canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Walking the Sky
by Shari Andrews
Oberon Press, 2005

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

Memory and links with the past are Andrews’ main concerns. She reflects on the past through the lens of the present and uses the past to illuminate the present. She has a keen appreciation of the minutae of daily life and its relevance to the human psyche.

Andrews’ prose poems in ‘The Hour’ tell a straightforward story of an old man’s death and funeral woven round his daughter’s memories of her family and insights. The language is clear, adding to the working life depicted in the poems.

Upstairs, her father lay slack-jawed and dreaming. The mid-afternoon light fell across the bed. The quilts moved gently up and down on his chest. His hair lay in thin white strands against his scalp. His skin was pale as the porcelain teacups hanging from their hooks. (A field she buried her face in, p.32)

The dying man is clearly drawn but the last image brings the reader back to the kitchen where the daughter stands. There is a sense of the man having been in the kitchen, having used the porcelain cups, and of having withdrawn from them.

Later in the sequence, Andrews depicts the daughter:

As she dries the cups, she admires their gilded edges, the part they will play later in the day, her lips sipping on bands of light to hold back the delicate verge of tears. (Morning has spread itself p.35)

The daughter’s anticipation of the funeral, mixed with grief, is poignantly shown in the simple act of drying the cups.

The more complex free verse poems occasionally reveal difficulties with grammar and particularly with commas, which Andrews uses eccentrically and occasionally in ways which cause confusion. Short of getting into a discussion of Lynne Truss’ ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’, the meaning of a phrase can be greatly clarified by the use of the humble comma, as ‘Her skirt, petals close// around her newborn legs.’ (p.12) Do the petals close or is the skirt being likened to petals? Most likely the latter, but a comma would clarify the line.

Or ‘My arms and legs, lullabies slice the water’ (p.11). It must be presumed that the lullabies arenot knives to cut water, but rather the arms and legs resemble lullabies. Again, a comma would eliminate the problem. There are, unfortunately, several other poems where a missing comma muddies the poetry.

While Andrews’ imagery can be strong, as ‘The sky with the sun blazing in it was like his lungs filled with light.’ (p.40) even without commas there are times when the grammar is confused and meaning lost.

I stride the spine
from river bank to river bank, a stone
engraving the walls of a cave. (The old train bridge p.16)

Either the stone or the poet appears to be carving the cave-walls, but the reference is unclear.

If only the rhythm of this sea
could calm the distant shores,
limbs on the same body
that refuse to reconcile. (Limbs on the same body, p.25)

The limbs and shores appear to be one and the same, yet ‘limbs’ appears to refer to ‘this sea’. A period after ‘shores’ would help, followed by a re-writing of the last two lines.

Andrews’ prose poems have real merit, a depth of insight and reflection that illuminates memory and the human condition.

Joanna M. Weston THOSE BLUE SHOES and THE WILLOW-TREE GIRL for ages 7-12 







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