The Telegram (St. John's)
Two poetry selections to feast our eyes on
Andreae Callanan’s collection of 32 poems —“The Debt” — is artfully fronted with iterations of Diana Daly’s Expressionistic “Water Carrier.” Her work inside, biographical and attuned to both and the wild and the domestic, is supple, muscular and germane.
The formats range from dense prose-y blocks to one or two word sprinklings down a page. She often pitches one word from sentence to sentence or stanza to stanza, providing continuity and unexpected links. Her word choice is precise and the lines are packed with apt surprises.
In “Crown” the regal symbol rolls through a dozen pages, where Queen Elizabeth I’s charter to Sir Walter Raleigh, read out by Prince Charles during his 1983 visit to St. John fluidly shifts to Callanan’s youth and cohort, “used-book shoplifters, record-store hangers-on in torn jeans and scuffed Army-navy boots.”
Words and phrases — “colony,” “guts for garters” — tie one section to another.
Callanan can cast any object in unexpected light. I read a fair bit of poetry and I don’t think I’ve ever read a poem about mittens: “they slip / from our cold-pinched wrists, stitches caked / with small white bullets, crystals compacted / to something like ice.” Same with the cluster and clutter of a four-child family, depicted by its absence in “Mantel” (inspired, like several other pieces, by an artwork, here by Kym Greeley): “No months-old greeting cards / no loot bags emptied of all the best loot / no framed photos, no unframed photos …”
Her lens transforms the quotidian, including city council roadwork, Tim Hortons coffee, fashion mishaps (“The infinity dress was a lie, and we all bought it.”) Her attention alights again and again on her children, and the work and care of family, with pre-dawn awakenings, walks to school, making jam from gathered berries. All enacted mindfully: as the titular poem posits, “we are all debtors here, beholden / to this jagged place for every lungful / of spruce-laced salted air, each slap / of ocean blasting rock and boat, dock / and ankle. Each berry-bucket filled / begs something in return.”
Returning to those mittens — I think Callanan’s work (like her partner Mark Callanan’s) is capable of sneaking up on and appealing to people who “don’t like” poetry.
Laurie Brinklow’s writing, between the covers of Adam Young’s gamesome “Shed Party,” is divided into five sections, including “The Circumscribed Geography of Home,” “An Island Storybook” and “How to Paint an Island,” each with four to six poems.
“My island’s the house I sleep in at night” opens with her essay “How Small An Island Do You Need?”
As a child her home was a travel trailer, moving where her dad’s construction work took the family.
“By the end of grade one, I had seen the inside of four schools; by grade twelve, I had been to nineteen.”
They also spent some time on Vancouver Island, a resonant memory, and later as a young adult she settled in P.E.I., and moreover then found employment at P.E.I.’S Institute of Island Studies, subsequently visiting “Iceland, the Faroe Islands, the Isle of Man, the land Islands, Cape Breton Island, and Newfoundland.”
All the poems are written “for” someone, and an endnote adds a short biographical sketch of the dedicatee — John Cameron retired from social ecology, Bernice Morgan’s “Random Passage” was adapted into a TV serial, Doug House is a sociologist.
These poems are not detached from culture, economics or geography.
For example, a poem dedicated to Don Mckay, “Rock/ Shift,” opens with a quote from the Newfoundland and Labrador: Traveller’s Guide to Geology: “The oldest continental rocks in Newfoundland and Labrador are 3,800 million years old, but the oldest rocks in the ocean are only 150 million years old.”
It notes Mckay is a “member of the clan comefrom-away” and “On Newfoundland, everything is from away / Even the rock that comes from Gondwana, Avalonia, Laurentia / all jammed together to make this isle / stuck out in the Labrador Current.”
The Lisa in “Lisa’s Sense of Water” is author Lisa Moore: “North Atlantic swells pound her senses / how the sea works frightens her / the power, the mystery / the unimaginability of eighty-four men / dying out there with nothing // But she takes it as it is …”
Another piece, “That Thing,” is for Michael Crummey: “If Newfoundland were a thing / you’d give it to me / You’re just that kind of guy …You’d give me what an islander feels like / not so much the sense of water / but what the water does / and what the water brings / fish and driftwood, bodies and weather / that urge to come home / to be home / that thing …”
Rangy stuff, although her introductory personal composition might be the part that most strikes home.