Miranda Pearson’s The Fire Extinguisher (Oolichan Books, 2015)

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I kept hearing the word “patrician” in my mind while reading Pearson’s latest collection of lyric poems called The Fire Extinguisher (the cover a finger-painted swirl of hue-routes). Something about the cooler, but never aloof, reticence of these pieces about relationships, gentled landscapes, cancer diagnoses, art and most prominently, travel. The first line of the poem “Sunset, Kent” sums up a sense of the tension felt in the composition of these poems after a certain silence: “one naturally shies from writing it.” Shies but then is drawn back magnetically as the poet cannot help but labour through the quotidian of existence to establish transcendence, however ephemeral.

Lines that struck my ear relentlessly with their poised and even pained beauty: “How it touches the land with a thou address”; “The slow wooing back of the poem”; “Being ornamental is a form of love”; “We live more slowly, become eighteenth century.” A fusion of Gluckian and Larkinesque sensibilities, dark but sculpturally so, with a scraping of irony that often underlies the tone of many British-born poets from Plath to Duffy. Favorite pieces include: Five Postcards, Volcano, Zombie Invasion, Nil by Mouth and Year’s End, Scotland (more so if Pearson had closed it on the gorgeous rococo emotion of “on the window sill: two silver swans/their tarnished necks entwined.”) Also Birds of Summer and The Nature Table at the end of the book: “lessons on beauty, dioramas of loss” that proffer strong evidence of both Pearson’s honed eye and ear and how potent she can be when composing on inhuman subjects.

The only real concern I had reading these pieces (and I usually dare to say, unlike Northrop Frye, what I would change in a book, and especially so given that Miranda and I were once in a writing workshop together led by Patrick Lane 🙂 is that frequently, Pearson appears not to trust her endings. At times she continues on much longer than the poem organically requires and at others, she well, fizzles out, literally extinguishing her initial POW with clicheed flatnesses like “their hands gripping/her thick warm fur” or “our voices quiet, back and forth/in the warm room.” Whether this is deliberate, a need to trail off somewhat diffidently or a relinquishing of an unresolvable subject, I don’t know, but Pearson could absolutely allow some of these pieces to unfold more fully to the last line, not to click shut mechanically, but to resolve their own exquisite moments in Pearson’s otherwise memorable and resonant world.

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