Her Red Hair Rises With The Wings Of Insects. Catherine Graham. Wolsak & Wynn Publishers. Hamilton, Ontario. 2013.
This collection, Her Red Hair Rises With The Wings Of Insects, which is a stunningly good title, starts with an introduction by the author, Catherine Graham:
"Most of the poems in this book began as glosas, an early
Renaissance form developed during the fourteenth century
by poets in the Spanish court. The opening four lines of
another poet's work (the cabeza) are woven into the last
line of each of four ten-line stanzas."
Well, I don't how else to say it. I hate this sort of thing. I always figure if you are explaining the poems before they even start, well, I had visions in my head...
Then I started in on the poems themselves and proved myself wrong again..
To The Animal He Met In The Dark
I've often thought about you.
How you came in the night, in the middle of the night,
to stand on the road for some goddamn reason.
How in the blinding light you stood as still as branches,
like anything trapped.
Nothing to see in the darkened windshield–
just the last expression on my drunk father's face,
and you, white-tailed beast, reflected, just like that,
on your way through your own nocturnal route.
I have so often thought about you.
These poems resonate with absolute clarity, purpose and poise. Graham is as exact as NASA, and as elegant as P.K. Page. More about that in a minute.
He says he'll write. Sometimes he does with letters so spare
and spiny like cacti they sting the absence.
I wait like a child for more tchotchkes from other countries
where air floats cobalt blue or hot vermilion.
If I could trap his taste on my tongue, I'd keep it boxed
like a doll from Bogata.
All I have are hands with river etches that map his exotic locales,
and this rock where I outline a fossil of fish to carve his story.
Only my hand under water, the swan-tilt
of my wrist, a bangle from Arabia–
He's always leaving me and telling me he's coming back.
"Soon," he says, pointing to the moon.
But when it's full or empty?
He doesn't answer. He says he'll write.
after "Queen's Ransom" Gethsemane Day
These glosas are meant to pay tribute to P.K. Page and the Irish poet Dorothy Molloy. While I'm reasonably familiar with Page, I don't know Molloy's work at all. Fortunately that doesn't really matter as Graham has seamlessly packaged all this. She has the technical mastery to make the glosas disappear - what I mean is that the technique vanishes and we are left with strong, vibrant poems that aren't bridled by technique.
There is humour, wit, sensual experience, fantasy and grace in these poems. Hard to ask for more than that. It is also a delight to read, to recommend.
And I'm certain P.K. Page and Dorothy Molloy would both be chuffed.
There Is A Stir, Always
If I hold onto this body the snow will grow inside me
and the winter of my cells will flake
into tiny crystals like six-figured gods,
each arrow tip attempting to make the point of something
as tears flow.
There is a stir, always.
I rise to the cold
to take my place among the fragile stars,
Catherine Graham is the author of four previous collections of poetry.
FROM THE BACK COVER:
"Graham dives sensually into experience and enables the reader to follow. She writes what happens so that it happens again."
-Poetry Ireland Review
"One of Toronto's brightest poetry minds."
-Open Book: Toronto
"Graham utilizes images from fantasy and nature, working these poems to mine a quarry of loss...And Graham writes that loss into startling poems."
"More goose bumps per page than any collection in recent memory."
"Graham tells such incredibly layered stories with so few words that I'm constantly blinking in amazement."
-The New Quarterly
Poet to Poet - A few minutes with Catherine Graham