Friday, January 31, 2020

Reunion - Deanna Young (Brick Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Reunion.  Deanna Young.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario.  2018.

Deanna Young is the Poet Laureate of Ottawa, the city Today's book of poetry calls home.  Today's book of poetry has been lucky enough to feature Young once before when we looked at her excellent House Dreams (Brick Books, 2014).  That blog/review can be seen here:

More recently, meaning a few months ago, I had the great pleasure of doing a House Reading with Deanna here in Vanier.  Deanna was monster good and the crowd knew it.

So I now know Deanna Young, just a little bit.

Which brings us to Reunion, the latest from Deanna Young.  Reunion is a brave book, startlingly candid.  You will be haunted by these poems.

Girl at Home

There is always the fear
of emerging from the bathroom, towel-wrapped
to encounter a man

who's been listening for the clunk
of taps choked off, the shush
of water stopped.

When she peers into the hallway
-- even decades later -- and he is not,
thank God, there, still

she braces
for the dash to the bedroom,

droplets fleeing from her ankles.

           What's that?
You've heard this before,
dear reader? This old complaint?

you should leave us then.

As I was saying.

Let us bow our heads
in silence now

for the morning she stepped
from behind the plastic curtain

to find drawn in the steam
of the vanity mirror

a message:

I see you're a woman now.

Anytime I want, is what he meant.


Reunion is memory rendered nightmare.  Fear, the deadening, under your skin fear that comes from living with threat, twenty-four hour, "Anytime I want" fear.  These powerhouse poems go back and forth in time to become both history and memoir, both a confession and a litany of other's sins.

Reunion takes place mostly in the most terrible place on earth, the home you live in - turned into a crypt, a torture chamber, a threat.

Ultimately Reunion is a story of redemption through poetry.  None of us can fully realize the terror that inspired these poems.  But it seems that Young's poems are written from the other side of grief.

Young has emerged on the other side of these travesties with a gift.  These poems are all the evidence you need.  Reunion is top tier stuff, Today's book of poetry is convinced that Reunion is as good as any poetry we've read this past year.

Visit, 4:00 a.m.

Last night my father
showed up in my dream.

I knew him by his back and wide shoulders.
His head of curly black hair
none of us inherited.

We were doing this dance,
he and I, among rooms
that were all connected, in a circle.

Him unwilling to face me
and me, indignant.

My son was at the table
doing homework.

My father would stop his roaming
to peer over the boy's shoulder
and then move on.

I kept watch
from behind the glass of my dream.

I knew I was there.

My son bent over his work
unaware of the ghost.  I did not believe
he was in any danger.

I watched only
for any sign of love
for the boy

who looks so much
like me at eight.

I don't think I'll see him again.

My father rarely spoke to me,
never met my eyes
if he could help it.

He never touched me
either -- I just want to make that
perfectly clear --

not after the time
he lifted me from my crib
and threw me at the wall
like a cat.

As a brutalized man
does a cat.

My young mother
who had, until recently, never known violence,
rushing in, blood vessels bursting
around her eyes,
a kitchen knife.

The ensuing scene.


Some of these horrors are familiar territory for Today's book of poetry.  Reunion is the authentic reveal.  Frankenstein's monster does throw the young girl in the well.  What makes this journey splendid for the reader is that Deanna Young's voice is so real, read true, it comes across as a whisper that children share when they are hiding, and it comes across like an angry murder of crows.

Today's book of poetry takes our hat off to Deanna Young, Reunion shines in spite of the torments that inspired it, in spite of the torments the reader inherits.  Deanna Young burns and Today's book of poetry couldn't be happier to bring Reunion to all you poetry monsters.


I stand here this April morning, dear citizens
of Biddulph, and swear this truth: the cries

that ran through that house were unholy, the clamour
you heard and harm you suspected, the marks

on the arms of my mother, your call to action.
And yet you stood by. You closed your drapes

and extinguished your lamps. In the morning,
mist hung in the air, as it does her today, a lamentation

risen from the lawn. And was your blood so chilled
that thoughts of children dwelling in that

yellow house on George Street could not
unstop the fair accusations in your throats?

Could not one of you have gone to him, and said,
John, this is wrong.  Were you not duty-bound

to knock at the door of that madness?
I am looking at all of you here today, a blanket of light

draped over us at this crossroads, the sun still rising.
Go home with these thoughts in your minds.

And blessings be eternal on any of you who did
step forward then -- the righteous. Though I did not

know you, I am here by your kindness. In the name
of the mother, the daughters, and the small black dog.


Today's post is #801 for Today's book of poetry and we had been considering closing up shop to have more time for own writing projects.  But books like Deanna Young's marvelous, brave and harrowing Reunion bring a shot in the poetry arm to Today's book of poetry.  It is good to be reminded why Today's book of poetry believes in poetry.

Reunion will take a deserved place in the pantheon.

Deanna Young

Deanna Young’s previous books include House Dreams, nominated for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, the Ottawa Book Award, the Archibald Lampman Award and the ReLit Award, and Drunkard’s Path. Young grew up in southwestern Ontario during the 1970s and ’80s. Reunion, her fourth collection, belongs to that place and time. She now lives in Ottawa, where she works as an editor and teaches poetry privately.

“Each of Deanna Young’s spare, pitch-perfect poems seems to contain a novel. Young weaves in and out of time, playing with perspective, to illuminate experience…. This is a poetry that makes memory sharper, consciousness larger, life longer in all directions.”
     —Jury, Trillium Book Award for Poetry



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