Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sue Sinclair's Breaker

I felt compelled to read her poetry after hearing Sinclair give a paper on Jan Zwicky this past spring in Fredericton. Handy that Kitty Lewis, the apparently indefatigable general manager of Brick Books, just "happened" to be there with copies of Sue's books available. And was flexible about invoicing me. Kitty is a wonderful advocate not only for Brick authors but for Canadian writing in general, an inspiring gem in our midst.

Anyway, on to Breaker which I've savoured over the past few months. The collection overall presents a universe of overwhelming beauty, the wonder at it always tinged with melancholy? resignation? almost, but not quite, the "surrender" of the first poem. Not quite, I say, because there is also, throughout, "the momentary triumph of the present." Still, wonder grapples throughout with loneliness, and the lone self under a night sky, rain, astronomical imagery prevail. Here, for example, a representative passage from "Dawn till Dusk": "Things rise up . in their dignity / and will spend the rest of the day / sinking back / as our minds start to lag / behind the visible, unable / to keep up with the ever-receding / horizon of what-is."

This comment on suburban bungalows in "Suburbs" mesmerizes me with its compassionate personification of the 20th-century blight that nonetheless houses so many hopes and dreams, its reining-in of an instinctive scorn:
"Vinyl-sided, slow-witted,
they insist they didn't mean for this to happen,
this sameness, shackled to their own kind
like cattle transported slowly nowhere
in a broken-down truck. This is what happened to them,
not what they are. And they know the privilege
of even this adequate existence. Ashamed,
they lower their heads as children do
who think they have done something wrong
in being born. You too bow your head,
wish you could divest yourself of scorn."

Another persistent, compelling image throughout the collection is that of a sinking into the ground, returning or digging down. These lines from "Homecoming" combine the pitting of lone self against night, of a star-filled universe, and of the move downward into earth:
"And when the sun fades and quiet descends, you're still there,
have outlasted the day's blunt heat. A thin armour of insects glitters
overhead as you linger on the porch, putting off sleep
like another task. The day is long but your mind is longer.
The night is deep but your mind is deeper. Stars creep over the horizon;
a fertile darkness sinks into the ground"

Many more images linger, many more poems for you to wander through and wonder with should you pick up this rewarding volume. As always, let me know if you do.


  1. Wow. I am going to have to find that. Reading poetry is something I have to set aside time to do - time to think rather than just chew through (as I tend to with novels). This is just beautiful.

  2. These are just beautiful and I think I shall have to find a copy as well. I love reading poetry as it forces one to slow down, reflect and absorb.

    Admit I was taken aback by that first poem though as I am about to move to cookie-cutter sameness in terms of the external face my home shall present to the world, exactly the kind of place I despised as a youth. I think it is critical to hold onto those dreams, making necessary concessions in order to hold on to what is precious.

  3. So happy to hear you both enjoyed Sinclair's poetry -- if you do decide to find copies and have trouble doing so outside Canada, contact Brick Books directly. The General Manager, Kitty Lewis, is soooo helpful! They also have a Facebook presence (and are on Twitter).
    I agree that poetry really demands a different kind of time and attention. It gives it back differently as well, doesn't it? I like to carry a copy in my bag, just a slim volume, and grab a poem in a line-up or in transit.
    Mardel, I hope you didn't find that poem hurtful. I think there's a keen awareness of the kinds of tensions these homes represent -- some of the problems that judging from the outside can yield. I know you will make a wonderful home that suits you and your loved ones best at this stage of your life.

  4. Actually, no I didn't find it hurtful, but it gave me pause. Sinclair actually taps into some of the issues I have been struggling with. It might all become a blog post someday, once I work it out in my own head.

  5. Mardel, when I get a minute, I'll copy out the poem for you and e-mail it so you can read that passage in context.
    If you get to blogpost stage, I know it will be interesting -- but I also know what you said in a recent post about sometimes letting go of undeveloped ideas that never made it to the screen, so I won't hold you to it. ;-)

  6. I have just ordered a copy from my local bookshop - look forward to it arriving.

  7. Tiffany: You've made my day -- I feel like a successful poetry evangelist! ;-) We'll have to chat about the collection when you get it.

  8. I ordered it also, and it is in fact here, but I have had to force myself not to look at it until I finish reading Oryx and Crake, and I'm limiting my reading time at the moment as it is all to easy to get lost.

  9. Mardel: So happy I'll be able to hear what you think of Sinclair's collection. I can absolutely understand why you're trying to resist the reading right now. Given what you have to do, that's an awfully tempting rabbit hole . . .