The prevailing atmosphere of Sandra Ridley’s fourth collection Silvija is one of smothering gloom. Comprising four longish movements broken by a series of short refrains, the poems vary somewhat in terms of style and address, but their subject matter returns obsessively to sites of old trauma. Certain recurring motifs (abuse, the death of a child, the woods) flicker past again and again, just out of focus, as if glimpsed through dark water. Because these details are left obscure, it’s natural to wonder if, say, the dead child in the opening poem is the same as the figure buried in the last, or if the images simply rhyme in grief. The fact is, sifting the text for clues is the wrong way to go about it, no matter how the intimacies of its internal conversations might seem to beckon you. Ridley is too controlled and perhaps too cautious a writer to leave in some overlooked key for decrypting the work. Per the publisher’s blurb, the collection “is a linguistic embodiment of psychological suffering, physical abuse, and terminal illness,” which sounds about right. The cumulative effect is abstract, suggestive, like a classical dirge or the drowned, ambient techno of Wolfgang Voigt (Gas).
With nine previous trade collections and a number of significant awards in his rear-view, John Barton is well within selected-poems territory. But as perhaps the first career retrospective by a Canadian openly gay male poet, For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin also charts the broad strokes of a 30-year sea change. In […]
In “The Gulls,” the opening poem of Barry Dempster’s 2010 collection Blue Wherever, the protagonist’s idyllic musings are interrupted by the blast of a gull’s ragged caw, the sudden sense that nature hates you without regard to good intentions or poetic haze, whatever you call yourself at your most vague demanding to be left alone […]