Reading these two texts together, randomly selected from the list of new titles out from the ever-poetic Brick Books for 2014, first encouraged me to once again ponder the vagaries of prize culture and thus, its problems, not so much for the winner, though getting an award is not without its compromises, but for those texts that don’t win or even get shortlisted for accolades. Poetry is read rarely enough and with only a small number of reviews released each year of the numerous titles published, and little other way of discerning what collection to pick up than a gold sticker on the cover, it’s no surprise so many decent or even brilliant books descend into almost instant bargain or recycling bin obscurity. This selection for attention method has always been so, to a certain extent, only now, the culture of prizes has become more well, cultish, and with the glut of books on the market, due in large part to the publishing pressures of academe, so much that hasn’t been stamped with the “WE SAY READ THIS” brand has nearly nil chance at all of finding readers.
Lake of Two Mountains by Pare bears the stamp; House Dreams by Young does not. Yet it is not per se the quality of the writing that has sent one to a possible readership and the other likely “nowhere” but simply that three judges for whatever reasons selected one title over the other for accolade. Pare’s second book of poems won the GG this year, still considered a prestigious award despite years of controversy over insular juries. Resonating with echoes of Don McKay, Christopher Dewdney, Ken Belford and even Christopher Smart, Lake of Two Mountains is indeed a potent condensation and accumulation of landscape and its inhabitants. The book truly starts for me with the fiercely declamatory force of “Becoming Lake” whose form jags like Anglo-Saxon ice, with diction like squall, brinell, murk, and scudded carrying the propulsion of the geological event. Pare’s ear is ample here with her triadic alliterations: “Endure the murk, the minutes, millennia.” And her subtle rhymes” “watersheds, drains/daily rains gelatinate the sky.” This poem is akin to an inhuman rendering of Lily Briscoe’s canvas in Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, a Biblical whirl of compressed creation.
Though its (as I read it) companion piece, “Map of the Lake,” is more prosaic, it serves perfectly to illuminate the personal and historical significance of the area in the reader’s mind, marking it indelibly with the significance of Oka, Kanesatake, Mohawk, St Francis of Assisi. Pare is actually at her strongest in the prose poem sequences, especially the first five “Monastic Life” pieces that all begin with an “It” phrase, such as “It is exterior,” or “It resides with honey bees,” along with the “Frere Gabriel’s Life” 1, 4 and 7 segments, the last featuring simple, haunting, anaphoric listings of loss: “No confessions within the scent of the shore. No sleep in the barns. No apiary, no fat-sided bees.”
The lyrics “Call and Response” (its detailed quartet featuring such exquisitely intelligent lines as “the orthic, melanic, brunisol soil” and “fine beads of drizzle/hiss the filigreed ice”), “How Own a Lake” and “Northern Gate” (its startling, sensitive consciousness in the line, “Shame is the failure to belong sufficiently to what is beloved”), are also superior poems, each containing their own unique mood but also an integral element in the weather of Pare’s aural ecosystems. I could only critically nitpick in the end, disliking her smattering of lower-cases, resisting such insufficient images as “pale as small fish” (surely there must be brilliantly-hued fry?). Lake of Two Mountains definitely accomplishes the adherence to place, not just in subject matter but in cadence, that we need more of in poetry and in life.
Deanna Young’s House Dreams, her third apparently unheralded collection, though I find the font annoying (and neither of these covers leap out pleasingly), while thinking perhaps a few of the dream-related poems might have been cut (say “Le Grand Menage” and “Helen”), is nearly as strong amid its topographies as Pare’s lauded book. Interestingly, Young’s sequences essentially also begin with an evocation of at least the passage to a lake (though the actual opener, the dystopia-tinged travelogue of “Beautiful, Astonishing, Wondrous” is more potent). This poem, and the others in this section, are all inflected by the inspirational cauchemare. Disruptive, stirring as a de Chirico vision, both barren and teeming, these pieces only suffer perhaps from allowing dream logic to over dictate their imagery at times, so one gets mixed metaphors such as “rain hammered the windows like bullets,” or vague similes, “they’re snapshots of possibility/like gentle warnings from a relative who loves you.” As JD McClatchy reminds us: “Dreams seem vivid but sketchy and a poem needs to be subtle and complex as well.” Fortunately, the poems become increasingly essential as the book unfolds. “These are the Days,” from The City section is gorgeous, for one, with its attention to assonance (sticks/skin/litter) and cleverly positioned rhymes that lend the ending its reverberating punch: “Or even/brighter, harder. Lined up in all their stunning/uneventfulness, jams sparkling in the larder.”
And although I didn’t much relate to the privileged access to “home help” in “Miss Deanna” or “What the Gardener was Reading”, I marked a substantial number of powerful pieces in The Valley segment. Lyrics like “The Inland Sea” (“I spend the morning searching/for proof of sadness in an unlit fridge”) “It Follows you Down” with its wise, Rilkean imperatives set in a Nerudian-style intent straying (“You know nothing, are all wonder. But needy, obsessed. And late for life”). And “The Faith of Dogs,” both dream and memory, a kind of soothing Goodnight Moon mood fused with a Kafkaesque (yes) terror, are superb. Even the poems I found weak at the end such as “Thunder 1980”, “Sunday Best” and “There” are still rich with deliciously nostalgic, sonorous detail: “minty” dresses, grapefruits like “the sun/in a child’s drawing” and “looped her name, doodled hearts.” The final piece, “The Beauty,” is an exquisite way to close this meandering journey down multiple aisles in Young’s weirdly memoried storehouse. Both elegy for a friend and a paean to the potency of poetry, the poem is a more graceful Frank O’Hara mode of this and that noting, circling back to where it began and the hopeful pronouncement, “No end in sight.”