Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Watermarks, Joanne Page

Saved By

In BC four hundred and something he sets forth
from Thurium with the notebook that will become
his little-known tenth History. He goes upriver
to a confusion of stopped tributary streams, and people,
a dwarf race dressed in skins who walk on crytal.
Their ways, he reports, are cloaked, their worship
hidden. From the sky white dust falls without end.
Herodotus is not amazed, merely cold. He leaves,
a struck bell peals in the valley. He will send
no word to Pericles of such bleakness. (A Brief History of Snow)

In her third poetry collection, Watermarks (Pedlar Press, 2008), Kingston writer Joanne Page seems to be working at a far higher rate than the gap between her first, The River & The Lake (Quarry Press, 1993), and her second, Persuasion for a Mathematician (Pedlar Press, 2003). Watermarks works a continuation of some of the themes brought out in her previous, writing out "dialogues" and "codex" in her Persuasion, again working through other voices, journal entries, lyrics histories and long expanses of sequential works, from pieces such as "A Brief History of Snow," "Sir John A. Macdonald's Last Season," or the entire section, "From the Hitherto Unpublished Journals of Miss Byrdie T., Inveterate Traveller and Champion of Lost Causes." Usually a poetry that plays with historical characters falls quickly and easily into a remarkable tedium, reworking and repeating what has already been said, but Page's poems reveal a wonderful freshness, as the exception that almost proves the rule.

The Cellular Memory
of Paint:

a painter's hand,
the painter's touch.

Brush breath on the pear
burns it gold

advancing the glowing shapes
by saturation,

laying white into the lily
tiny furrows of luster

through the underpainting
oyster shells, burrs of light.

Sipped edge of stone
point, point, weight and heft.

Behind, beneath
the many varnished layers

darker deeper
richest hyacinth.

Its assertion:
immortal bose and stone
and flower outlive us,
pigment's ever after.

There is something about Page's poetry that comes quietly and unexpectedly out of left field, a grace and maturity that can only come from a patience borne through years of experience. A watermark is what remains hidden, woven invisible in the sheet of what else, and Page's poetry seems exactly that, hidden below the layers of other poetries currently being written in Canada, unable to exist without, but unable to be seen by the untrained eye.

The long winter arrives early and stays late.
For weeks no one remembers seeing the sun.
Or stars at night. Hail or sleet or driving snow
Obscures the sky. Snow lays itself down in
Archaeological layers over the mica mines
Near Sydenham and lockmaster's house
At Kingston Mills. Near Jones Falls it stops up
the blacksmith's stack filling the forge with smoke.
The lake freezes to unusual depth giving off
Detonations in the dark. Ice throws up its glittering
Wall along the waterfront. Snow heaps itself
Halfway up doors and first floor windows
Until the city seems to sink into the white earth,
The spires of St. Mary's and St. George's last to go. (Sir John A. Macdonald's Last Season)

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