In her fifth collection, Homage to Happiness, Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Judith Krause integrates a multitude of subjects and voices to create a savoury feast of poems. The Regina poet throws her pen’s light on insomnia, family, horses, Regina (a long poem, “Cathedral Village,” is dedicated to that enviable neighbourhood), travel, love, poets, science projects, news items, the hourglass, the number 13, food (poems include “Gingerbread” and “Chili Tomatoes”), and much more. Discovering the surprise of where she’ll go next is half the pleasure of this book, which features a cover painting by William Perehudoff against a “happy” yellow background.
The Acknowledgements reveal that the life story of SK-born abstract expressionist painter Agnes Martin inspired some of the work; I admire those writers like Krause who can take on another’s persona and get so deeply “inside” that they make readers believe they’re engaging directly with the subject.
In the long title poem, Krause gives us both a literal and interior portrayal of the artist, Martin. She writes: “my large hands\at ease, hanging over\the ends of the armrests, as exotic\as two bunches of bananas” and, in this same sequence we find these lines [included here sans stanza breaks] of relatable brilliance: “I know the subtleties\of clear bright light. I know\the draw of clean air.\This is why we cross\a deserted beach\to stare at the ocean\or why we sit for hours\on the top of a hill\with the wind in our hair.\There are only two directions:\in and out.”
Another of this accomplished writer’s talents is knowing when, and how, to end a poem. In a piece titled “Rules for Falling in Love,” she writes about there being no rules in the game of love, and about “the inevitable\periods of sadness” that accompany love. She finishes like this: “You will recover.\Now tell me\the story of\how you met.” I love that returning, which for me harkens back to the book’s title: it seems to say that yes, in life there will be good helpings of joy, regret and sorrow; focus on the joy. This heartening sentiment is reiterated in the closing poem, “How You Reach the Sea.”
A sense of regret is evident in the short poem “I Wanted to See the World,” in which the narrator expresses dreams of travel (“Maps hung on the wall over my childhood\bed”) but “time ran out and wave after wave\swallowed everything in sight.”
Certain images leapt off the pages of this collection, ie: it was lovely to read about (and see) the pastured horses, with “the theater\of their rubber lips” (“Watching the Horses on Old Orchard Road”) and, to imagine (in “Ode to Discards”) the “faded denim of my mother’s eyes”.
Sometimes—or perhaps often—with poetry, the simple is the most effective. “Sunshower Flowering Tea” details the unfolding of colourful tea leaves in a glass teapot. The simplicity and clarity of this experience—and the impact of poetry—is summed up in moments “that hold us still\for the time it takes\to be reborn”. Judith Krause, I well-enjoyed your meal.
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