Love of language shines in poet’s fifth collection

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September 29, 2014

House Made of Rain

By Pamela Porter

Ronsdale Press

98 pages, $15.95

Reviewed by Candace Fertile

House Made of Rain is Pamela Porter’s fifth collection of poetry for adults in five years, and the subject and style of most of the book will be familiar to her readers. Pervaded by religious imagery, these poems grapple with abandonment and absence. Sadness and emptiness are hallmarks of Porter’s works, and I was often overwhelmed by the sense of disconnect the speaker has in many of the poems about human relationships.

In Late Moon (2013), Porter, a Vancouver Island resident, dealt with the mystery of her father. In this new collection, that concern continues, and perhaps gets a bit repetitive. One can understand why Porter focuses on her paternity, but it’s not a concern most readers will share.

This latest collection has three parts: the first is a long sequence of 29 numbered poems under the title “Atonement.” These poems are replete with guilt and a religious fervour. The imagery is largely Christian, and Porter ties the question of a father with that of The Father. Readers with a strong connection to Christianity will find rewards although at times the language is forced: “when the angels cried their coyote cries,” for example, leaps off the page but not in a good way. The other imagery is typical of Porter’s work: animals, plants, and light. And while Porter is committed to the lyric, she breaks that approach with the twentieth piece, a prose narrative about a girl whose father abandons her. The switch in approach is disruptive; this piece may have been better placed at the beginning or the end of “Atonement.”

The second section of the book is comprised of 17 titled poems of a length between one and three pages. Sometimes the page breaks separate the poems into distinct parts although the white space at the bottom of the page often fooled me into thinking I was at the end of the poem; once I turned the page, I discovered the poem continued, a somewhat destabilizing experience. And the topic of fathers continues. “The Name I Carried,” for example, ends powerfully:

and God continued to pursue me
though I never saw him,
and I remain fatherless.

I was most engaged by the third part of the book, titled “The Book of Astonishment.” It’s an abcedarian poem that plays beautifully with the form. Porter moves through the alphabet and creates lists, and within the lists are shorter italicised lists beginning with the particular letter. The first mini-list is “annulet, anthem, antiphonal, aurora.” The poet’s sheer joy of words forms the basis of this long poem, along with the splendid images and the alliteration. Porter has a gift for imagery, and her intense appreciation of the natural world comes through on every page.

When Porter lets herself go, as she does in this final segment, wonderful things happen. There are gems in the rest of the book (“We’ll speak of the way we held/ forgiveness in our pockets”), but this third part absolutely creates astonishment.

Candace Fertile teaches English at Camosun College. 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler Gabrysh September 29, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Very informative review that doesn’t shy away from critique.

Alexandre Ber October 2, 2014 at 11:49 pm

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Laquisha October 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm

An ingleeitlnt answer – no BS – which makes a pleasant change

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