Sunday, June 12, 2016

Alice Burdick, Book of Short Sentences

The fact of motherhood, the fact of children, the body that became multiple. There was the muscle that begat muscles, the sensitive skin and drained surface. Core too. Milk breath and pores constrained, relax. Of the heart. I am not interested in fashion, but I wanted to change myself. I can pick up the ceiling that just fell down. But you can too. Don’t give me that doobie-doobie something. (“All the voices do it”)

Nova Scotia poet and bookseller Alice Burdick’s fourth trade poetry collection is Book of Short Sentences (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2016), following her prior collections Simple Master (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2002), Flutter (Mansfield Press, 2008) and Holler (Mansfield Press, 2012). Set in three untitled sections of short, surreal lyrics, as well as the occasional prose poem, Burdick’s Book of Short Sentences, part of Stuart Ross’ ongoing editorial work through Mansfield Press, is a book thick with curiosity, “deeply imbued with the landscape of Nova Scotia’s south shore, as well as her own inner landscape, and the landscape of family.” Hers are poems that attempt to comprehend matters both internal and external, resulting in a variety of unexpected connections—from the surreal to the concrete, personal to cultural, spiritual to the mundane—as she ends the three-stanza poem “Annoyance chart,” writing: “The things I don’t know exist / could fill books, and a magazine— / and they do, it does—it’s a mail-order / situation to purchase eternal necessities.”

The poems in Book of Short Sentences focus on small, often personal concerns, of head, heart and hearth, composing immediate pieces from an ongoing, internal dialogue. Elements of some of those internal dialogues are reminiscent of Ottawa poet Pearl Pirie’s own surreal, thought-journeys, as she writes to open the poem “Entropy”: “We are stuck with our old brains, / these grey globes that know / we can’t learn anything new / without breaking the old brain’s flow.” Burdick’s “short sentences” carry an enormous weight, and her poems in this collection are contemplative, thoughtful and slow, and even, occasionally, appearing without a specific direction in mind (but comfortably, and even purposefully, so), allowing for the potential for incredible discovery. Some poems, such as “Holy smoke” and “Smoke day” are more overt in giving the sense of having been composed while walking the landscape of her Nova Scotia, akin to Meredith Quartermain’s west coast walking poems, Vancouver Walking (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2005), but with less external history than internal landscape:

Smoke day

Each smoke trail says
the day was here,
it was alive and it burnt.
There’s this visual thing,
What you like to call a memory.
rock digs into the back of my ankle.
One day the books will close
and show their ideas
in an explicit way.
Water over paper
Melts the paper.
rocks scrape it up into filaments
of ideas—good grief is the expression—
grief as the good gasp,
last eyes open.

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