Rock Creek Blues

30 November 2011

Rock Creek Blues
by Thelma Poirier
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Kris Brandhagen
$16.95 CAD ISBN 13: 9781550504552

While reading Rock Creek Blues a narrative began to unfold, during which I couldn’t count the number of times I felt my eyebrows raise. I was impressed by the sheer subtle courage of Poirier. This book is an exploration of death, providing the spectrum of the food chain and thickly sauced with the tart flavor of human acceptance and/or conflict about it; a study of harmony and discord spanning Rock Creek, Saskatchewan and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Poirier’s writing is versatile and organic, in a way that is neither arrogant nor assuming-A poet and storyteller in a truly dramatic way. There was suspense that I didn’t even know was building at first. To expand on that, it is like the story developed a wider and wider range as it went along like someone I didn’t even know was a minstrel walked up to me: “Want to hear a joke?” And here I am forty-five minutes later, I’m still listening, rapt, to the dynamic voice changes, and can’t wait for the end, in the very best way, because I feel a desire to know what happens.

Rock Creek Blues is unchronological: beginning somewhere and then seeming to go back and forth in time, telling the story of a character who intently observes the landscape, water, the barriers that we (humans) erect, and, above all, the blues. This story is spiced with two of my favorite things: a preoccupation with death, and the deft betrayal of intimate details about the persona. Thelma Poirier, I am proud to share Saskatchewan with you, and look forward to reading more.

Here’s a taste:

she is unaccountable for its presence,
as is the horse. It leans against her

the way dead horses do, surrounding itself
with dim lights, straw harness

hanging from the rafters. The horse is stuffed
stuffed as though it were a bag of loose oats

and toothless, too. Better than a toy horse,
a runaway galloping through the willows

the ride ends in this kitchen. Her disbelief gleams
in its glass eyes, the colour of tomatoes.

-from “not a toy horse” (48)

On the levee, I lean in to the wind, breathe Mississippi air,
a cool breeze blowing in from the river. I am as old as the river.

And on the riverwalk someone plays a saxophone,
plays a song that hasn’t been written. Not yet.
-from “New Orleans, Saskatchewan” (33)


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