Glacial Erratics

24 January 2013

Glacial Erratics
by Peter Sarsfield and Kim Mann
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Sandy Bonny
$ 19.95 ISBN 378-1-894431-72-9

A current of migration compels this partnership of poems and pictures from writer Peter Sarsfield and photographer Kim Mann — the book captures animals in movement, seasons in change, and landscapes etched by shadows that, with the lift of a page, allude to lengthening and contraction. Between photographs, poetic offerings travel between the Canadian North and southern prairies, tracing avenues of time and maturity, circling anchor-stones of hope and regret.

The collection’s title, ‘Glacial Erratics’, refers to boulders deposited by the ice sheets that once covered our prairie landscape. These provide evidence of our geographical heritage, offering themselves as touchstones to a history of dramatic change. And yet they are accidental legacies, monuments borne of glacial fatigue, of failure and release.

These poems echo their title. Read separately, it would be difficult to thread them to a theme. But linked and grounded by Mann’s photographs, they plot a journey. A raft of incidents, a life’s hopes and lessons.

There is a risk in this trust of fate to organize the poems, which Sarsfield alludes to in ‘message found’: Flying in small planes from tiny airstrips is always the same in one way, in that it is not camouflaged or capable of pretense. You are up here and you might fall…

But Sarsfeild’s readers do not fall, swept forwards by intimate and evocative first person reflections and disclosures. Sarsfield, a retired public health doctor, draws on details of life in the North to provide metaphor and resonance for the storied twists of relationships and solitary travels. In ‘risk of melting’ a truck’s progress over the winter road echoes the wounded heart’s trepidation in love:

Small trucks dare,
some do, riding thin ice
above water, more slowly now,
imitating safety, windows open
and seat belts carefully off, all
fingers crossed, just in case
of broken luck.

Rules are posted, official print,
stay on the ice-road only,
there’s no knowing where
the still safe path may be…

Kim Mann’s photographs, offered in black and white, expand upon the links of our human journeys to the land and its animal inhabitants. United by crisp contrast photographs of deer, and detailed botanical portraits, these largely winter landscapes echo poetic narratives with compassion and humor. A favorite pairing to the poem ‘you know’ features five squirrels, eyes aglow in a flash bulb, caught in the act of pilfering suet from hanging feeders. Elsewhere a coyote leaves ephemeral tracks in the snow, forest supports sky, and weathered buildings list beneath the weights of wind and weather.

Glacial Erratics is an honest and reflective offering with a uniquely Canadian cartography—a slim volume well suited to the New Year as we await, with degrees of apprehension, the voices of stillness; the heart’s remainders; the gifts offered to our lives by melting snow and spring’s persistent hope.


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