Laurie Kruk. My Mother Did Not Tell Stories. Bradford: Demeter Press, 2012.
~ Reviewed by Tiffany Moniz
Through larger cultural, environmental, historical, and generational contexts, Laurie Kruk’s My Mother Did Not Tell Stories, weaves tales that powerfully uncover the necessity of vocalizing that which is learned, experienced, and traditionally unshared.
Divided into three parts, it is the first part of the collection that most palpably reveals the urgency of sharing between women and generations in order to provide sustenance. In “my mother did not tell stories,” the speaker’s allusions to food indicate exactly this desire for stories that nurture: “Our growing-up years / were not nourished by stories built around survival, / but hard crusts left over from times of stubbornness.” A fundamental characteristic of part one is Kruk’s ability to share unexpressed perspectives. In “Made in China,” the adopted girls from China are ironically “at a suburb carved / out of CPR land, a birthday party,” completely unaware of the discrimination endured by their ancestors because the history of the railroad and its construction is literally being covered over with suburban sprawl.
The despair intrinsically felt in many of the poems that illuminate societal pitfalls is balanced with poems that offer hope. In the “River Valley Poems,” Kruk’s speakers learn difficult lessons, many from nature, yet discover meaning from these teachings. Many of the poems inherently carry an eco-conscious mindset as speakers become cognisant of the “thinning wall of trees, birch and pine / now hung with new plastic leaves” (“Dump Day”). Although the speaker in “After-Earth: second spring” succumbs to nature’s own natural devastation when her home is ravished by floods, she is painstakingly aware that “It’s not just nature / but who controls the dam, upriver, opening or closing it / to protect the lodges, float the boats, keep the Americans happy.” Many of the poems infuse lessons from nature with spiritual allusions and cultural differences, allowing Kruk’s speakers to evidently become aware of the interdependence between themselves and larger entities, as they learn “that all flesh is grass, or will be, in time” (“Building the Outhouse”).
Kruk’s final part in this collection, aptly named “Drawing Circles,” illustrates the importance of reaching back into the past to “waken ourselves to the present” (“Boat Trip to James Bay”). These poems mesh experiences from past and present as the women are “seeking the lost voices / speaking almost-forgotten speech” (“Translating the Bush”) in an effort to learn from the “tender burden” (“How to Look Good Naked”) that life bestows upon them. Whether the poems discuss the burdens handed to us by history, nature, or our sometimes disagreeable families, Kruk’s speakers learn the significance of “making use of these windfalls, neglected / lessons, unharvested plenty” (“Translating the Bush”). By filling in the gaps of storytelling that never occurred in her family, Kruk’s poems offer a striking reminder that stories attempt to express even that which is inexpressible.
Tiffany Moniz is a teacher with the Peel District School Board and recently completed a Master of Arts in English from Wilfrid Laurier University. She is currently working on her own feminist poetry.
Stories in silhouette: Arc!