Sue Sinclair has this incredible ability to refer always to the soul, recalling Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco, whose peculiar elongated acolytes seem constantly at prayer, raising their hands to the moiling skies, which suggest the wrathful power of God. In Breaker, Sinclair instructs us on how to hold our gaze as our bizarre world unfolds. “[T]hese are savage times” (20), she warns; “the little animal of the heart keeps digging / further into the earth” (14). She employs the empathetic “we” voice to great effect, evoking our collective hopeless longing: “We sleep side-by-side with eternity,” she says, “and never touch” (94). In speaking of the spirit, she, like Don Domanski, avoids vapid moralizing and binary-thought. These poems do not think that they are neat. They speak simply, clearly, with wisdom. ..
Breaker … contains some poems that find the balance between philosophical contemplation and grounded observation (“Lil Laughing” (27), “Pawel Laughing on the Beach” (16), and “Delay” (48), to name a few), and throughout the book we can’t help but trust her disarming candour. Of death she says,
Sometimes the world seems better for its shortcomings,
what it can’t become. The clover expands
like an ocean over the field, sends itself out and out,
never coming back. (15)
“This is not the god you dreamed of” (93), she reports. These gods are remorseless, we are alone, history has ended, but there are so many stars tonight that we find ourselves laughing out loud. In “Wabakimi Lake,” a couple in a canoe stare into the water:
. . . The dense lake bottom
draws you and the sun’s entrails down, down
into its tawny lair, far out of sight (63).
She reveals the heart this quickly. There is mystery and depth in everything. The quotidian is ineffable and strange. “Nothing that does not leave its mark” (51). “Exposed” (61) describes a pair of ominous scissors found years ago in the grass. The poem seems to say that we are constantly waking, reaching for the violence of the past. But, deliciously, Sinclair doesn’t oversimplify the scissors, but just lets them sit there in the grass. She writes, as Seamus Heaney suggests that a poet should do, “after something just at the edge of your knowledge.”
In her last book, The Drunken Lovely Bird, the exuberant observations of simple things (the fridge, the bath, the swimmer) seem more engaged with the physical realm. Perhaps Breaker is Sinclair’s move into more archetypal, nightmare provinces. In any case, I trust that her honesty and fierce poetic vision will lead her where it led El Greco, whose paintings of Toledo not only depict God in the sky-tumult, but details so precise that the locals claimed they could pick out their own houses.
John Wall Barger lives in Halifax and teaches at Saint Mary’s University. His first book, Pain-proof Men, will be published by Palimpsest Press in fall 2009.