Monday, October 16, 2006

Reader's Diary #169- Sandy Shreve: Bewildered Rituals (up to "Eye Contact")

That's not the book cover, it's the author. I don't have a scanner and since the book is out of print, I couldn't pull the cover from the internet anywhere! It's unfortunate that poetry collections go out of print so dang quick. I know why, it's just sad. Thank goodness for libraries.

This isn't the first time I blogged about Shreve. A while back I blogged about In Fine Form, an anthology of Canadian form poetry put together by Sandy Shreve and Kate Braid.

Is there an opposite to the "familiarity breeds contempt" idiom?
Whatever that opposite is, I want it said about poetry.

I'm the first to admit that I sometimes don't take my time reading. A poem really needs to catch my eye the first time around for me to review it. Often they do, and that's great. But then, at other times, I miss perfectly fine poems. But I don't stress it too much. More often than not, I come across the same poems in other anthologies or collections and my second reading, albeit delayed, is when I appreciate it. That's what has happened now.

Bewildered Rituals is an assortment of poem types- free and form. It's the form ones, the ones that she contributed to In Fine Form, that I've enjoyed the most so far. "Dance", a palindrome, is a beautiful poem about a fight of all things. The effect of having two stanzas repeat one another shows the symmetry and similarities of the two combatants and the unexpected tone of respect is wonderful. "Making Love" is a triolet and, with it's repeated lines, really captures the rhythm and complements the phrase "I feel/ my body wrap around the earth." There are other forms used, as well. What I like most is her ability to know which forms to use and when, and how to manipulate them if necessary. Triolets and pantoums, for example, typically have a rhyme scheme but Shreve only needed their patterns in order for her poems to work, not the rhymes.

A great free form poem is "Green Tea". Oddly, when I first plucked this book from the library shelf and opened it at random, "Green Tea" was the poem I was faced with. Odd because I loved it immediately, and after reading the others, it remains one of my favourite.

"Green Tea" is the declaration of a smoker that she is not going to quit, not for all the dire packaging or warnings from friends. Instead, she is going to put her faith in the cancer fighting properties of green tea. It's darkly humourous, especially with the self mocking found in the word "green" (i.e., naive). Also, this poem illustrates another of Shreve's fantastic skills as a poet; her attention to sounds. "Green Tea" has great examples of alliteration: "...the latest possibility/ that pots and pots of green tea" and "breath/ between incessant bites"- the labial "p" and "b" sounds repeated are perfect illustrations of a smoker's exhalation. There are also excellent examples of consonance, especially those that echo that ugly hard "c" sound as in the beginning of "cancer". Her word choice includes "pack", "sac", "sucking", "cajole", "smoking", "campaigns", "caveats", "concrete", and "nicotine". It's an insanely well thought-out poem, and her efforts is the reader's reward (should that be "is" or "are"?). Anyway, I'll hold this poem as an example of something I hope to achieve someday.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm always so impressed how you pick up on minute details as you do in the Green Tea poem, things like p and b sounds, as related to exhalation of smoke, and the harshness of the hard c.
I just toodle along blissfully unaware.

John Mutford said...

Why thank-you! Still, for every poem that I do pick up on things, I'm sure there are 10 more that I don't.