Friday, July 11, 2008

Reader's Diary #376- Nadine McInnis: Hand to Hand

The cover and title of Nadine McInnis's Hand to Hand is a perfect title for this collection of poetry. The two hands capture the gentle and violent sides of humankind, and it implies a juxtaposition of sorts, a not quite mirror image. McInnis's use of surprising or odd images to reflect upon one another provides fantastic explorations of the seemingly contradictory facets of life, revealing much more common ground than normally considered, or conversely taking what should be complimentary images and showing their incongruities.

Perhaps the most compelling poems in the book were a series called "Famous Moments" that compared everyday, often mundane, Canadian life with the lives of global headlines. A favourite of these for me, slammed in a Quill & Quire review, was "What I was doing when Princess Diana went into labour" which began with these stanzas:

In the north, ambulances take away the dead.
The living are transported
by '72 Chevy truck,
by rusted rattling Thunderbird,
by the teacher's wife, eight months pregnant myself,
shuddering over the reserve's washboard roads
as fast as I dare.

Screws dropping from the Ford's dash,
twenty miles to town,
and she buckles over beside me, groans,
"How much longer?"
"Halfway there."
Her breathing tightens into gasps.

Perhaps it's because I've lived somewhat in the outskirts of average Canadian white culture for so long now that I appreciate this poem. On the one hand, a reader might be inclined to think McInnis is taking the image of childbirth and showing how a universal event can vary in context: transplant Diana into the Chevy truck and see how absurd the picture looks. Yet, on the other hand, there's a more subtle similarity than at first appears: both Diana and the pregnant Native woman have lives foreign and almost unimaginable to the majority of Canadians.

As the collection progressed, I was at first disappointed that obvious comparisons seemed to dropped in favour of more "typical "poetry. I had been enjoying seeing how McInnis seemed to hold up two slides, trying to transpose them over one another. Towards the end there seemed to be less of that. However, when I paid more attention, it was as if she had merely been taking the time to explain the power of metaphors before putting them to use. When she writes in "The Creek," which appears in the last section of the book, "This muddy snake,/ curving slow in the sun,/ has swallowed more than memories" it's as if she'd already given the skill to meld the "snake" and "river" images and to accept the metaphor for what it's worth.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your level of insight in this review, and the excerpts you quoted. And I like the cover, too.

Allison said...

I really enjoyed this poem (and your insight, as always). Thanks for posting it!

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Looks like a fascinating collection. Thanks for the review.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That is a great poem! And your analysis of it, as always, very insightful.