Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Al Rempel, understories

Next Year

this year you say: I’m eating cranberries
as if you’ve found a new miracle cure
but really, you might as well have said
I’m sucking on rose-hip skins and spitting
out the seeds—both did well this year
last year you gorged on saskatoons
wiped the juice in slow circles around
your lips like it was the forbidden fruit
the year before that I can’t remember—
you know how some people forget
the glasses perched on their forehead
but know the difference in rainfall
between the summers of ’78 and ’79? or
how much snow fell not ten years later?
old people mostly—who knows what
you’ll be sucking on next year, your sticky
fingers wagging about the bushes, maybe
staining my lips with a gentle shove

On the surface, Northern British Columbia poet Al Rempel’s first trade collection, understories (Halfmoon Bay BC: Caitlin Press, 2010), is a seemingly-straightforward collection of lyric narratives, but scratch at the surface, and there are a number of pieces here with intriguing rhythms, sentences rolling through that geography of north. This is an area increasingly explored for the sake of writing, from the days of Sharon Thesen, Brian Fawcett and even Artie Gold to current Rob Budde, Ken Belford and Gillian Wigmore, with Barry McKinnon the thread that seemingly holds four decades of Prince George poetry together. There are so many parts of the collection where the poems seem to skim, and remain somehow ordinary, instead of heading deeper, beyond expected territory; we know about the snow and the trees and the mountains. Why not tell us something that we don’t? Still, it’s interesting to see the echoes of influence, from the compact single stanzas of Ken Belford in poems such as “Next Year,” and there is something absolutely exquisite about the breath-couplets, the lines of the poem “A Few Lines for Prince George,” that begins:

thirteen years old and I’m exhuming the contents of the World Book Encyclopedia
right down to the transparencies in Volume 9, the Human Body vascular and muscular—

imagine a great lake overhead, dammed up by volcanic rock and the remains
of the last ice-age, maybe 10,000 years ago, until one day the whole thing busted loose—

stripping off skin, tendons, veins until I reached the female reproductive system
a big letdown, only the barest suggestion of breast, no more revealing than bulges—

No comments: