Friday, September 05, 2008

Reader's Diary #393- Connie Fife: Beneath The Naked Sun


Beneath the Naked Sun is the first collection of poems, from Connie Fife, a poet who described herself as an "indian lesbian living in a racist, homophobic society."

This proclamation comes at the end of Beneath The Naked Sun, and seems wholly unnecessary at that point. Not only is she described that way by Beth Brant on the back cover, but a reader should get no further than a few poems in before it's pretty obvious.

This is not a complaint in and of itself. It's no secret that plenty of people turn to writing (or reading) poetry for therapeutic and/or political reasons. If Fife wants to use poetry to influence society at times and to merely cope with it at others, more power to her.

However, to be effective as a protagonist for change, such poems, especially, should avoid cliches and stale sentimentality. Unfortunately, it's lines like "Walk across the crystal lake of my heart," or "i sit here and read your work/ the colour of your words/ the shape of your heart" that left me groaning rather than taking Fife seriously. Be as loud as you want, but say something meaningful else you become white noise.

There were better moments than this. In "These are the spirits" I especially liked what she did with the lines, adding in the slash / without actually breaking them (similar in the way I quoted her above, using slashes to indicate where the line actually broke) :
"there are spirits flowing through my veins/ some are old/ others are young/ there are women in my blood who scream loudly with contorted mouths/ and men who drown in alcohol then beat those screaming/"...
When it's a poem about ancestral spirits, it's a brilliant metaphor to not break the lines.

It was rare glimpses such as this, into what Fife is actually capable of as a poet, that salvaged the book for me and keep me interested in reading what she has to say today.

This is the only poem from Beneath the Naked Sun that I could find online:

Distances
by Connie Fife

last night
deep in the
womb of
mother earth
my prayers
for you
whispered to
my grandmothers
were answered.


(Read the rest here.)

This is my fourth book for the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, covering Saskatchewan.

6 comments:

Kelly Fineman said...

Is that her on the cover?

Doesn't sound like my cup of tea, but I always like hearing about new poets (and/or poets who are new to me).

John Mutford said...

Kelly: Ha, ha. No, Connie is much younger than that. There's a picture of her here.

I first came across her in an anthology called Native Poetry of Canada.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm actually rather saddened to hear that's not her on the cover, because that is an amazing photo. If it was, I might read it.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Yes, it's s fantastic picture. You can just see the poems oozing out the wrinkles in her face.

Susan said...

I haven't heard of her, but she sounds interesting - though I prefer the collection 'Songs from this Earth on turtle's Back', which has a wide collection of native poetry that is beautiful and haunting. It's really good to see poetry being reviewed - and read! Congrats on getting 4 books in the challenge done so far! I have my first done :-) yaay! And I love your new little part of your header that says you have almost 1.5 million books still to read!!!!

John Mutford said...

Susan: Thanks for the recommendation, I'll be looking for it. Did you read Native Poetry in Canada (see above comment for link)?

What was your first book read for the challenge? I went to your blog but couldn't find a review (unless you just haven't gotten to that stage yet.)