Three Canadian Poets
- Nora Alleyn (Translator) and Anne Claire Poirier (Author)
Let Me Go!. Guernica Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Tammy Armstrong (Author)
Take Us Quietly. Goose Lane Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Seymour Mayne (Editor), Russell Thornton (Editor), Janice Fiamengo (Editor), and Marya Fiamengo (Author)
Visible Living: Poems Selected and New. Ronsdale Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Kristen Guest
Visible Living collects the work of Marya Fiamengo, beginning with poems from The Quality of Halves (1958) and ending with a selection of previously unpublished new work. The time span covered here—nearly fifty years—allows editors Janice Fiamengo, Seymour Mayne and Russell Thornton to highlight the evolution of key themes in Fiamengo’s oeuvre, and their short introduction offers a useful overview. The poems themselves document Fiamengo’s engagements with questions of identity as a matter at once personal, social and cultural.
The great strength of this collection is the insight it lends into Fiamengo’s evolution as a poet. Perhaps most interesting are the recurrence and transformation of key images and concerns. Thus, for example, overt references to Yeats in the opening poems are echoed and transformed in Fiamengo’s most recent verse. In “At the Edge,” Fiamengo’s image of an eagle in flight recalls Yeats’s falcon from a deeply personal and affirmative perspective:
It dipped in a moment
of grace, it soared to answer
the transparent breath
from my throat.
Fiamengo is similarly assured in her engagements with, and transformations of, figures associated with female maturity, power and wisdom. Hagia Sophia, first named in “In Praise of Old Women,” enfolds earlier, explicitly ethic fairy tale figures—such as Baba Yaga—even as she offers a developing mythic register for the positive aspects of aging.
Let Me Go!, which was produced by Anne Claire Poirier in collaboration with Marie-Claire Blais, was originally the voice-over for Poirier’s documentary Tu as crié! Though the text cannot reproduce the stunning visual effect of the film, it stands alone admirably as a deeply moving elegy for Poirier’s daughter Yanne. In taking up the personal experience of mourning by attempting to know and accept her daughter’s life as a heroin addict, moreover, Poirier also challenges the reader to engage with the social politics of addiction.
As an extended meditation on the loss of her daughter, Poirier’s lyrical engagements with memory originally represent an attempt to find meaning, even order, in death. In tracing the biographical and legal “facts” of Yanne’s life, however, Poirier confronts the larger problem of the ways we assign meaning to life. Finally, she concludes:
I have no answers.
replace my old certitudes.
I risk the discomfort of doubt.
I choose to trust.
This moment highlights her loss of faith in fact, even as it points to the higher spiritual and emotional possibilities of trust and acceptance. Central to this moment of release is Yanne herself, who Poirier figures in symbolic terms as an iceberg: “eternal ice/ free and immutable”:
The ice floe breaks away from the glacier,
the iceberg breaks away from the ice floe
and floats down
Towards a place of transformation.
As a spiritual point of reference, Yanne structures a work that cannot find meaning in psychological or forensic forms of examination. Her repeated cry, “Let me go!,” begins as an unborn infant seeking to escape the womb and ends, searingly, in her mother’s benediction: “I let go. /I let you go, mon amour.” Between these points of bringing life and accepting death, “let me go,” takes on a range of meanings—from the adolescent’s desire for self-determination (“Don’t hold me back, Maman, from my first love./ He is a junkie. I want to save him. /Let me go!”), to her pleas for mercy from her murderer. This repetition not only anchors the absent figure of Yanne, it also expresses the structure of joining and breaking apart central to Poirier’s central images and themes.
Take Us Quietly, Tammy Armstrong’s most recent collection, explores the conjunctions between familiar and strange, the geographically proximate and an exotic elsewhere, that shape our processes of memory. In the volume’s first two poems, for example, titles work to locate us in specific spaces we are subsequently invited to explore as points of conjunction. In “Mojacar Orange Groves,” for example, the orange—and its attendant sensations of taste and touch—evokes a series of stanza “segments” that join Spain with “our winter kitchen with its western light.” Similarly, “Rogersville: Garage Man’s Daughter Back From the City,” explores the experience “I’d forgotten to expect”: “how foreign we seem/after years in the city.”
This concern with conjunctions of the familiar and the strange forms a central current in the 63 poems included here, one that is explored and reworked in relation to human and geographic location. Particularly effective, in this regard, are “Pearson International” and “Affair With My Partner after Spring Haircut/Shave.” Both poems take up questions of proximity and displacement through the lens of personal relationship. The former conjoins the experience of habitual travel (in the liminal space of the airport) with concrete connections to a now absent lover. The latter connects the defamilarizing effect of a change in the speaker’s partner’s appearance with an earlier phase in their relationship: “This perennial hookup/leaves alarm clocks, toothbrush rituals in the margins.”
Taken together, the poems in this collection use unexpected images and language in a way that challenges the reader’s response to everyday life: aspects of relationship, and of location, to which we become desensitized by familiarity.
- Modern Takes on What Makes Us Human by Gillian Jerome
Books reviewed: Past Imperfect by Suzanne Buffam and Modern and Normal by Karen Solie
- Versions of Lyric by Douglas Barbour
Books reviewed: Bizarre Winery Tragedy by Lyle Neff, The Sutler by Michael Kenyon, and Standing Wave by Robert S. Allen
- Mythopoeia by Dee Horne
Books reviewed: A Gloss on Our Painted Gods by Eric Barstad, go-go dancing for Elvis by Leslie Greentree, and Wayward by Ali Riley
- Five Anthologies by Christopher Levenson
Books reviewed: Doors of the Morning by Fred Cogswell, New Life in Dark Seas by Stan Dragland, Writing Class by Michael Barnholden and Andrew Klobucar, Vintage 1999 by League of Canadian Poets, and Vintage 2000 by League of Canadian Poets
- Mine Not Mine by Robert Stanton
Books reviewed: Mine by Stephen Collis, Sledgehammer by John MacKenzie, and The Asthmatic Glassblower and other poems by Billeh Nickerson
MLA: Guest, Kristen. Three Canadian Poets. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #196 (Spring 2008), Diasporic Women's Writing. (pg. 148 - 150)
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