canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

That Singing You Hear at the Edges
by Sue MacLeod
Signature Editions, 2003

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

Sue MacLeod writes on the cusp between youth and middle age, noting with a light nostalgia the waning physical energy while rejoicing in perceptions gained.

She takes the ordinary routines of daily life and shines them to iridescent splendour. Her gift in poetry is to record the details of her life and bridge the gap between herself and all humanity. 'Thirteen ways of looking at a clothesline' (shades of Wallace Stevens) gives not simply a line of flapping clothes, but also a sense of time, distance and space:
I have seen

lines stretching window sill to window
sill across a cobbled

from sycamore to
above rust-coloured chickens.
These few words portray, in imagist fashion, a timeless picture which could be anywhere from Spain to Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, yet is anchored with precision in reality. It is a poem that anyone can relate to, in any part of the country.

Again, '. I wheeled home/ my wet & heavy laundry. Felt it shift/ like an animal over the curbs.' ('The day Elizabeth Montgomery died') and the reader knows the poet's heartache, is burdened with her and identifies with the weight of grief.

The first poem, 'The God of Pockets', remembers the many objects children secrete in pockets, from chestnuts to lucky pennies. But the memories age, as we do, so that flattened smokes, a mickey of gin and harmonicas are tucked into the poem, with a last admonition to children to 'Take/ what you can.'

Watching a friend washing dishes with her daughter becomes a moment of reflection on the process of aging:

something's draining out of us
and into them. Remember how *big *
we were once? We were
giants of women.

We were Olive Oyl.
We were Popeye, too.

MacLeod captures the importance of being 'Mother', and of being in charge. The surprise use of comic-strip characters as the focusing image takes the reader back to childhood, while the past tense reminds of advancing years.

Memories she holds with gentle hands, turning and polishing them. In 'They buried the 40s in my grandmother's well' she enters the world of the immigrant who has to forget the ways and behaviour of older generations:
They dropped in their world
war one medals, & felt
the turning over
of their fathers, far
across the sea

They threw in the kerosene lantern.
The long black night.
The silence.
MacLeod records 'We won't be needing/ that no more.' She lets the past go and moves on, gatherng youth and age into herself

Let me separate my two
sad hands, release
my expectations into the rumbling
world of this

xxxxxxxDay-nighter: Montreal
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto Halifax.

Her hands maybe sad at letting go of youth, but she has expectations of the future, brought together in writing and reading, as in the last poem, 'like a girl' ('Especially for a woman, reading').

This is a volume of poetry to be savoured, treasured, and reflected upon in the midst of everyday routines. MacLeod's poetry and memories become an avenue of personal exploration.

JOANNA M. WESTON M.A., married, 3 sons, two cats. A chocaholic writer. Has had poetry published in anthologies and journals, and a middle-reader THE WILLOW-TREE GIRL online and in print, 2003.






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ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.