A Page From the Wonders of Life on Earth – Stephanie Bolster
In Bolster’s fourth collection, she attempts the difficult task of writing “travel poems” starting from generally well-known locations in Europe. The peril in this approach lies in readers’ over-familiarity with the locations and typical reactions to them. Fortunately, Bolster’s perceptions are tuned beyond those of the tourist, noting contradictions, small surprises, hidden messages in zoos and gardens.
A sense that even the rich and famous find it lonely at the top emerges suddenly from her poem Versailles:
After the long hall of mirrors, less impressive
than expected, tourists move into the room where the queen
gave birth, watched by whomever came to watch
Formally, there is quite a range within free-verse forms. Short lines, long lines; single-line stanzas, there is a staccato rhythm, quick breaks between details and statements, in most of these. Underlying them all is a subtle sadness, shared by many poets in an era where species are going extinct daily, war is still an instrument of foreign and domestic policy and the governments of the world seem unable to agree on any action about global warming.
This is no zoo. The spot a bomb fell.
And those children who file through,
shrieking at the shrieking monkeys,
are also bombed places. (from “Three Zoos”)
The cover image by Susan Bozic plays with this elegiac quality — a first glance a jay against trees and water, you soon realize that the jay has spent some time with a taxidermist, and the natural background is painted or wallpaper.
There is a lively intelligence to the poetry, and great economy of language. I wish sometimes for a burst of stronger emotion, something to throw a poem off its careful tracks and into hyperspace. Maybe that will come in the next Bolster book.
Born in Guelph, Ontario, John Oughton has traveled widely, living at various times in Iraq and Egypt, Japan, and Nova Scotia. Now based in Toronto, he is a Teaching and Learning Consultant at Centennial College. He has also worked in publishing, journalism, and corporate communications. His education includes a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature at York University (where he studied with writers including Frank Davey, Irving Layton, Eli Mandel and Miriam Waddington), doctoral work in education at OISE/University of Toronto, and non-credit writing courses at the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado. He is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Time Slip, Guernica Press, 2010.