Sunday, June 12, 2011

Jane Munro, Active Pass


We live where night seeps straight down—
wine on the wicks of stars.

A rock carved by waves and warmed by sun
that's easy to sit in. A lap. A body to lean on.

I'm a little deafened by the constant breaking
of the ocean. Change, change, change—

but what has it learned? Throwing itself against stones.
Rounding them up. Scotch bottle broken and rolling.

My father softened as beach glass—
ground down.
The first and title section of Vancouver Island poet Jane Munro's Active Pass (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2010), writes of the pass itself, with the twenty-one ghazal-section offering up the fact that “Midway on its crossing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, the ferry enters Active Pass, a scenic but dangerous strait where visibility is limited, currents vigorous, and vessels alter course.” For the author of poetry collections Daughters (Fredericton NB: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1982), The Trees Just Moved Into A Season Of Other Shapes (Kingston ON: Quarry Press, 1986), Grief Notes & Animal Dreams (London ON: Brick Books, 1995) and Point No Point (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2006), I would say the sequence does just that, altering course, pitching and sailing into ghazal-turns, marking clear paths across a range of waters, and easily the strongest section in the collection as a whole. I'm always surprised the BC Ferries don't inspire more poems than they seem to, guilty of more than a few myself, scattered throughout various poetry collections over the years.

Going home with five plastic bags of chicken shit
for the garden we're starting from scratch.

Going home—up the gravel drive beyond street lights,
municipal water, or garbage collection.

Mother read Bahá'í texts while smoking on the toilet.
Toyota station wagon's my confessional.

After little islands, the big one. I can smell the Pacific.
Feel my cheek on your chest.
In three sections—“Active Pass,” “Mary Pratt: Illuminations” and “Nearer Prayer than Story”—Munro appears strongest and most effective with less description and more observation, letting the language of the pieces steer the course of sharp lines. And with so many pieces over the years of poets writing pieces on visual art, so much ground has already been covered that it becomes difficult to simply be capable, the “Mary Pratt: Illuminations” reminding of the poems by the late Ottawa poet Diana Brebner, her “Eleven Paintings by Mary Pratt,” winner of the CBC Literary Award for Poetry, and later included in The Golden Lotus (Netherlandic Press, 1993). Is it enough to simply describe? Munro does more than that, using Pratt's work to illuminate something further, but somehow, this seems a weaker section in an otherwise compelling lyric. Again, so many working currently within the lyric; just what else, I wonder, is the lyric capable of that we haven't yet seen, or even dealt with?
You have no name and no form

The old wear thin.
It's possible
to see through him
into the blue his eyes frame
and let into the room.

He's light now—
a garden rake left leaning
against a trestle table. “I'd have liked
a last conversation...”

He's taking long strides
with the wind across grassland, catching up
to a further figure—
his heart bounding ahead.
When his friend notices and turns to wave,
he waves back.
The rolling plain is dancing.

1 comment:

sandra said...

In heaven you and I will live next door -
A cul de sac, with trees -

-Johanna Skibsrud, Late Nights.....