AND NOW for something completely different: Jan Conn’s Botero’s Beautiful Horses. The best way to appreciate Conn’s seventh collection of poems is articulated in the words of The Event: “Zebra hidden in a striped zoo,/ let your thoughts go/ loose and slack.”
Indeed, Quebec-born biomedical professor and poet Conn demands we let our thoughts go slack so we may appreciate the magical, even surreal, aspects of her poems. And those aspects are multitude. Much of her research takes her to Mexico, Brazil, and Latin America and in her work we encounter responses to these varying landscapes, through the land itself and through various paintings — much of it surrealism — and ceramics from the area.
Conn’s poems, then, have something of the travelogue to them, but also wild shifts in perspective, dreamscapes where we feel our feet leaving the ground; where what we lean our knowing against moves a few feet away, or up in the air. We go from a wonderful extended simile like this: “The walls are like a dollhouse mattress/ or a soggy dyed-blue tennis ball/ whacked back and forth by a pair/ of hungover teenage girls/ whose homework includes/ the cosmological significance of zero,” to this magical juxtaposition: “A skeleton in a bright cape strolls though the marketplace./ Elegant in black mask and stripes/ with his long fingers, he befriends El Greco// like I do, but centuries earlier. Who cares about time?”
Not Conn, who turns her imagination out of doors in any weather, any century. Occasionally, her need to identify with the circumstances in her poems becomes a little overwrought and precious: her heart as black as the alligator’s, the shrimp gleaming on their trays, “On my silver tray I gleam too,” that sort of thing. But, mostly, Conn skips lightly across both paintings and landscapes, dreams and memories, colours splashed vividly, bits of jokes and laughter reminding us that the surreal, like poetry, can also be fun.
Robertson is a Saskatoon poet and freelance writer.