Saturday, November 04, 2006

Jacqueline Turner's Seven into Even

Easily the most effective of her three poetry collections is Vancouver writer and editor Jacqueline Turner's Seven Into Even (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2006), after her previous ECW Press collections Into the Fold (2000) and Careful (2003) [see my review of such here]. Wonderfully lush and lyric while at the same time working against that lyric, the poems in Seven Into Even rework Edmund Spencer's The Faerie Queene into contemporary settings. It's interesting how, no matter how far we might move, the earlier works can't help but be referenced, and completely reworked, as (for example) New York poet Lisa Jarnot recently reworked The Illiad [see my note on such here], Vancouver writer George Bowering reworked Duino Elegies in his Kerrisdale Elegies (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1986), and Vancouver poet Daphne Marlatt reworked The Snow Queen in her collection Frames (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1969). In Turner's Seven Into Even, her connections and sections are accumulative, working the lyric prose line in layers, working and reworking her peripheries of language and geography, writing her domestic blisters and bliss through Vancouver, Calgary and Australian marks.


your creamy thighs
your chocolate éclair
smeared sweet
back of my throat

just can't get enough of just can't get enough of just can't get enough
ginger stings the back of my throat chocolate presses between my
tongue and the roof of my mouth a crisp glass of thick red wine drips
and gushes or a cold pot of beer my lips on a hot day sizzles crackles
but goes down smooth eventually and another and another and anoth-
er raspberry vodka and muddled lime mmmm or cheese dripping
thickly off the edges of crackers whipped cream straight out of the
aerosol can suffocating slightly the tip of my nose or the dark hit of
coffee with a milky tinge zing to stay awake with all night long (Book 4)

Turner's Seven Into Even, writing seven numbered sections plus three (making it an even number), works ten sections, writing from "Book 1" to "Book 4" (writing the seven deadly sins, as above), "Book 5" writing the days of the week, to "Book 7 (Or Mutability)," to the final three sections, writing her coastal regions as "Bay" (including "Horseshoe," "Lions" and "English"), "Queen(e)sland" and her "History of Sexuality." Turner's "Queen(e)sland" references her time in Brisbane, Australia as Queensland's inaugural poet-in-residence at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.

A Brisbane Poem

down is a hazy light
I don't always get to see
suffuse with the blush on the palms
of the sun slowly rising
here on the other side of the earth
earlier the southern cross
emerged as clouds pushed past
hello scorpio's vivid immensity
across a dark sky rushing
along the river
to get to where we always end up
not home, but welcome
not altogether free, but wanting
to capture what's in front of us
that will someday be far away
leaning up into a different night sky
a glimpse back
arms out spinning

Balancing the domestic and linguistic collisions has been a theme throughout Turner's published work, writing her immediate world of children and Vancouver streets (her editing work with Meredith Quartermain on The News also reflects this consideration of the local), a thread that also works through the poems in this collection. What I like about the progression of her writing is the mix of lyrical sensuality, her writing sexuality and the domestic (including children) as not competing or conflicting ideas, and her mix of narrative and language collusions, working a territory that very few have managed to work or work so well, including Toronto poet Margaret Christakos [see my piece on her here] or New York poet Rachel Zucker [see my note on her here].

Things Present

you can finally attend to it outside the neighbourhood feeds the crows what
looks like catfood and the biggest joke is that one can call the kids for
lunch through the overgrown green or from atop the flat mossy roof
where once there were cottages one no ferry no impending box
destroying overpass: a jewel a gem that now features the largest num-
ber of divorced people in the whole area so much so that people won-
dered if you were moving on your own there your husband is he mov-
ing too (Book 2)

Writing The Faerie Queene as a guideline, Turner manages the strongest of her three collections in her Seven Into Even, writing her lyrical thrust through a history and geography of ideas that balance nicely between reduction and expansion in her suite of ten lyric sequences. Also, every so often I find myself writing on how the prose poem is a rarity in contemporary Canadian writing, something I've been saying more and more often when referring to new writing, whether Turner or Sina Queyras [see my note on her here], Nicole Markotić, Bruce Whiteman [see my note on him here] and just so many others; is this something I should finally admit not only happens, but has become prevalent?


another cosmopolitan
creates equilibrium
in its natural state
remember your membership
badge affix it here and here
band together remember
bar stools tip easily
subjectivity gets blurry
wow your makeup
shimmers with obligation
you've accumulated
quite a collection your
freshly waxed legs shine
you'd be at home everywhere
pink inhabits an urban experience
again when implications
coincide or subside
up your tree lined street (Book 6)

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