Review by Allison LaSorda
Late last year, Russell Smith of The Globe and Mail wrote an article on Canada’s unlikely poetry renaissance; in it, he suggests an increasing interest in poems that are “just on the line between the lyrical and the full-on experimental,” recalling a bygone era wherein there was “a lot of nature and conversational tone.” Though I question the idea that this loose definition of a style is indeed “out,” I did find Nora Gould’s work to be distinct among the recent poetry I’ve read, mostly because her collection is startlingly simple in its construction.
Her work made me think of the challenges involved in presenting Ecopoetry into the contemporary, often urban-focused, literary scene; perhaps drawing from that Al Purdy era that Smith speaks of, Gould is successful in resisting any tendency to romanticize the natural world while demonstrating reverence for it, instead, allowing the images and memories she draws to settle in to place as things grow or fail.
Gould sets the poems of I see my love more clearly from a distance on a ranch in the Canadian prairies, a landscape where significance is aligned with usability or what is practical; the speaker of the poems describes necessary tasks, physical pain, and the subtlety of relating to others. She assigns different meaning to a utilitarian landscape and seems to bridge the expected gap between what is felt and what is seen, or used and desired. The voice often possesses a documentary tone, observing the relationship of the speaker to what is close and familiar; this extends to land, livestock, family, and, more abstractly, to attachment, marriage, death, and survival.
In her kitchen over coffee she explored
where and how to move those twenty-seven
hundred pounds of cut hay, the need for a fire
permit, how long she’d have to wait for a snowfall,
how she’d gather his ashes.
(“The music would be a cappella”)
The pragmatic narratives of Gould’s work are also clearly demonstrated with her poem titles. Some of my favourites are: “In this dearth some pack a .22 in their calving kit,” “He pulls his winter cowboy hat snug over a Polartec cap held with a drawcord,” and “grief submerged with her brilliant feet, tucked up in flight.”
Rather than being challenged by dense, intellectual language or lyricism, it is the topics of many of these poems that may challenge the reader. Surgery, animal euthanasia, miscarriage, birth, and love – Gould presents these as true, not tragic, and worth investigating in a non-abstracted way.
In the poem “Some nights he breathed up all the air,” the speaker deals with the after effects of surgery and reflects on her relationship: “I’ve had to re-gather my desire: strands / from the mare’s tail, knotted taut inside my body, / carry the vibration of touch from here to here / to here.” Interspersed with this rumination are images of a mare sick with colic:
Later I showed him the twist
in her bowel but right then how could he believe me?
He didn’t want to hear her heart was a jackhammer
pull the trigger give me the gun. What could I know,
my hand on her skin where her blood curved over her jaw?
Finding or relating to a sense of oneself in what is presented as a harsh and often unforgiving landscape is demonstrably hopeful on Gould’s part, and when confronted with situations that, in many opinions, inspire pessimism, her poems seem to foster understanding as they reflect and observe. Though a sense of isolation runs through the collection, it is likely brought out by vivid descriptions of a place that is somewhat unpredictable; this doesn’t necessarily speak to loneliness, but again, perhaps, to the beauty of remaining at a perceptive and respectful distance.
Allison LaSorda is writer from Toronto. Her poetry and reviews have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Literary Review of Canada, Vallum, The Fiddlehead, and The Malahat Review. Currently, she lives in Peterborough, Ontario, works for Broadview Press, and interns at Brick, A Literary Journal.