Shoshanna Wingate’s Radio Weather opens with an ice storm. Ignoring discussions of climate change, callers to a local radio show recount “jumping out / of windows when the doors were blocked with snow,” reflections of past weather disrupting the squall of the moment. After all, claims Wingate’s speaker, “Weather serves up memory / better than any book.”
In her debut collection, the establishing editor of Newfoundland’s Riddle Fence tips her hand early. These are memory poems, pieces concerned with what happened, what didn’t, what was kept and how it was measured. More than nice stories, Radio Weather is a sure-footed foray into facts and the dark, its speaker disinterested in gloss, pursuing instead the risky intersection between reality and remembrance. Wingate has no fear of getting lost: “Our stories […] tell us who we are.”
The collection’s four sections plot a course through life and its conditions. Its early poems are historic in a coastal way, the ebbing of a lifestyle nearly gone – sailor, soldier, gardener, cotton mill worker. Wingate’s speaker swings from adulthood to childhood and back again, the past alongside the present, contiguous. “The City Dwellers” contemplates permanence, the purchase of a first house giving way to a garden eaten by spanworms, while “Family Album” is a snapshot of the speaker and her sister, too “restless” for the camera’s lens. The pieces search out stability, testing family and place as ballast.
Wingate’s verse is unadorned, less interested in obfuscation than transparency, sensory images stepping forward fully-formed: “If we’d a cabin here, you’d hold / a crystal glass, sunlight would cast / damask designs on the linens.” As the work expands on childhood, there is a movement towards form, with “Neighbours” nearing iambic tetrameter and “The Cotton Mill” returning to lines a second time for examining. The collection leans heavily on internal and end rhyme, the poems running the risk of sounding twee without ever actually tipping over the brink. This is masterly writing, a clear window through which to forecast weather.
The later sections of Radio Weather delve deeper into storms. “Letters from Vietnam” lifts its lines from missives sent to Wingate’s father, a counselor of conscientious objectors. Death steps into the foreground, first in “The Murderer,” as the speaker revisits details of an executed inmate, and later as her father succumbs to sickness in “AIDS Ward.” Wingate is sorting her dead, penning her losses in a steady hand: “They want my version / succinct and with a healthy dose of redemption, / so they know whatever mistakes / they made have been mended.”
The book concludes in bed, the speaker finding solace in her family unit. Wingate offers up her stories unvarnished, a sequence that happened and is happening, that is both parsed and inscrutable. Radio Weather is a collection of beloved phantoms, built on good bones and steadfast:
We were delighted in the find
that our house was not
the cookie cutter kind
but a living thing with ghost
that pass through our lives.
Emily Davidson writes and works in Vancouver, BC, far from her home town of Saint John, NB. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in magazines across the country. She reviews for Arc and Room Magazine.
ARC: MORE THAN NICE STORIES