by Sue Sinclair
London, ON: Brick Books, 2008
96 pp. $ 18.00
by Ronna Bloom
Toronto, ON: Pedlar Press, 2009
116 pp. $20
Sue Sinclair and Ronna Bloom have both been nominees for the Pat Lowther Award (given to the best first book of poetry by a Canadian woman), both have just released their fourth collections, and both apply their muses to the philosophical-in-the-personal.
Sinclair’s Breaker advertises itself nicely as a partially East-Coast-anchored work, given the arresting, oceanic cover art by the Newfoundland-born-and-raised poet’s father. But the salt-seascape that interests Sinclair most is that of the soul’s tears and the heart’s blood – the residue of a universe committed to pain. A graduate student in philosophy, Sinclair has an artist’s eye for beauty, but a soldier’s stoic backbone. Her imagery’s lovely, but, as usual in Canadian poetry, suffering lurks everywhere. For Sinclair, though, pain is the price of enlightenment. So, in “Awe,” “light flickers across bare fields / and small animals keep their eyes down, / afraid of the lovely shadow / that swoops from the sky.”
“Ground Zero” might be a meditation on the toppling of New York City’s “Twin Towers” due to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001: “A place collapsed…. // We walk carefully, for now we see where damage is / possible, the life we’ve been given already half in shadow. // We stand on one side of our hearts and look to the other.” But the poem resists a literal reading; it’s more abstract than definite. “Ground Zero” is where we start each day, with the wreckage of yesterday behind us. “Sunburst” recounts the ecstatic hurt of discovery: “And you too are adrift, walking dreamily…. / But when the clouds part / and the sun forces its way through, / waking life erupts…. // You recover enough to shade your eyes / but your mind circles the edge of this brightness / like a dog circling a slab of meat.” The poet asks, “what, then, / is this joy?” The answer: “You are free to be a citizen of more than yourself.” Consciousness is painful, but it also permits you a knowing membership in the Creation, with all other beings and things.
Sinclair’s vision skirts the surrealism of Don Domanski, but her nature imagery also recalls the pictorial imagism of Amy Lowell as well as the spiritual aspirations of Margaret Avison. Still, when the lyrics are read plainly, they seem palimpsests – shades – of Ecclesiastes: “Stars creep over the horizon; / a fertile darkness sinks into the ground.”
… Sinclair acknowledges suffering; Bloom sings of freedom. Neither vision is completely fulfilling.
George Elliott Clarke, a Nova Scotia-born author and poet, teaches literature at University of Toronto.