Long-silent poet’s voice surprises

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April 2, 2013

By E. Blagrave,
Cormorant Books, 61 pages, $18

Reviewed by Isa Milman

There is a wonderful, literal, backstory to this first book of poetry by E. Blagrave, who is herself somewhat of a mystery. Thirteen of these poems were first published in one issue of The Fiddlehead in 1973, when the author was a young woman. Soon after, she disappeared from print for more than thirty years. She’s now returned, having gone full circle, with this collection.

My usual approach to poetry is visual, but this collection came in through my ears. What a happy surprise. I heard E.’s young voice, and her mature voice, but couldn’t always distinguish which voice was speaking. Another happy surprise. Her opening poem rang in like a folk song, with lyrics delicate yet sharp and moody, and set the stage for what was to come. Reading her book, I conjured Jethro Tull, Judy Collins, and Sting in his early days, singing about the golden sun and fields of barley. He was fairer than corn growing/ and brighter by far than the dawn. I found myself moving from past to present, not sure which tense to dwell in.

As in the heady heart-break of the best folk songs, love is finely rendered in these poems, but slippery, not easy to hold. E. points to a laburnum’s flowery cascade and tells us:

our love is left to time,
to braid the yellow clusters up;
to give to me what isn’t mine.

E. extends her hand and invites us to saddle up for a ride, to join her in a meadow, by a lake, or to lie down with her in her great-grandfather’s orchard, and observe the rows of apple trees: We take comfort in such precision. It gives us an inkling of our situation.

And such is our situation. Joy is the natural world, but also uneasiness in its frightening fragility. The man-made world is less secure, and often a source of discomfort. In “You are So Alone” . . . the buildings are chained/and have in them lonely places. Better to lie in the orchard.

I appreciate her bijou poems, so spare, so evocative:

Here lie the agencies
.         of my heart:
The still lake
.         and small fish
       simmering therein,
the sun in my fist,
the drowned world
and all that spins.

Toward the close of her collection, E. prepares us for winter with the beauty of


The little tree
was butter-yellow,
was fall.
Fall still graced my window.
After a while the leaves
turned black at the edges
like a blighted rose,
and frost was on the roofs
in the morning.
Then the leaves fell
and winter closed the door.

The record has stopped spinning on the turntable. I pick up E.’s volume and listen again. It’s even better the second time around.

Isa Milman is a poet and visual artist who has called Victoria home for the last sixteen years. Her first two poetry collections have each won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Poetry. Her new collection, Something Small to Carry Home, was recently released.



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