Since discovering her work in an issue of The Antigonish Review a couple of years back [see my review of such here, and further mention here], I’ve been anticipating what Toronto poet Helen Guri would come up with as her first trade poetry collection, finally published as Match (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2011). The poems in Match are damned sharp, as Guri writes a collection of compelling poems about love and (as the back cover informs), through “the voice of the emotionally challenged modern male” and his love for his “110-pound fully operational sex doll, ordered over the internet.” Doesn't this feel like an echo or shade of that strange and compassionate Ryan Gosling film, Lars and the Real Girl (2007)? This collection reads much as a novel-in-poems, a lyric tale told in densely-packed lines exploring the relationship between the fictional Robert Brand and his artificial companion, and the relationship’s emotional turns from every possible angle. Is love any less real, here? Still, it's hard to tell sometimes if this collection is a furthering or simply a retelling/re-imagining of Gosling's own Lars. Where does light gallop in?
My brainwave is the size of an arena –
please grab a seat.
Watch the mystery run laps
through a device
composed solely of antiquated childhood games
an ancient pains:
a crescendo of dominoes
sets off a model train; conductorless,
a flashlight’s plasma siren
burrows through textbook
migraines, refracts in a rat trap
below the buzzer – which one,
Keep your ears pricked as baskets
for the unmapped sound, for the crash
landing of a tossed girl.
Let your cogs be a crowd in a wave
of plough and follow.
In a suite of three poems and introductory poem, “Apocalypse Wedding,” the sharpest pieces here are often those in which she uses the fewest words, cutting here and then here to say the same in the least. Damned sharp, as I said, but why this slew of poetry collections that keep insisting on telling us stories? Why not simply poems?
With hints of the surreal, of the fantastic, Guri’s poems turn a perspective that might sound like obsession, like madness, into something more breathtaking, and even impossible: something sounding like love, perhaps. Just listen to this, the second section of the three-part poem “RUBBER BRIDE,” a poem that begins with a quote from Louise Glück (“The beloved / lives in the head.):
People at work began to notice
my smell of must and rumpled lilac,
how my eyes were tumblers where trapped goldfish paced.
The chronic tinnitus of your shower opera
was embarrassingly loud in public places.
But when I called the city to get a permit for your removal,
they told me you’d been designated a World Heritage Site.
The tourists came with cameras, prams, ham-sandwich luncheons,
first editions of certain folk tales for signing.
Their kids playing chicken in the intermittent drip
of mood light from the windows.
I took work in maintenance –
sank my pincers into litter,
mowed the acreage with a ride-on
while you let out a feral howl
in perfect pitch with my petroleum drone.
The children flocked and scattered.
It was not long before I turned into a cat
and you flicked paper mice between the shutter slats
on fly-rods. You knit your golden hair in windsocks,
I ran into a paper bag.