- Lynda Monahan (Author)
A slow dance in the flames. Coteau Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Heather MacLeod (Author)
My flesh the Sound of Rain. Coteau Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Jean Mallinson (Author)
Quintet: themes and variations. Coteau Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Maureen McCarthy (Author)
Sneaking through the Evening. Harbour Publishing (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Eleonore Schonmaier (Author)
Treading Fast Rivers. Harbringer (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Andrea Wasylow Sharman
These are books about chaos in pattern: they rupture, pull to pieces, and separate into parts, yet they renew and rework broken agreements. Written by poets from the Pacific coast to the Maritimes, these works meditate upon assumptions ol heedom, health, fear, and personality. They resist essentialism, rectifying previous dismissals of women’s experiences and emanating a tonal and structural courage characteristic of much women’s poetry on the cusp of the new millennium. Between mothers and fathers, progression and fixedness, illness and Wellness, there are these words.
Eleonore Schonmaier’s Treading Fast Rivers initiates a current that rocks and lulls its readers. It begins by describing a father who cooks, knits, gardens, and loves his daughter dearly. The daughter grows up to realize "[t]he world is much larger / since I rediscovered clouds. / The sky is no longer a dark blue bowl dropped/ over my head but a deep cup to drink from." One of Schonmaier’s most intriguing assertions is that illness is a part of health; health never promises physical Wellness. Like the sea, health is unpredictable and can become tempestuous at unforeseen provocation. Who is Schonmaier’s lighthouse keeper who "guided me clear / through illness and storm, kept me away / from cliffs, showed me the cloud / formations instead, and whispered / that it was time to row myself to shore"? This author’s writing is delightful: from concrete poetry to couplets appearing sparsely on the page, Treading finds strength in conveying delicate enigmas: "my daughter says fear is a pebble / curved in the palm, not a stone in our shoes."
The differences between fear and freedom weave through Lynda Monahan’s a slow dance in the flames: "when they told her / it was terminal /1 remember thinking / it was like she was taking a trip / somewhere / & wanted to make sure / everything was looked after / while she was away." The image of a woman on fire, reminiscent of Laurence’s The Fire-Dwellers, emerges in "taper" Monahan writes, "she / can’t / believe / no one notices / her hair / caught / on fire / this way." Despite women feeling this disjointedness and invisibility, women also revel in a delectable freedom. The "the naked woman" dances, "raw as October / her hair / haloing the wind." In "where blue whales swim," we learn how "she belongs in their element / in the sea’s slow dance / she longs to feel / what the blue whales feel /. . . going with them / to wherever it is / the blue whales go." Monahan’s slow dance is a pleasure to read, its subject matter endearing and its insights clever.
Heather MacLeod’s My flesh the Sound of Rain is also a refreshing read because of the author’s ability to describe the emergence of a woman from terrible burdens. This book is about letting go of hurts and grudges. My flesh portrays a life-struggle to transcend memories of a father who raped almost all of his immediate family. MacLeod’s character cuts his name out of her birth certificate, trying to rid herself of this grief. The woman gleans a certain amount of strength from her mother, and honours her:"[m]y mother taught me how to move; not how to dance or / swing my hips, not how to pirouette or arabesque, but how / to pack, tape boxes, disconnect the hydro and telephone. / She taught me how to let go." MacLeod mixes Christianity and mythology to come to terms with her background; by placing an Indian woman on Noah’s ark, MacLeod relates at least two spheres, admonishing exclusivity: "I am only Half" and "[n]o one knows I’m Indian unless I tell them." She expresses pride when she discovers she is an integral piece in her family’s history, belonging to a culture that welcomes her return: "I touched the bison, / wanted them to remember me. / When I come home / I greet the bison at the border, / in my mind I say my brother’s name, /1 say, Buffalo I and realize I’ve been gone too long."
Belonging to families, participating in relationships riddled with ambiguities, and adopting socio-political stances are key actions in Quintet: themes & variations. A self-described "exploration of the poetic possibilities of shared themes," the book is written by five poets and separated into thematic sections. The poems speak to physicality, corporeality, and tangibility against the abstract of memory. Sue Nevill focuses on luminous details. Pam Galloway describes a child witnessing spousal abuse in "touching the past": "she slammed the dough against the table / slapped and punched flat hands and fists / against a smooth pale skin." In this poem, the mother does to the bread what her husband does to her—but she is creating, he is destroying. "All those years, trying / to please everyone," writes Jean Mallinson, "I was dying. To please / everyone is to be / no one, to perform / an antic masquerade." Here, an easily identifiable perplexity is stated dramatically, giving it a validation and an urgency, as with Clelie Rich’s observation: "she is almost looking forward / to being old she is sure / it will come back / this life whose moments she is forgetting / as quickly as she lives them." Eileen Kernaghan is eloquent and melodic. This collection satisfies a reader’s desire for adventure, solace, and speculation on the construction of a sense of self.
Sneaking through the Eveninghy Maureen McCarthy is rather a departure from the other books in this review. Daring in its non-linearity, this book promotes an opacity that is well worth trying to envision. McCarthy’s poems are mired with intense, thick vegetation, murky depths. Nature is wild and secretive and animals are infinitely more wise and interesting than us. Peace is "a hunted animal" while we are "hauled by our hair / through the calendar." Never a clear vision before us, we are nonetheless compelled to undertake the book’s series of mental journeys. McCarthy will not let us forget that while we are experiencing different worlds, we are not actually going anywhere: "trace the Arno" in bed, or "listen to the radio, / it has every sort ol accent." This self-conscious grounding reminds us that we are firmly anchored to our lazyboys despite mentally participating in meta-realities. With lines such as "how many truths, can you remember," the dominance of medial caesuras and non-sequiturs give McCarthy’s writing an elusive, though not impenetrable, quality.
- Recollections by Alexander Forbes
Books reviewed: Hogg: The Poems and Drawings by Barry Callaghan and Michael Bullock: Selected Works 1936-1996 by Peter Loeffler and Jack Steward
- Understanding Cruz by Scott Gordon
Books reviewed: Dark Antonyms and Paradise: The Poetry of Rienzi Crusz by Chelva Kanaganayakam, Insurgent Rain: Selected Poems 1974-1996 by Rienzi Crusz, and Another Way to Dance: Contemporary Asian Poetry from Canada and the United States by Cyril Dabydeen
- Alberta, Bound by Owen Percy
Books reviewed: The Book Collector by Tim Bowling, Noise From the Laundry by Weyman Chan, First Mountain by Paulette Dubé, The Sweet Fuels by Erin Knight, and It's Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems by Jeanette Lynes
- Well-Versed in Signals by Antje M. Rauwerda
Books reviewed: A Picnic on Ice by Matthew Sweeney, Calling Home by Richard Sanger, Fielder's Choice by Elise Partridge, and Helix: New and Selected Poems by John Steffler
- Barefoot in the Margins by Daniel Burgoyne
Books reviewed: I, Nadja, and Other Poems by Susan Elmslie
MLA: Sharman, Andrea Wasylow. Supporting Ourselves. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #166 (Autumn 2000), Women & Poetry. (pg. 179 - 181)
***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.