Beautiful Stone, A

20 November 2019

A Beautiful Stone: Poems and Ululations
by Lynda Monahan and Rod Thompson
Published by Radiant Press
Review by gillian harding-russell
$20.00 IBSN 9781989274200

A Beautiful Stone is a unique collection of poems written collaboratively by Lynda Monahan and Rod Thompson. At the Radiant launch, Lynda explained their creative method whereby the two poets took turns editing a virtual copy of poems over the internet and, in this way, the poems like stones in a stream were shaped by the combined experiences of both writers ( Lynda lives in Prince Albert and Rod lives “west of the city in the woods” according to his author bio).

Lynda’s rationale for their chosen method was that they had both shared common experiences, such as the loss of a father, and so she hoped by interweaving the best of the images from two minds they could together create a seamless poem that had a greater universal appeal. As a past writer-in-residence for the John M. Cuelenaere Library in Prince Albert, Monahan strongly supports the idea of art as therapy for life’s downfalls.

The collection is divided into a trinity of sections: “Choice of Light,” “Loon and I,” and “Ululation.” The first section introduces a mature speaker whose chosen perspective favours the light. From the hindsight of a life self-driven by goals and notions of progress in the midst of adventures, the speaker, in extending a canoeing metaphor remarks “with the watery Everests behind[her],” “the point is one stroke ahead of the next” and that “cadence” in life is enough for present satisfaction.

I am particularly drawn to the title poem in this first section, “Choice of Light,” in which the speaker, in identification with Psyche, looks at the Cupid of her lover, but unlike in the Greek myth, is not dismayed by what she sees:

Holding a candle above your lover

is a choice now, a delicate way

to leave the day uncrowded.

While imagery from the natural boreal landscape permeates the collection, images from classical mythology do recur. In the second section “Loon and I,” I was struck by the singularity and grace of the image that encapsulates the poet’s conception of inspiration as drawn from outside the self:

who writes these poems

not I this incendiary

tall flick of a woman

casting the heat of her words

into the dark of old nights.

As for so many poets, some poems “fall from the sky, /wet iced crystals” whereas others the speaker describes as “frozen clouds.”

The title for the final section, “Ululations,” is most fitting as it describes not only a poetic form of lament to expel sadness but also seems to refer to the rolling landscapes peculiar to the area around where the poet lives. My two favourite “ululations” include “The Asbestos Forest” and the titular “Ululation.” In “The Asbestos Forest,” the hard irony that the imagined invulnerability of a victim of suicide is not realized until it is too late is brought home by the refrain “I am the asbestos forest/ that never burns.” And in “Ululation,” the loon image from section two returns as its voice becomes the implicit metaphor for the refrain “listen to the rise and fall/that distant ululation”. Here is a wonderfully integrated, slender collection of poems to which all who have suffered age and adversity will readily relate.


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