Waters Remembered (espresso, 2015)

The textured, elegant design of the chapbooks produced by espresso is delectable. One wants to keep caressing them, though their French sleeves can make this embrace somewhat arduous 😉 Waters Remembered by Maureen Scott Harris (according to her bio a poet practicing the poetic restraint admired in Canada, or at least by Robyn Sarah, of only publishing a book every decade), is a slim, olive assemblage of thirteen poems about, as Harris writes in the Notes section, “particular places in the city (of Toronto)…beyond, under, around the crowds and noise and concrete.” As an entree into the anti-pastoral, or perhaps the ache-for-pastoral genre, and akin to all contemporary eco-composers, Harris is utterly aware that the divisions between urban and rural sites are permeable, tenuous.

The Don River, for instance, delivers both “new grass” and “garbage…over and over again/garbage.” Thus, an ominous nostalgia colours the tone, a fraught yearning for the “buried watercourses,” the “birds of Taddle Creek”, and the “pastoral almost and innocent” realms of Joe Fafard’s reminiscent scenes that Harris is conscious are lost, or damaged, or threatened. The strongest pieces anchor their anxiety in form, whether it’s a classical Japanese one such as “Shoring: a Haibun,” or merely in solid stanza divisions confident of their placement on the page, even as their perceptions can tremble with concern and helplessness.

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Clichees (yep you knew I would point those out) like “sagging houses,” “lightning flares,” “light falls,” and “bruised sky” can diminish the potential energy of the pieces, most fortunately then lifted into difference by taut, aurally charged lines such as “I could follow it, let it dilute/my mood…let/my eye skip/over the abyss of buildings.”

Reading espresso’s slender collections, exquisitely pondered over in terms of both appearance and content makes me wish that more publishing houses could produce texts, and especially poetic ones, as such equivalently thin rivers of delicious words.

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