Long Walk, The

9 November 2016

The Long Walk
by Jan Zwicky
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Cassidy McFadzean
$19.95 ISBN 9780889774490

Jan Zwicky, the Governor General’s award-winning author of more than a dozen books of poetry and non-fiction, returns with a new poetry collection, The Long Walk. Zwicky has released titles with such celebrated publishers as Brick Books and Gaspereau Press, and The Long Walk marks her debut with the University of Regina Press – the first poetry release of its Oskana Poetry & Poetics imprint.

The Long Walk is a wide-ranging collection that addresses environmental devastation and the ongoing refugee crisis alongside responses to Brahms and Simplikios. The diverse poems of the book’s four sections are unified by the motif of walking as a means of bearing witness to the world. “What will you do, / now that you sense the path is unraveling / beneath you?” the speaker asks of her own heart in the opening poem, “Courage.” The poem is as much a plea for the poet to have courage in delving into the difficult subject matter to follow as it is for the reader, and she instructs us to “step closer to the edge.”
For Zwicky, bearing witness is a deeply personal obligation for which there is no alternative: “You must look, heart. You must look.”

The idea that poetry bears witness to the world is a familiar one, and Zwicky addresses the relevance of this task in the self-reflective “Witness.” In highly ironized language, Zwicky suggests it may, in fact, be “Best not / to look,” and considers the freedom of swimming in polluted waters, ignoring the “plastic flecking our hair / like confetti.” At times, Zwicky’s eye leads us to disturbing imagery we may very well wish to look away from. In a poem memorializing the 2008 rape and stoning of thirteen-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, Zwicky describes “the dull snap / as the bone breaks under flesh.” Zwicky forces readers to confront some of the world’s most horrifying realities in language that is as blunt and grotesque as the imagery it describes.

The poems that explicitly take up the motif of walking as a means of self-examination offer a personal perspective that is incredibly affecting. The reader can clearly trace what is at stake when Zwicky directs her eye to the failings of her personal relationships, domesticity, and even language itself. In “Break,” she articulates the difficulty of a life spent in self-examination:

My legs kept moving, we were on our way
downslope, the sudden, steep internal silence,
numb, bewildering, the sense
a second soul was lifting, splitting from my own.

The alliterative music and halting rhythm of these lines conveys the violence involved in personal change, as well as the mourning that accompanies this self-actualization. The Long Walk is a rewarding read that secures Oskana as an exciting new Prairie-based publisher of Canadian poetry.


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