… a number of intriguing debut collections also appeared in 1993, among them Maureen Harris’s A Possible Landscape (Brick Books, 60, paper), which presages an exciting new voice in Canadian poetry. I have, over the years, been lucky enough to observe Maureen Harris’s work develop, to watch its range expand, its voice deepen and broaden.
A Possible Landscape is divided into two sections. The first, ‘A Narrow Room,’ reappraises and re-evaluates many of our cultural myths. Harris starts with the Eden myth, and it is good to see that not only Eve, but the snake, get an even break. The frog prince becomes an oddly husbandly soul, Snow White a rebellious teenager and the Wicked Queen her weary mother. There is both wit and grit in these poems, and the voice is consistent and readable….
There is more fresh air in ‘Where Things Come Together,’ wherein Harris flexes both the voice and the poetic line. What a clean writer Harris shows herself capable of being here; what lean and limber lines such as these from ‘The Private Lives of Transit Drivers’: ‘The young man with truck-driver-long hair curling round his shoulder / slouches slightly back against his chair, the uniform editing his movements / so that only his hand lumbering us round this awkward Oakwood corner swaggers.’ Or from ‘The Herdsman’s Children’: ‘Watching the dying, several worlds away, / the pulse curves, then steadies, as we stutter towards words, stammer outrage, / anguish (mean it, every single word of it), never, / our tongues taut, loosening our throats and unleashing the animal howl, / that inarticulate rough sound, the body’s unlearned untidy response.’
There is still a sense of circumscription here, a sense of the self explored through wishes, dreams, desires, but a stubbornness, a determination, breaks through all this dreaminess. It is perhaps in those moments when Harris’ fine intelligence and insight swerve slightly from the self to all that impinges on the self that she is at her best. Such striking poems as ‘The Herdsman’s Children’ and ‘Spring are indications of just what Harris can, and no doubt will, do.