That Singing You Hear at the Edges

by Sue MacLeod
ISBN: 0921833903

Post Your Opinion
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 questions:

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. I hear:

A photo, if I had one, couldn't
catch the scent of roses
through the fenceboards, nor the essence
- partly smell and partly feeling -
of water
drops dissolving
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 called
a recently discovered kind of neighbourhood, going to the store where
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, the
wall was turquoise too turquoise a colour like the very orange powder
that comes in Kraft Dinner, the pink of cotton candy, or something else
with too much sugar or too much whatever .

I rest my case.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us