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Our Friendly Ghost
by R. M. Vaughan

What is it about Lynn Crosbie's poetry that makes Canada's domestic-angst-with-bitter-coffee-klatsch of capital "P" poets cringe with fear? Is her poetry too bold, too sexy, too famous, too honest...or just too good?
I remember when Crosbie's last book, VillainElle came out-you could sharpen your skates on the hot files of self-righteous first-wave feminist indignation slicing down Bloor Street, aiming for Crosbie's ankles. How dare she write about kinky sex! Didn't she know there was global sisterhood to canonize?
Thankfully, Crosbie plays by her own rules (making her, ironically, a feminist icon all her own), and her woman writing transcends cheesy public policy banalities, to emerge as the strongest new voice in poetry this country has seen in a decade.
Call me a fan, call me a drooler-but I believe Crosbie's latest collection, Pearl, is the best book of poetry published this year. And I write such statements out of the purest of motives: professional jealousy.
Crosbie is our national poet of absences. Re-awakening our most fluid early morning dreams-the ones that leave you craving water, sex, or the affirmation of the morning news-she constantly yanks the reader back to that semi-real state, that floating, hope-filled world of Freudian bouquets and private talismans. Her poetry lives just under the water, where everything appears to be cleaner and shinier, but, if challenged with sticks (or analysis), quickly breaks away into muddy, broken circles. It's a delicious swirl, pulling the reader in with intoxicating language and intellectual puzzles.
Because Pearl is Crosbie's most personal book to date, it is almost her most merciless. An honest poet, Crosbie, unlike Alice, never asks us to jump into the rabbit hole unless she's drawn a map. And we love to be led.

You can't miss me, he said. And I waited for him
at the long wooden
table, absorbed
in a cooking show; venison wrapped in cabbage

the green armature. I have learned to protect
myself from strangers; I
write messages on cocktail
napkins, leave me alone, leave me.

He walks toward me, his face dispassionate, one
tooth absent, a cryptic
space like superstition.
The region between ladders, where spirits gather.
And evanesce above
crossed fingers,
souls retreating from faith.
(from "Amaryllis")

Crosbie writes of a world full of holes; a pocked, intrusive world that never stops reminding its lovers and fighters how much space, how much "there", emptiness takes up. She is rewriting the love poem not to negate Satiation but to validate its dark twin, Longing-without the pain, she reminds us, there ain't no Verlaine.
Her critics will accuse Crosbie of merely cutting up mommy's dresses with scissors, of climbing the chintz curtains because the claw marks are so pretty. Writing songs to what's missing-such readers need reminding-is infinitely more difficult than recording the obvious. People don't visit the Grand Canyon because it makes them feel big and important-we are defined by our smallest gestures, by what we lack, and, more importantly, by what small magics we invoke to cover our gaps.
Crosbie's poetry charts our course among pitfalls, with a warm eye, an intentional glaucoma that renders the world viscous and shiny (like a pearl).

love spreads out like a sheaf of photographs,
memory without blood,
a fluked anchor,
undone. The line that breaks when the storm
comes, the truth that
sailors know:
red skies without delight,

a bad sign. To navigate you must know where
you are going, with an
exact chart,
pin-stuck with ellipses. Accidents, typhoon, the
fibrous stakes of sea
monsters, the diamond icecaps,

miracles that have changed course, carved
passages into the new
worlds, where sailors
arise. In white militia,

letters come like gulls flat on the crest of waves,
infatuation coursing,
like a science of chaos,
(from "all my seasick sailors")

Pearl, notwithstanding its title, is about scarred surfaces and their power-after all, it's the holes that make golf balls curve.
Crosbie's minute attentions to the webbing inside us is matched by a rigorous application of poetic technique. Pearl's psychological probing is supported (if not driven) by an equally inquisitive play with traditional forms. The sonnet, the ghazal, the sestina, every type of poem from grade twelve English whose name you forget is given the once-over; all emerging with a new, cracked shine.
Crosbie's dexterity with (and against) the patterns of classic verse reads like a jazzy improvisation, but not an improv sketch-the poet respects her forms too much to stoop to conquer (besides, she hardly needs to). She does not abuse form. Rather, she revels in its mannered stasis only long enough to re-invigorate the source material, to dust it off. The poet uses tradition the way it should be used: as a weapon.
She never betrays the work-on-the-page ethic for the cheap kicks of Spoken Word (TM) performance poetry. There are no servile, stand-up comedy crowd-pleasers in this book. Ms. Crosbie is a writer, ladies and gentleman, a writer.
And so, in an increasingly dumbed-down literary climate, Crosbie stands out as one of the last true crafters of fine verse. While lesser poets obey the Commandments of Moses Znaimer and chuck the printed word like last month's newspapers-as if making a book were only a sideline to the cooler job of making a scene-Crosbie forges new poems that are built for Time and Tide.
Something deliciously un-Canadian, even unwholesome, lurks in Crosbie's poetry. All that so-called dirty laundry, spotted like a Twombly canvas, left to make sharp arches in the unforgiving wind ...it's not exactly, well, New Canadian Library, is it? But how it sings.

A Selection of Dazzling Scarves, a book of poems by R. M. Vaughan, has recently been published by ECW. He is also one of the six poets in Blues & True Concussions (Anansi).


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