Rapture Red & Smoke Grey, Sarah Gordon
2003, Turnstone Press, 72 pages
isbn 0-88801-285-3, $12.95
if I get to the base of things, of desire, all I really want to do is sing,
and run. to sing well and loud, to run tirelessly, to be thoroughly
exhausted with good work done.
this is what I want.
to know who God is, and how he works, and what his hands and eyes
look like, and fire.
p 16, Winter in My City
Winnipeg poet Sarah Gordon’s debut collection, Rapture Red & Smoke Grey, is written in five sections of sequences: Winter in My City; Outgoing Mail, a series of postcards; Poems written mid January; Pilgrimage to Kansas City; and First Breath of Spring. A pilgrimage, between religion and stories of pioneers, Gordon’s collection is a book about searching, and the importance of the search. Where questions remain as important as the answers.
What I wonder is, despite the amount of poets currently writing and publishing in Canada, how is it that two western female poets are both making references to painter Egon Schiele? (Vancouver poet Catherine Owen did too, in her first collection, Somatic: The Life and Work of Egon Schiele, Exile, 1998.) As in the reference left in the first sequence, writing, "Today is cold and damp in the bones as I was walking downtown the / air was reaching through my jacket and sweater and I was prompted / to write an essay on Egon Schiele’s hands." (p 6, Winter in My City), continuing, "How odd to mention Vienna here, in the middle of a prairie winter / location is everything."
And then God said to me
you are made of restraint, and
unrestraint, the space that breathes
between walls that heave and buckle.
Amid the violence of the elements and the beauty of the earth, Gordon situates herself, grounds herself, and puts a flavour in the first section of her Rapture Red & Smoke Grey that resonates throughout, as the place she is in, is from, part of what she sees as she looks inward.
The second section, "Outgoing Mail, a series of postcards," is literally a series of postcards written to Christopher Pratt, Anne Carson, Michael Ondaatje, Robert Motherwell, partygoers, Jane Urquhart and Anthony Hopkins. "Firelight is wasted on / burning your mistakes." she writes to Pratt (p 23), in a short piece on striving too hard for perfection; suggesting instead, to accept it as it comes. To Montreal poet Anne Carson, she writes, "Dear Anne. I am writing in response to the Afterward you wrote for / part three of Plainwater. You are right, and I thank you for directly / addressing me." (p 24).
The third section, "Poems written mid January," is the least prose-like of the pieces in the collection, nearly ghazal-like in their execution, as each line is another opening into a further direction.
cold is made of beauty and fear
and thaw is made of aching.
the pain in your own hands,
blood surging sore in them
like yanking red ribbons.
p 35, Poems written mid January
There is a lot going on in this small collection, deceptively so, using simple language to do complex things.
on a pilgrimage everything counts, everything that happens is a kind
of omen. there are secret messages in cities, well designed in signs
and street names. today I walked down Perishing Road, heard an old
man muttering about elevators except he kept calling them Lifts and
p 49, Pilgrimage to Kansas City
Through all the searching, I would like to know what she finds, where she ends up. There is a wisdom to her lines, a keen and naive awareness of the kinds of things she’s looking for and finding along her way.
originally appeared in Grey Borders (Niagara Falls, Ontario)