I’d been looking forward to multi-disciplinary artist Anna Marie Sewell’s second poetry collection, For the Changing Moon. She’d impressed with her debut, Fifth World Drum, and in her capacity as Edmonton’s poet laureate, I once observed her deliver an outstanding performance poem she’d created on the spot, based on a few words provided by the audience. It was a kind of magic few possess.
In Sewell’s newly-released collection of poems (and songs) we again find an assured and original voice, and the kind of literary abracadabra (ie: superb use of linebreaks) only a skilled writer can pull off. “We are in large part composed of slanting/sun” she writes in “The Mortal Summer”. Sometimes playful, sometimes prayerful, sometimes angry, sometimes tinged with grief (particularly for lost family members and for injustices suffered by First Peoples and the impoverished) or inspired by legend, these eclectic pieces prove that Sewell knows her way around language, the map, and the moon.
Each of the book’s five sections contains a kind of moon, ie: “Moon of Wolves,” and among my favourite poems is “Kinds of Moon,” in which Sewell introduces us to moons not usually (or ever?) considered, ie: “the moon of marching activists,” the “moon of skin diseases,” and the “insipid little moon of tailored grass”. What fun to read.
Of the several poems honouring the memories of loved ones, including the poet’s sister, this homage to a mother stands out: “She is tiny now, my mother/and jokes in the morning, when/her teeth aren’t in, how she whistles/like a little bird”. Inspiration also comes from disparate people and places, ie: Sewell’s poem “Start Making Sense” provides a twist on David Byrne’s “Stop Making Sense,” and the gorgeous lines “so much turns on the breath of fog/falling over a broad green stream” – from her piece “One Moon, Many Faces” – echo William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”.
There’s much clever internal rhyme and plays on words, ie: “Streets of Seoul, Sewell seule,” and there’s even a musicality in how these poems were ordered. For example, in “Bush-whacking,” the riverside-hiking children “pipe and flutter, unconsciously magpie” and later they “shriek and whimper”. The next poem is delectably quiet: it’s based on how light falls upon six small cups on a windowsill. Holy dynamics. I also see this louder/quieter pairing in the neighbouring poems “She Sang” (about a wounded, musical sister) and “Light on the Wings,” which, among other things, praises red ash berries.
The multi-lingual inclusions (ie: Spanish and Anishinaabemowin) and named communities (ie: Edmonton, Lake Chapala, Kyoto) revere the places and people the Alberta poet’s connected to, both spiritually and ancestrally.
This fine collection deserves close reading. It’s a haven for all those who, like the poet, wander and wonder beneath the chameleon moon on “Turtle Island”. There are no answers re: the big why-of-it-all, but the poet/lyricist has “built a room/safe for the moon/to come home to” and “it has to be enough”. I say it is enough. It is very enough indeed.
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