canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

good meat
by Dani Couture
Pedlar Press, 2006

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

The sight, touch, smell, and taste of meat are the threads that bind this book together. It is redolent with sensory perceptions of red meat, both animal and human. The images are rich, easily evoking the old-fashioned butcher’s shop with the butcher behind the counter wielding his cleaver, his navey and white striped apron stained with blood: ‘good meat comes from experienced hands’ (p.57) The poetry is not for the faint-hearted vegetarian!

Couture uses the heart as the mainstay of many of her poems, more often in its physical sense, but often linking the emotional with the actual:

on the escalator, or caught
between automatic doors, hearts
burst from excitement, oxygenated
blood stains luggage and passport ­
an aortal stamp. hearts are lost
in empty granite corridors,
thumping against closed doors;
hearts held up by security;
hearts senseless
at horseless carousels
hung up on which black suitcase
looks the most familiar.
and there are hearts
that visit the terminal
to exit the arrival doors—

(terminal p.13)

Couture uses with the image with precision, making it the center and focus of the person, that which acts and is acted upon. In the next poem, ‘chronic’ she enters the butcher’s shop via the doctor’s office:

my heart is the heart of my problems.
doctors act like bone-weary butchers,
tired of the same cuts of meat.

(chronic p.14)

Here the doctor who endlessly sees the same problems becomes vivid, and the heart becomes a chunk of meat for inspection, with no emotional connotation. Later, she depicts the heart as a full meal, with variations from ‘ will it autorhythmic. stew for ten years’ to ‘relax the smooth muscles …/with a dry rub of vasodilators’ (p.17) always keeping the reader’s fascinated attention with knowledge of the organ’s function.

Minutae are sharply given, without unnecessary embroidery: ‘the pan crackles and spits with fat and eggs; // drops of oil pearl the walls. there is comfort // in details, the shadows of living that lie underfoot.’ (the details of breakfast p.15). The language cuts to the bone, leaving the reader’s imagination to fill in the gaps:

she flew
from small-town
bulgaria to toronto
and she hates the cold
than she hates the man
who brought her here
to char hot dogs
for friday night drunks
like me

(street meat p.55)

Couture has encapsulated a person and their story in eleven lines and brought herself in at the end to add emphasis and explain how she knows the story. It is tersely told, unadorned, and evocative without in anyway being sentimental. Emotion under lies well-hidden behind the brevity.

A few poems, such as ‘street meat’ (above) are completely devoid of punctuation; most are fully punctuated. The lack of capitals for proper names, maintained throughout the book, is a problem only in that the font used is small and light which causes occasional difficulty. Titles are in an extremely dark and heavy font in sharp contrast to the text so that the pages appear unbalanced.

Couture has achieved a strong level of metaphor and imagery, consistently concise, with a clear perception of the human condition. She invites the reader to make a surgeon’s cut and read ‘skin and heart set out for cats and crows.’ (p.66)

Joanna M. Weston A SUMMER FATHER - poetry - Frontenac House 2006 ISBN: 1-89718105-1 $15.95 THOSE BLUE SHOES for ages 7-12







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