In the Tiger Park

26 September 2014

In the Tiger Park
by Alison Calder
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$16.95 ISBN 9-781550-505764

Sometimes one reads a book and, upon completion, thinks: Hmm, I bet I could be friends with this writer. This was my sentiment after completing In the Tiger Park by Winnipeg writer and university professor Alison Calder. What I most appreciated was Calder’s original and clear-eyed view on a variety of interesting subjects, including a dead poet’s clothes; impressions of Scottsdale AZ; witnessing a bride and groom having their wedding photos taken in a cold September lake; elephants; China; the moon; the experience of blind children; and football (Calder hails from a Saskatchewan Roughrider-loving clan).

We sense the poet’s perceptiveness in her very first (and second longest) poem, “Blind children at the Natural History Museum, 1913,” in which she credibly describes how the various animals and objects might feel beneath the fingers of these children.

The poem “On finding P.K. Page’s old clothes” is just three stanzas long-but they contain so much! We are treated to the wonderful world “selvedges” and to the ear-pleasing “They turn to metaphor\and mites.” We see “Their pearls glimmer\in cardboard darkness,” and when the dresses tear, we hear the sound as “a match striking.” It’s apparent that Calder understands the virtue of appealing to multiple senses.

In another short and gentle poem, “The Tea Bowl,” the first line reads like Haiku: “At the temple gate, a tea bowl sits in the grass like a stone from a wall.” (For those counting, the sentence contains eighteen syllables, rather than the traditional seventeen, and that’s just fine.)

Calder also demonstrates a good dose of humour in this collection, as when she dons the persona of a football referee: “I rule the coin toss. Sometimes I want to lie down\in the end zone and count: too many clouds\in the sky.” She also takes a stab at her own poetry, complaining about the preponderance of the moon and elephants in her work: “It’s getting so I can’t hit a key\without tripping over a moon or an elephant.”

Does trivia interest you? You’ll find some in this collection. In “pigs” we learn that “science says pigs don’t need to turn around,” and in “Don’t think of an elephant” we read that “the first bomb dropped on Berlin in World War II\killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo.”

It is entirely easy to praise this book, with its sensitive insights and superb images. Consider this scene, observed while passing through Quill Lake: “the town was burning its elevator\bonfire huge and pagan,\small figures illuminated briefly as we passed.” In another poem, “The space between,” Calder writes that a bird’s nest is “made of air organized by twigs.” This is brilliance.

In my book variety is indeed the spice of life. In this book the poet cleverly delivers, offering sheer delight on every page.


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