Today's book of poetry: Gulf. Leslie Vryenhoek. Oolichan Press. Fernie, British Columbia. 2011.
Leslie Vryenhoek's Gulf is her first book of poetry but it is not the work of a rookie. Vryenhoek's poems, fiction and memoir have won the Dalton Camp Award, two NL Arts & Letters Awards and the Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem in 2010.
The poems in this volume are very consistent in tone, they have a fierce intelligence and a twist of dark humour.
What if home is just
the taste of dirt
in the woods behind the house
on Clairmont Drive? Best
at the V where a tree's trunk diverged
into roots that submerged
in that powdery earth.
A raw potato taste, metallic undercurrents
like the blood of a loose tooth, a smell
like the first seconds of rain, of earthworms
offgassing their relief. Home: elemental
and fading as tastebuds.
I licked that soil from my fingers for years
more than anyone suspected, stopped
when we moved to where the mud was coarse
and vulgar. Grown, I had a lover
with a sandstone carving. Wet, it hinted
of potatoes and earthworms but eventually
he caught me, my tongue seeking asylum
along the rounded edge.
I didn't get to stay there either.
Vryenhoek's poems have a conversational feel to them but she is beyond that and wicked clever. These poems work as descriptive narrative, and work very well, but it is the swiftly changing current, the ebb of human nature that stirs underneath, this is where Vryenhoek excells.
These are stories we all know but under the subtle hand of Vryenhoek we get to reexamine what we believed to be true.
Leslie Vryenhoek's poetry has moments of clarity that rival Sharon Olds, lyric beauty that old Milt Acorn would have admired. How's that!