Reading Kyeren Regehr’s Cult Life feels like hearing a friend explain their abusive relationship, a conversation starting with Irish Breakfast Tea but likely ending with whiskey or wine. At 104 pages and with 61 poems set in Avenger/Baskerville typeface on quality paper stock, Cult Life is a troubled beauty of three parts. By Part II, the reviewer understood what the poet was doing. The key turned in the lock. Kaleidoscopic, phantasmagoric, spiritual refrains and perspectives resolved into a pattern. Regehr’s themes of dislocation, transcendent light, judgement and sensuality reverberate throughout.
The third poem, “Spell of Dislocation,” would have arguably been better as the first. It’s the departure point, the last lines signifying Regehr’s obsession with examining physical and spiritual displacement: “blue air, dropping limbs in the sand, tossing / gum nuts like dice—where will we land?”
Regehr conveys through free-verse and denser, in-the-moment prose poetry, the reach for ever-elusive transcendence. Poems recur like mantras, including the Devotee’s and Guru’s pieces. Regehr often examines light, glowing from within or moving through it in luminal space, her skill exemplified in “Am the good girl,” part of the “Am” poems:
Am a light-junkie
lunatic-high trancing chanting
ladder to the sky
climb me out
But seeking transcendence under a guru is often prickly subject matter, from subjugation to communal living to noting others coupling up to get a green card. There is a well-conveyed sense of momentum, the dizziness of the goings-on of a being in a cult, including constantly negotiating your toddler’s babysitting. It’s often dense, busy stuff. Some poems bear a few scant lines, while others, a two-to-three page landscape format as when other cultists get a voice, revealing beauty and ugliness. This repeated beat of other people’s confessionals includes Lorelei, Rupi and Marjeta. Regehr puts such fruitful effort into constructing their perspectives that one almost longs for Cult Life to be a fleshed-out novella. Shortage of material is certainly no obstacle here.
The theme of caustic judgement rears throughout, as in “The Guru’s Feet”: “Except that Athena shook me by the shoulders in the laundry room, accused me of too many lovers in a row. Had me confess a few, crowned me slutty.”
On the other hand, or rather, foot, a palpable sensuality, for men and women, throbs beneath everything, as in the saucy “The Foot Massage”: “The Master. Laughter on the / other side. Shh, she says, / and tosses my skirt wide.”
But even free love is not the road to enlightenment. In the indiscrete commune, little personal space remains for the poet. What they and their child endure can infuriate at times. Cult Life then asks the question, Why doesn’t the main narrator leave this relationship? Regehr eventually produces a rejoinder, well into the third act. Meanwhile, she brings the reader on this visceral and often roughshod spiritual journey with aplomb, showcasing her range of poetic skill.
James K. Moran’s fiction, poetry and reviews appear in various Canadian, American and British publications. Town & Train is his debut horror novel. Moran should really be revising his follow-up, Monstrous. jameskmoran.blogspot.ca
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.