||A Review of: That Singing You Hear at the Edges
by Lynda Grace Philippsen
That Singing You Hear at the Edges is Sue MacLeod's second book and
poems in it have appeared in respected journals and anthologies
since 1999. The opening and closing poems in the collection,
"The God of Pockets" and "Especially for a woman,
reading" (the strongest works in the collection) won first and
second prizes in Arc's Poem of the Year contest and the League of
Canadian Poets' National Poetry Contest, respectively. The poems
in between occasionally offer interesting imagery and pose provocative
I wonder: When we spun
around the room
together, was he holding me
up? or down?
The work, however, is uneven. At times the tone seems didactic,
like having tea with an old aunt who insists you mind her business
when you'd really rather not. "Self-portrait, as a sea-shell"
with its boldface "conch" and formatted to simulate a
dictionary entry reads: "1 any of various large marine snails
(sluggish or slow moving) / not getting much done, my mother scolded,
my head in the clouds." Reminiscent of entries in pre-adolescent
notebooks it goes on, "having a spiral shell I am her daughter,
I am her mother's daughter's / daughter, I come from Ontario, come
from Cape Breton, come from the / Hebrides, Isle of Lewis ."
When directed in the last lines "I tell you, hold me to your
ear" I want to say a respectful but firm: No thank you.
Their prizewinning status notwithstanding, I have reservations about
these poems. Mindful of Boris Pasternak's "Poetry searches for
music amidst the tumult of the dictionary," I listen for the
singing quality: unusual options, intellectual energy, or something
pithy that lingers like a melody long after the concert is over.
A photo, if I had one, couldn't
catch the scent of roses
through the fenceboards, nor the essence
- partly smell and partly feeling -
from these linens in this
basket in my
Art should evoke the inexpressible, not merely describe a thing as
inexpressible. Poem after poem I am left with mere description:
She was walking along her new street one night in what her agent
a recently discovered kind of neighbourhood, going to the store
they sell cigarettes one at a time & know everyone's name and brand,
when she noticed a light in a window upstairs, the curtain was open,
wall was turquoise too turquoise a colour like the very orange
that comes in Kraft Dinner, the pink of cotton candy, or something
with too much sugar or too much whatever .
I rest my case.