Sunday, March 17, 2019

Linger, Still — Aislinn Hunter (Gaspereau Press)

Today's book of poetry: 
Linger, Still.  Aislinn Hunter.  Gaspereau Press.  Kentville, Nova Scotia.  2017.

Today's book of poetry sent Milo, our head tech, to the stacks yesterday before we all headed for home.  Today's book of poetry was almost certain we'd read something from Aislinn Hunter before.  And we were right.  Milo returned with a very smart looking Possible Past (Polestar Book Publishers, 2004) by Hunter.  Today's book of poetry gave it a quick perusal that turned into a full sit-down reread.  Possible Past is cherce.

Today's book of poetry liked Aislinn Hunter's poetry fifteen years ago.  Now we are ready to go stark raving mad with glee when we tell you that with Linger, Still, Hunter has entered sacred territory.  Linger, Still is Nora Gould good, Sue Goyette good, even Saint Susan of Musgrave splendid.  Today's book of poetry bloody loves it!

Aislinn Hunter has the wisdom, the knowledge, the secret, the magic - need we say more?  Hunter can burn your kitchen black and blue.  Linger, Still is vividly entertaining from the first page, the first poem.  And Aislinn Hunter has concerns that are very dear to Today's book of poetry.  Hunter's poems ask us how to be good people.  What could be more noble than that.

Northwestern Salamander Eggs Preserved in a Jar

A hundred slow curtsies
in filmy skirts
upends us, returns us,
briefly, to ourselves.
The jar held up to the window,
clutch of eggs swaying in the light.
A dance that goes back millennia,
that once saw
Simon Fraser's paddle
dip down through green
streaming chandeliers
on his way to a river
that would one day
forge his name.

Each egg a bathysphere—
a pip-sized possibility,
a helmet diver, scooped
with the stick it was moored on,
out of the wind-stirred stream.
How clear it is here
in the filigreed cloud of this
ancient bedding,
to see that being born is the rarity—
to see how the odds are stacked
against navigation—
to marvel at the possibility
of arrival, at how anything
becomes anything
at all.


We've all had that one teacher that seemed to be talking directly to us, Aislinn Hunter is that poet.  Linger, Still is an intimate sharing.  Hunter has captured what we need to know and shares it with us, the other tender animals.

Aislinn Hunter is prescient.  She answers to questions you are just starting to think about.  Linger, Still is a wondrous construction.  Hunter has no problem putting the reader in Russia and making the reader feel familiar, comfortable with new knowledge.  Russia or Newfoundland, Hunter has the maps to the secret corridors of the world and shares her familiar with us.

Linger, Still is, as Hunter intones "in this rarefied air."  Today's book of poetry asserts that Hunter and her poetry are in rarefied air.  It's easy to be excessive when you like a book of poetry as much as Today's book of poetry likes Linger, Still.  It is hard to maintain any sort of objectivity.  We'll stake our reputation on Hunter's humility but these poems remind Today's book of poetry of the voice of Michel de Montaigne himself.  

Today's book of poetry just wants more of whatever Ms. Hunter is willing to put on a page.  This is marvelous poetry.

Her Husband Takes Leave of Her With His Usual Courtesy

Her neighbours finger the sleeves of family life
as if it were a well-made coat.

And yes, she has decent husband, a marvelling child,
an abacus that clicks bead after bead into place.

So what of honesty? Of what's announced
and what gets pared away?

Even the Egyptians weighed the heart against
enumerations of innocence:

I have not mistreated cattle, I have not robbed the poor
or held back water in its season.

Rules of etiquette Anna finds
in The Book of the Dead.

I have not caught fish in their ponds,
I have not snared birds in the reeds of the gods,

I have not sinned in the Place of Truth.

And once, at least, I stood there.


Today's book of poetry will happily follow Aislinn Hunter to Russia or Scotland or any other place on earth her poetry map takes her.  We know ranting turns into unwelcomed noise if you let it so we will try to be reasonable.

Linger, Still is Canadian poetry of the highest order.  Our only issue with Hunter is that we need to see more of her poetry.  Reason and beauty don't have to adversaries, Aislinn Hunter's poetry says so.

Central American Squirrel Monkey, Male Skeleton,
From the Suffield Experimental Station, Alberta, 1951

How to do death better?

The squirrel monkey
has three kinds of call:
squeals, whistles, chirps.

A black cap, long red tail,
largest brain of any primate,
relative to body size.

Sprayed with sarin, one monkey
convulsed at six minutes
and died at twenty-nine.

What does that interval,
that Suffield winter,
look like to you?

This plush little bit
of history, these yellow bones
set, this morning,

against a backdrop
of a CBC radio documentary
on beheadings.

This monkey's skull
is the diameter
of an elaborate

men's wristwatch:
dial-less eyes, one of time's
teeth missing.

It's like a horror-of-war
film, except here
someone has stopped to pen

a set of numbers
in fine black ink
above his socket.

His body
flayed clean
down to his hands—

to two cuffs
of copper fur,
like those worn

by kings.


Aislinn Hunter should be a name we all know.  Linger, Still should be read by each and every one of you.  You will thank Today's book of poetry.

Aislinn Hunter

Aislinn Hunter is a poet, essayist, and novelist. She is the author of six books, including the novel The World Before Us, which won the Ethel Wilson Prize. She lives in British Columbia.


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