Poems reverberate with isolation

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April 8, 2014

Blue Sonoma

By Jane Munro

Brick Books,

79 pages $20



Reviewed by Yvonne Blomer


            I recently heard Jane Munro speak on a panel entitled  “The Inner life of Our Words” at The Malahat Review’s WordsThaw 2014. One of the things that emerged from this panel is how literature creates an opening in its readers, or if I paraphrase Munro, who quoted Jane Hirschfield, a good poem is like a volcanic island, it creates new land, new places. I felt this new land being created, this opening or spreading, as I read Blue Sonoma.

            The book begins with “Sonoma” a poem about following a husband’s old truck down the twisting coastal road home. The poem seems to take place years after he’s lost his license, his memories, perhaps after he’s lost his life, or all at the same time. Perhaps it happens while the narrator is following him through dream and time. It sets the tone for the book up as a series of poems that exist in the real and waking world but that also explore the questions that arise from dream and meditation: “I am following/the spitting image of him/in that battered Sonoma –“ and “only the two of us on the road.” The last line resonates with the metaphor of that lonely twisting road.

            The isolation created here reverberates in all the poems, as in “Old Man Vacanas, 6,” where the narrator invites a visitor: 

My old man won’t know

the difference

between you and billy-be-damned.

Roar up the drive. Spit gravel. Blow your horn.


I am gnawing through myself.


            Dream and meditation are forces throughout the collection. Section headings like “Darkling,” “Dream Poems,” “Old Man Vacanas,” and “Sutra” place the poems in language borrowed from yogic practice, but the poems themselves are imbued with every-day speech, idioms and metaphors that ring. In the ghazal-like series “Darkling, 2”: “And this: dying is not a plot solution./ It doesn’t resolve character flaws”; which then ends on “Peeling the grape of death./ That love would feed you this.” So on multiple registers the poems enter the reader: in metaphor, with humour, with idiom, in questions.

            At WordsThaw, Munro used a metaphor of pregnancy for writing: that something is growing inside over which one has little control. This metaphor works for life, or for death, which grows in each of us. It is a good metaphor for Alzheimer’s, too.

            Often in poetry, unanswerable questions allow a poem to hang suspended. Questions that linger long after the reader, and poet, have left the poem. In “Old Man Vacanas, 1,” Munro writes, “The old man/to whom I’m married/ hits the sack again/ after breakfast.” and ends with, “Tell me, can a soul fatten up for winter?” Other questions that work like worry beads in hand and head, ask “Who’s laughing at us today?” (“Old Man Vacanas, 7”) and from “My mind is my grandchild,”: “Can my mind unlearn anxiety?”

            When I opened this book, I was prepared, knowing Munro’s work, to be brought into myself more deeply through attentive language and metaphors. I was not disappointed. More than this, the interplay between metaphor and the non-linear narrative of her Old Man’s decline into Alzheimer’s allowed for the located/dislocated, the everydayness and the profound symbolism, the questions and the experiences to resonate.


Yvonne Blomer’s third book of poems, As If A Raven (Palimpsest Press) will be launched at Russell Books at 7:30 p.m. on April 24, 2014 with Patricia Young’s Summertime Swamp Love.









{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Vivian Moreau April 19, 2014 at 7:05 am

Could you add the following event to your listings? Thanks so much.

Join poets Karen Enns, Joanna Lilley, Jane Munro, and Arleen Paré as they read from their latest works. The four poets will be at Open Space Gallery, 510 Fort St., Tuesday, April 29., 7:30 p.m. For more information go to brickbooks.ca.

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