When I think about what a poem should or shouldn’t be doing (whether writing my own or reading another poet’s work) I have a tendency to prefer (at least an attempt at) originality while avoiding gimmick; the clever use, and obvious love, of language and how it feels on the tongue and in the mind; imagery that you can take with you, mull over, sink your teeth into; an awareness that lines of poetry still do make sounds (regardless of the advent of the open form) and that a poet should make use of this. And the imagery, the language, the sounds should all lead somewhere, should transcend the level of play, should do more than just lie on the page. A good poem is so well that it becomes.
Sue Sinclair’s Breaker contains that kind of poetry. I was hooked from the opening poem with the words “Sometimes the light, a horse” — it just grabbed me. The plethora of crackling images (like lightning) all drawing us on to these observations about what it feels/means to be here, now. Metaphysical at times, often sombre, I found this collection so compelling.
Never overly intellectualized, the poems are consistently vibrant and terribly relevant. There’s an awareness of the cost of things, of “[t]he obstacles / to happiness,” ** of the sadness or danger in beauty, of isolation. Sinclair writes about abandonment, the past, nature, the heart, survival.
And I like what she does with light. It becomes a malevolent force in so many of these poems, as does beauty. The dark unseen places (underground, undergrowth) become imbued with — not benevolence — the inevitable.
Natural details abound, handed over in fresh images (like a garden being compared to a ship or the sound of a fish hitting the water rendered as “guffaw”), and the arrangement of the lines — the way the lines sing — brings you back again and again to see how she does it. They’re absolutely gorgeous poems. And haunting, certainly.
From “Drought”: “And overhead, the birds: / chips of bone in the sky, remnants, / fact of the world’s brokenness.” That image just sticks in the mind. And there are so many examples to choose from.
Really wonderful collection! I’ll give you a poem-length example of why I love this book:
Metropolis by Sue Sinclair
The city is a piano, its pedals sunk
deep underground. Commuters in the subway
listen to the instrument groan,
feel their own bodies shudder and give.
There is more memory here than we can manage.
We become paper shredders for obsolete decades —
strips of the past float down from tall buildings,
festoon the shoulders of the unemployed.
History might disappear entirely if we work hard enough.
We all want the day to be our own.
Shoulders rub on shoulders. If everything else were silent,
it would sound like rain:
we are divisible by thousands and remain thousands.
** (from her poem “In Spring, When the Earth”)