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Domesticity and Time:
Emily Skov-Nielsen's The Knowing Animals

Emily Skov-Nielsen's The Knowing Animals
Emily Skov-Nielsen, The Knowing Animals
Kingston: Brick Books, 2020.

Emily Skov-Nielsen, New Brunswick mother and poet, has published her poetry in literary journals across the country. The Knowing Animals is her first published collection of poems. There is a powerful, yet subtle, suggestion of music in this collection as each sensation of knowing animals vibrantly sings her thoughts and emotions. Here, there is indeed a feminine expression of life and all that life means.

The poet speaks of time and how it shapes us. There is a time to love, a time to nurture, a time to live (a Biblical reference perhaps?) and then, as eloquently and poignantly presented in the poem “Passage,” “What in the world / are we to do with time.” Are we like puppets? Every action beyond our control? The poem suggests this ethereal possibility: “We’re held by a string and then let go, / riveting through the air into the after.” These are powerful thoughts, especially when writing about many generations of women and domestic life.

The poet instils in this (often misrepresented as unimportant) female role of domesticity a sense of beauty and purpose. With this thought, the poet creates abstract paintings through words. The title of “Portrait of the Poet as a Squirrel” suggests a painting, a feminine painting, too—so many classic portraits throughout history have been titled sublimely as “Portrait of a Woman.” Here, the poet relates her life to that of a busy squirrel, scurrying along a tightrope, in this case live telephone lines (a suggestion of the feminine penchant to communicate while multi-tasking with daily mundane chores). The poet is “frivolity with dumbstruck danger, a zany animal / flirting with electric energy that connects each / of us to our fiber-optic communication / careful to not provide the path of least resistance.”

I found Skov-Nielsen’s references to the visual arts and to textures fascinating. In her poem, “Thinking in Textures,” she highlights the abstract notion of the sense of touch: “the fall of cloth, your second skin / that hung from muscle and bone” and “- sap with a splash of chartreuse – / perfect square weaves.” The sense of touch in these words becomes eloquently visual.

On so many levels this collection of poetry reflects a significant level of storytelling as the poet weaves a tale that matches her command of the English language and the intense multi-leveled meanings of every word she chooses. Like “star-bitten garden” (“Deception”), and “green aisles of memory” (“Contact”), where the author returns to the subtle beauty of youth, unexpected and sometimes complex, uncommon words speak volumes to Skov-Nielsen’s poetic voice.

Even her titles and section headings suggest more than the chosen word’s first impression/definition. “Rewilding,” “Cryptozoology,” “Distemper”—words the reader might associate with animals and animalistic behaviour, but in context with a woman’s domestic role, these words take on multiple meanings. Skov-Nielsen provides some notes at the end of her collection to explain the source of some of her titles and references to various quotes used. One of her titles, “Naturecultures,” she tells the reader, is actually “a term coined by ecofeminist scholar, Donna Haraway.” And there are references to other writers and poets: Will Ferguson, Theodore Roethke, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, and others.

Animals, nature, domesticity, femininity, life—this collection of poems vibrates with all it means to be alive, to be a woman. From simple things like fireflies and toadstools to the complexities of contemporary living, Skov-Nielsen’s work defines life at so many different levels, at so many different times. Very thought provoking and mesmerizing.

 

Emily-Jane Hills Orford is a country writer, living just outside the tiny community of North Gower, Ontario, near the nation’s capital. With degrees in art history, music and Canadian studies, the retired music teacher enjoys the quiet nature of her country home and the inspiration of working at her antique Jane Austen-style spinet desk, feeling quite complete as she writes and stares out the large picture window at the birds and the forest. She writes in several genres, including creative nonfiction, memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction. http://emilyjanebooks.ca

 

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