Carolyn Smart’s Careen (Brick Books, 2016)

Idiom was why this book needed to be written. The rhythms of idiom, recuperated from a lost time. The content, a gently brutal re-telling of the Bonnie & Clyde story, was much less compelling to me than the combination of the rough, ungrammatical, unfinished ends of speech (“We were [though shouldn’t that be “was”in context?] bone tired of it, sittin in our cabin at the tourist lodge, Buck polishin/ my ridin boots and sayin he reckoned we could move to Canada…”) and smooth old-school rhymes, sleek as blood trails (“listenin to the night and thinkin on our lives/just lookin for the sun to rise”). I was glad to read in the afterword that Smart had written this book thinking of her “maternal grandfather…a failed gunrunner” as it gave further impetus for the composition of these poems that made sense to me. Similar to Ondaatje’s Billy the Kid, also born from an echoed compulsion, Smart’s Careen weaves loops of narrative like tumbleweed to tell of a doomed love, a dark series of crimes, fortunately only slightly sensationalized, mostly by historical distance. The pieces, mainly in long prosy lines, interspersed with actual newspaper accounts of events, generally seem to be spoken in the kin monotone of the endless road: dusty, curtailed, straightforward relatings of pain. I was drawn by the first piece, “Texas, 1930” and many related in Bonnie’s voice such as “proud flesh” and “when we drive this way” with its heart-gutted ending: “…I do love him so. When will we die? Will it be together right/away or will there be some long slow time of grief”, along with “i love the car” and “Easter Sunday.” I wish Smart had played further with options for Bonnie’s consciousness of events rather than sticking so (apparently) closely to the facts of what happened. Regardless, amid the rather stick-figure male characters, Bonnie emerges as someone to feel empathy towards, along with Buck’s wife, Blanche in “Blanche remembers the long ride.” Other sharp entries in the annals of recklessness arrive in the poems, “death car” and the wonderfully evocative list piece, “what was carried in the car” while beauty is sustained nonetheless in the final twanging, twinging poems, “camera eye” (“the note he wrote callin me/the sweetest thing in all the world”) and “even the daylight lost its colour” (“screech owl dips, bugs whine at my ear, blanket stinks of grease…sleep comes”.) I was taking a Firearms course while I read this book, a fortunate collision of text and reality, and appreciated Smart for bringing the weapons’ glorious, horrible sounds to my ears in Careen through her tangible re-imaginings.

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