Wednesday, April 04, 2012

This Way, Lise Downe


In the dusk of a November evening
somewhere in the mid-seventeenth century
nothing is concealed or conveyed.
There is, simply
a concentration of sunflowers.

As the world turns, they turn
from pathos to persuasion
guided by the radiant light.

Two fresh puddles insert themselves
and are read as a dark eclipse.
Nothing hinders them from soaking through.

Perhaps a fish detects them before disappearing
its far-off murmur a mutter now
sounding something like an inscription
on a Japanese fan by Totki Baigai:

“Outside the city walls there’s an odd fish.
I don’t know its name.”
I’ve long been enraptured with the quiet confidence of Toronto poet Lise Downe’s poems, and feel rewarded in my patience through the publication of her long-awaited fourth trade poetry collection, This Way (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2011). Downe is a poet of big ideas and phrases, exploring the possibilities that poems allow in such small spaces they become impossibly large. This Way follows her collections, Disturbances of Progress (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2002), The Soft Signature (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 1996) and A Velvet Increase of Curiosity (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 1992), each carefully and thoughtfully constructed collections of sharp, smart poems. The poems in This Way create not a signpost to a single direction but a series of directions, and possibilities in ways that make Downe seem a meditational language poet, blending considerations that aren’t often intertwined. Structured with three sections and opening poem, “THE INFLUENCE OF COMPLETE DARKNESS,” the second section, “Small Mysteries” writes a sequence that seems to articulate the collection as a whole:
The volatile contents itself

like a sphere with the world inside.
One understands immediately
what the space allows.

There is no other word for it.
This novelty notwithstanding
all the conformity that was needed

to show that it, too, is continuous.
What very much compels about this collection, and Downe’s work, overall, is in how the book is constructed, from the single poem opener, to a sequence of fragments to a section of individual poems, to close with a sequence of haiku-like three-lined koans, resonating like packed bits of wisdom disguised as fragments, disguised as knowledge.
You can’t seriously expect that a story
based on something overheard might serve
as a point of departure. Oh evening, speak.

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