Monday, April 22, 2013

Jacqueline Turner, The Ends of the Earth


11 and raining
and that seems right
a grey green anyone
could fuck with as lush
but foreboding one
clunk where a thought
drops or never forms
through this incessant
interruption of narrative
follow the emotional
trajectory to see what
hurts head held
under lightly dripping
water that will keep
falling until the call
is dropped.

The Ends of the Earth (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2013) is Vancouver poet Jacqueline Turner’s fourth poetry collection, all of which have been published by ECW Press – Into the Fold (2000), Careful (2003) and Seven Into Even (2006) [see my review of such here]. In The Ends of the Earth [see my review of the earlier chapbook version here], Turner opens by exploring ideas of the apocalypse in myth and popular media, before ending the collection with a shift of the title metaphor, from disaster to geographical ends, writing to coincide with the period she was artist-in-residence at Gorge Cottage in Launceston, Tasmania. The shifts are subtle, and the geographical “ends” are introduced as a sly, subtle background as the collection opens, becoming more obvious through sprinkled references and the title section, which closes the book. It’s as though the collection starts with one idea, only to begrudgingly admit by the end that an end can also be a beginning. Certainly, there is much to be pessimistic about, and Turner writes of castaways, monuments, rebuilt/overbuilt cities and Vancouver geographies, in a far more lyric (and less ironic) way than Toronto poet Steve McOrmond’s The Good News About Armageddon (London ON: Brick Books, 2010). In the poem “INTEGRATED ABSENCES,” she writes, “Figure 2: Who would go to the ends of the earth for you/us now?”

7. Monument: Times Square, New York

I know I didn’t raise you perfectly, didn’t even
try sometimes: let you cry a second too long
didn’t listen at the right time to stories
about boys arranging fights, I didn’t argue
with teachers enough didn’t sign you up
for the right activities on time maybe missing
what you could have been playing a violin
a black turtleneck sweater living in New York
your girlfriend a flautist in the row ahead
I want to say what’s between us is wood
like Rich said with a gift for burning
want to bring the contradiction into language
to say I am near and you are far and I’m also
far and so on: I want to crimp that
transparent thread, but I can’t break it
I want mountains for you, deep deep snow
while my back sinks into sand on the beach
transposing climates to play out this slow turn

The book opens with a reference to a baby, “wait for a baby to be / born around the other / side of the world wonder / at rain outside the window” (“11 – 11 – 11”), a thread that continues throughout the collection, referencing boys, babies and other small children, such as the poem “Seven Billionth Baby Born Today: October 31, 2011.” Through the repeated references to children, the pessimism becomes more active, more dire, as though contemplating some grand contemporary and future failure, affecting them far more than the narrator him/herself.

Turner, throughout her published poetry collections, appears to favour both the poetic sequence and the book as her unit of composition, as well as an exploration of the prose poem, all of which exist in this newest work. Her poems exist as single sentence-thoughts, with each poem composed as a single stanza or a single breath, continuous and sometimes breathless, often accumulating into longer sequences. In the section/sequence “They Lie About The Weather,” Turner composes a series of poems, most of which include the phrase “at the end of the day,” wrapping a handful of poems each around the same line. Utilized as a kind of foundation to ground each piece, Turner discusses various examples of construction throughout Vancouver (“i could watch you rotate all day / among the cities i love”), environmental sustainability, and climate failings, such as in the poem “CONTEMPLATIVE,” ending with “your deep red makes the sky what it is / grey exists and this is what we make of it / your hand reaches in and levels a day upward.” Some of the most interesting and compelling work in the collection exists in the “Castaway” prose sequence near the end of the book, written more lyric than other pieces, epistolary pieces for sailors and travel:

2. Castaway

dear sailor every night the stars speak of you. the north star seems particularly infatuated with your image and whispers adagio as salty spray hits your worn back. a moment here is eternity light folds into waves and this world is rebuilt second by second, an ephemeral mirage. the tissue of our connection floats on the wind, a lost kite that may some day be returned to its flyer. i have cast out many strands, dear sailor, i have told the stars this story.

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