(How Poems Work, April 2006)
Susan Stenson’s “When You Say Infidelity” won first place in the League of Canadian Poets’ National Poetry Contest (1999) and is featured in Stenson’s first collection of poetry, [_Could Love A Man_]. The poem is fresh in its unusual treatment of content as well as the lush use of language and imagery. Stenson has given both a literal and figurative garden here; we could become lost in the foxglove and forget-me-nots of a night garden.
Stenson uses the title of the piece as the first line of the poem, creating an immediacy and cohesiveness to the verse as a whole. Her comparison between infidelity and gardening in the first stanza turns infidelity into something innately organic, leading into the specific naming of everyday garden-variety plants, “foxglove, forget-me-not” with “stems and furry leaves.” This specificity allows us to regard the concept of infidelity as something we might touch, something tangible and concrete and undeniably universal. At the end of this stanza, she suggests people “may even whisper its Latin name,” invoking an earthly timelessness….
(How Poems Work, March 2006)
This poem stayed with me for days after I first read it: the overriding image of blue, Bolster’s restrained use of language, the sharp image of the greed of artistry.
The poem was inspired by a portrait by the same name by Quebec artist, Jean Paul Lemieux. Les Beaux Jours (1937) details an afternoon with his new wife, the painter Madeleine Desrosiers, in Charlevoix. The painting was praised for its harmony of colours in the blue-green palette, as well as the frankness of composition. The poem echoes this aesthetic, capturing not only the tranquility of the work, but also the assumption of intimacy effused within it. Here, Bolster uses understated lyricism–“her scarf,/ flicker of summer maples against river”–to portray both the beauty and the tenuous relationship between husband and wife.
(How Poems Work, February 2006)
This poem is one of an 11-part collection entitled “Elles” that won PRISM International’s Earle Birney Prize for Poetry (2000) and was shortlisted for the National Magazine Award for Poetry (2000). Based on the series by the same name, produced in 1896 by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, each poem takes on the voice of the woman featured in the lithograph. They are residents of a brothel, yet each poem reveals the woman separate from her profession; these are women caught in ordinary activities: waking, dressing, bathing….