Why has it taken me so long to finish this review? From her home base of Saskatoon, poet and visual artist Sylvia Legris knows all about weather, and all about space. She not only resides in it, but has built it around her where she is. In her third poetry collection, Nerve Squall (Coach House Books, 2005), Legris' poetry is very familiar with the important prairie notions of long lines, long poems and play, falling into similar territories of others such as Dennis Cooley, Rob Budde and Jon Paul Fiorentino, although there isn't a writer that exists whose work you can really compare hers to, without failing.
Always an arm's length of line between you and the shore. An ocean of measure and wait,
each syllable a long-drawn lap, treading water wider and …
Land-driven, on your fingertips and imprint of sand and on the tip of your tongue
(just the tip) buds of brine and nostalgia, sepia and silver
gelatin: and fins and scales -- a fine dip-net separating inside from out (reticulated skin,
montage, sole a mosaic; splintered palm and touch
mediated by sky by) … ("1. [DEAD DRIFT]," FISHBLOOD SKY)
Surprise (to many) winner of the 2006 Canadian category of the Griffin Prize for Poetry, Legris was part of an extremely strong list, along with poets Phil Hall and Erin Mouré. Writing of Sylvia Legris work in Open Letter (Eleventh Series, Number 7, Spring 2003), Steven Ross Smith wrote:
At the time of this writing, between late 1999 and early 2002, Sylvia Legris who writes in Saskatoon, has published: two books with Turnstone Press of Winnipeg -- circuitry of veins (1996), and iridium seeds (1998); two chapbooks -- ash petals, (1996), and pathological lies & other disorders (1994); several other alternative forms (texts related to visual arts); and she has a third manuscript (dysrhythmic sky) to be published in 2002. Legris is well-published in periodicals.Legris' poetry has always known how to stretch itself w i d e , writing and writing long against the small moments that she has pulled until she can pull no more, and stretching out again.
Of her book-length work, Sylvia Legris has written: [My] "poetry has gone through several shifts: from expressing, in circuitry of veins, profound disquiet in relation to disease and imminent death to, in iridium seeds, articulating, by increments, those places of relative quiet lodged within the language and experience of grief. In contrast to circuitry of veins in which there is a rather conspicuous tangibility of flesh and in which death has an immediate, unquestionably harsh presence (corpse and all), the poetry of iridium seeds radiates from a deeper place, of body, mind, and imagination; death here inhabits more ghostly territory -- glimpses of insight hovering on the periphery or poems that are now more obviously meditative and
musical in tone and pace. The poetry of "leaf margin" [unpublished, but which led to dysrhythmic sky], further removed as it is from the actual experience of death, from the materiality of body, has as its starting point a place that is relatively contemplative. The movement of this work is deliberate, fugue-like in its considered repetition…" This is an accurate description, primarily from the perspective of content -- although formal considerations are implied. It is in the formal and material mode that Legris stands on new poetic ground.
Neuro-fault line; nervequake; hemicranial. Wind rips into you -- a tree split mid-trunk. Blast
of sheet-metal lightning, two plates of a skull pried apart. You are frayed optics,
mind a double edge.
The curve of your sight mimics the night as it surrounds you: dark-domed, thick-tongued
drift into sleep (you liken this to the embrace of the planetarium -- ten years old every spark
igniting sky or mind, each kern or turn of exotic syllable, held a minute point of departure,
a bright speck far away,
far off in the future). Here, the moon is cut in half … No, the whole universe is a thought
just short of completion … ("4 NERVE ENDINGS, REMAINDERS; JAGGED WHITE…," NERVE STORMS)
A new area that Legris has been working in (apart from a previous collection that featured, on the back cover, a drawing titled "self-portrait with a rice-krispies square") are the wonderful little drawings she has scattered throughout the collection.