Anne Compton, Lorenzo Writer-in-Residence at UNB Saint John, writes about UNB writer-in-residence Sue Sinclair.
Sue Sinclair, who grew up in St. John’s and lives in Toronto and New York City, is the author of four books of poetry – Secrets of Weather & Hope (2001), Mortal Arguments (2003), The Drunken Lovely Bird (2005), and Breaker (2008). Her work has been shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award, the Pat Lowther Award, and an Atlantic Poetry Prize.
The world’s beauty is Sinclair’s subject in the philosophically large-scaled and perceptually acute Breaker. Organized into four cleanly named sections – Faith, Work, Leisure, and Sleep – Breaker is an account of the perceptor’s experience of beauty, which is nothing as simple as the occasional glimpse of a rose. Beauty is complex and elusive. Sometimes, “Nothing in the world / is convincing enough” and then there’s the problem of the world’s “brokenness,” or perhaps that apparent “brokenness” is, instead, the “inherent misalignment” between perceiver and perception. Other times, beauty is a raptor swooping down on us, on everything, so that “small animals keep their eyes down.…” The fact is, the creatures of the world, though shy, do not suffer “misalignment.” The swans, for example, possess the “insouciance of those / who haven’t had to ask forgiveness /… are not withdrawn … are not lonely.” Birds figure mightily in Breaker. By contrast, we repeatedly fail to reach beauty. Longing and loneliness are our daily states. Or, when we do experience the beautiful, it is “always more than we can bear.” And what seems to occlude the feeling of being at home with, or being part of, beauty is the intervening mind, the “apparatus of the mind,” which divides us not only from the perceptible but also from ourselves: “Seldom can we inhabit / the mystery we are, our houses shut against doubt.” Too often “the mind’s grate [is] cold to the touch.” If the cool gears, or ashy grate, of the mind preclude passion, Breaker does not. Sinclair’s poems ask the reader to look again, look harder, more fiercely, at what is there. The sea’s waves, a room, a tree, can be a “distillery of light.” Even in their grime, the most ordinary things – fire hydrant, eavestrough, hatchback – have a luster, and ask that we “lose a little of ourselves to them.” It is light, the archangel of beauty, that requires that we “surrender” if we are to awaken “inside the world’s subconscious glittering mind,” which is ageless and desirous: “This life and the one afterward want each other, they do.” Unafraid of the word “soul,” Sinclair seems to suggest that soul – as when it wakes from sleep – circumvents mind and “looks around, hoping / for a glimpse of its origins.” You have to go back to Rilke, and further back to Wordsworth, to find such a large-souled meditation on beauty in relation to eternity. Either poet might have written Sinclair’s lines “as though all that’s born arrives / with a wax-like coating, a shell of divinity / that gradually wears off” or, in another poem, “as though the struggle to be born had not ended.” And though we may “sleep side-by-side with eternity, and never touch,” Breaker leaves us with the hope that through beauty we may be communicant with eternity.
“For Sue Sinclair, poetry seems to be a disposition, a habit of looking and a practice of readiness, an inclination of her body as much as her thought.”- Arc Poetry Magazine