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A Vital Call from a Linguistic Explorer:
Helen Posno's Water from the Well

Helen Posno's Water from the Well
Helen Posno, Water from the Well
Toronto: secret handshake/books, 2020.

Water from the Well is a long poem, dramatically sustained, that from the very first page reveals to the reader Posno’s unique perspective. She invites us into a world where birds own “their green woods,” where eyes are “blind inside of their tears,” where we listen to “Foaming white water as it play[s] and it tumble[s] all over its glittering waves.” This is not the usual objectification of the natural world, but a dynamically shared experience where nature and humanity are inseparable. In a time of alienation from our natural environment, this is a vital call, given in the most gentle and subtle manner, from a writer whose depth of feeling pulses through this slim, twenty-page book of poetry.

Helen Posno is a playwright as well as a poet. She is an artist without boundaries who uses language dramatically, poetically, and boldly in all her works, including Challenging the Sea, and Honest Insanity, to name only two of her recent plays performed in Toronto. In this poem Posno continues to make bold use of language, creating her own style, unbound by the usual rules. It is refreshing to experience her fearlessness, using language as she pleases in the service of deep feeling. Structural repetition holds us as Posno plays with language, echoing her words over and over, venturing outside their traditional sense and meaning. Of the mallard’s flight she says, “His cries the colour of red snow they say the / Colour of red / Snow.” We have here a linguistic explorer, sharing with us her own way of parsing a sentence, a thought. These words do not give up their sense easily; they insist on engagement, attention, entry into this brave new world of possibility where, “veils might be pulled aside from / Eyes you really had no idea were so / blind.”

Aligning herself with that unstoppable force of nature, Posno writes in “Vesuvius,” “Mankind would have me stilled quieted / Sedated medicated but I say to you / Let the very stones cry / Out.” Captured by this force, readers are taken on a passionate journey, carried with a measured torrent of language, and tumbled clean.

Witness the simplicity and passion of these lines—“you and your / Spent life have left me / Emptier than the / Moon.” Then, drawn down a mine-shaft, searching for hidden meaning, we are released from a preoccupation with the particular, the easy, the superficial, into an underground realm of deeper meaning: “- carry through this fiction / Which we have endured.”

This poem is a circle encompassing the full range of ecstasy and suffering, which are as inextricable as humanity and nature are in Posno’s world.

Who or what does she address here? “I am made ravenous by your / Smile / I am made sleepless by your / Look.” Something both personal and greater than the personal, signalling an unnameable mystery, perhaps.

I cannot resist quoting again from the mallard’s astounding flight with its musical echoes of a repetitive heart/wing-beating cry:

Mallard flies across the dawning winter sky
His heart as wild as I
My love
His heart as wild as

Profoundly feminist, and eco-feminist, Helen Posno’s sensibility evokes Susan Griffin’s 1978 classic, Woman and Nature: The Roaring inside Her. Posno’s roaring comes as a call to consciousness from a woman who has moved beyond anger into a realm of grace to which we might all aspire.

Amanda Hale is a published novelist, poet, and dramatist. Her work has appeared in many literary magazines, including Prism International where she won a prize for creative non-fiction.