canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

by Margaret Christakos
Coach House, 2005

Reviewed by Janine Armin

After six acclaimed poetry collections and one novel, Margaret Christakos has brought us a remarkable book of poems, Sooner. In this collection she shows us a deep understanding of the way in which people approach language. Her poetry doesn’t call for us to painfully wrestle from it a meaning. The lyricism of daily events and other furniture of life is as crisp as stationary. Her initial meditations endure throughout the book, eliminating unease. This immaculate collection is perfectly read at this time of year, fuel for the gloomy months of squeaky snow pants to come.

While sentimental reconnaissance is felt throughout, these poems are appropriate for any urban no-bullshit phobic. Whether read with odious chores rocking you out of any attempt to reflect, or with the evil acuity of an academic, these poems will enrich experience. No matter how subliminal, you will self-actualise. Because each poem applies to the reader. Though Christakos recounts the events of an individual, these are Everyman poems.

The barrier between indoor and outdoor is broken down through the intimacy of her perceptions. She recalls outdoor experience, and imbues it with a secretive quality that is generally reserved for indoor moments. By breaking these restrictions, aggravations encountered in life are given a fluidity, which enables them to dissipate from interior to exterior. She develops an overtly sensuous form of therapy.

"Grass" follows a person who would much rather deal with "the swishing tapestry of flora" than the death of a child. The minutae of life sometimes fail to protect us from fatality, but she valiantly shows us their beauty nonetheless. In "Lucent" the subheading declares that "better is always walking." As we move through her text we are healed, she touches objects making their implicit charm explicit to the reader: "Around him, people hunched into their bellies, pulling from / the public gaze all the intensity they had invited over/ the afternoon in their offices." (25) The level of identification vibrates at the prenatal stage. These emotions have always existed, but cubicles tame them.

Christakos understands how we will read her poetry, because she is so exceptional at writing it. Poetry is a vessel that solves our problems as much as problems can be solved. It makes them glamorous things, makes us feel enamoured by every inch of life. And able to see that in order to appreciate, we must see both dark and light sides of existence.

"The / rope tying him to the rest of poetry was a / ribbon wound in concentric hulas, and he’d learned to swing." Christakos evolves this concept in her own poetry, with her seemingly inadvertent wandering through fields of perfectly plucked words. Her poetry could just as easily be prose, if prose allowed more threads to form in irregular connections. There is a sonambulitic quality, made sweet with every syntactic step. She schools us on "actual bodies suffering events of the people" (49) taking apart the words, she teaches us how to digest them slowly.

you were a
fraid of the proba
ble… (51)

Probable becomes a probing word. We see more exactly the alliterative mechanics of language.

Her poetry is also anatomical. Everything inflates and deflates. She offers us cures:

Pardon me if I think I know the only
Cure for you is love that will not quit
The premise of its origins. (65)

"The Problem" is a hilariously derisive synopsis of what can go wrong in a relationship. This poetry is so wonderfully honed. Like Ashberry’s ease mixed with Sexton’s passion and a touch of the Bissett phonetic play.

In "Grief" Christakos says "My heart is about as big / as a car It goes fucking / nowhere" (72). Grief and death are rolled into one. There are so many sanguine unities drawn between the sorrowful and the joyous. In giving great attention to the private: "A work this personal has been greatly admired," (79) Christakos lets us into her magnanimous perspective with a highly evolved knack of knowing just what to say.








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