This book engages us from the initial poem, “How to be a Protagonist”, which tries on, like a career wardrobe, dreams of what to become: snake-whisperer, crime-solver, heroine (qualifications notwithstanding), or believer in magic (to summon Narnia, for example). There’s a sense that all of these have been seriously contemplated or attempted with uproarious consequences that didn’t quite make it onto the page. I admire the shift from the protagonist options to the wry recognition of the limitations of the seriously circumscribed home town (Kitimat), as the poem ends,
The world is a series of streets named
after birds, which form a circle with no
every driveway a dead end.
Who would choose to stay? Wonderfully, near the end of this book, in the poem “Mosquitoes” we are offered a glimpse of a deeper, alternate view of the landscape around Kitimat Village through the prism of the amazing Haisla writer Eden Robinson.
Visually, near the beginning of Section I, five poems in a row (“The Mists of Avalon,” “Very Panties,” “Synchronized Eye-Rolling,” “False Noon on Highway 16” and “Dunk Tank”) are like an extended single piece, no stanzas or indents in sight. Together, they are a flurry of hormones, sexual energy, and vulnerable precariousness. The end poem of Section I, “Girl Like” is outstanding, and cannot be easily summarized or paraphrased: read it!
Alert and lurking in the dark landscapes of Section II are several fine poems that fearlessly address despair, confusion, and loss. A poignant poem throughout which I alternately laughed aloud and cringed is “Naanwich was the Last Thing.” It invites us to experience the end of a relationship with one Liz, who “softly smelled of vegetable broth” and whose relationship with her “perfect Lord” was such that she “drew a church in His glory, painted it / a holy purple people misinterpreted / as burning”, but who could no longer love the narrator. Tant mieux, I’d say to the narrator. The final poem in this section, “Harvest Moon Lantern Festival,” is an altogether brilliant and delicious poem, with many original ways of considering uses and abuses of the word “lantern.”
Most of the poems in Section III portray or are addressed to a Kyla doppelganger, some to excellent effect, such “How Long Will Stats Canada Keep Calling,” and “Good-bye Kyla,” But overall, this section feels the least developed of the book. The final section (IV), also includes some memorable, unexpected poems, a favourite being “Mosquitoes” that I am bound to love for its name, and I like its long reach backward into the narrator’s grandmother’s past in Budapest, its timely take on the vagaries and cruelties of immigration, and languages learned and lost, among other cultural treasures. Overall, I love the emotional challenge inherent in these poems, and highly recommend this ambitious, stimulating book.
Jan Conn has published nine poetry books, most recently Tomorrow’s Bright White Light (Tightrope, 2016). She is a member of the collaborative writing group, Yoko’s Dogs, whose third book, Viola, is forthcoming from Pedlar Press. A solo art show, “Displaced Landscapes” will be on view at the Grand Mesa Arts and Events Center in Cedaredge, Colorado in the fall of 2019.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.