canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Flash of Longing
by Gwendolyn Guth
Friday Circle Chapbook Series, 2000
ISBN: 1-896-362-15-x

Reviewed by Joy Hewitt Mann

When Guth's poems make sense they make for wonderful senses; when she writes obscure, arty poems, they speak too fluently of her years in academia. But it is the in-between poems - the poems that take one a little aback on first reading and then reward one deliciously in a second reading - that stand out in this small 15-poem collection.

Several of the poems in this collection confounded me completely. Perhaps they would not have done so for another reader. Often an oblique poem is reward enough in the language alone for those who love poetry for poetry's sake and do not need to "understand" the poem. But my also being a prose writer makes me less accepting of such poems. I did not find that the language could redeem these particular poems.

Thankfully, the majority of Guth's poems are accessible, poems like "Zauberzeit," "One Day in Strathcona Park," and "Father, Cancer," a poem that touches the heart with a fingertip.

You would pinch yourself unknowingly
in the height of an Ontario summer
and emotions would rush to surface:
a flower of black cells
bursting through
to find the sun.
Why can we speak of
this cancer
and not of the other?

But, as I indicated before, it is Guth's in-between poems - neither too obscure, nor completely accessible - that make this small collection worthwhile. Poems like "Fish Tales":

Before the novelty drowned
before insistence sharpened
to a fine point
there were humming motors
and photos of a lake in love
with itself.

and "Where the Horizon Meets the Sky":

She found the fine line where the horizon meets the sky,

saw it in the brown-blue iris of your eyes,
so new to clay and soaring.

She named you for that margin,
and for what lies beyond.

In such poems Gluth shows her strengths as a poet; she has found that "fine line." One hopes she will continue along it.

Joy Hewitt Mann is now working on her sixth book. Lacrima Christi, a novel, is due out in 2002, and Bone on Bone, her first full-length collection of poetry, is scheduled to be published sometime in 2003.







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