(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….