It only seems fitting that my review of this sparse, short book follows in the same tradition, so I don’t think I’ll be writing much about Toronto-based Dani Couture’s 57-page collection of poetry YAW. But don’t take that to mean I didn’t get a lot out of it. I think this is a book of poems that I will come back to, and reap more from Couture’s precise, muscular lines again and again.
First of all, do I know what the title means? No, I don’t. Does it matter? I don’t think so. I mean, I googled it (“a twisting or oscillation of a moving ship or aircraft around a vertical axis”), but that didn’t really affect the way I felt about the poems. If anyone knows anything more about this word and its possible larger significance I’d be interested, but frankly I’m okay leaving it as a mystery for now.
Like the simple yet mysterious word that is the title for this book, many of the poems are full of words that look straightforward enough, words that you recognize, but when you put them together make something oddly enigmatic and strikingly beautiful. Like:
…This elegy is not for you,
but for the halo of your life: the things left behind,
unclaimed: sagging shelves of books, hardening
drum skins, strands of your long, blond hair left
in so many beds. I am not among them. The heart
is a small, chambered abattoir until it’s not,
settled instead on some new task. Once, between us,
a rust-belt affection for the way things flew apart.
As that excerpt particularly shows, this collection is often occupied with grief and loss, even in the shortest of poems like “Shear”:
A voice bent
else. The words
to an old
Dead a year
and you’re still
Even in such a small space, and with so few words, Couture is able to evoke a commanding emotional resonance. Her language is consistently spare, tight, with nothing superfluous, yet it manages to communicate and suggest so much. Even the line breaks, like in the above “Shear,” are calculated for maximum emotional impact. In fact, the poem “1999” plays with line breaks explicitly, dying off just like the millennium it depicts:
we had expectations. And whatever
future would come, we slept heavy,
draped across from one another-a litter,
leg-tangled, sleeping. Sound
with the knowledge it was us
who would do worse,
who would always
Remember back when I wrote about how I didn’t like Arleen Paré’s collection of nature poetry and how “I’d like to surprise people with what kind of poetry is being written in Canada today, not confirm their worst suspicions”? Well, this is your surprise. Read it.