May 13, 2015
This week's Snapshots explore family, relationships, place, and the landscapes of Canada. Because many of the poems included these three poetry collections are dedicated to or written about mothers we would also like to wish you all a Happy (belated) Mothers Day!
Joanne Epp's poetry collection Eigenheim manages to linger in the past without ever getting sentimental. Epp's nostalgia is beautifully unpleasant, caught up in the hidden glances between teen girls in a locker room and the violent dissonance between now and then. In Eigenheim, every moment flirts with anxiety and time is neurotic: "Her mother only said: 'Go to sleep. / Nothing's going to happen.' Still, / she checked the stove twice / before crawling into bed." Every poem finishes with its own little heartbreak, where there is "[n]othing to do [...] but rebel / against [...] the ache of memory, / all the impossible questions." The narrator slides back and forth between the past and the future by weighing her present down with muddy memories. Epp's poetry is heavy and waterlogged, like trying to play a piano under water, the "dampening sound, blunting the edges / of memory." Her themes and variations remind us that today, like every day, is "a good day for dissonance."
Monologue Dogs starts on a sharp note with the poem "The Devil's Advocate" and Meira Cook's brilliant turn of phrase: "My client sends his regrets. He is busy / falling through blank verse for all eternity." Like Epp, Cook manages to avoid being sentimental while still writing longingly about the past and childhood. Instead, her poetry bites down on nostalgia with a violently candid wit. While she references old stories and folktales (Hansel and Gretel, Adam and Eve) Cook's phrasing is still completely original: "my mother blooms like the stars you see / when you ram into a tree, a kiss, / old bony inevitability." Monologue Dogs is not, as its title suggests, uni-voiced, but actually a dialogue between characters, stories, and memories. The story of Geppetto and Pinocchio is contrasted with and compared to the relationship between Virginia and Leonard Woolf, a tie that makes no sense at all and, at the same time, perfect sense in its madness. Cook uses Monologue Dogs as a way to make us question what we believe, whether we can believe what we hear, and whether our beliefs are ever heard. "I thought God would hear. / I knew the neighbours wouldn't."
Rue is a debut poetry collection by Melissa Bull and was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award. In Rue, memories are tied up in the intersections of city streets and meaning is caught between the English (to rue meaning "to regret") and the French (la rue or "the street.") Bull's poetry ploughs through the streets of St. Henri, Montreal and knocks down the boundaries between languages as well as between places and their memories. Like Eigenheim and Monologue Dogs everything in Rue, whether long-past or yet to come, feels sharply and violently present, like a "bruise, a tongue curling under it." In the end, every poem in Rue is a fragmented dialogue, a piece of (mis)communication: "Tonight I saw a movie where a couple argues, / no holds barred, the way we do, / and then laces themselves / tentatively back together again, the way we do." But even Bull's vulnerabilities rebound as strengths, "unsheafed / unleavened umbilicus shrimp," and her words strongly resist de(con)struction.