canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Book of Skeletons
by Rachel Vigier
Pedlar Press, 2006

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

In the last pages Vigier tells the how and where she was caught up in the events of 9/11 when the second tower fell. Until then she explores the effects of violence through those ‘…moments when the question of poetry seems thin and out of place … when the question of poetry is most necessary.’ (p.56)

Which is to say that she explores her experience obliquely, almost as if the experience were a shadow that she is trying to define:
XXXXXXX … how the mind does this
rushing inside the skull until it XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX hesitates
first against a movement barely glimpsed
then a phrase barely heard

(Barely heard p.7)

Who is dying?
Are we getting
close to the hospital? The paramedic sits
hands hanging
blunt between his knees.

(To think endlessly p.10)
There is a sense that everything is happening to someone else, that the narrator is disconnected and observing events from the outside. Then there are swift moments, a phrase, or short poem, that provide the actuality of the event:
He touched my arm.
You need help he said quietly.
I’m fine I heard myself say
but there, again, the touch, on my arm, XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX light
like a bird brushing past.

(Sanctuary p.9)

…. Where
were we (was I) going
when they shook, took us?

(To think endlessly p.10)
Vigier explores the knowledge that ‘It’s what you never forget … Underneath, minnows and brown shadows drift and disappear.’ (Flight p.30). She understands that, behind the awfulness of the event itself, there are repercussions that will and do move in and out of consciousness, knowledge that she has to grasp before it slides away. She relates one act of violence to another, explores murder, finding ‘every night the poet/ hears the shot/ feels for it’ and ‘the language/ [is] always an echo’ (p.33). She touches on earlier wars during her visit to Italy, recognizes the casualness of death and its importance.

She recognizes that it’s too easy to brush aside explore war and violence, to turn from them as banal:
It’s true that one day, death came too XXXXXXXXXXX close
brought by strangers with strange beliefs
but they’re dead now and I’m not so what XXXXXXXXX more is there to tell?

Class trip, Lower Manhattan p.38)
Vigier sees how children move beyond the event, while those who were involved can be trapped by the event but need to move on. Poetry is her vehicle of choice for working through 9/11 but she sees the wider perspective of humanity’s violence and how events can bring healing and resurrection. In ‘Santa Trinità Bridge, Florence’ (p.25) she tells how the bridge, built in 1567 was bombed in 1944 to halt the Allied advance and was rebuilt
rescued from its rubble, sandstone and XXXXXXXXXXXX marble
hauled from the river
piece by piece put in place
by masons aligning and fitting
with ancient chisels and mallets a kind of XXXXXXXXXXXXX truth
I’ve wanted for years now, feel joined now XXXXXXXXXXXX in these stones.
The colour blue flicks in and out of vision throughout this book, a blue coat disappearing (p.7), a blue dome (p.17), blue written (p.20), a woman in blue (p.40, 45, 47, 48), a blue jacket (p.43), the blue of the sky (p.43). The colour, symbolizing truth, intellect, revelation, wisdom, and peace, hints that the latter is possible, that Vigier has transcended her experience and found peace through the absolution of poetry.

The poetry is memorable for its lack of judgement, the austerity of Vigier’s vision, her focus on the inwardness of her experience rather than exteriors.

Joanna M. Weston is the author of A SUMMER FATHER - poetry - Frontenac House, 2006 and THOSE BLUE SHOES for ages 7-12.






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