Hitting the Mark: Near Miss by Laura Matwichuk

The book is prefaced with a poem entitled “Dream: Three hundred and seventeen years” in which the author travels from the year 1700 onward, framed by the luscious Vancouver land and seascape, attempting to make contact with someone she can’t quite reach with beautifully crafted results:

1949 Bedrock-mounted seismometers fumble,
etch secret messages from Haida Gwaii
on photographic paper.
Did you see me, sailing a crooked boat
across the sea?

2012 The sea salivates bad feelings,
horizontal strain,
unbearable lithosphere load.
I don’t care.
Worrying about the end has aged me.
It’s been three hundred and seventeen years since we last spoke.

The rest of the book is laid out into three sections: “INSOMNIA,” “INTERIOR,” and “INFERNO,” interspersed with poems in italics. These italicized poems give pause, adding a breath between the others, but are actually more often the focal point in relation to the title of the book. The poems and titles underscore a feeling of trepidation regarding air travel, satellites, dreams, mountains and the obsolescence of the written word, and according to the “Notes” section of the book, these italicized works are all erasure poems.

The poems in between the italicized poems speak to the everyday miracles of various relationships which thread between people, things and places both at home and afar, which creates an intriguing sort of symbiotic contrast between the three.

In “Fuji, Baby,” Matwichuk juxtaposes a trip to Fuji with recounting the story of the author giving birth, weaving in picturesque parallels between birds and mothers, inner child and fetus, home and away:

You place an iPod beside the hospital
Bathtub and Apollo drowns out my screams.

I see stars. Fly to Japan. Leave Earth’s
Atmosphere in a nitrous-fuelled rocket ship.

Then, another pause, another breath with a one liner poem of the same name: “When was the last time you slept?

Derrida buttering toast, Theremin practice, the buzz of midnight—Matwichuk’s poems each have their own unique hook, often with philosophical imagery which draws the reader in and onward to the next page. For example, in “Here Comes the Future” (from the second section “INTERIOR”) the author writes “I confess to my therapist about the origin / of a stain on the carpet of my childhood home.” What is the significance of a memory of a stain on a carpet in a childhood home so that it is worth mentioning to a therapist? Who is doing the psychoanalyzing? Is it a comment on how, often, the most trivial things have the deepest impact on one’s psyche?

The third and final section, “INFERNO,” is named after a poem of the same name that uses the obvious reference to Dante’s “Inferno” as a driver for a dream about volcanoes, a different kind of fiery scene from the recesses of Earth as well as a real-life robot named Dante who explored a volcano in the Antarctic.

Three poems towards the end of the book open with definitions of different codes on The Torino Scale (“a method for categorizing the impact hazard associated with near-Earth objects [NEOs] such as asteroids and comets,” according to Wikipedia). An epigraph to the title poem, borrowed from the NASA website, explains: “Meriting Attention by Astronomers (Yellow): A discovery … of an object making a somewhat close but not highly unusual pass near the Earth.” Matwichuk elaborates on what “yellow” on the Torino Scale means to the casual observer:

1,056 close-Earth approaches since 1900.
Somewhat close, we’re told, is not cause for alarm.
Yellow is neutral: beyond our control,
but not worrisome.

Matiwichuk expertly captures everyday catastrophes and missed chances in a simultaneously affectionate yet matter of fact fashion. This is a book you will not want to put down. In short, Near Miss hits the mark.

Shortlisted for the 2016 bpNichol Award and winner of the 2013 Diana Brebner Prize, Marilyn Irwin’s work has been published by Apt. 9 Press, Arc Poetry Magazine, bywords.ca, Hussy Press, Puddles of Sky, and The Steel Chisel, among others. the day the moon went away is her ninth chapbook. She runs shreeking violet press in Ottawa.


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