidst tripled prose poems, and sets of three tercets, she maps poems with right- and left-justified columns meeting and spilling into a centred column at the bottom of the page, usually a juxtaposition of images: "badminton racquet / grade six soccer (goalie) / she said ’sweet’ / driving gold bracelets / the first time they had sex." The road trip of "Into the Fold" culminates in the long poem, "Beyond Tongue." Continuing threads of design and sensation from the previous poems, it is not quite as successful in reinventing sound and shape. Still, Turner’s exploration of the carnal, colloquial and complete possibilities of the fold enlivens a feminist aesthetic.
Marianne Bluger’s seventh book, Scissor, Paper, Woman, invests in images so precise they resound far beyond the pages that contain them. Bluger defamiliarizes the familiar: "by feel alone took from my purse / the cold steel key / an agent stranger once had given me / and let myself into the place." The title poem evokes woman as scissor and stone in the visceral game, played like the flip of a coin. "Scissor, Paper, Woman" taps into the chance choices that change the game and that mark gendered relationships: "& limp she lies / still stunned and calm / a solid/ round heavy / stone in his palm." The poem, like the book in general, is marred by strange explanatory endnotes that work against evocative juxtapositions. Throughout, Bluger trusts readers to decipher lines such as "Pale naked Sappho / moon woman of Japan / breasting the night clouds / you swim steep heaven alone." Yet, someone (the editor? the poet?) has decided to note that the title of that poem, "Izumi Shikibu," refers to a Japanese poet, that "Stein" refers to Gertrude Stein, and that "Lent is the penitential season of fasting and prayer before Easter." Left to their own devices, Bluger’s readers will engage with her deft imagistic writing that weaves the everyday among literary references. In the opening section, "For the reader," Bluger’s "The Very Spot" challenges her audience, "Just watch us." In the following three parts, "Night Station," "Nude with Scar," "The Red Rim," and "Present Things," Bluger comes through with a tangible feast, delicately visual and infinitely figurative.
Though not as engaging as Into the Fold or Scissor, Paper, Woman, Anne F. Walker’s third book of poetry, Into the Peculiar Dark (winner of second prize in the AJcuin Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada) escapes the trap of dichéd cancer poetry to present a vivid rereading of ill bodies. Repeated terms like "dioxin," "toxin" and "hypermodern" jar the reader into a discomfort partly aesthetic and partly physical. The collection is divided into three sections presented counter-intuitively, so that part three, "After," precedes part one, "Before" and part two, "During." The somewhat belaboured structure invites a reading of process, leaving readers in the midst of a cycle at the end of the book. That cycle is reinforced by the back and forth between laments for ailing flesh—"I have begun to mourn while / her back cakes into a sore living round"—and lyrics of babyhood—"infant fingers / conducting symphonies inside / my hips." The poems aim more for meaning than sound. They succeed, but without Turner’s ear and Bluger’s eye. Walker could have more faith in her readers. Connections tend to be over-explained and reading strategies controlled. A few too many "like"s litter figures and unnecessary numbers reinforce otherwise innovative structural devices. Still, Walker confronts materiality to evoke an agony that too often defies such plain, fresh scrutiny. She captures her own poetic process with the simple lines, "Coffee cups feel unidentifiable in / tap water, the river beside my baby’s dreams / to ease clinking of glasses and silver."
- Italian-Canadian Diversity by Joseph Pivato
Books reviewed: The Rooming-House by F. G. Paci, Vinnie and Me by Fiorella De Luca Calce, A Rage of Love by Alda Merini, and L'Esilio della Poesia: Poeti italo-canadesi by Marilia Bonincontro
- Voicing Constraint by Ian Rae
Books reviewed: My Darling Nellie Grey by George Bowering
- Signifier Desire by Gregory Betts
Books reviewed: The Only Poetry That Matters: Reading the Kootenay School of Writing by Clint Burnham
- Good, But Not So Pretty by Sonnet L'Abbé
Books reviewed: Opening the Island by Anne Compton, The Good Life by Brad Cran, and Short Haul Engine by Karen Solie
- What's New? by Moberley Luger
Books reviewed: Breathing Fire 2: Canada's New Poets by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry by Carmine Starnino, and Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry by derek beaulieu, Jason Christie, and Angela Rawlings
MLA: Chivers, Sally. Into & Beyond Bodies. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #176 (Spring 2003), Anne Carson. (pg. 192 - 194)
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