Reviewed by Devin Pacholik (Pages and Patches blog, April 3, 2012)
The landscape of human interaction can be a treacherous one. Its valleys might bear the fruits of mutual understanding or the coarse, tiptoed paths of mistrust. Sue Goyette’s outskirts teaches us our relationships must be conserved, protected, studied, and mapped in order to secure them.
“The path is lit by the sound of our footsteps,” she tells us in the title poem, “Outskirts”. These lines speak to what it means to connect with other people. The paths, the careful tracings between one person and the next, are lit by our willingness to seek out the differences that lie beyond the outskirts of what we know and recognize, the landscapes inside of us. Goyette urges us to explore.
The theme of exploration is underscored by her exhilarating language. The nouns in this collection all seem to be looking for something. Goyette’s fog doesn’t just mist about, it “[polishes] the street on its hands and knees.” A cloud isn’t just an amorphic fluff, it has a personality – “it is bashful and insists it knows nothing about weather.” She uses personification to depict our emotions as if they are in or come from the land, under the soil, are on the hairs of ripe jeweled berries, or hidden beneath the loam of our insecurities. Goyette shows us that we are the ones who need preserving; only this preservation can’t be successful without considering the land as well.
outskirts is a diptych. One half mainly deals with the urban realm. Suburbia is a place where mothers follow their children to heavy metal concerts, where the themes of adolescence are compared to hard floors and sideways sneers in a pub. Worry shrouds everything in suburbia. “Snow is a godsend” the speaker says in “A Tired Woman Lies Down”. But to say that the first half of the book is bleak is to miss Goyette’s constant urge to “Persist”, the title of the opening piece.
The second half of outskirts reveals that the source of our unrest comes from the land itself. For example, the long poem “Aquifers” describes underground water as “10,000 cubic wistfuls of music.” That is a world I want to recue: a world of endangered emotions. The later portion of outskirts plays on the language of the scientist, or rather the conservationist. Goyette builds her lyrics out of the statistics of doom and gloom from the green movement to convey an interconnected wild. For her, the undercurrents of the aquifers and the coastlines of Nova Scotia flow into the reservoirs of our ordinary lives:
… We really need to know
in some detail where this music flows so that we can drill
for other potential sources of wonder to deplete global malaise
and the contamination of our worried thirst.
Goyette’s long sentenced pieces are hopeful. They teach us that to save love, we must not fear it. It is a walk worth taking, beyond the outskirts of the known.