Hastings-Sunrise: Poems by Bren Simmers (Nightwood Editions, 2015)

I am fond of poems, and particularly poetic sequences, grounded in place, whether it’s Meredith Quartermain’s “Vancouver Walking,” George Stanley’s “Vancouver: A Poem,” Lisa Robertson’s poetic dioramas in “Seven Walks,” and of course George Bowering’s “Kerrisdale Elegies.” Apparently, it’s a Vancouver tradition and one that Bren Simmers joins admirably with her paean to a rapidly evolving/devolving neighbourhood. Echoing both the flaneur approach to topographical narratives employed by the above-mentioned authors and, with her quirky diagrammatic “maps” of such things as where the neighbourhood’s swings or open doors are, following in the visual mode (trend?) of writers like Donato Mancini, Paul Vermeersch, Sina Queyras and Derek Beaulieu among others, Simmers sets out to sketch a memorial to a realm quickly becoming consumed by condos and other signs of the commodification of history. The tension is not only geographical but personal as Simmers and her spouse discuss, in random sections, the value of moving away from the city to the mythical land of “Saska-Wollup” where the pace of both daily life and change will be slowed. I would have liked to have heard more about this mythos, this long-instatiated tussle between the “machine and the garden” in Leo Marx’s words, a struggle that may have elevated the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life in this “hood” (from Christmas lights to leaf blowers to bed bugs and the glut of coffee shops) into a bit more of a magical conflict. The dated lines that mark the separation between seasons and sections of text: “Insect clouds/June 5….Bare arms, midnight/July 25” are effective dividers and I like the rhythms that develop between the notations and the diagrams, even if the latter can seem a tad cutesy. The playfulness of being wholly “in place” wrangles with the resistance to alterations that seem to slam one into adult realizations of transience (“I feel shut out of my own daydream,/the city where I was born”). Simmers writes some delectable images like “salmonberry pickpocketed by temperature” and a few compelling statements stick out such as “People who perch at our perimeters define/our edges.” At times her language soars to exquisite sonorousness: ” then lift their tails for a quick/cloacal kiss./In the coniferous dark, I nestle/into your arm crook/smell of cedar and hemlock, salt” and I wanted more of these aural architectonics (of course. one of my most predictable desires). Hastings-Sunrise is best read not as individual sojourns but as a melancholic sweep over a cherished zone that Simmers invites the reader to enter and adore sufficiently to mourn.

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