The poems in Ken Smith’s collection, Milk cans & cornflowers, show a love of language that rises above workmanlike prose. The author lets readers experience walks along the St. Lawrence River; shares some of his past, points out striking objects or phenomena, and acknowledges the importance of family, including the “family” of great poets and writers of the past.
The music of the poems is suffused by a nuance of idiosyncrasies that leaves one having to learn how to read them, stopping and starting occasionally. But these reveal themselves as integral to the themes. For instance, there’s a conspicuous absence of periods.
In what may be in the voice of the Coronavirus talking to the poet, she writes in “Plague’s Monologue,”: “I erased the world so nothing can find it…” and concludes the piece, “…there is no limit to my appetite, my lust, my zeal for emptiness. But I know you—and you have kept a transcript of the disappearance.”
Poetry is this ability to transcend, to cross through the masks that feed the comedy, living bulimically on illusions; it is looking beyond what appears, entering the shadow, listening to the unspeakable until the original silence while keeping the wound always open because we need to be there, close to the blade,/ at the mercy of pain, letting that blood, which is life, flow. Hence, bleeding as an opening, as the only possibility of existence.
This system of imagery is woven with religious associations of annunciation or resurrection, but with an innocent freshness that removes too much knowingness or didactic artifice. The quote on the back cover is Proust’s observation that the real voyage of discovery is not travelling but seeing newly. One should observe at this point that to see something as if for the first time is not the same as seeing it once again differently, and that these two things have a separate poetic function.
Haibun is the perfect form for these reflections, combining prose and poetry to create a work that is both descriptive/educational and deeply intimate. Armstrong has replaced the traditional Haiku of Haibun with the Korean Sijo which allows for double the line length and extra syllables, with a focus on the rich nature of the spaces he’s inhabiting. The result is quite beautiful, inviting the reader to join in both the descriptive amble and the poetic pauses of the Sijo creating a space for connection.
It is interesting to note the variety of styles that the poet utilises in this collection. Some of the poems are “persona” poems like one titled “Akhenaten to Smenkhkare” in which the speaker takes the identity of the Pharoah, some are descriptive, and others in narrative mode, always utilising a good range of literary techniques and poetic devices. Some of the poems are made of simple lines but loaded with meaning.
In each of the five sections of the collection, she points to the limits of our control—as the title suggests, whoever we think we are, the future will see us differently. Yet, Sajé encourages these difficult conversations because through language we have the chance of being heard, and for better or worse, the reassurance that we belong to the world.
Lipman’s poetic style is obviously drawn from his world travel and experiences interviewing different people, seeking new adventures, and gaining an intimate knowledge of wide-ranging cultures and beliefs. This has given a unique perspective to his poems.
It is a book of personal revelations and truths, some raw and shocking that are intimate to the core. It is a book about women contemplating their fate in what still seems to be a man’s world. It is a book about loss of self in a country that was a coloniser of ancestors. It is the feeling of not knowing who you are and where to hide.