Relationships. Can seem like a banal topic, overdone by Confessional writers and Bronwyn Wallace 🙂 But when language is used with fierce delicacy and the context is shifted, with aching abruptness, into an unexpected realm, then the erotic and devastating rhythms of relationship surge to the for(ge) again and the subject matter is renewed. In these two books of poems about the heterosexual desire between a woman and in the first case, her husband who is divorcing her after a long marriage, and in the second, a married lover, relationship is no simple equation but a wrangling with and beyond perilous, delicious nature.
#1: Sharon McCartney’s for and against (Goose Lane Editions, 2010)
What Shines: McCartney’s simple white book exquisitely marred with harsh coffee stain designs on the cover is full of ire against betrayal. Not with the relentless fury of a book like Lynn Crosbie’s Liar however. McCartney acknowledges that she was always aware her hubby liked “fucking around (just like me)” [Unqualified] and, admitting “I gave not a damn” [For Fidelity] or speaking through the persona of Lady Ashley declaring, “I don’t regret anything, ever.” Thus, their split, and the concomitant poems, while acrimonious in a vague, bitter-as-java way, are not ravaged by the ache for revenge. Evidenced by the binaristic title, McCartney aims for a balanced tone, emotionally at least, while her language continues to be sharp, honed, the forms strongest when in solid chunks as in Decaf or After Ronscevalles with their cutting lines: “Wayward, volitant, his fingers skim the scars” or “the skittish lights on the walking bridge winked out, the sun,/a pink fist.” I have read this book three times and always find new poems to admire in its searing and sweet trajectory.
What Stumbles: There are pieces in for and against that weaken the whole intent, detracting from the central narrative like Gabriel’s Peace Camp. Also, nature in this book is nasty and I end up feeling somewhat sorry for the coyotes (“snipers”), skunks (who produce “an apocalyptic scent of treachery/and abomination”) and other urban-dwelling beasts who bear the brunt of McCartney’s vitriolic moods. I guess I wanted her to take it out on the man a bit more directly.
What it Echoes: Lynn Crosbie, Bronwyn Wallace, Blue Valentine, Janis Joplin, Karen Solie, Woody Allen, Egon Schiele.
#2: Sarah de Leeuw’s geographies of a lover (neWest Press, 2012)
What Shines: This book is gorgeously brutal and obscenely gentle. There are two types of prose-style poems in here, one that foregrounds each section and provides more general (at times flattened-out) information to orient us in the overall scenario the speaker and her married lover are inhabiting, such as the pieces, Distance, Place and Scale, and the other the entangled web of poly-physical lyrics each headed by the narrator’s numbered geographical location on the map. Nancy Holmes dubs these “eco-erotics” and she’s right. Shockingly, much of the time, such fragments of relentless lust elude the potential cliche that could be inherent in merging nature and desire, entwining images rapidly from “ponderosa pines popping….elk running hooves held high….birds with nowhere to land” to “we fuck so well I’m convinced your nails are jagged….your cock leaking across my stomach” and so forth. Yes there are the words cock, fuck and cunt in nearly each one of these lyrics. This can seem sensationalistic on occasion but mostly is invigorating and transgressive, the intense lubricities of lust perfectly snarled within the fierceness of beautiful, abject and threatened natural environments in which the lovers work and screw. I don’t care about the morals of this tale. The rhythms are truly sexy and how often does that happen in Canadian poetry I ask you.
What Stumbles: It’s inevitable, de Leeuw can stretch her metaphors to the point of absurdity at times. “Your cock is hard for weeks bumping into me” just makes me giggle as does the line “my cunt humming, moving by itself.” Yikes! And the end, after all that passion, to just dwindle into the lacklustre ladida of “my fault but, still, /you will leave me, without a doubt.” A sad but perhaps typical dwindling. Also, the cover is bland and riddled with way too many blurbs, one right on the front image from the judge who awarded this sequence the BC Book Prize. Worthy, but. The enticing object this text is should start with a lusciously beckoning finger.
What it Echoes: Judy Blume yes, Norma Fox Mazer, Elizabeth Smart of course, Erica Jong, 50 Shades of Grey (not that I’ve read it), Last Tango in Paris, Marianne Faithfull, Evelyn Lau.