This book is my first taste of Schönmaier’s work, though it’s not her first book. Offering a sensual immersion in the far north, tropical climates and places in between, taking inspiration from family, birds, the sea, the aurora borealis, Norval Morrisseau, Beethoven, and Celan, the poems feel impelled by a passionate, unblinking curiosity about the world and its creatures. It certainly whets my appetite for more.
In “Origami,” the poet compares writing poems to creating origami boats:
On rare mornings
you hold one of my dories,
perfectly formed, in your
palm and you float
with me: on those
you are the song.
How fresh “blue-bright” reads, compared to “bright blue”! To me, this subtle musicality encapsulates the appeal of the poems. Though mostly spare and unfolding in disciplined stanzas, they feel euphonic because of their fluidity. They create emotionally laden dream worlds where vivid, often surreal, images shift seamlessly, taking us to unexpected places. “Gardening,” for instance, opens in a high-priced restaurant—“We eat flowers with each course. For dessert / the waiter explains in his almost perfect / English that the purple flowers are violins”—but soon we realize that the restaurant is a tomato greenhouse. The poet then recalls her father’s garden—hard-won carrots essential for survival—and concludes, “Hunger does not taste / like violets, and has no notes for the singing of songs.”
The fluidity within the poems is matched by the subtle flow between them. One slips into the next through images: forest, snow, cello music, wind, the sea, horses, chocolate. The effect is like that of a symphony with interwoven and subtly varied musical statements, and, as in a symphony, the effect is cumulative. The recurring images—not “repeating” because in each case the treatment and context is different—become like a memory shared with the poet.
In “Sixteen,” two contrasting stories of father, daughter, and a starlit night are interwoven through alternating stanzas, pivoting around the notion of protection. In one, it is the daughter who is protected, in the other, the father. The interweaving creates suspense and highlights the two-sided vulnerability in the father-daughter relationship. In “Libretto,” free association rather than narrative creates the poem’s movement: from a fishery museum on Grand Manan to the Opera Garnier in Paris, to Ariadne and the Minotaur, to a beekeeper on top of the Opera Garnier. Despite the stretch of images, at no point does the movement feel forced.
This collection could be enjoyed for the beauty of the language alone: “We each carry our own song / in the lilac moments of the day” (“While Reading Eva Hoffman’s Illuminations”); or “After intense rain, the light / is so golden it splits / us open” (“Dining on Light”). Having floated this time with Schönmaier’s origami dory, I’d be delighted to follow wherever she chooses to sail.
Jean Van Loon’s short fiction has appeared in a number of Canadian literary magazines. She has come late to poetry, but is no less grateful for it.