Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The House of the Easily Amused - Shelley A. Leedahl (Oolichan Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The House of the Easily Amused.  Shelley A. Leedahl.  Oolichan Books.  Lantzville, BC.  2008.

The House of the Easily Amused is quite a read and I don't say that lightly.  Leedahl carries a big bag of impressive tricks as well as deep reservoir of unbridled honesty.

You hardly knew me

Now I understand why it hurts

to see myself
on the photo you shot
on the vacuous street.

                   You captured me

as Alfred Stieglitz
caught his Georgia
in 1918.

        I am the shape of a woman
inclined against rock. A photograph

that says Here I am,
this is who I am,
                               this is the way

you should remember me.


This book is divided into four roughly equal parts.  Each section concentrates on a different narrative and geography, whether physical or emotional.  What binds the collection is Leedahls' consistent voice whether exasperated about a Mexican lover or trailing big game into the snowy woods with her son.


Pitahaya. One probing finger inside your colours,
I pull your white meat out.

Every morning past the painters on scaffolds;
we always say hello.

My map of the world slides off the wall
because it does not believe in me.

Hook, line and thinker. I am
sinking about you.

Why in all these languages
do you not love me yet?


Leedahl exposes herself to life with gusto and then her life to the page with similar elan.  I truly enjoyed this broad and revelatory collection.  Shelley A. Leedahl surprised this reader with her candor and her stunning combination of wit and pathos, humour and harsh truth.  There are moments of poignancy that left me stamping my feet.

Driving at night away from the city, the sky

is an infinite game of Lite-Brite. We forget
to be cautious of deer, the gravel road's ruffle

of deeper snow. Pots of verdigris light—
eyes trapped beneath pond ice—

define the runway near Cudworth and moon
hovers nowhere above.

No reason to speak. Village streets are empty,
snow like vanilla pudding

tempers front steps and rooftops.
Smoke rises from chimneys into polar bears.

                     This is what I believe in. You
pausing to gaze at the light show

before trenching a path to the door. Each time
the house smells like strangers

and we sleep as warm children
under tossed coats in a car. Between white fields,

below the black
punctured paper of night.


"below the black punctured paper of night", I love that line.

The first section of The House of the Easily Amused evoked some of the Mexico that Maryse Holder explored in her great book Give Sorrow Words.  Hard for me to gush any more than that.

When you decide you must buy yourself flowers
(melancholy is a raincoat)

Think of Lester Young playing sax to an empty room.
That first girl in grade four
to pierce her ears. Picnics in sweaters
and the small leaves that ride home on sleeves
and hair. a checkerboard of shadows.
An old or current lover invoking a Transylvanian accent:
Come, I want to embrace you
Redheads wearing green. Men who love women
in glasses, and photographs
that caught you dancing. Three-year-old ballerinas.
Anyone who says they are interested in your process.
Words in the dictionary no one ever looks up.
The distance between swimming and drowning.


And it is not like Leedahl takes her foot off of the gas — this volume is packed with killer poems.
Normally Today's Book of Poetry only includes three poems but I simply couldn't decide which of these I enjoyed more.  Good books will do that to you.

Shelley A. Leedahl is the author of two novels, two short story collections, two previous books of poetry, and an illustrated children's book. She has been awarded the John V. Hicks Manuscript Award, a Short Grain Award, Foreword Magazine's "Book of the Year", and more than a dozen Saskatchewan Writers Guild awards in various genres, including literary non-fiction. Two of her titles have been shortlisted for "Book of the Year" (Saskatchewan Book Awards).
Leedahl has been the recipient of the Wallace Stegner Grant for the Arts and received fellowships from the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences in Georgia, and Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers.  As well, she was one of five Canadian writers selected for the Canada-Mexico Writing/Photography Exchange in Merida (Mexico) and Banff. She lives in the village of Middle Lake, Saskatchewan, and travels regularly to conduct author visits and creative writing workshops.

"Amidst the banality of suburban life, the ordinariness of domesticity, (Leedahl) grounds a fierce love of beauty, of the moment's transcendence, of the lonely soul making its peace with the world. She's not saying, Look at me, she's saying, Look at this.  Out of love, and care for the reader, as evidenced by her careful craft and camera eye, her poems show us a way to see, and an admirable way to be in the world."
     —John Donlan, author of Domestic Economy, Baysville, Green Man and Spirit Engine



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