Reviewed by Thomas Hodd (Telegraph-Journal, New Brunswick, May 7, 2011)
Halifax-based poet Sue Goyette captures the outskirts of her emotional and physical landscape.
If you want to experience good, solid poetry, then Nova Scotia's Sue Goyette is a prize choice for spring reading.
Goyette, who teaches creative writing at Dalhousie University, is the author of two previous books of poetry, The True Names of Birds and Undone. She has been nominated for several awards for her work, including the Atlantic Poetry Prize, the Pat Lowther Award for best book of poetry by a woman writer and the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry.
In her latest poetic effort, outskirts, Goyette takes readers on a journey through the physical and emotional landscapes of her life in a way that is both vibrant and accessible. Divided into two well-balanced parts, the poetry is of a mature style, relying on simplicity of phrase. Unlike recent works by fellow Atlantic poets Anne Compton and Anne Simpson, Goyette does not layer her verse with intense images. Instead, in this collection she favours longer-line forms such as couplets and prose poems as a way to carry her emotional narrative to readers.
The first section offers single moments of poetic clarity that express Goyette's relationship to people rather than nature. She explores what it is to be a woman and mother, and what it means to face the joys and burdens of nurturing others. Goyette's earlier pieces focus on her children; other pieces celebrate her father and her loss at his passing, and of the importance of preserving memories. Particularly moving is I'm Sometimes Haunted, in which the speaker remembers the child that once was her teenage son: "Often we'd pass each other in the morning, me waking, / him a walking ad for the somniferous. Hi, I'd say. Oh, yeah, he'd reply. / And I'd miss the boy then who coloured drawings of his stories / with blue that actually matched the inside fruit of the colour."
Contrasting such touching, poignant moments are lighter pieces such as Bad Dinner Guest, Bad and the wonderfully tongue-in-cheek prose poem, The Canadian Apology: "Our / apologies are foghorns in the great sea of social gatherings where we pass each other / like tankers gliding by the shore of an all-you-can-eat buffet. I am truly sorry for that / last line." The second half of the collection contains more sustained pieces, many of which include more than one section. It focuses on images of landscape, often playing on ideas of erosion as it relates to space, time and relationships. Interspersed between these longer pieces are several delightful meditations on fog. The Maritime sensibility at work in these poems is both tough and beautiful: "It's the Mafioso of wind / coming to collect its street corners and the mastermind behind / getting lost. It swallows directions and small cries for help, / spitting out the bones of life jackets." Augmenting the overall poetic effect of this book is the publisher's choice of font, Joanna, which appears to be a kind of italicized type. It adds an ethereal or dream-like quality to the verse, although at times the font could be somewhat distracting. But this is merely a minor critical footnote to an otherwise delightful and elegant book of poetry.
Thomas Hodd currently teaches Canadian literature at the Université de Moncton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.