Solitudes and Pastorals

Reviewed by Alexis Foo

The notion of solitude resonates through the collections of Joshua Trotter and E. Blagrave as both poets explore the fecundity of the solitary mind through different mediums. Trotter’s debut poetry collection, All this Could be Yours is layered with philosophical musings about loneliness and nothingness. The opening poem “Theme of the Perpetual Architect” meditates on the satisfaction of solitude within the confines of a home. The speaker is both “landlord and surveyor” in his “lair” where he proclaims, “I rest fulfilled / in my preferred Bauhaus chair, while snow / trashes the window like friends I once knew.” Within these lines the speaker’s winter solitude is relished as though it is something sacred; even “a trailer-park is an isthmus of light.” The speaker then declares, “cohabitation is the shortest line / away from sane,” in contrast to his satisfaction with being alone. The final lines of the poem pay homage to the craft of writing. “To be alone this winter, I stay home / driving black lines through the white.” In an imagistic twist, the whiteness of the snow outside parallels the whiteness of the page, while the speaker makes his mark through ink. Though the poem revels in the beauty of the solitary self, Trotter’s sense of humour is peppered throughout the collection.

The final poem of the collection, “The Laws of Innocence” announces, “we place our trust in wide open spaces / . . . In airbags, windlasses, D-cups /. . . streetcars.” Trotter captures these trappings of the material world and exposes them as being empty. “Try us they tease, Pace your trust with nothing.” The poem ends with the haunting lines, “nothing will persevere. Nothing will last. / nothing is nothing if not relentless,” which gives readers something to chew on. By the end of the collection, readers are faced with a mirror. We find ourselves alone with the self, carefully removed from the material world, staring back at us.

The idyllic, pensive tones of Pastoral poetry are reawakened in Tilt, E. Blagrave’s first collection. The five stanzas of her title poem evoke a plethora of tilting images—“Tilt, the tumbling grey doves,” “tilt, a blind man’s head,” “tilt, the hanged man’s neck,” “tilt, the knife edge of / the axis”—and finally, in the last line, “tilt, your face for a kiss.” The motion of tilting unifies moments that are unrelated yet all connected in a second of change and anticipation.

Nature becomes the backdrop in many of Blagrave’s poems. “Twilight” begins with an idyllic walk “amongst willows, / water and soft ground.” The speaker wanders in solitude “through sticky boughs” and “curdling clouds” while animals disperse to their dens. The final lines of the poem illuminate a prevalent theme in the collection. “There is a tug at the heart. / In the end / who will call us home.” The musings of the heart alone in nature remains at the center of the collection.

Love amongst the natural world finds its way into many poems in this collection. In “He led me,” the speaker calls a mysterious male figure “oh love of mine” and claims “he had the moon and sky for me.” This unrevealed “he” catches fish with “branch and thorn” as though he has stepped out of a fairytale. In the short poem “I Have Loved You,” the speaker watches the sun “dancing on knife points” on a tree’s branches while contemplating the length of time she has loved. “I have loved you these seven years. / Time drips like water on a stone.” The inseparability of nature, time, and love taint Blagrave’s collection with wonderment and simplicity while never offering answers. At the core of each poem is a solitary reflection on experiences that seem suspended in time. The poems of Tilt unravel in slow motion, allowing the reader to relish them.

This review “Solitudes and Pastorals” originally appeared in Tracking CanLit. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 220 (Spring 2014): 182-183.

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