Yvonne Blomer’s chapbook Ravine, Mouse, a Bird’s Beak: ekphrastic poems inspired by the work of Robert Bateman [Nose in Book Publishing, 2018]

I have always been a fan of the beautifully produced poetry chapbook. In fact, I believe that there should be more appealing storage units for them for the store and home that render them more likely to be purchased and treasured as they often get lost in their spine-free states in regular bookcases. Poetry is best in slenderness and the 48 minimum page count for books often does poetry a disservice, making the poet more likely to pad in order to fill out the required pages. Also, chapbooks are generally easier to slip into one’s pocket or purse and bring along on one’s travels, poetry being meant for the road, the flow, the interstices. So bring them on. More poetry chapbooks please. And especially examples of the form like this one, simply-produced, hand-sewn and with the art on which the poems are based gorgeously reproduced. The cover features one of Bateman’s stark and noble ravens, its crispness drawing the eye and inducing the reader to enter readily. Handy cover flaps also provide the option of book marks but this collection I read through in one sitting (then re-steeped in again), compelled by the lush visuals and the resonant emotion contained in most of the poems.

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When I was a child, I was obsessed by Bateman and recall clearly at around 9 or 10 years of age attending one of his exhibits in Burnaby where I brought my notebook and spent hours detailing each one of his images, one of the first times I remember truly feeling like a writer, like recounting the world was deeply important to me. Blomer brings this intensity of observation back in the challenge of these ekphrastic poems that both describe the images and, more powerfully, connect the art to both environmental and personal content. My favourite pieces feature finely etched forms like the couplets of “Lines of Cold” where Blomer attends to both the image and to her own reality, so that by the end, the two meld and re-translate each other as the dog “vanishes/in trenched lines of snow/deeper than shown,” the long o sounds taking the reader down a passageway of sonorousness and memory. Bateman’s seemingly innocent portraits of wolves and birds now assume a contemporary knowledge of disappearing landscapes and poisoned sources of food. Beauty is topographied with disaster. In “Au Courant”, the wolf appears to watch the “cement river where fish are stained glass shapes” as she must step back in the face of too much humanity, her “shadow whitening.” Or in “Simultaneity” or “Barfly” where plastic and toxins abound like scavenging gulls who hover over a bear as would “the weight of fog on fur” and where the polar bear sniffs motor oil, a “statue/carved from melt and salt…a yellowing ice floe ” (though the final “melt” would have been more potent without the initial one, repetition being a tricky technique in emotively-charged poems. also, why is he a “bloke” in such a British fashion – liking the sounds here but not how the meaning pulled me out of the poem awhile). “Circus Moon, Circus Train” is a fantastic duo of hyphenated-word stanzas featuring the delicious echoes of such vocables as “chuntered” “puce” “ghost” and “feral” (only marred a bit by the cliches of “low moan” and “quick laughter.” ah such a challenge to keep language incessantly fresh!) and the final two pieces, “The Ocean is a Room for the Dying, Tahlequah” and the exquisite unrhymed glosa on Roo Borson’s lines, “Open Field,” are both very moving elegies/eulogies where her “son breaches and surfs” and a dog, blackbirds, the memories of an awkward school dance all entwine in the question “What if this is a story/already played out?” (and here I would just note that sometimes verbs like coming and going could consider punchier variants of motion).

But I can’t stop there. I turn back to the core of this delectable chapbook and re-read “Scarce,” whose pure melodies bring small tears over the rare swans, Blomer’s facility with the unadorned image as memorable as Basho’s: “The curved river, slope of low trees….they fly to fly off – muted song, silvering.”

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