Review of Botero’s Beautiful Horses
From Anne Burke , Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature, May 24, 2010

Review of Botero’s Beautiful Horses, by Jan Conn

Review of Botero’s Beautiful Horses, by Jan Conn (Brick Books, 2009) With notes, Selected Sources, and Acknowledgements.

This collection is graced by the poet’s familiarity with Latin America and Octavio Paz.

In the first section “The Light of Poinsettias”, she illumines the “art of the new Latin American century” via a funicular to Monserrate and a view of flowers for the export market. (“Altitudinal Essence”, p. 28) She muses, “By day’s end I’m one with/ the whit plaster feet protruding from stacked firewood.”

In the second section, “Cosmological”, she examines the Valley of Mexico, in terms of what P.K. Page praised “All the images of darkness hovered for me in the Mexican sunlight” an epigraph for the collection, but Conn chooses moonlight: the Aztec gods whether monkeys, or of rain and maize, and their foremothers, like Henry Moore and Charles Olson, become gist for the mill of “Little-girl-from-Quebec-who-years-to-fly eyes” (“Campeche”, p. 41). Conn was raised in Asbestos, Quebec.

In the third section “Blunted Gold”, she coins “A swizzle stick for your pensées” (“Dali d’Hiver”, p. 51) and puns on “To err is not human” (“Comma Comma She Said”, p. 59) She embraces Salvador Dali, Georgia O’Keefe, and Lorca. Even one of her love poems employs mathematical language. “In search of flight, I am shameless as the Wright brothers” (“Signs of Water”, p. 54). She is preoccupied by flying machines (“Demise of the Flame Trees”, p. 57) A poem like “Spanish Insane Asylum, 1941” is shocking and graphic, followed by “Lip-Reading Jean Cocteau”.

In the fourth section “Amazonia”, there is a group of poems which won second prize for the CBC Literary Awards, 2003. Some were broadcast on CBC Radio, CHSR, CKDU, or as the Poem of the Week Parliamentary Pot Laureate’s website. She bears the burden of “the only child” in relation to her mother’s death (“Cametá) because she was immersed in the rain forest of Sky God, where her mother, ironically, has prepared a path for her. (“Belém”). Some of these poems employ an elongated line, aurora borealis-like. Her professional interest in insects layers her appreciation of the flora and fauna, the ever present iguana.

In the fifth section, “Absolute Love”, she sketches something from nothing, in this instance, a lagomorph (“The Hydraulics of Rabbit”, p. 93). She equates her identification of species with a familial loop of love. (“I Can’t Identify to Species”, p. 95) She learned from her father figures, one of whom was El Greco, “we’re closer now to the never-never” (p. 97). She encounters nebulae, a meteorologist, and the alchemist, while avoiding memories of “her catastrophic childhood” (“In a Dry Place”, p. 101). The rain forest yields: “fingers brushing the leaves/as though reading Braille.” (p. 103)

In the sixth section “Harmonium”, Neptune and Eros, Flannery O’Connor, Charles Darwin, and the Minotaur converge in a Guide to Brueghel (“Rural Diorama”) In “Iconographic”, she muses on Tasmania, as well as on pentagrams. What marries mythical figures galore is a mystical lute making harmonics of the spheres.

This is a seventh book for Conn, after Jaguar Rain: the Margaret Mee Poems (Brick Books, 2005). A selection of Amazonian poems won second prize in the CBC literary awards, 2003. She won the inaugural P.K. Page Founders Award for poetry, in 2006. She received a Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of Toronto in 1987 and is a Professor of Biomedical Sciences.


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