In Standing in the Flock of Connections, Heather Cadsby’s original associations cascade through poems about the natural world and human relationships. Cadsby plays with links between thought and language with a heightened awareness of upsets and obsessions as well as her own poetic process. Poems in the final section of the book suggest that Cadsby’s musing about her process is linked to fear of losing it. Yet even with this fear, Cadsby is playful, making this collection a delightful read.
“Who is butterfly?”, the first poem, is a witty example of Cadsby at play with associations:
I have laid four hundred eggs in the past.
I was smaller than my mate…with…my sore shoulders.
I was jealous of wings
that flew her into my house
What an imaginative way to consider hatching poems! The poem goes on to discuss the Middle Ages when “people didn’t fly” and the phases of biological and poetic pregnancy, then confides, “We all have our little commotions…”. It is these commotions Cadsby captures in her poems.
In the poem, “Eats fish and small birds”, Cadsby makes another striking association by comparing a mink popping in and out of sight in Mimico Creek to a plane threading through clouds. Her quirky connections expand our view of the possible.
Cadsby’s connections also expand our vision by creating new ways to see the familiar. For example, in “I found a window,” she reframes the speaker’s memories by having her narrator move the window to hang over a portrait of her grandmother. Her grandmother becomes three years old, sweet and rosy-cheeked in a way the narrator never knew her.
In addition to playing with association, Cadsby plays with language itself. In “Beware of speaking” she builds on common phrases to highlight concerns about clichés and poetic process. The narrator asks, “If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, what time is it?” She jokes, “It should be early enough to get a worm or two….”. Of her “birdwalk in the woods,” the narrator warns, “there’s no guarantee you’ll spot a rarity.”
The final section, “Behind my back someone stole a bunch of words,” offers us more poems where Cadsby’s fresh John Ashbery-like “flock of connections” take wing while playing with the poet’s anxiety about losing access to her poetic reveries.
“Do these flowers on the wall look dead to you?” directly tackles the speaker’s fear of losing her unique vision. A client visits a therapist to discuss boredom. Despite friends and family trying to capture her attention, she finds herself at “wit’s end.” She complains,
I spend all
this energy fending off cures when I could be enjoying boring times;
guarding my secrets and incessant thoughts. I tell you, my supply is
The therapist exclaims, “Ah, so your problem is hoarding.” This poem challenges our expectations of the benefits of seeing a therapist. Its playful stance makes it clear that Cadsby’s mind is as sharp as ever.
Cadsby crafts her rapid stream of unconnected thoughts into poems that read like wonderful, witty daydreams. Long may she hoard her “flock of connections.”
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.