Throats & Claws
- Stephanie McKenzie (Author)
Grace Must Wander. Salmon Poetry (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Michael Eden Reynolds (Author)
SLANT Room. Porcupine's Quill (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Jeanette Lynes (Author)
The New Blue Distance. Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Emily Wall
These three poets explore the physical, spiritual, and cultural landscapes of Canada. We travel to Nova Scotia, spend time in the Yukon, dip into British Columbia and into New Brunswick. We get to know the cities, farms, animals, and stories of this country. The three books, read together, give us a visceral, body-knowledge of living in this land. Canada has claws. It has granite stones meant to slide on ice. It has wolverines eating beavers. It has teeth and necks and feet. In these new poems, all three poets connect us intimately to the physical and cultural landscapes of Canada.
The two image motifs of Stephanie McKenzie’s book Grace Must Wander are throats and claws. These images show us the balancing point of vulnerability and power, of rage, and of fear. The throat poems give us tension and danger: “We wrap our throats turned wolves” (“The Snow Has Voices”). The claw poems are powerful, rage poems:
Their chests puff out as though they challenge
us, as though clotting on their little claws was growing
blood, as if Christ were dumb to it all, fist shoved in his face,
asleep at the wheel. (“Glosses for Theo”)
The book balances between these two points as the speaker mourns landscapes that continually disappoint her: “The stones I’ve pushed are always something/marrow, meaning white or grey-like, the centre/sucked out” (“Marrow”). She turns to a statue of a missionary, to Van Gogh, to Sylvia Plath. These are her priests. And they disappoint her too: they failed in their own lives, and are silent to her now. Although it’s almost entirely a dark book, McKenzie never stalls out and the poems continue to deepen and surprise us as we read through them. Her fresh images, sharp similes, and rich language compel us to listen to her, and to examine the darkness in our own lives.
“A girl’s car plunged / over the edge last week, hundreds of feet into the Esk Valley” (“The Road to Rossyln Chapel”). Jeanette Lynes is a brilliant storyteller. She borrows, steals, shapes, creates, and tells a thousand little stories in her new book The New Blue Distance. She takes anecdotes—her stories, others’ stories, stories not even connected to her—and makes them deeply personal. She gives us the Canadian cultural and personal landscape in little slices of story. Her rich sense of humor counterpoints the darkness at the centre of many of these stories (in the story of a car going over a cliff we get to admire Dolly Parton’s “magnificent breasts”). Through these poems she gives us a new kind of ownership. We read about Nova Scotia, about a farm long gone, about the road to Rosslyn Chapel and these places become ours, because we own the stories now too. The book ends with two poem novellas—one about Elizabeth Smart, and the second about Beatrice Potter. These rich narratives provide a fitting climax for the book.
Mouths and feet are the recurring images in SLANT Room, Michael Eden Reynold’s first book of poems. He connects us beautifully and intimately to the landscape of the Yukon by using feet and mouths, as well as fur and skin, moving smoothly and constantly between animal and person. In his luminous poem about the birth of a child, he writes: “Little one, yours in the four-hoofed heart that pulls itself out of / the river and stands bewildered and sure” (“Fetascope”). Reynolds creates a fine balancing act between images of hope (“Soundtrack to The Moment of Your Birth”) and images of rage and pain (“Past the Fence with the Ghost of the Choked Dog”). Reynolds’ view of the landscapes of Canada is very intimate—the way our feet respond to the land we stand on, and the way the land tastes in our mouths. His very body-centered, physical approach creates a fresh and vivid way to explore place and identity. “This one / has teeth. . . . This one / scents blood packed in the far reach of winter . . . this being its muzzle thrust into its belly” (“Castor Gulo”). What’s powerful about these poems is that Reynolds, through language and image, puts us directly into a sense of place—there are no vague abstractions or theories. We’re simply there. And we cannot look away.
All three poets ask us to live for a time in the house of the body, in the language of the belly. We hear new stories, we see how close we are to animals, and we explore the landscapes of the back-country imagination. And in reading these poems, we begin to see how our own throats, and our own claws, fit into this place we call home.
- Transitions in Poetry by Susie DeCoste
Books reviewed: Arrivals and Departures by Nina Berkhout, Here is Where We Disembark by Clea Roberts, The Good News About Armageddon by Steve McOrmond, Traumatology by Priscila Uppal, and Winter Sport: Poems by Priscila Uppal
- En état d'incandescence by Réjean Beaudoin
Books reviewed: En longues rivières cachées by Annick Perrot-Bishop, Femme au profil d'arbre by Annick Perrot-Bishop, and Woman Arborescent by Neil B. Bishop and Annick Perrot-Bishop
- The Utopia of a Remembered Spring by Emily Wall
Books reviewed: Going Home by Ken Norris, The Commons by Stephen Collis, and The Dream World by Alison Pick
- Speaking, Pausing for Breath, and Gardening by Erin Wunker
Books reviewed: what the auntys say by Sharon Proulx-Turner, breathing for breadth by Salimah Valiani, and Gardening in the Tropics by Olive Senior
- Organic Re-membering by Jes Battis
Books reviewed: Blessings by Bernice Laver, Bones About to Bloom by Shari Andrews, Concrete and Wild Carrot by Margaret Avison, and Snow Formations by Carolyn Souaid
MLA: Wall, Emily. Throats & Claws. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #207 (Winter 2010), Mordecai Richler. (pg. 157 - 158)
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