I clipped Humphreys' poem "Installation" from The Globe & Mail somewhere around 1999, and it has been posted on my fridge ever since. I finally got this collection of poems, and will be interested to see if the rest of Humphreys' poetry (she is better known as the writer of The Lost Garden
) stand up to the quality of this one.
Back soon with more ...
Liking it. Not loving it. It feels like buying a CD of music based on one hit song. I generally have trouble with poetry collections from one poet; I prefer anthologies or single poems. But that's ok, because this is a lovely little book (physically, I mean) and I like to support poets, especially Canadian ones, even if every single poem is not a bright, shiny gem.
In poetry, I look for three things:
1) Words that make music. The ring and crash of sounds against each other. Doesn't matter what the words mean at this point. Humphreys gets there too occasionally for my liking. In "Installation", it's "grinning with rivets" ... "notes of chrome" ... "chalk circle over dark harbour". There are some, but too few, instances of this in the rest of Anthem
, at least so far.
2) Original turns of phrase or concept. A sustained, but not cliché or heavy-handed, metaphor. This is nice, from "Variations": The notes of the piano released up, showering
down. A word is not pure sound like that, cannot
persuade the air to change.
But I don't like another of the lines in here: Shimmer of rain in the trees like the / shiver of blood in my chest.
Let me clarify: I like the line--it's evocative, I can 'feel' what she means here. But this line is not supported with any other imagery in the rest of the poem, and it doesn't seem to support the central metaphor. It's just sitting out there disembodied and falling flat.
Note here: lots of these poems allude to the struggle of using words to describe emotions. Well, isn't that the poet's struggle in general? Humphreys goes literal a little too often for my taste.
3) All of the above, resulting in imagery that sets up ambiguities, dissonant and multiple layers of meaning. "Installation", taken as a whole, does that. Haven't yet found one that has got me there ... but still reading.....................