Fog of the Outport

23 December 2014

Fog of the Outport
by Robin Durnford, artwork and design by Meagan Musseau
Published by JackPine Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$30.00 ISBN 978-1-927035-07-8

JackPine Press is well-known for publishing artsy chapbooks. I was prepared for the unconventional, but admit I didn’t know how to approach Fog of the Outport. The textless, off-white cover and grey, hand-stitched spine offered no clues as to what might be inside; thus genre, creators, and even the title awaited discovery.

I opened the book and was delighted to find a dramatic landscape reflected in silkscreen prints; a design that merges with the unfoldable back cover to create an innovative, three-paneled panorama.

This limited-edition chapbook, written by Robin Durnford, and illustrated\ designed by Meagan Musseau-Newfoundlanders both-is a gorgeous collaboration featuring prose poems named for each month of the year-“february” to “february”. It’s a memorial to the life of the poet’s father, whose own father died when he was five, and it’s an homage to Durnford’s widowed grandmother, left with nine children to care and provide for on “the exposed bone-belly” of Francois NFLD, an isolated, south coast outport.

There is story here, and art, and language that made my mouth water. In the first “february” piece, one does not so much read as she does listen to the words:
“this story begins in the rock-slide sea-bowl of one lost harbor, secreted amongst the gull-ridden shady rows of hills and cliffs stoic and reaching toward Miquelon. a parallel universe stuffed with the stink of fish guts and salt, tipping houses, thick with paint, falling slowly into persevering cliffs, slippery and wild, ice-crusted in winter, blooming in summer with the brambleberries and beach rocks, black flies and stouts …”

I was so taken by the musical, alliterative phrases, like “we slipped lovely and lonely into the living again,” that I didn’t realize until the end of the second poem that the poet was cleverly inserting rhyme into her stanzas, ie: “the mom in the kitchen, clutching arms to her chest, nine boiled potatoes on nine plates for the rest.” Hunger’s both depicted and symbolically represented in the hard-consonants and uncapitalized, long-sentenced, prose poem form.

This could be a handbook for what it’s like to grow up in Newfoundland. We have “red-bottomed rubbers,” “sprayed shellfish and sticky dories,” “black waves and dips, reaching for savagely granite-stacked cliffs.” There are mummers, described as “snowstorm-hurled gargoyles” who scare the child with their “shape-shifting in kitchens.”

In the hard year that followed her grandfather’s death, the poet’s dad failed Grade One, explored a shipwreck, and “sprouted and frolicked, choked on lobster and Pollock.” The chapbook is rife with hyphenated words that really hit the mark: “sea-urchin throat,” “blood-bogs,” “fuzz-bearded tuckamore” and “stink-sinking marsh” are among my favourites.

This rich language is balanced against digital reproductions of Musseau’s delicate ink and watercolour paintings, which suggest landscapes rather than mirror them.

Fog of the Outport will satisfy those poetry-lovers who mourn the absence of rhyme in contemporary poetry, and it will sate aficionados of free-verse\prose-poetry. Google” Fog of the Outport CBC” for an excellent televised feature (“Land and Sea”) on the creators and story behind this book.


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