Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pluck - Laisha Rosnau (Nightwood Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Pluck.  Laisha Rosnau.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2014.

Sometimes when you open a book of poetry and start reading there is a moment where you feel you are entering another universe.  The reader who enters Laisha Rosnau's world is welcomed to a new panorama where Rosnau leaves no doubt as to who the master of this universe is.  This is a fully developed canvas where every nuance is essential, every detail revelatory.

The universe Rosnau takes us into is familiar, it looks just like our world, except that Rosnau now gives meaning to those moments of wonder and suspense that linger just beyond our ken.

Fissure & Flood

Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water,
Come back here & give me my daughter.
—PJ Harvey/traditional

Whatever you do, don't picture a tight mouthed
sergeant demanding you push so hard that you launch

round offspring into the cut-banks that girdle the city. Don't
           think of salmon swimming upstream,

bloody and ragged, hooked on the confluence;
how the current forms clouds out of streaks of blood.

Instead, imagine women. They are everywhere, scrubbed
and name-tagged or walking the streets, legs thin as pins,

heels into each day like a needle in your arm, saline drip
           to replace what the baby will pull from you.

They'll beat pans to flush those babies out
as a bear looks up from the dumpster behind the hospital,

waves its snout in wide rhythmic arcs,
           a priest swinging incense.

The space between vein and blood is all there is
between you and her,
                                and then there is more—


Each time I give birth, my husband waters the garden
in response, plumps the front yard with pots of tomatoes

as I turn myself inside out, reveal
          how rosy we all are — our skin, theirs.


Laisha Rosnau tells us haunting stories about the way we live in the world.  Not haunting as in Stephen King scary — but haunting as  — how could she know what she knows.  Where does this uncanny ability come from, why does Rosnau get a sense the rest of us seemingly are deprived of.  How does she render the clear moment of understanding and comprehension simultaneously with the slack-jawed seconds of awe?

"Pluck", the title poem of the wildly good third book of poetry by Rosnau, is a longer episodic poem about the struggle to make family and to make sense of family.  These are universal struggles and as Rosnau says:

"We are all on our own here".

We Were Reasoning Wildly

What is reasonable art
to hang above one's marriage
bed? You thought shelter—an image

of a cabin glowing in snowy woods,
the oil paint thick and ridged, the frame
white, a little campy. We found it

in the basement along with other things.
The wire to hang it seemed sturdy
then busted one day but it didn't crash

down, instead balanced on the headboard.
You suggested we repair it
but I prefer to stumble

on objects whole, hope
all remains intact.
Back in the basement,

I found two paintings of owls, one snowy,
one great horned, perched on forked branches,
each looking either stoic or calm or both.

I hung the white one over my head, the one
with horned tufts over yours. Not to be too symbolic
but there are reasons to hang wild things

over us, two birds in different frames
on the same wall. So many reasons, one
being we should call out in the night more often.

A real owl, counterpart to your painting, startles
us out of sleep and we roll into each other,
lap at the heat of our paired skin, then dive

into our own worlds of sleep, talons out, ready
to plunder the whorled nests that will feed us,
keep us flying, silently towards each other.


I often read poetry late at night, in bed, with K sleeping beside me.  It is a quiet and sublime pleasure. That is until I read books like Pluck and find myself yelling out loud, grand squeals of agreement, shouted curses in surprise, screaming out exclamations of pure joy.  This happens when a poem is either so bad it makes me angry — or so good I can't help myself.

Guess which category the supremely gifted and oratorically blessed Laisha Rosnau falls under.

It was after midnight when I was writing about this last night, I yelled out "HOLY CRAP" at one point simply because Rosnau had made a cow jump over a moon in my mind.  Woke up my wife.

Kick A Small Moon

This is ours, and not ours, pass it on.
Damian Rogers

Kick a small moon into the grass.
Giggle. Toss coins, lawn darts, desire
before they pin you to something.
Tear blank pages out of creased palms.

Be prepared for ignorance, teasing,
wounds, all exacted by you on you.
The future is an orphan, the dulcet
voice of radio tells you about its plight.

All the crayons are broken, the top
shelf of the cabinet is festooned
with tiny pills and sticky syrup
to make it okay, anyway.

There's a bear on the patio
and cubs curled into the tomato poets.
It takes us two days
to leave the house then

the sun presses down, crowns
our heads, knocks us on our arses,
forces light down our throats
till we're gutted by splendour.

Each season, we forget
the others, think this is it, this is
how it will be. We let go of the string
and the balloon floats away.


Pluck simply glows.  From one smart poem to the next, Laisha Rosnau carves through your imagination like she were a hot knife, you were butter.

Laisha Rosnau is the author of the best-selling novel The Sudden Weight of Snow (McClelland & Stewart) and the Nightwood Editions poetry collections Lousy Explorers, nominated for the Pat Lowther Award, and Notes on Leaving, which won the Acorn-Plantos Prize.  Rosnau lives in Coldstream, BC, where she and her family are resident caretakers of Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary.

"The subtlety with which Rosnau evokes the range of human emotion is striking. Ambition, vulnerability, thoughtlessness, desire—so much is laid bare by the smallest of details... In language assured and eloquent, Laisha Rosnau offers an edgy, big-hearted plunge into those moments of shift that show us at our most human. And reminds us that how one accommodates oneself to change, how one embraces and lives inside it, is a mark of one's humanity."
     —Marnie Parsons, Globe and Mail

"Exposed, expanding, these are poems on the verge of eruption..."
     —Jennifer Still, Winnipeg Free Press

"As imagery goes, it is difficult to recall someone I have recently encountered as talented as is impossible to read one poem without instantly jumping to the next. The straightforward, pure beauty of these poems will resonate with you long after your first (and second, and third) reading."
     —Rhiannan Rogstad, The Goose


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