Poetry is hard. The trick is to walk the line that lies between obscurantism and blatant sentimentalism. It is a fine line, one that many poets teeter on to one side or the other. Sue Sinclair, however, walks it with the confidence of a runway model.
Breaker, the fourth volume of poetry for Ms. Sinclair, is a coherent, thought-provoking work of intense beauty. Contemplative in tone, the poems are short in length, and sparse yet effective in their imagery. Divided into four sections – Faith, Work, Leisure and Sleep – Sinclair guides us through the mystery of our everyday existence. In Faith, she explores our relationship with death and our uncanny ability to adapt and survive. Her imagery is simple and yet effective. In the opening poem, “Surrender,” light, like “a horse, / gallops into the room / and demands your surrender.” Like a virtuoso opera singer, Sinclair holds this image for the whole poem. In “Claimed,” she exposes the vague embarrassment we feel at our ability to continue in the face of death: “You know it’s no use being attached to things, but / even when the worst happened, is happening, / the little animal of the heart keeps digging / further into the earth.”
The sections Work and Leisure explore those gaps in our day, the moments where we are waiting to live. Especially effective are her commuting poems (ones that will ring true to anyone who winds up on a crowded train with the same strangers everyday): “I feel the indifference / on my own face and don’t know who I am anymore: / I’ve fled but how, and to where?”
Although this is an extremely serious, intense work, Sinclair’s wicked sense of humour still manages to peek out in “The Suburbs” where the houses are “vinyl-sided, slow-witted” and “they insist they didn’t mean for this to happen / this sameness, shackled to their own kind / like cattle transported slowly nowhere / in a broken-down truck.”
The scenes described in the poems are re-occurring and familiar: looking at old photographs, riding the train, going to sleep. However, throughout the book is a sense of the narrator’s detachment, as if the poet is our tour guide into the unplumbed depths of the quotidian. Sinclair gives us a telescopic glimpse inside the moments that make up our life. What I really want to say is that I was very moved by her poems – they stuck to me like thistles for days and days. It is a really rare experience when something you read seems to sink into your very marrow – Sinclair’s poems did. I felt the earth shift a little after reading them.