Inside the Darkness

Reviewed by Joan Crate

One of the advantages of a book of poems selected from the expanse of a poet’s career is the sweeping poetic vision it reveals. Lorna Crozier’s The Blue Hour of the Day contains excerpts from nine of her books and, through them, takes us from the often messy details of personal lives backwards through memory, story, anecdote and ancestors to a prehistoric beginning where there was “nothing broken / or in need of breaking” (“The Origin of the Species”). This is a world unmarred by human fault and filled with light that “glossed all / that waited to be seen” (“Apocrypha of Light”). Yet even then, there are things in the darkness that make light itself recoil. Crozier writes of a world of imperfection, clumsiness, violence, betrayal, pain, and in spite of everything, delight and love.

Though several of her poems include the natural world, her emphasis is on the human one. In her exploration, she is unflinching, pulling up all rocks and stops to expose the ugly deeds crawling beneath an ordinary day and a “typical” relationship. She considers characters such as the pedophiles that exist within families, the travelling poet with the teen-aged lover who calls him Mister and the lover whose abandoned wife puts their son on the phone. “Only four, Daddy, he’d say, / when are you coming home? / till his father / clicked the receiver down . . .” (“The Other Woman”). By examining particular, often despicable actions, Crozier makes those who perform them, if not redeemable, at least recognizable. Shit happens, life goes on and love exists not because it doesn’t see or its object is irresistible, but in spite of a myriad of all too obvious faults.

As the title of this book of selected poems indicates, darkness is an essential element in everyday life. It is also seductive and often the source of yearning.

Everything yearns—
that stone in your hand,
that singular blade of grass.
Don’t think it’s only for the light.

Yet, as the book’s title also indicates, darkness is limited. In a sense it clarifies the light which shines on the most unlikely of places, including the “Canada Day Parade” that features a boy holding up a sign saying “Future Oilman,” beside him a girl, the “Future Oilman’s Wife,” and the “four Lions’ Ladies / in fake leather fringes, / faces streaked with warpaint, not one / real Indian in the whole parade.”

Always accessible, Crozier speaks a language we understand, but she uses it to tell us of things we don’t. In “Photograph, Not of Me or Little Billy, Circa 1953,” she introduces a child narrator who looks down the bowling alley “trying to catch sight / of the little man who lives / inside the darkness at the end of the lanes.” There “Little Billy” waits “to set things right.” We can smile at the child’s way of explaining a technology she can’t understand, and her desire for an outside hand to guide circumstances beyond her control is touching in the context of the childhood Crozier constructs. In various poems, she develops the character of a father robbed of the family farm, his drinking, bravado, illness, bad behaviour and flawed heroics. In this childhood, in many ways both defective and ordinary, conditions are not exactly “right,” yet there is acceptance and a love that simply is.

Often it is the disconnected and minute that interest Crozier, perhaps because they can be appreciated without the baggage that larger, more complicated subjects bring. In “Delight in the Small, the Silent,” she celebrates

those that inhabit
only a corner of the mind,
the ones shaped by wind
and a season: a slip of
grass, the nameless flower
that offers its scent
to a small wind.

Without the eastern philosophy, Crozier creates a kind of yin-yang from light and dark, transgression and acceptance, simplicity and complexity, pain and humour. Her work is refreshingly unromantic and her depiction of love is in-your-face and realistic. Love does not necessarily elevate one; it is not necessarily noble, but the fact that it grows amongst debris in the darkest of places is something to rejoice in.

This review “Inside the Darkness” originally appeared in Diasporic Women’s Writing. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 196 (Spring 2008): 141-42.

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