Sunday, September 17, 2006

Reader's Diary #157- Carolyn Marie Souaid: Snow Formations (up to section 3)

In a testimonial by George Elliott Clarke, Snow Formations is said to be "no poetry of alphabet games." While Clarke , I'm sure, intended that to be a good thing, I was still coming off the high of reading Christian Bok's Eunoia- the ultimate in "alphabet games."

Yet I had originally bought this book because of the publisher's description on the inside flap, "Weary of her humdrum existence, a woman packs up and heads for Arctic Quebec, where she hopes to find a new lease on life teaching native children." While not in Arctic Quebec, I can relate. I was certainly too young to have been "weary of [my] humdrum existence", but I was looking for an adventure, something out of my comfort zone, when I first moved to teach in Nunavut 5 years ago.

So despite being a little bored at first (I was finding it a little too unadventurous- not Bok enough), it's won me over.

In the first section, you get the "humdrum" part. Souaid is quite adept at capturing a feeling of ennui. Actually, that's not quite right. She begins with that feeling, yet quickly moves to disillusionment and even resentment with the way her life has stalled. In the opening poem, "The Trouble With Being Dead", she uses terms like dead, dried-up, and blanking out to capture her mindset, and quickly the poems move to show how she continued to spiral downward. "Still Life" for instance opens with the line, "I can hardly stand to look/ at myself."

The overall narrative is one of the more appealing aspects of the book. A frequent complaint of mine, even for poets I enjoy, is the placement of the poems in the collection. Too often they seem thrown in at random or publishers have compiled them and have arbitrarily chosen say chronology of when they were written or even alphabetizing to organize the poems. Souaid's collection however, has a consistent character's voice (even in the section which deals primarily with the legend of Sedna). Though each poem is strong (and complete) enough to stand on its own, there is a sense of growth or at the very least, a sense of internalizing, in the voice with the way the poems have been arranged.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Are they chronological poems then? Presumably if she is terribly disillusioned at the beginning of the collection, she becomes less so as the book moves on. And least one hopes...

John Mutford said...

Well, yes and no. They are not chronological in the sense that I complained about- they don't seem to be presented (necessarily) in the order that they were written (and dates aren't given). Also, within the poems themselves there are no precise time measures (Last year, August 3rd, etc), but there does seem to be character growth and insights that give the impression of chronology.