Reviewed by Glen Downie (Event, Vol. 34, no 1 - summer 2005)
A.F. Moritz, Night Street Repairs, House of Anansi, 2004
Peter Trower, Haunted Hills & Hanging Valleys: Selected Poems 1969-2004, Harbour Publishing, 2004
Jan Zwicky, Robinson’s Crossing, Brick Books, 2004
Sue Goyette, Undone, Brick Books, 2004
These four books – each admirable on its own terms – are distinguished by notable differences in the formal and informal education that colours each author’s unique voice....
In her multiply-short-listed first book, The True Names of Birds, Sue Goyette proved she could make a poem out of a grocery list, a stone, feathers – hell, anything. Her second book, Undone, is also full of smart lines that other poets will envy: ‘Perfume/ was lighter fluid for the heart’; ‘the greater-than signs of geese leaving.’ But her most deeply felt material juxtaposes yearnings of the inner life with the ceaseless demands of family: ‘I spent last summer imagining how love should have been/ and nagging my son to mow the lawn.’
Sadly, the family of Birds has come Undone here, as the narrator sorts the couple’s merged library with badly shaken confidence in what’s true:
...You can have all the Audubon. Birds don’t convince me
the way they used to. There were whole years of days when I believed
that feathers were a true currency...
Goyette is also inspired by other artists, mostly 20th-century figures. But where Moritz and Zwicky would write of such influences with scholarly authority, Goyette makes no such claims. Referring to Mahler, she admits, ‘I don’t know that much// about him’; writing on Ellen Terry, she confesses, ‘I know nothing about her except what I see in the photograph...’ Her specialized knowledge is the craft of writing itself. Having been a faculty member in several creative writing programs, she owns a grab bag of techniques for jumpstarting the imagination. ...
Goyette is too sensitive a writer to let craftiness distract from the vital truths she uncovers when her heart, however gropingly, finds authentic words:
...I remember holding the ladder, watching you disappear
head first, through the attic opening. I remember thinking it was a type of girth
or rebirth, that something was changing or about to. But I used to
think that way. Life was often just verging on, about to, had to
get better. You kept talking after you disappeared into the attic,
as if the house had found its voice. Are you sure, it said, deeply,
forlornly. Are you sure this will work?
GLEN DOWNIE’s poems and reviews have appeared in Event over many years. One of his contributions to The Globe and Mail’s ‘How Poems Work’ column has been reprinted in the high school textbook Inside Poetry, 2nd Edition (Harcourt, 2002). His most recent book is Desire Lines (Wolsak & Wynn, 2001).