Hook yourself up
Reviewed by Judith Fitzgerald (Globe and Mail Daily Review on-line, March 23, 2009)
Now that there isn't any more happiness and
home is gone and there isn't even any past
and no emotions but those that were yours
I love you anyway,
even if there isn't any me or any love or any life ...
Carolyn Smart's Hooked contains several poem sequences dedicated to creative re-imaginings of the lives of Myra Hindley, Unity Mitford, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dora Carrington, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles and Elizabeth Smart, all of whom made their appearance on this planet prior to the conclusion of the Second World War, and each of whom, in her own way, kicked against the pricks. Readers soon learn the above lines, uttered by Fitzgerald, might easily have issued from any of the dames under Smart's unflinching marshalling of this wayward group of seven.
Hooked, by Carolyn Smart, Brick Books, 120 pages, $19
In her praise of the fifth collection from the woman who resides north of Kingston, Anne Michaels writes that the work "expresses the heart of darkness with an astonishing concision and acuity; only such hard-won precision could express the complexity of these women's lives. She understands loneliness in all its forms, and writes with a clarity and compassion that is powerfully affecting."
A wide-ranging and ambitious work, Hooked succeeds because it provides readers with both keen (yet subtly searing) commentary and direct quotations from the subjects the writer elects to illuminate. Thus, we tumble through British serial-killer Hindley's sadomasochistic reading material before discovering, somewhat incongruously, a question obviously haunting the notorious psychopath (who converted to Catholicism) "drenched with rage," who wonders, "what do you think I dream?"
Not unlike Mitford's "war story" or Fitzgerald's "romance" (not to mention Carrington's "tenderness"), that rhetorical question does not bear too much introspection, particularly when the take on McCullers might shed some light on a book thus far filled with blood, harm and brooding. And so it does, in its way:
and then the sea! and how to find the words
with whisky in the way and the sun,
I stood and guessed which man was which
and they would fall at my feet and marvel at my writing
self, my heart a lonely hunter even then
Jane Bowles (wife of Paul), perhaps best remembered for her bisexuality at a time when such meant certain doom in many circles, nevertheless received high praise from Tennessee Williams, John Ashbery and Truman Capote, all of whom considered her work sadly under-appreciated. Smart takes care to identify her unusual output (and, not unlike Bowles herself, to spin it out of control):
one novel, one play, a few short stories:
my legacy of publication
yet they call me famous and beyond compare
I do not know no more
for I embrace the crucifix ...
Since I maintained a lovely friendship with Elizabeth Smart, I cannot sustain an objective POV when it comes to my deeply missed friend's loves and losses (except to note I consider By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept one of the finest poetic novellas in existence, an opinion Smart obviously shares).
On balance, these jarringly jitterish yet occasionally jubilant poetic snapshots ain't pretty; still, they will certainly keep readers turning pages (and shaking heads); so in that respect, Smart's bravery, undeniable and unfettered, speaks volumes on its own terms: Get Hooked.
Poet, editor and cultural critic Judith Fitzgerald is at work on her 30th publication, Points Elsewhere, a poetry collection to be published in 2010. She blogs on poetry for In Other Words.