Prairie Land/Lovescapes

Reviewed by Moira Day

Even in an era of growing urbanization, land and the memory of land seem to be the rich mulch out of which the most intimate expressions of body, spirit and passion arise in the work of Saskatoon poets, Leah Horlick and Don Kerr. Though their individual lyrical voices are marked by differences in generation and gender, Horlick’s and Kerr’s sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting “lovescapes,” interweave piquantly with a sharply observed and remembered sense of place.

Horlick’s book of sixty-two short poems juxtaposes the memory of land as remembered as a child-simple, sensual and elemental-with the growing complexity of sexual awakening and intimacy. While some poems, like “saskatchewan sex ed” are wryly funny, Horlick contrasts an early holistic oneness with land, animals, nature, bodies and friends with the growing complexity of puberty and gay and lesbian love in a richer, more diverse but fragmented urban world (“Meat Market,” “Yarzeit,” “The Visit,” “Night Shift”). Beginning with her initial fitful memory of land, light, and wind upon her family’s arrival in Saskatchewan (“I can tell you this much about the light”) the collection ends the cycle in “Blood Oranges” and the fullness of landscape in all its variations-imaginary, prairie, tropical, sensual and human-drawing together in fruition. Riot Lung, Horlick’s first published collection of poems, leaves one looking forward eagerly to the next.

Don Kerr’s tenth volume of poetry, a collection of sixty-five poems divided into six sections, devotes nearly a third of its length to combining sexual and natural landscapes. Initially lyrical, sensual and exuberant (Section 1 “Love is”), the tone turns wry, ironic and pragmatic (Section 2 “Liquid Love”) as reality too soon hilariously rears its hydra-like head in the Garden in the form of religious hypocrisy (“love thy neighbor”), birth control (“safe sex”), or not (“We had children”, “no road map worth a damn”). The remaining four sections are more discursive and self-reflective though love and landscape remain a pervasive influence throughout. Section 3, “Travels,” deals with the vastness of landscape and the seduction of travelling on it (“the drug of travel”), while other poems reflect poignantly on more fundamental passages through and into the earth (“Wind Thrashing Your Heart,” “Wynn’s Funeral”). Sections 4 and 5, “The GNP” and “that self,” are delightfully picaresque reflections on the addictions of writing, smoking, and gas- car and bowel variety-as accentuated by the realities and humor of the aging body. (“The Unsolicited Manuscript” is guaranteed to bring a grin-or grimace-to the face of every writer or editor who has ever sent or received one.) Perhaps reflecting Kerr’s interest in playwriting and performance, the final section plays with conflating blues and jazz with land imagery in the aptly titled “the environmentally sound.”

For both poets, the seasoned veteran, and the promising contender, love and land in all their configurations-light, dark, male, female-form the intricate warp and weft of two rich new tapestries of poetry grounded in prairie earth while yearning towards the sky.

This review “Prairie Land/Lovescapes” originally appeared in Recursive Time. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 222 (Autumn 2014): 162-63.

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