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Books, March 2005

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Issue: 26 Section: Literature & Ideas Geography: Canada Topics: poetry, forestry

March 2, 2005

Books, March 2005

suzuki.jpg Tree, A Life Story
by Suzuki and Grady
Douglas & McIntyre, 2004

This book claims to tell the story of a single tree--specifically a Douglas-fir stands alongside a trail by the beach at David Suzuki's cottage. But Tree, A Life Story, tells much more than that. After all, "If left alone, our tree would grow forever, but nothing in the forest is ever alone". Suzuki and Grady trace the birth of this tree back to well before the appearance of a seed. They start with the Big Bang and follow the evolutionary development of life on earth from single-celled bacteria to plants, trees, and other multicellular organisms. We watch as salmon, feeding in the ocean, accumulate nitrogen. A grizzly eats the fish when they head inland to spawn. Defecating its meal, the grizzly fertilizes the nitrogen-poor soil of the Douglas-fir forest. Twenty pages in, the reader may be a bit bewildered, but with perseverance, it becomes apparent that every detail, every tangent, serves its purpose. If the non-scientist can slog through the at times heavy scientific terminology, Tree, A Life Story, makes a rewarding, and even an inspiring read.
--Meribeth Deen


sinclair.jpgThe Drunken Lovely Bird
by Sue Sinclair
Goose Lane Editions, 2004

Sue Sinclair is an astoundingly visual poet; if she were an artist, she would paint still-lifes. The strength of this book lies in the poems that endow ordinary, cold objects with warm emotion and humanity: lonely refrigerators; hopeful, shy bathtubs; hung-over plates and silverware; a streetlight that will "lean out/ its throat to be smothered" with stroking affection. In this, her third collection, Sinclair has recognized and mastered her own artistic obsessions: lilacs, tulips, winter, and an enduring fascination with the properties of light. Besides these leitmotifs, Sinclair continues to draw inspiration from the household, the garden, Newfoundland, and the urban landscape. Even in her less captivating narrative poems, she rewards the reader with a delightful and ultimately redemptive twist. A seemingly predictable poem about Eurydice and Orpheus reunited in the underworld, for example, ends with this playful and psychologically astute image: "Sometimes when they are walking she teases him, falls behind./ He looks over his shoulder again and again: there she is. They/ never tire of this game". This is an eminently readable collection that seldom falters, sure of where it has come from and where it wants to go.
--Matthew J. Trafford


narrow_place.jpgLeaving the Narrow Place
by Dorothy Field
Oolichan, 2004

In "Not that It's So Much Easier", Field notes with awe: "Still, I was a Jew. Wherever I went they knew me. In Florence at fourteen a man knocked on the car window, gave us directions to the synagogue. In Merida a French tourist picked me out". Leaving the Narrow Place traces the poet's secular Jewish upbringing and her attempt to adopt Jewish customs as an adult. Some poems, like the split-down-the-side "Music Box", are artful reconstructions of the family dramas that dominated the speaker's childhood. Often, however, the machinery of the poems is too exposed: "I load bushels with brown-pocked fruit,/ tumbrel them to distant burial/ and remember Aunt Libby, alone in the old house". Here, as in many of the "haying" poems (a series in which the poets cuts and bales her farm's hay with such companions as Ophelia, Gertrude Stein, Murasaki Shikibu, and her own grandmother), the segue is too obvious, and Field has a tendency to bog down her better lines with overexplained images and ideas. The speaker and her family don't properly make the leap into full characters, and Field doesn't manage to transcend the narrow place of her own experiences.
--Linda Besner


sink_williams.jpgThe Sink House
by Julia Williams
Coach House Books, 2004

The beauty in its central imagining-a house's love affair with a riverbank across the ocean-is perhaps enough reason to pick up William's first book The Sink House and bear witness to this intimate flood, even if the book is at times as choppy and erratic as the waves it describes. The playful typography, and the enigmatic structure which divides the book of poems into six sections-"wave," "house," "dry," "wet," "wreck" and "float"-create intriguing yet frustrating layers of division. Some poems stand alone, while others demand to be read in context, as the titles launch ideas that are completed only by the next title. Williams sometimes seems to be testing her skills by writing from a basket of words selected in advance: the word "sandbag" keeps unaccountably floating to the surface. There are, however, some lovely moments: "He dyes her bed blue and when she crawls in on cold nights she thinks she's underwater." And later: "don't let these arms fool you/ there is no procedure/ for waving and drowning". Williams knows how to swim.
--Erin Brubacher

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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