Cloud Physics

23 June 2017

Cloud Physics
by Karen Enns
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-774612

She had me at “peonies of sound”. She is Karen Enns, and the opening piece -and title poem – of her new poetry collection Cloud Physics, is refined and thoughtful, and it makes me ravenous for more.

A few poems in the first section have a dystopian edge, ie: in “Epilogue,” “Nothing was questioned/after the last polar flares broke through,/and silence finally took over.” Enns, however, never slips into melodrama, and often her pieces conclude quietly (yet profoundly). The aforementioned poem ends thus: “It was warm for a while/after the birds migrated east/in a single line.” Yes!

I love the poet’s use of understatement throughout the book, and her use of what I’ll call “imaginings”. She (or her subjects) ponder interesting “What if?” questions, ie: What if time worked in the opposite direction, “so we could live our lives from death to birth”? What would it be like to “bi-selve”? What if “middle syllables/were lost,” and what if we are “made of what [we’ve] heard”? This last quote is from the list poem, “Ad Libitum,” which concerns the diverse sounds that fill a life, from “barking dogs” to “blankets shifting, footsteps on the stairs,/a tractor coming down the tree row.”

My sense is that Enns is hyper-attuned, particularly to sound – the sound of words, and the sounds of the world – and though there are no author bio notes in the book, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn she’s a musician as well as a poet. I’m also guessing she’s a birder, for there’s a veritable aviary of birds featured here, from owls to meadowlarks, and I’m particularly struck by her poetic facility with crows, “with their dark-knife forms,” and their eyes that are “bright metal bits of judgement”. The author also really looks, ie: into the back of the mailbox, “where a spider manages its web until a frost one night/leaves it curled and dried”.

Two poems in this collection are well worth the price of admission: “A Son’s Story,” about a father who wished to hear meadowlarks again before his passing, and “Solstice,” about a group experience on a beach, and the moment when all realize that poetry’s happening: they’re living it. It’s challenging to get this kind of piece right but Enns handles it like a master, and the “truth” uncovered echoes what the poet explores throughout the book: “We wouldn’t live forever.” (“We” reverberates because naturally we all own this truth.)

I could say that the primary subject of these lyric poems is time and its passing. I could also say it is sound, or light, and that trains and flora feature often, but perhaps these are merely the elements that made the most impact on me. What I know with certainty is that this poet’s marriage of language and intellect make for a most satisfying read, and I’ll be turning to these provocative poems again and again for the singular beauty of lines like this: “All we can do is surrender to the bright complicity of birds”. Karen Enns? More, please.


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