Poet tackles life’s uncertainty

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June 14, 2014

The Fleece Era

Joanna Lilley

Brick Books

105 pages, $20

Reviewed by Julian Gunn

Joanna Lilley’s The Fleece Era is the discovery of Brick Books’ spring season, a first poetry collection with a subtle, shifting vision of ecological and human connection. Lilley is a transplant, raised in England and now living in the Yukon. Because of her northerly coordinates, I thought first of snow clouds and then of sheep when I read fleece. In fact, the title poem refers to that fuzzy synthetic fabric so symbolic of current environmental questions. The narrator, a lost hiker, talks to the man who’s given her a ride: “Big deal, he said, we can make / sweaters out of plastic pop / bottles, yet there are places / where it’s illegal to hang your / washing out to dry.” This question of relationship—between strangers and family members, between individuals and culture, between human beings and nature—drives the collection.

The Fleece Era is divided into four parts. Each gathers variations on the theme of relationship, which modulates from section to section. The first part, “A Riddle,” concerns family and distance—both emotional and geographical. The narrator of “Overheard” imagines herself “shouting from the shore / of my mother’s Atlantic teacup.” The next section, “Emotional Expenditure,” considers the intricately interwoven social and bodily alienation experienced by its female narrator. In complement, the third part, “At Each Exhale,” examines the latent violence of intimate connections like marriage. “Scientist” narrates a painful disconnect between partners, enacted while skiing: “How is it I’m lost / yet you’re not, although / we’re on the same blank trail.” The troubled relationships of The Fleece Era remain open-ended.

The final section, “Nobody Else Dies,” takes up the vexed relationship of human minds to the natural world. “Ten Thousand Trees” is stark about the destructive drives of even ethically committed human beings: “I didn’t know the flash / of a forest gash could mesmerize, that there could even be a lust / to witnessing the first road ever forced on feral land.” In “Earth Twin,” the collection’s closing poem, Lilley writes wryly of a scientist who theorizes that “there might be planets even more / suitable for human life than ours.” She recognizes this as a dangerous fantasy: “It takes / a day or so for me to comprehend / he was talking about Heaven.”

Across the four sections, key relationships, characters, and themes create a world that feels consistent. There is a mother and a father, sisters and a brother, a husband. Yet there is a perceptual wobble, or say a parallax, built into the language that describes the central figure of these poems. This figure is sometimes an “I,” sometimes a “she,” and sometimes a “you.” This unstable centre, surrounded by more static figures, builds a sense of self-alienation across the collection. It seems an appropriate choice given the ecological position of contemporary Canadians, whether in the Yukon or Victoria. As Lilley queries in “Earth Crack,” “What if the piece of the world / I’m on tears off?”

Julian Gunn is a Victoria poet and essayist.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Artie July 18, 2016 at 12:03 pm

06-02-09жорик-мажорик пишет: гон полнейший.понаписал он,извлечь в корневую папку.ничо не ÑÂÀ‘ƒÑÑÐ¸Ñ„ицируется.лажа полнейшая.утка -2Был ли этот ответ полезным?

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