SONG AND SPECTACLE/FLYING UNDERWATER: Poems New and Selected

Article excerpt

SONG AND SPECTACLE RACHEL ROSE Harbour Publishing

FLYING UNDERWATER: Poems new and selected EVA TIHANYI Inanna Press

MAYS WIEBE Song and Spectacle, Rachel Rose's third book of poetry, includes what could be the least sentimental poems you'll read this year. Rose seizes a cornucopia of audacious love-maternal, lesbian and other-a modicum of humour (including toilet humour, in "Hymn to Shit: Four Movements") and a bushel of tenderness. She finds earthy joy in daffodils and in playing the cello (even "badly"), in "grow[ing] yellow tomatoes."

Here joy is costly, often in imprecise but calculable ways, and precious. "We let them cut us open,/we put children in the garden. Remembering the loneliness of the lunch room, we decide not to have children," writes Rose. Her recognition, that joy can be lovely and brave, muscular yet ephemeral, is moving. This is the voice of experience, droll, judicious and paradoxical. "If form can be found, there may be salvation," she writes. "There are lilacs. Lilacs have form. It is quiet/ but for the poem's gasp. We bone thrust until we bruise/ apart. Naked in the kitchen, we slice chanterelles for dinner, add a fistful of butter, crushed sage."

In "The Argument," Rose describes a discussion with a "despairing student" that goes on all spring: "Listen, I said, listen: When a poem gives up its liquor,/when the grey-eyed baby on the bus waves at you,/ when your murdered brother/ runs through the apple orchard/ of your dreams, tell me/ you don't feel it then, the gift of your own breath?"

When news of the student's death reaches the poet, she continues, "I sat in a temple on Mount Koya, eyes dry/ as a rock. My children watched me light incense./ A clear-faced nun helped me strike the bell." The tone of this collection echoes the work of celebrated lesbian feminist poet Adrienne Rich, whose body of poetry is as politically charged as it is beautifully intelligent.

Rose's poetry examines moments of simple beauty and profound internal knowledge-and of knowledge as power, in the sense of speaking truth to the powers that be, whether those are mainstream, patriarchal or institutional. With dignity, the poet engages the task of sharing that truth with generations of women, including her students and children, colleagues and, yes, readers. …