For Your Own Good. Leah Horlick. Caitlin Press. Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia. 2015.
If a collection of poetry starts with a quote from Sharon Olds I generally sit up a bit straighter and pay a little more attention. Sharon Olds holds a lot of weight at Today's book of poetry.
We've always believed the maxim that what you read isn't as interesting as what you read twice. We read Sharon Olds every chance we get. And now we'll do the same with Leah Horlick. Not for using the Olds blurb, no, for hammer and chiseling this heart of darkness to share with us.
There's an alleyway, and a secret place,
and you know it's right because the books
tell you as an invert, all your love stories begin
in hiding. And you love her because she is angles
and shoulders, twin blue yard lights for eyes. How her teeth gleam
sharp when she throws those hoops in the air, how the listeners
leap to twist through them, flames so close they singe
your hair. She wears a horse's bridle on her
left wrist to signal she is not to be kept, and she blisters
under its chafe. One night you reel her
into a corner with a bandage. She says she thought you
were going to kiss her, she doesn't love women
but anything could happen. She has a talent, dreams
the future, won't reveal the one
that wakes her with you in it. But it's closing night. She has an empty
seat, passenger side, with your name on it. You say of course,
because you have a backpack, a matching ring of red
skin around your wrist, and you thought you'd never find her.
These poems blister gentle as they get under your skin. Leah Horlick is doing us all a favour in For Your Own Good, these poems snap you alert like the first crack from Billy the Kid's pistol.
Let me take another shot at that -- I was thinking about the German film Lola und Bilidikid (Lola and Billy the Kid, 1999). In that spectacular film, Lola and Bili are fighting a battle of sexual identity in a world that is not openly welcome to their particular disparity.
Leah Horlick's poems are a coming of age tapestry of punk circus and shadowed violence colliding in a rich vein of sexual tension. These poems trace a journey through self doubt brought about by sexual abuse. Our protagonist moves quickly through the animated joy of her first sexual discovery headlong into an abusive relationship that deteriorates into a dismal hell.
These poems delve into that murky water of guilt and desire and fear, but even at the lowest ebb you always sense that Horlick is swimming towards clear, clean water.
That morning in the motel
where your best friend lived,
new snow outside, at least in the memory
and the stranger--he was eighteen,
you were alone, she was downstairs
at the pop machine or something
while you watched the snow, the nest
of beached antlers in the yard
behind the pine trees and then he was there, too
in the room, telling you about
a guitar, or something useless
and you thought
empty room, you thought quiet house
you were a very smart girl and you felt
the footstep he took one step closer behind you
at the window, and from the rising star
of your gut you heard it, like twin
drops of water--you have to leave the room
Right. Now. And quietly, and you did.
That was smart. You were a smart
girl, and you did not tell anyone
not when they found out he was
in her room at night, not
when they sent him away, not
until you were a grown woman, and what
you wouldn't give
for that little voice again, now
Leah Horlick's For Your Own Good may be the best book of poetry to come out of Canada this year. I've read hundreds of 'em and this is as good as any, Had the rest of the staff read it out loud. Great, now Milo is in a funk, two other interns are crying, that might be over something else. But consensus was excellent.
These poems are Fran Lebowitz smart and that is damned smart indeed. They are Dorothy Parker funny and that is wicked, They are Erica Jong horny and it is as zipless as it gets. Add a Sapho/Lesbian undercarriage, some time at the circus, a sassy pseudo-masochistic mistress, some Sharon Olds wisdom and that is one hell of a Grand Old Opera.
Fran Lebowitz and Sharon Olds. I can't throw out any higher compliments.
In the dream of the new house, I have my own window
facing west; cherry blossom and fig trees,
monkey puzzle and magnolia. Everything flowers.
Whatever city this is will be good to me.
And then, the crows, tiny shreds of black cloth
thrown over the sunset, and I think the world
is ending. A kind hand tells me, this is the largest murder
in North America. If I ride my bike far enough,
I can roost with them at night, east beneath the mountain.
A stray crow wings away from the path of feathers, back
towards the squares of land I imagine, flat and brooding.
You're going the wrong way, crow! Come Back!
But she was never really going, and I watch as she returns
with that other bird, as dark and near as her own shadow.
This is a book about survival. And survive Horlick does. It's the reader who is in danger of being spun out of control. These fierce poems deserve your attention.
ABOUT THE AUTHORLeah Horlick is a writer and poet from Saskatoon. A 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry, she holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. Her first collection of poetry, Riot Lung (Thistledown Press, 2012), was shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award and a Saskatchewan Book Award. Her second collection, For Your Own Good, comes out Spring 2015. She lives on Unceded Coast Salish Territories in Vancouver, where she co-curates REVERB, a queer and anti-oppressive reading series.