In her third collection, Albertan poet Monica Kidd does the rare work of travelling light. The Year of Our Beautiful Exile tracks the media and methods of displacement, and Kidd maps her terrain with an expert eye: here the slow, specific creep of evolution, there the quick gulp of the Albertan floodwaters. Revelling in the “sudden stops along the road / to pull focus,” the collection ultimately wends its way home, sounding out and condensing the world just enough for travel.
Beautiful Exile’s poems read like souvenirs, Kidd often catching an ineffable moment just before it turns. The collection’s opening section lays out roads and hay bales, planes and the Labrador Sea, everything on its way somewhere while “Here, wilderness is biblical.” Kidd builds in the wilds, a topographical map of details. A childhood camper burns, a cab is called, New York founders, each of these glimpses “the weights / and measures of loss, and of what remains.” Kidd is filling her pockets for the road ahead.
Determining the trajectory of Kidd’s manuscript are two mammoth landmarks: the 2013 Albertan flash floods, and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. In the section titled “Deluge,” Kidd takes to the prose poem to plumb the depths of the floodwaters, finding surprise and irony in a world with the river at its neck. The area’s wealthy see “An evacuation the size of Amsterdam but no reason not to golf,” while in “Just Listed,” a naïve young couple inspects a house that “Don’t look too bad” despite its occupants’ sodden heirlooms.
In “Intertriginous,” Kidd breaks open Darwin, her work giving up more of the personal. Here is found Nick, who heaves sled dogs “onto his shoulders like blushing brides, their blue eyes flashing joy”; here are childhood memories; here is a love affair “ended badly.” Kidd picks up her pieces and detects in words the containers for existence, enamored with “the way the world is captured by language.” She concludes of floods and flings that “Evolution is this: to know a thing / and be ever so slightly changed by it.”
For a collection with exile at its locus, Kidd’s work feels like nothing so much as a homecoming. Her language is fresh in the way of a biting wind—searing, exact, eerily familiar. Verbs drop plumb and unexpected: “Sun on skin, we lizard in this clearing”; “The tomatoes flooze from their pots.” Attention is paid, but this is no dour spectacle; Kidd’s speaker recognizes the inevitable in “I Marry My Husband’s Smartphone,” gives side-eye to wealthy travellers in “The Rich in Airports.” The resulting work contains multitudes. Kidd does the work of distilling, each piece a universe, the reader invited to hold still the microcosm and “Listen while the years unspool.”
Emily Davidson writes and works in Vancouver, BC, far from her home town of Saint John, NB. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in magazines across the country. She reviews for Arc and Room Magazine.
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