menu Arc Poetry Magazine

An Active Quietness:
Lorna Crozier, Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy's The House the Spirit Builds

Lorna Crozier, Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy, The House the Spirit Builds
Lorna Crozier, Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy, The House the Spirit Builds
Winnipeg: McNally Robinson, 2019.

“I walk in the world to love it,” asserted Mary Oliver, who asserted a connection between soul and landscape. Her words serve as an appropriate prologue to Lorna Crozier’s new collection, which is an inspired coupling of her poetry and full-colour photography from Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy. Crozier is not as dewy-eyed as Oliver was about nature, nor is she as elliptical as Louise Glück, who also has a major reputation as a nature poet. In fact, Crozier may be Canada’s answer to Jane Hirshfield, who, like Crozier, is possessed of delicate reversals and apertures of wisdom.

The House the Spirit Builds focuses on the spirit of place and things in the Frontenac Biosphere in southeastern Ontario at the junction of the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Valley. The collection, introduced by Rena Uptis (Founding Director of Wintergreen Studios in the heart of that biosphere), makes it clear that its genesis was seeded by Uptis’s falling in love with the mixed forest in the area. Crozier is no less in love with the place, having facilitated an annual poetry workshop there for over a decade. The same goes for the two photographers, who have visited the studio for private retreats. A happy confluence of arts, indeed, where the eye is aroused into new perceptions, where the heart bears new exultations, and where the mind is stimulated by what Crozier would call “an active quietness.”

The first poem, “Ark,” is perfectly in place, connoting both the house and spirit of the title, where small creatures in this dry refuge are linked to larger “waters” of imagination. The penultimate poem (the title one) accompanies a photo (the most painterly one) of a window scarred by shadows and a table reflecting light. Here, “soul” is sensed as an in-dwelling, activating principle—one that occupies not just humans but every created being, with the soul being a window in itself. Crozier’s 36 brief poems reveal how we are more connected to things than we often realize, so if the scene seems motionless, the poet’s mind is not—as in “Drop,” where the smell of rain hangs around “like the shape of lust,” or in “Sometimes a Woman,” a mood poem, heavy with loneliness. Crozier is extraordinarily gifted at capturing a spirit of watcher and watched (a dragonfly’s vibrating wings, water turning to ice, a country road unspooling her imagination). And she often startles us by clever linkage or metaphysical observation. “Fit,” for instance (whose accompanying photograph shows a pile of multi-coloured ceramic bowls nestled into one another), fits one image or idea into another while leading us to a humanizing insight where

It’s that bigger eye,
all of us holding
one another, no matter
what the sorrow,
what the loss.

This is a collection of luminous wonders, from teacups drinking sunlight on a windowsill to a broken salt-shaker or an ordinary shovel leaning against a yellow wall. Hackneyed subjects of frog and bug, sunflower and snowfall can be put aside for better pleasures, such as the anecdotal prose-poem “Three Oranges in a Red Bowl,” with an erotic final image of a boy peeling the fruit and placing segments into a young woman’s mouth, or the poem about a chair with brittle slats, where generous white space indicates pauses of an active mind that expresses the spirit of the chair and its artisan. Crozier’s poems are imaginative translations of even common things.

Keith Garebian has published 27 books to date, including the poetry collections, Frida: Paint Me as a Volcano (Buschek, 2004), Blue: The Derek Jarman Poems (Signature, 2008), Children of Ararat (Frontenac, 2010), Poetry is Blood (Guernica, 2018), and Against Forgetting (Frontenac, 2019). Garebian has been shortlisted for the Grit/Lit, Freefall magazine, and the Gwendolyn MacEwen/Exile poetry awards, and one of his Jarman poems was set to music for choir and instruments by Gregory Spears in the U.S.