One cannot judge a book by its cover, it’s true, but on occasion a cover does manage to reflect the essence of a book. Paperwhite, a new collection of poetry by Catherine Mamo, of Peachland, BC, is a case in point. It’s tastefully fronted by a photograph of an unusual fruit or nut set on a block of wood. This spotlit “scene” is rendered before a rich brown background. The cover’s subdued and beautiful, as are the poems within it. It suggests that the natural world is important for this writer, and it leaves much room for imagining.
Numerous contrasts are evident in these “confessional” poems; the poet examines her ordered, domestic life (as a wife and mother), and juxtaposes her “picket fence” lifestyle against nature’s attractive abandon. In “April II,” she writes” “why do children\keep arriving\why do they swing and laugh\why does the grass\bend its one colour so”. The poet dreams of drinking at a river “like bear or deer\tongue lapping\at the very origins,” (“Thirst”). In “I am a Lazy Wife,” she writes “I want\to enter a fish’s gullet\and swim there,\tiny as that again,\where we came from, like light, like sound”.
Mamo frequently employs philosophical questioning in these poems. Her stirring “Listening to Gould,” ends: “Cave Woman\artifact #3,452\who stares at me through glass\and why?”
I particularly like the poems which emulate the emotion-not melancholy, but something like it-her cover evokes, as she does so well in “A Visit to Kathryn, Alberta”: “Where the swing swings itself\continuously against the continuous\horizon.” This poem feels lonely in the way that one can feel alone in a room full of people, and many of Mamo’s images also reflect this mood, ie: one of the family’s cows, Eloise, is found dead in a sage hollow, “her ribcage a globe”.
The poet writes often and well about place; the evocatively titled “After We Made Love on a Rock by the Red Deer River” is a fine example. Imagine a “milky tea river … full of dead\and dying crickets”. It’s a wonderful image, and the musical duet evoked by the river and the crickets is an apt soundtrack for the poem, and the entire collection.
Mamo regularly demonstrates that she has an ear for sound, and this extends to extracting quotes from two of her inspirations, her husband, and her son. From the former she includes this inspirational gem: “If only we could remember\that we are always new”. And from the latter: “We won’t ever have a day\like this one again mama”.
Mamo nails what it is to straddle the life one lives and is thankful for and the wilder life one fantasizes about. She quotes the poet Rumi: “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground”. Even in their questioning, Mamo’s poems are undoubtedly poems of praise.
This is a book anyone could relate to, a combination of “the turning leaf” and “things landing\ in your coffee”. The poet herself says it best: “Humans live here”.
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