Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sonnet L'Abbé's killarnoe

A few years ago, I gave (apparently) Toronto poet Sonnet L'Abbé's first poetry collection A Strange Relief (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2001) a hard time in my omnibus review in The Globe & Mail, saying that the poems needed a few more years of living before they were ready to exist in a book. Given that, I thought it would only be fair to go through her sophomore collection, killarnoe (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2007); how can I claim she needs more time without following through, to see if it made any difference?

In terms of waiting between books, six years is roughly a good wait, if you're going to have anything more than two or three; moving up to ten or more becomes a whole different kind of writing, and can enter a poet into a whole other phase or period of their work, such as John Newlove in the 1970s, or Monty Reid after his Flat Side came out in 1998; for Sonnet L'Abbé, her writing has matured, and seem to be moving into directions that McClelland & Stewart poets don’t normally move, writing out language shapes and poems that have echoes of authors more associated with Coach House than with the publisher of poets such as Don McKay and Lorna Crozier.


La, la, la.
Don't listen, hon.
Lullaby lulls.

La, la, la
little one.
Lullaby unswerves.

La, la, la
Lullaby cusps.

La, la, la,
my love.
Lullaby realiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings.

Even with that, I think if she is going to attempt this kind of work, she needs to get a lot further inside other writers who have worked with the same, before any of her experiments in this direction will work. Still, most of what she is working here simply aren’t poems I can have any claim to talk about with any real detail, moving outside and beyond the scope of where I find a poem to be interesting, or as she moves toward but is not quite catching. I do think she is actually leaning in a couple of interesting directions (and some of her experiments read as extremely frustrating, watching her fumble around helpless with very interesting materials), as even evidenced from her quotes from Anne Carson, Alice Walker and John Thompson, in poems embracing sound and rhythmic work and working with repetition, as well as her movement into more overt political poems, which very few Canadian writers have managed to do in any useful kind of way, save perhaps for George Elliott Clarke, Roger Farr and a couple of others. This is less a matter of her not learning (I think she has learned many things), but instead threading beyond the scope of my structural interest in poems, and therefore beyond the scope of my reading interest (what I am saying here is, I am not qualified to speak). Still, what I will give her very much credit for is the first poem in the collection (she has learned much from that John Thompson, who was kind enough to leave Canadian poetry the ghazal before he left us too early), that I leave with you here.


I was born looking for.
Somehow I came here.

I followed the promise
of collisions, cubisms,

to a pronged, arboreal truth
not strung out from spools

of old syntax. An insight
outside the senses. A tasted

image. A colour heard.
Not for comfort.

Okay, for a kind of comfort.
For a synesthesia. Something

amniotic. A memory before form,
the infinite inside the integral.

How else can I put it?
For the spirit prism, written.

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