Zoom In, Zoom Out
- Jeanette Lynes (Author)
A Woman Alone on the Atikokan Highway. Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Sue Nevill (Author)
all you expect of the road. Press Porcépic (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Mary Cameron (Author)
Clouds Without Heaven. Press Porcépic (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Bruce Taylor (Author)
Facts. Signal Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Sonnet L'Abbé
Lately I like to think of poets as linguistic directors of photography. They paint with words rather than with light, and each poet’s distinctive "soul" is reflected in the gaze of each poem, their perspective evidenced by what he or she chooses to describe, and at what angle, and at what distance.
Mary Cameron’s Clouds Without Heaven relies heavily on metaphors of painting and portraiture. The first of its four sections is a sustained conversation with the wife of Cézanne, as imagined by the poet. I confess the Madame Cézanne sequence did leave me feeling lost, as the world from which the poems take their references was missing from my own lexicon. Still, I appreciated the insistent dwelling on the wife as an act of recuperation, acknowledging her role in the life, work and success of her famous husband.
The portraits, and especially the landscapes, of the middle sections of the book are more immediately arresting examples of the poet’s skill, as here she paints the entire picture herself:
the lake edge fills
with children: their hands slap sternly
at the water mirror, passing grief
to green arms reaching up from sand.
In these poems we have the moment conceived in language, as opposed to language used to translate another medium, and Cameron’s language is consistently subtle and rhythmically elegant.
There were many poems throughout that I read and reread, and still felt I had missed what I was meant to get. Often her poems work with a haiku-like logic that leaps from image to image and leaves the associative work to the reader. Sometimes, as in "Isolation is An Old Wood," this strategy works beautifully; at other times the chasms between concrete images are so wide the integrity of the poem is lost. Many of the briefer poems made me wish Cameron had lingered a little longer with her subjects.
Determining the organizing principle behind Sue Nevill’s all you expect of the road requires some guesswork: Nevill’s eye is everywhere—here on a drug user, there on a dancer, here on a friend in the kitchen, there on a wildflower-covered mountainside.
The first section, "rain to dance in at midnight," was perhaps the most urban grouping. Neville’s voice here often addresses city-dwelling characters, characters inured to life’s daily violences. "You are glad / because this is the city," says Neville, in an ironic counterpoint to the images of city life that she chooses to focus on throughout this section: the blind man beating his dog outside a liquor store, an addict hearing a siren, the woman who performs abortions, the long list of lonely hearts awake at 4 a.m. Our visit to the city ends in the acknowledgement of the urban-ite’s longing for escape: "You are drawn / to things that can carry you away." This leads us into the middle sections, "another way to Saskatchewan" and "romancing the stone." Neville leads us out of the city, not to take us on a wilderness walk so much as on a drive through the country, and as the title of the book suggests, we look with the eye of the traveller, of the passer-through, whose gaze appreciates the broad stroke of the landscape. I was unsure about Nevill’s insistent use of the second person. If the reader is not the "you" addressed, then is s/he a second-hand eavesdropper on the poet’s imaginings of characters we have not been directly shown? I would have liked more of the personal immediacy of "kate and friends: 14."
If you think of a poem as a wordstrike of a thematic or emotional chord, then to me the ordering of these poems was not as melodic as it could have been—that is, the poems’ sequential arrangement didn’t place them in progressions that made the most of their individual resonances. So, somewhat of a cacophony of poems, then, leaving the reader to identify her own motifs and harmonies within the four sections (movements?) of the collection.
Jeannette Lynes’s work takes some bold emotional risks. Poetry, with its close attention to the moment and its resistance to narrative logic, can bring on insights into oneself that resemble a progress of therapy or spiritual quest; after all, it is no accident that poems (including ones found in this book) are often called meditations. Lynes’s "Edible Flowers: A Journey In Therapy," the final poem of the collection, resonates with many of the same concerns and unanswerable questions that have been addressed by the preceding poems, thus illustrating the overlap between processes of creativity and introspection, and offering evidence of courage in the writing.
Throughout the book Lynes’s contemplative voice is drawn to the domestic. She looks from a distance at the usual life of rural women, seeing them with a mix of amused superiority and envy of the way they live their lives securely within convention. The section "Taming Jello" offers a city girl’s bemused memories of 4H Club homemakers’ wisdom.
The character of a mother with a childlike tendency to question appears more than once, and from the cumulative effect of these intermittent meetings with mother and the manner in which they are presented to us, we are left with one of the strongest resonances of the book: a voice that longs to return home, but can’t. Even when Lynes’s work speaks in the voice of an independent woman reacting to Cuba, or to Bill Gates, or to her students, there is within each poem a longing for connection, for ties to people that cannot be broken. Her work asks, if we are all travelling on the same highway, why must we travel alone?
It’s been a while since I enjoyed a book of Canadian poetry as much as I did Bruce Taylor’s Facts. His work spoke to the intellectually demanding poet as well as the loaf-about human in me. First, I liked his unabashed use of strong, end-jammed rhyme. He gets away with it because it’s balanced by his carefully controlled, conversational tone and his philosophical content. The playfulness and sing-song rhythm of his rhyme lends a humour to pieces that offsets the weight of ego indulgence that (necessarily) accompanies lofty musings on life’s bigger questions. Throughout the book, the entire concept of "facts"—what is known and taken to be true—is questioned. The contemplation of a tomato honkworm’s alleged disgustingness opens into thoughts on failing at life, but Taylor deftly inverts the logic of the poem, giving us first the grand abstraction, then spiralling gracefully into the concrete detail. Taylor has a great knack for seeing the universal in the mundane.
To me Facts is a wonderful sightseeing trip with a pessimistic guide who expects to know, who demands to know, and if he can’t know, will invent—as in the very flexible reality of the title poem. There is a confidence, a directness and a pleasure in oneself in this voice that seemed to come from a place of (male?) entitlement. Taylor "pin[es] for the romance of a real Hell [. . .] not this half-baked hades of sameness." What is Taylor, some kind of spiritual existentialist? Definitely check out his crazy, precisely crafted blend of "God is dead" and "God is in the details."
- Loving and Leaving by Ian Rae
Books reviewed: Dove Legend by Richard Outram, The Lover's Progress by David Solway, and Leaving Holds Me Here: Selected Poems by Glen Sorestad
- Cadence, Country, Voice by Nicholas Bradley
Books reviewed: The Cadence of Civil Elegies by Robert Lecker
- Indirections by Stephen Guy-Bray
Books reviewed: Contra/Diction by Brett Josef Grubisic and Written in the Skin by rob mclennan
- Recollections by Iain Higgins
Books reviewed: The Centre: Poems 1970-2000 by Barry McKinnon, Mountain Tea by Peter Van Toorn, and Heresies: The Complete Poems of Anne Wilkinson 1924-61 by Dean J. Irvine and Anne Wilkinson
- In a Minor Key by Linda Lamont-Stewart
Books reviewed: Footnotes to the Book of Job by Elizabeth Brewster
MLA: L'Abbé, Sonnet. Zoom In, Zoom Out. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #176 (Spring 2003), Anne Carson. (pg. 127 - 128)
***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.