Post-Apothecary (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011), Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley's second trade poetry collection, begins with a single-poem “Prologue,” “Pulse”:
She is right handed, left. Retain the language nor the visual side.She is hungry. She is nil-by-mouth.
She is a note hung over a bed, a metal trolley & swinging doors.She is semi-prone & steadied & there are nights.
An onslaught of nights. On, off, oxygen ventilation. Reeled.Rocked. A wet tangle of hair. Her hand swept over a bright eye.
She is making it all up.Can't possibly see through a retinal slit, out the dilated corner of.
I've written before of her long prairie lines, of her horizon-lines stretching out into forever, such as the post I wrote after her reading with Christine McNair at Ottawa's first annual VERSEfest poetry festival in March 2011. Originally from Saskatchewan, Sandra Ridley is the author of the trade collection Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2009) [see my review of such here], which won a Saskatchewan Book Award for Publishing, and the chapbooks Rest Cure (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2010) (which is included in the current volume) [see my review of such here] and Lift: Ghazals for C. (Saskatoon SK: JackPine, 2008), which co-won the 2009 bpNichol Chapbook Award. Awarded the Alfred G. Bailey Prize for the manuscript “Downwinders,” another manuscript of Ridley's, a collaboration with Ottawa poet Amanda Earl, recently shortlisted for Snare Books' Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.
Phial of Morphine
He seems nice. No. Not nice. Kind. No. Not kind. Humble. No. Not humble. Meek. No. Not meek. Quiet. No. Not quiet. Reserved. No. Not reserved. Taken aback. No. Not taken aback. Angry.
He seems angry.
He prefers a short skirt against bare leg, a rabbit in her lap,a tattoo above her right knee.
Faith in morphine, not god. A long list of lovers, delirious injections,a sequence of broken glass, car crashes. The air in her room, stale smoke.
It was such a nice day – she was right to be wary. (“APOTHECARY”)
With “Prologue,” four sections, “Epilogue” and final “Clinical Note” to her Post-Apothecary, the construction around a single theme in fragmented poems that fractal reminds loosely of how American poet Cole Swensen constructs her own poetry collections. Both writers work to create longer sequences of loose narratives, writing threads of concept, and, as the back cover blurb to Ridley's collection by poet Elizabeth Philips attests, “Sandra Ridley's long poetic sequences document the isolating effects of institutional incarceration with an unflinching vocabulary of treatment and 'cure.'”
Nettle whipped to a muscle twitch & a kick : or her jaw clenched in trismus to a salt-lick blue : until a catatonic hum & a switch clicks & reflects her cornea lacking.
Flit of lid : I lash : I stroke : wet oubliette hole filling in : catacombed where she half-slept : unwatched & bleach-drunk : she : I clasp an ivy strand of hair : a penny from the wall.
Twined : trussed : dialated : light-blinded by the lift of a keyless latch : floor-pressed & false-succour numbed : an incubus susurrates with a red apple & an open palm : she unswallows him.
I in relation to : I in a different way : I in whole or in part : my sugar cube in her mouth keeps his taste away. (“PHANTASMAGORIA”)
Ridley's Post-Apothecary writes around trauma and possible treatments, around myriad physical, psychological and emotional injury and how they often get treated, not necessarily for the sake of improvement, but for the sake of dismissal, hiding the illness and therefore the ill, away. At the same time, Ridley's Post-Apothecary writes out the emotional refuse of living, and the difficulties that often come simply from existing, working through days and relationships and nights to find out just what is possible, and if happiness throughout the detritus of living is attainable. Ridley's Post-Apothecary is a complex and complicated book, deceptively small and gracefully beautiful, impossible to properly describe, and even more difficult to put down. The collection writes trauma and sorrow, writing out trauma, yet a slight lift at the end, in her epilogue, ending with:
When she did start talking, she said: Get a hold of yourself Ridley. You have got to get a hold of yourself. When asked what is wrong, the patient stated she is happy.
I am happy.