7 July 2010

by Paulette Dubé
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$17.95 ISBN 978-1-897235-74-4

I’m positively wild about Paulette Dubé’s new book. Walking through the numbered poems in Gaits was a meditative experience; they ferried me into the understory – with its seeds, scat, berries, pine needles, creatures, bird song, and autumn leaves (which “follow as brown tap shoes”) – and readers, there’s no place I’d rather be.

There’s ample white space around the stanzas in the award-winning Jasper poet’s fifth collection, which fittingly allows both the pieces and their readers room to breathe. As the title suggests, the poems examine “gaits” – both animal and human – through the seasons. It’s an inspired idea, and one which required a hawk eye and owl ear-to-the-ground (and air).

Although brief and deceptively simple, the finely-honed pieces are actually multi-layered: the masterly poet weaves descriptions of the natural world, mythology, contemporary life, and philosophy into a spider-fine lace of words. Look, for example, at how the following lines pull double duty: “a day of soft rain\melts a hard week of snow”. I highly agree with the poet’s assertion that “healing is\water over stones, wind over grass, sounds\of deer, fearless.”

Like any perceptive hiker, the poet knows that “in the forest\what you see\depends on when”. Patience is required and rewarded. In Dubé’s original line of vision, “mountain water scythes the earth” and “brown bats flit\reckless as sparrows, filling the air with Japanese\glass chimes”. She “watch[es] the elk watching the snow” and wonders “are we like this, smoky\haze, snow moving between trees?” This is exceptional writing, and I hope the powers-that-be (aka awards’ juries) are paying attention.

Animals are revered throughout this collection; they “know” and “see” perhaps more than humans can ever hope to. A hummingbird “hears colour,” and “Coyote blows his nose on assumptions”.

Dubé’s finesse with line-breaks frequently demonstrates her technical talent. She writes: “Hummingbird fusses spider web just so\dandelion fluff and that red thread will do\a nest, is of course practical”.

I feel badly for those who don’t have – or take – the time to explore the natural world. Like the poems in this book, the wilds are a balm. They are also a teaching place. With the poet we may wonder “can I learn?\can I be quiet?\ can I walk and observe?\ noiseless”. Ah, but we can try.

All my friends are here: the loon, pileated woodpeckers, coyotes, hummingbirds, snakes, grouse, elk, and trees. I don’t know Dubé, but I’m pretty sure that if I did, we’d become fast friends, too. Anyone who gets down on hands and knees to smell calypso orchids; examine the “sharp” and “soft” sides of a grass blade; and sees aspen in “their chic white suits, black seams gleam[ing]” is someone I want to know, and read.

Yes, I’m wild about this book. Thank you, Thistledown Press, for ushering it into the light. What Dubé’s delivered is a textual installation, of sorts: her gallery is nature in all its raw-boned beauty. It’s a fascinating world out there, and folks, the air – like these poems – is mountain fresh.


One Comment

  • Paulette 19 July 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Dear Shelley,

    Thank you for this review of GAITS. It made me realize that Coyote is still out there… making friends and influencing people. Good hunting! Paulette