Warning: review may contain traces of bitterness.
Erin Mouré’s book of poems, O Cadoiro (Anansi), is seductive in its physical beauty (kudos to the designer) and in the great romance of the verse, which reminded me of the infamously passionate Letters of a Portuguese Nun, a collection of letters that set Paris afire when it was published in 1669. These poems are a tribute to lyrical poetry, which is a distant cousin of a form that most poetry readers are familiar with, called the lyrical narrative: poems with beginnings, middles and ends; fulcrums. These are capsular stories. But most of Mouré’s poetry demands a certain amount of cerebral calisthenics, and despite the seductive quality of these poems, I found myself clawing through O Cadoiro. As my crampons and ice axe laid serrated steel into convoluted verse and then stanza, I wondered: what happened to my interpreter? How did I end up in a landscape of poems written in French, English, Portuguese and Galician? How could I reach page 68 and still not know where I was, or what the heck was going on? Clarity, I hoped, would be found in the postscript. No luck there. So during après-poem, with g & t in hand, I inserted a few lines into Google translator, and the result was not unlike the contents of O Cadoiro: e went non can deny alguen makes me assy to walk.
Still feeling crabby, I picked up Tom Wayman’s High Speed Through Shoaling Water (Harbour). Wayman, bless his poetic heart, uses clear images and familiar structure. His poems explore the poet as nature, the poet in nature, and the relationship between human and nature. And, whether or not it is intentional, the theme of pain recurs again and again, physical and/or emotional, and the narrator (as nature or human) is both the source and the sufferer of pain. Wayman’s poems are easy to read and enjoyable, and the section called “Portrait of Myself as a Cloud” made me wonder just what he is up to out there in the woods of southwestern B.C. I even paused to consider the poems further. But once again I wondered: what exactly is he talking about?
Mouré is a translator, of no doubt supreme intelligence, and Wayman teaches at the University of Calgary. Maybe the super-smart should stop writing poetry; if they did, words like declivities might disappear from verse, even though these stellar terms are good for Scrabble and the Sunday crossword in the New York Times. While I love rediscovering words in poetry, I’m getting tired of poems that leave me feeling confused.