Today's book of poetry: Ocean. Sue Goyette. Gaspereau Press. Kentville, Nova Scotia. 2013.
As with most Gaspereau press books, Ocean by Sue Goyette is visually and esthetically beautiful. Andrew Steeves and Gary Dunfield do superb production and design work. And rightly so - poetry this good should be celebrated with excellence of craft.
Halifax, once the capital of the medieval fog trade,
still has its ancient fog-making bellows. These bellows
look like cannons which explains the unfortunate
misunderstanding all those centuries ago between
the fog workers and the Haligonian shadow sculptors.
The dispute lasted for years and, often at dusk,
there'd be a showdown that resulted in barroom brawls
and heartbreak. One dark November, there was a shortage
of shadows and only gasps of fog left. Street vendors
sold cheap imitations, throwing cups of tea at people's feet
and declaring the wet street their new shadow.
Unfortunately, these shadows were steadfast which defied
the real purpose of nomadic darkness. Replicas of fog
were easier to spot. Men often glued cotton on sticks
or stood, arms outstretched, billowing out white sheets.
When they moved, they'd move slowly as if rolling in
from the ocean. This did create jobs but also elicited catcalls
and debauchery from their women. Real shadows were made
across the harbour back then, in Dartmouth. The refinery
still stands and ancestors of lurking shadows gone feral
can still be seen in its parking lot and across the street
in Value Village. Value Village isn't a real village
but a metropolis of used clothing where fog stitched into
the hems and sleeves of old raincoats can still be found.
This is the unspoken history of our city. Fog was responsible
for many marriages and, consequently when it lifted,
Ocean makes for stunning reading. Goyette is profoundly playful throughout this collection but she is never underestimating the intelligence of her readers, these are deep laughs, deep thoughts. It's no surprise that Goyette has won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, the Atlantic Poetry Prize, the CBC Literary Prize for Poetry, the Earle Birney Prize, the Bliss Carman Award, and has been short listed for the Governor-General's Literary Award. It is rare enough to win any of these accolades, to have them all bestowed on Goyette puts her in intimidating territory.
But Goyette is never stuffy or too literary, these poems wrestle the reader into a slightly altered reality, it is a smooth transition as Goyette is in complete control. With Ocean, Sue Goyette is at the height of her formidable talent.
It acted like it had something
to say. We'd find trunks of broken
wine glasses, crab claws poised to attack
whatever had pulled them apart. We were truly
bewildered. Some of us were dreaming
of the same old crone who begged us to bend
and untangle her memories. Some of us worked
at jobs that involved filing complaints
about noise in the same cabinet as proposed
ideas for a better city. We had only just begun
to put leashes on things that had resisted
being caught. In this way, we muzzled
our concerns and decided to turn on lighs
before it got dark. We spent many hours
learning to sing with the open throats
of lilies. But we were restless. The crone
in our dreams cackled at our impatience
and started a fire in the kitchens of our childhoods.
We'd wake up smelling smoke and longing to be held
by our bedtimes again. We ate copious amounts
of shadows cast by heritage buildings. There was a safety
in numbers but no one wanted to head in the same
directions. We were alone, the way the ocean was alone
and briefly we understood why it couldn't find the right words
for what it wanted to say and why it kept trying.
Ocean is a biopic intrusion into the great deep. A conversation with waves. Ocean is an urban legend you don't know yet, a discussion between currents and the shifting tide.
Filmmakers had started making films of the ocean
in 3D. Scratch and sniff coastal cards were sold
at lottery booths. Material for dresses was cut with the froth
of tide in mind. We had wanted the ocean to be the new
flavour, the new sound. We'd drive for miles to get a glimpse
of it because, let's face it, it revitalized the part of us
we kept rooting for, that apple seed of energy that defied
multiple choice career options. The ocean had egged the best part
of us on. And it scared us. We never knew what it was thinking
and spent thousands on specialists who could make predictions.
And the predictions always required hard hats and building permits,
furrowed eyebrows and downward trends. Why is it so hard
to trust something that leaps, disappears and then reappears
spouting more light? When had our hearts become badly behaved
dogs we had to keep the screen door closed to? Have you ever run
along its shore, the pant of it coming closer? And that feeling
that yipped inside you, the Ginger Rogers of your feet, your ability
to not get caught then, yes, get soaked. Didn't you feel like it was
part of your pack? When it whistled, whatever it is in you
that defies being named, didn't that part of you perk up?
And didn't you let it tousle you to the ground,
let it clean between your ears before it left you?
Wasn't that all right? That it left you? That we all will?
Goyette is being playful when she amorphizes the ocean until the reader is cast adrift in a brave new world. As a reader of poetry and a lover of that world I am ever so grateful that it has such creatures in it as Goyette.
Ocean was a privilege to read, Sue Goyette gets to take a deep, deep bow for this one.