POETRY: ‘Public unveiling’ of fears and wounds

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FREDERICTON'S Triny Finlay presents "a public unveiling" of fears and wounds in her second collection, Histories Haunt Us (Nightwood Editions, 80 pages, $17).

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/07/2010 (4520 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

FREDERICTON’S Triny Finlay presents "a public unveiling" of fears and wounds in her second collection, Histories Haunt Us (Nightwood Editions, 80 pages, $17).

Powerfully elemental in image and sound, particularly in the ghazal-like title sequence, this is a beautifully sombre and sensual reflection on the faithful failing of language: "talking a blue streak as if words might steer you / away from the cracking … the words weren’t enough / and neither is this."

With a nod to her lauded debut, Splitting Off, Finlay continues her "self-portraits," this time sketching a heavier, more historic tone. The past is reconciled in the present and states of loss are transformed in "the process of suture" and "the process of future."

These poems bare struggle and healing, revelation and exasperation: "The truth is that I fell too, feel as helpless as the trees / and I won’t disguise it anymore in metaphor."

— — —

Vancouver-based Ray Hsu also launches a second collection in Cold Sleep Permanent Afternoon (Nightwood Editions, 96 pages, $17), a dramatization of the self that considers both the multiplicities and singularities, onstage and off, that form "the instability of where we are."

Through startling images ("Birds swing into the milk / sky like tiny rags"), Hsu investigates influences that are at once internally and culturally imposed: "Am I filling in this form / or filling it out?"

Hsu’s poems liberate the "task of being human" from states of fixity to states of creation. They gleam with technique and imagination, limits and boundlessness.

Their literal ground often folds into metaphor, insight after insight becoming instances of the self-imprisonment and liberation of which he writes: "We are real and imaginary."

These are complex reflections on the "intricate want" of selfhood, absolutely uncaged in desire with an inquisition that is more choral than solipsistic.

— — —

In her fourth collection, Vancouver’s prolific novelist-poet Evelyn Lau also considers imprisonments, but with a much firmer hold on reality.

The prison cell in this case is grief, "the ridiculous sorrow / of living this brief life."

In Living Under Plastic (Oolichan Books, 96 pages, $18), Lau’s lyrics are layered meditations on emptiness. Migraines, reflective surfaces and cells — biological, architectural and societal–breed isolation.

The aquarium of the sealed-off, condo-ized, lonely urbanite is gazed upon in this "vigil for the living / grieving".

These are dark poems filled with states of consumption and excess. Vivid anecdotes of consumer confession highlight the collection: "I feel the familiar fever of the shopper, wanting it all / yet satisfied with nothing …. I try on clothes as if auditioning / for other lives."

Lau is at her best when metaphor breaks the realist seal and a missing tooth becomes "a tiny door into darkness."

As accomplished as the poems are individually, the collection as a whole feels a bit stifled by the shopping mall walls of its subject, as if variation and depth have been dulled by the landscape of a "music moaning a mindless refrain."

— — —

Accomplished Hamilton poet/novelist/essayist Steven Heighton continues to top his own oeuvre with Patient Frame (Anansi, 101 pages, $23), a sharp framing and reframing of an ever-widening poetic gaze that captures its subjects, detail after exuberant detail, at 30 images a thought.

Heighton tests his skills with variety in form, tone and subject to create poem after poem of deft craft, each built on a wondrously driven density of desire: "a young hand’s / impatience to contain all."

With a clear view on mortality ("How does the end enter?") Elegies & Other Love Songs exemplifies a collection that aims for "tributes on the tongue" in which content of the self is written by the focus and depth of its gaze: "If I could start over, I would stare and stare."

Winnipeg poet Jennifer Still’s second collection will appear in spring 2011 with Brick Books.

 

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