Saturday, March 24, 2012

Barbara Langhorst, restless white fields


i slept better before you
learned to kill
anxiety that perfect cure
now i share szumigalski’s
fear of knives i cannot stand to see
flustered chickens
popped in cones
heads thwacked off pre-cordon bleu
it takes so much rage
to learn
to love
to squeeze
a cupboard moth
immortal birds they fly at us
their suicide my potent fear
of being
god’s beetle
in leonard cohen’s hand
i slept better before you learned
to kill
Saskatchewan poet Barbara Langhorst’s [see her 12 or 20 questions here] first trade poetry collection, restless white fields (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2012), as the back cover tells us, responds to a “violent personal tragedy,” made clearer in the couplet “there are no kind words for this / my father put a bullet in her brain and a shotgun to his chest” (“MENSTRUL CUP”). Just as American poet Beth Bachmann wrote through grieving the murder of her sister by their father in her poetry collection, Temper (Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009), Langhorst writes out an exploration of the actions and consequences of her own tragic events, and the spaces it leaves. restless white fields is a collection that writes through the dark, constructed to explore conclusions, comprehensions and redemption. The poems in the collection might not all be directly about this, but are coloured by such.

there is such intimacy with the body in pain that one can come to crave
a pot of custard a trivial drop of pursuit a warm dish of tikka masala to ignite
the death projecting incarnation near pique that a lot of fat produces
an encounter with an ontological sensation in the gallbladder not dissimilar
to those who dare to hang themselves know that to increase orgasmic intensity
the irregularity of false love of success determines potency through the liquor
of settled stomach or the heat of bursting screaming breathless belly one comes
to feel the martyrs and their self-flagellation
Closer to home than Bachmann, Langhorst’s book reminds of Lamentations (Trout Lily Press, 1997), a first collection of poems by now-Winnipeg poet Charlene Diehl-Jones. Built out of a sequence of prose-poems, her collection focused on the loss of her first child. Books spawning from awful trauma are extremely difficult to work through in a way that any reader might want to engage (I can think of a few examples—that I won’t name here—of a poet requiring not a publisher but a therapist, resulting in the most awful and self-absorbed of texts), and Langhorst’s poems write through trauma and come through the other side. It is no accident, I would not think, that dedication at the front of the collection is “for love.”
last autumn’s fall expedition to the graveyard our chickadees went wild for my
students the romantics’ dead thoughts chanting confusion all through the lane
of the yellowing elms this year’s fashionistas their connected hundred-dollar
dresses become distraught with the cool west wind but they have dirt
on the mob as we sit beside the monks reading shelley’s
ode to the unified wish for

a cold climactic change of heart (“BELOW THE WIRE ii”)
Langhorst’s restless white fields is a collection of dark undertones, which by itself don’t make it a dark or pessimistic book, although it might possibly be a necessary book. constructed in five sections—no kind words, bellum, the persistence of memory, exiled hearts and blue placenta—Langhorst’s poems are highly aware of the proper use of space on the page, stretching long lines in some pieces, or spaces patterned across the page in others, stretching couples that run the length of margins and prose-poems that wrap up, curl so very nicely. Langhorst’s poems are an enviable expression and exploration of structure and highly mature rhythms, and a book that would be difficult to not see on award shortlists.

No comments: