Two Marrow Reviews on Buckrider titles: Graham’s The Celery Forest and Lubrin’s Voodo Hypothesis

Although the back jacket copy compares the defamiliarized world of the CeleryForest to authorial creations like Wonderland or Narnia, to this reader, the Forest is less a realm peopled by the fantastical than a universe abstracted and distilled by trauma where raindrops fast, stars have faces and owls pluck out breast tumours, a stark, often detached submersal in a dsytopia of organic machines, whose protagonist, leashed to their crude whims, has perhaps only a fairytale respite. One can either foreground the tangible narrative of cancer’s clinical progression, an often tedious process, or one can do as Graham has accomplished and transform a suffering almost beyond language into alternate ways of entering the hell of metastasis and its treatments, that landscape of chemicals and equipment and terror. As Graham states in “Orchid Painting, Room 19”: “Beads, dots, circles – call them anything but cells,” her modus to circumnavigate the diagnosis – by not speaking the terminologies of the disease one is possibly better able to triumph. “Tell the truth/but tell it slant,” Dickinson wrote. And Graham does, this topsy-turvy country of a potentially terminal illness a place she is forced to inhabit and thus decides not to empower by giving it other than her own vertiginous spin, viewing this alien topography with a peripheral gaze, enabling the horrors to turn into often helpfully feathered denizens in a forest of the blandest, most innocuous of vegetables.

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Poems are spells, charms and like Plath’s evocations of tulips or Roethke’s hothouse world, Graham’s collection elaborates a tangle of vegetation, a whir of wings that rarely addresses the disease itself directly, but like a magician refusing negotiation with what is, she weaves around the tumour and away from it. This maneuver is akin, albeit in a calmer cadence, to what Sylvia Legris achieves with the migraine in Nerve Squall, repeating birds, fawns, moons, images that provide a strange poetic environment of both fears and assuagements in which the delvings, necessarily for the psyche’s survival, if not the reader’s intrigue, are slim. And so, the first startling poem in the book:

 

Interrogation in the Celery Forest

 

We shoulder it onto the slab.

It squirms. Water. Electric-white.

 

Raindrops fast into absence.

No bridge as believable as all this.

 

Pliers were used. And absence.

A heart – skewered through skeins

 

of red nets and milk from some aimless

animal on the drowning cloth.

 

Now, intruder, bird’s-eye, pip,

you must answer.

*

While traces of Dionne Brand, Derek Walcott, Shakespeare and other publically-inflected idioms permeate Lubrin’s compelling debut, this collection resonates with a swelling patois-twang, an echoing slave-freeing cri de coeur all her own. From the opening elaborated invocation to Curiosity, the rover expedition to Mars, to the final dense jazz fragments, “Epistle to the Ghost Gathering” (listed oddly as “Galaxy” in the Notes), Voodoo Hypothesis rings out as one unified diasporic epic, a series of expansive lyrics that fuse into a core music, compelling even when superficially incomprehensible due to its culturally-possessed address system that lifts centuries of angst into empowered litany. This Calibanned consciousness is unafear’d of words that make themselves strange: strandy, cobaltous, mauby, utopist, asteroidal, along with the insertion of Creole sounds within English sentences, so “toutouni” is de-ghettoized and enabled to recharge the vocables of common speech. Many poems commence with lines that have that fated cadence like “who else of this wisped sea is” or “the mayfly’s elliptical/end looks like a ruined plan,” lines that feel as if they fell entire into the author’s ear and became her, and her readers’ Virgil, allowing us to enter poems we can trust to take us somewhere essential, even if we cannot always comprehend its lingo, or allusiveness, or genesis.

I only had a bit of an issue with the Notes section because it is somewhat inconsistent with explicating italicized phrases and neglects to state that the line, “wet with a decent happiness” is from Robert Creeley (though many other borrowings are acknowledged so it must have just been an oversight). Regardless, Lubrin’s opus is not only an impressive initial foray, but a crucial expansion of poetic modes and voicings in Canada, an antidote to the predominant narrowings that can occur as language drastically flattens out into utter comprehensibility and the accessible, in the process being starved of its wild sonatas. “If only ever so to bear the beams of love, I am enough.” Yes.

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Bricolage

 

 

Was I ever that young to come back now, like rain

Fingers the colour of blossom, plucking hibiscus from their mien

While at dusk the leisure star falls from altitude sickness

 

Valley voices sing and somnolent Gods weep protest

Where storm clouds complain but bring no comfort

Was I ever that young to come back now, like rain

 

Even when the mango birds and children vanish, the poet tells us

Of the common and good in our bones

While at dusk the leisure star falls from altitude sickness

 

In the happenstance of discontent and the mind

Grandmother storytells in flambeau with fireflies

Was I ever that young to come back now, like rain

 

For years to collect into resumes, orchards, tombstones

And treetops slump beneath their stubborn train

Was I ever that young to come back now, like rain

While at dusk the leisure star falls and altitude remains.

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