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Love Song to the Familiar

Publié le 1 octobre, 2008 | Pas de commentaires

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Amidst dizzying imagery and language teeming with metaphor, Katia Grubisic’s debut poetry collection, What if Red Ran Out ($16.95), manages to create a space within which to explore the in-between and often overlooked moments of everyday experience.

“What goes on at the edge of the bank / could last years, centuries… Yet— / the pizzicato of the crickets, the stream—this is at stake, / and it remains enough to give us pause” (1).

Published this spring by Goose Lane Press, there is much in this collection that will “give us pause.” Moments of sparseness and clarity are well positioned to create spaciousness within the text, which, contrasted against the kaleidoscopic imagery, dense language, and high, at times nearly frenetic, energy of the rest of the collection, affords us valuable breathing room.

This “pause” occurs almost tangibly in some poems. Take “Prelude to Jumping in a River,” for example, where the climax of the poem, the moment of the leap, is eliminated—replaced by the apprehension of a non-moment instead. “In the end, / I catch the aftermath… Waiting, I have missed the jump…” In “missing” the jump, Grubisic has, I believe, hit upon something far more substantial in this poem. The moment of the leap, made suddenly absent, creates for the reader a far more generous space beyond the construct of the poem, or of the leaper’s body, which becomes at once more personal and more enduring. Similar “non-moments” arise within the collection. Between the telling and the not telling of a story, for example; the escape and the return; the anticipation and the “morning after.” It is these spaces that again serve to “give us pause” and remind us what is “at stake” here—both inside, and outside, of the poems. It is in these spaces, in other words, that it becomes possible for the speaker and reader to collide.

Though this collision of speaker and reader may happen in brief moments throughout the collection, the reader is always considered, and at times—as in “Love Song for the End of the World”—directly implicated in the poems. “Don’t worry,” “Love Song” begins, “this / is a poem entirely without grace. Instead we will conceive together of the possible ways to end the world.” It is only on rare occasions that the speaker’s overt awareness of the reader jars. When, for example, in “With Arms Outstretched on the Lambton Line,” the speaker interrupts a lyric passage with: “Likely / I’ll get hate mail for that…” the reader is reminded abruptly—and needlessly in this case—of the distance and delineation between the reader, the speaker, and the author of the poem. Overall, however, this occasional interruption serves to underline the manner in which Grubisic, in much of the rest of the collection, is able to interweave the reader directly into the fabric of the poems, and make the careful craft of each one appear, for the most part, quite seamless. But it is never the intention of these poems to disguise the effort of their design entirely, and it is when that design is made explicit, sometimes wonderfully so, that the work is at its most accessible. Consider “Love Song for the End of the World,” for example, when the poem thinks out loud: “…let me design something like / scorpions, like vociferating recklessly / into a sandstorm…” and: “Whatever I invent will never be worse / or more spectacular than the dark, / where our bodies should be left at angles, graceless…”

Grubisic’s language is precise and descriptive, and often so vibrant that even familiar images of cityscapes, birds, fruit, or the Canadian wilderness, can become almost unfamiliar. Just as, for the speaker of “Ship in a Bottle” the wilderness during “canoe trips / and childhood stomps,” is explored as though still uncharted territory, we are, in Grubisic’s poetry, “brought / back to what is there to be discovered.” There are often wonderful twists of perspective, and a thoughtful humour that can be, as in “En promenant ma peine d’amour,” and “The Audubon Guide to Self Pity,” successfully, lovingly, sustained throughout the entire length of a poem.

I do not want to neglect to mention here “Preemptive Fieldnotes,” which, a poem in three parts, is the longest, and I believe the most extraordinary poem in the collection. It begins, “What if the world is a slide?” and carries the reader through a quick progression of rapid-fire images—which somehow manage not to lose their focus—and allow us to arrive with a powerful force at the wonderful “pause” of the poem: the quiet, and candid, “Have we given it / our best shot? I’m scared, that’s all.”

This, at any rate, was the point at which I collided with the poem—and to me that seems to be the point of poetry. To be able to run right into it like that. To bump up against it suddenly, and then find that what you, and the poem, have hit upon is something that isn’t there at all. That is instead a sort of negative space—a sudden absence—the shape of which you are suddenly so certain of.

There are many such moments within this remarkable collection.


(1) Grubisic, Katia. What if Red Ran Out. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 2008. All future citations refer to this source.

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