canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Taking Shape 

by Edward Carson
The Porcupine’s Quill, 2008

Made Beautiful by Use 
by Sean Horlor
Signature Editions, 2007

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

Love, as shaped by the wind and the movement of the earth, is the theme of Carson’s poetry in this book. He explores the nature of love and its manifestations, both personal and general, through metaphor and experience. He does it thoughtfully, philosophically, and with extraordinary delicacy of language.

He understands that, with love,

…. There is much

more to learn, and more than we know to leave behind,

but knowing very little, we urge on this new thought

of the gathering wind and the shape of it all around us.


What is known is never enough, therefore it is left behind in order to pursue new thoughts of love which, like the wind, is only visible by what it touches. The wind as a metaphor for love is prevalent in these couplets, how it takes ‘its shape from all it greets …// a makeshift voice …’ (p.9)

Carson gives no simple answer to the shape or essence of love, rather suggests that there is

… only the faint

shape of things taking shape, the simple proof of slow

continents reaching out to meet another, touching for the first time.

… This time

around we will break away from one shape, only to find another.


The gradual recognition of love between two people is revealed as a shift of land-masses, the geology of relationships that move in an eternal dance, ‘a shifting// of thought.’ (p.13) Unlike Shakespeare who, in his 116th sonnet, says that ‘Love alters not with [Time’s] brief hours and weeks’, Carson says that

.. the speed of that transformation is so

fast, yet so slow, that the thing that it is

and the thing it becomes, begin and end together.


The trick is to be so still that no one knows we’re moving.


Time is relative, love moving with lightning speed and yet with a gradual coming together.

Carson’s vocabulary is simple but precise, leading the reader to ponder deeply of the nature of love for themselves. In ‘The more real// our love seems, the more misleading it must be.’ (p.13) he states the paradox of the relationship of love, that it is real to the lover, yet it often leads to false consclusions, to seeing the world through the clichéd rose-coloured glasses.

He understands the quixocity of love, that it is ‘a geometry of thinking and doing’ (p.27), that thinking of the beloved is to respond to the beloved. He goes on to say ‘My winter comes out of me and brims to the full,// leans over to give you a kiss whole square and deep.’ (p.27), i.e. that his inner coldness erupts, overflows, and bestows the warmth of spring through love.

The endless paradoxes of love are the subject of these poems, the slow growth, swift passion, the known response, unknown dimension:

… Some things are made to be

something opposite and true, made to be one thing after another,

again and again, some love that is now, and some that is not.


Fortunately, Carson does not seek for a final answer but leaves the reader

with knowledge shared and insights gained, ‘We learn to be the sum and minus of this story,// the uncertain edge in the shape of things to come.’ (p.45) We learn as two lovers to be the total, and as individuals to be less than a couple, with the future unknown.

*Taking Shape* is poetry to be treasured, savoured, read, and re-read, a gift to the lover and the loved.


Made Beautiful by Use 
by Sean Horlor
Signature Editions, 2007

Horlor’s spirituality is gritty and hard-edged, being of the city rather than of the angels-and-heavens variety. The poems as a whole are thoughtful and with interesting insights into the human condition, tying street and drug culture to spirituality with ease.

Horlor, according to the backcover blurb, asks if "it Is possible for anyone to be conscious, compassionate, and ethical in a twenty-first century world?" In the first section, ‘Empty container’, Horlor writes poems of praise: praise of beauty, solitutde, what is found again, verse, listening, and letting go. It is in the last two that the question of consciousness is most clearly addressed:

Trampling, plush with intent,

it’s my voice pounding at the door.

What did you just hear

unfurling in your ear’s delicate rosette?

A whistle. A knock.

The unanswered door.

There are moments the human body

amplifies absolutely.

In Praise of Listening p.18

There are consonants, sibilants, and understated alliteration, as with the m’s in the last couplet, to bring attention to everyday sounds. It is a poem to be read aloud to bring into awareness the sense of hearing.

With ‘In Praise of Letting Go’, Horlor takes an empty container and suggests filling it with ‘an angle of volcanic rock/ where decades of tree growth wash up as they are: roots intact …

Let us choose carefully then, the general view

and what it means to us, our own

collusive scenery: a homestead,

until night leafs into place above

a field with two floodlights and farther

along the horizon, the red feather

of a radio antenna flashing against grey cloud.


He moves from the solidity of earth, the antiquity of natural surroundings, to the empheral flashing light of the antenna, bringing awareness of the transitory nature of radio communication.

There is warmth and beauty in images such as ‘The morning, the sky/ came down to lie against the earth.’ (p.33) Here compassion and love combine with the vision of a cloud resting in a valley on a cold morning, while the couplet that follows challenges and contradicts, ‘Yesterday, a small bird flew in/ to the window and broke its neck.’ (p.33) The line break gives pause and an expectation of beauty, instead the reader is jolted with the death of the bird. Faith in goodness becomes rather a question than an expectation. In ‘Love, or What should you believe in?’ Horlor says

This word would be easier if

I could just say heart

before moving on to the short journey fingers make

between the buttons of a clean shirt –

then fold the heart over until all

that remains is its semblance across this page.

A blueprint. An ink blot. Something

to interpret under another’s care:

There is no wrong answer.

What faith. What terror.

If love was only to touch the physical heart it would be easy. But because it has to be interpreted as is a Rorschach test, all answers are correct, and it is terrifying to realize that whatever one says in a given context is right in a world where there are no absolutes and innumerable shades of grey.

In ‘Talking to Other Canadians About Canada’ (p.50), Horlor says that ‘Sometimes the most important tasks of love/ are done by everyone.’ He acknowledges that love has as many faces and answers as the actions that reveal it.

The divisions of the book are brief and definite: The Empty Container’ which deals with beauty etc.; St. Brendan the Navigator; The Seven Heavenly Virtues; St. George the Dragon Slayer; and Hagiographies. It is the only the satirical section in which George W. Bush is cast as St. George, which appears to stray in tone from the rest of the book.

His language, however, flows like silk over the hands: it is smooth, evocative, and richly patterned. There is need to pull a thread, pick a word, and follow the pattern to its conclusion, to verify the design of his work. The connections and insights are contemporary and of spiritual depth. Any later book will surely be worthy of note.

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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