In November 1997, Reena Virk was murdered in Saanich, BC. Eight people participated in the assault, and more watched the beating. Virk’s body was later found drowned in the Gorge Waterway. This horrific tragedy is the inspiration for Soraya Peerbaye’s new collection, Tell: Poems for a Girlhood. The poems within it detail the murder, and the subsequent trial, in a delicate manner; never does the material feel exploitive or gratuitous. Excerpts from the trials are woven into the poems, further strengthening the core narrative. In “Clean,” Peerbaye allows testimony from the stepmother of one of Virk’s killers to work as metaphor for the underlying themes of racism that pepper the collection:
The Gorge by Craigflower Bridge,
of seaweed and filth and mud,
her daughter’s skin
Themed collections can often feel repetitive, the content taking over the poetry, but Peerbaye manages to overcome this challenge. Her poems are varied in terms of form and voice, moving gracefully through and beyond the true story. The final section of the collection, “The Landscape Without Her,” explores the physical landscape in the aftermath of the murder, and in this the very absence of Virk is moving; she is no longer there, but still remains “the fish / beneath the surface.” In such poems, Peerbaye accomplishes something that Virk, as a result of her tragic young death, was denied the possibility of realizing: she firmly grounds Virk in the present. Peerbaye’s collection serves both as poetry of witness and as a reminder of our collective responsibility to remember those who have been lost.
Elee Kraljii Gardiner’s debut, Serpentine Loop, takes its starting point from skating. Rinks, lakes, icicles, and rivers populate these poems, offering a chilled tone throughout. In “Raising a Girl”:
I prod the bank with a dull shovel,
uncover kisses, exchanges of danger.
She makes a snowpanted discovery
of a wagon rusted with salt crust.
spot the lines.
Kraljii Gardiner uses symbols, skating texts, and other found material to further amplify the collection, immersing the reader in the world of skating. Many of the poems are experimental in nature, incorporating concrete poetry, repetition, and lists, which helps to distinguish them. However, there remains a sameness to some of the poems, as they are so closely tethered thematically; certain words are often used (skate, ice, tracks), and so it can feel as if the poems are covering the same literal and figurative terrain. Ultimately, the ice itself becomes a character in the poems, acting both as antagonist (when the poet falls through the ice) and as muse (the precise joy of skating). The strongest poems use the skating motif as a backdrop, and explore alternate themes of gender, tragedy, and our relationship to physical landscape. Here, Kraljii Gardiner’s voice becomes clear, distinct.
Heaven’s Thieves is Sue Sinclair’s fifth collection of poetry, and it explores big questions and themes, such as grief, betrayal, and beauty. Sinclair navigates these topics with economy and precision, creating honed lyric poems: the content is dense, but the poems themselves remain airy. From “Belief”:
The floorboards creak overhead,
heavy with stars.
The sound makes you think of the dead,
as though they’re closer than you knew
The collection is threaded with responses to other authors and works of literature, ranging from Rainer Maria Rilke to Gwendolyn MacEwan to Francis Bacon, creating richness. Sinclair further dialogues with literature in her erasure and found poems; her ability to successfully repurpose such varied works speaks to her considerable skills as a poet. There is much to be said for the author’s ability to incorporate these influences while still creating inventive, vivid poems. Sinclair’s PhD in philosophy, specifically her interest in beauty and ethics, reverberates throughout the poems. Her images are striking, her language startling. The intricacy found in Sinclair’s work sometimes makes it necessary to reread poems to internalize the complete effect. The poems about Anna Pavlova and the red bees are particularly striking, and deserving of a second (and third) read.
In some poems, Sinclair tackles some fairly well-known and well-used topics—think ballerinas, philosophers, Notre Dame, religion—but her approach makes the poems feel fresh rather than predictable. From “Visited”:
There’s a painting of Joan of Arc in which golden
people float in the trees behind her. She looks
as though she sees them.
She is God’s summer home, her eyes a bay on which he floats
for a time of an afternoon.
Holy-crazy is the look in her eyes.
One summer, the whales came to the cliffs behind
my mother’s home. I was in the garden and heard them singing;
it was like hearing voices, the sound seemed to come
from nowhere and everywhere.
Here, as we see throughout Sinclair’s body of work, she is able to elevate familiar subjects, and connect them to contemporary life. Sinclair’s unique voice and approach is highlighted in this collection, offering surprising metaphors and a decidedly confident experience.