“to pause is to work out what remains”: footlights by Pearl Pirie

I often skim over the cover of a book in my eagerness to get at the words inside, but when I unwrapped my copy and saw the cover of footlights I gasped. Faith Logan’s intricate and beautiful cover art perfectly reflects the themes in this collection. The moose calf in the centre of the cover is surrounded by verdant and curling foliage. Pirie notices—and in turn draws our attention to—the minute details in everyday life. These moments might be noticing the quiet yet epic journey of “an ant by lamplight,” or the bruise on the bell of a pear that reminds us of our own sensitivity in the poem “adaptive.” No subject is too small or too enormous to consider in Pirie’s poems, which makes this collection so approachable and surprising.

The collection is divided into five sections: “even electricity wants to continue,” “footlights,” “for the purposes of night,” “ample misadventures,” and “pretending there are distinctions.” Each section contains a variety of poetic subjects loosely grouped under a common theme that might be best expressed by the epigraphs Pirie includes at the beginning of each section. This variety captivates the reader, who never quite knows what to expect as they turn the page. Pirie’s titles are most often part of the poems, a technique that feels conversational and welcoming. I believe that even folks who are new to poetry, or those who read little poetry will truly enjoy this collection because of the approachable structure of the poems and how the structure is so well-matched with the subject matter.

A recurring theme in the collection is nature and its shifting qualities. The bucolic imagery made me long for summer spent at a cottage, time spent in a garden. Pirie is especially interested in images of plants, food, and a kind of unstoppable growth. She writes about things that cannot be contained, including qualities of nature, but also our own thoughts, triggers, and insecurities. Nature is always growing, and life cycles continue relentlessly.

footlights is not all serenity. Disdain simmers in poems like “all eyes up here” and “schmooze king,” which might focus on the same arrogant man at an open mic who is both “proud and sure” without reason. Pirie’s subject matter and use of colloquial language in these poems—“he never assumes he didn’t kill it”(“schmooze king”)—keeps them firmly grounded even as she combines them with poetic images of inhaling beer breath like a scuba diver or blood looping through an amygdala. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading footlights and happily read it in one sitting. Pirie’s use of language is precise and her subject matter is accessible, especially because of her sharp and sudden use of humour. The collection feels both cozy and expansive—it warrants a second reading.

Rachel Fernandes is working on her PhD in English at Queen’s University. She sometimes writes poems and often writes reviews. She likes cooking and playing with her dog. 



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