Questions for Wolf

3 May 2016

Questions for Wolf
by Shannon Quinn
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Allison Kydd
$12.95; ISBN 978-1-77187-058-0

Questions for Wolf is a collection of poetry in Thistledown Press’s New Leaf Series. In these haunting, often savage lines, Shannon Quinn evokes not only those who have been exploited, silenced and murdered, but all women. The images are so delicate, yet complex, it is best they speak for themselves. First there are the children: “younger girls fly by/lost in the magical history/of secondhand bikes/all tassels and pigtails . . .” and close by there’s “. . . a circle of girls too young to be with boys who drive cars. . .”.

Then come the evils of “sparse expectations,” “a list/of inner-city mortifications/that comes with being poor and a girl”. Quinn knows the drive for something better and the desire for love and attention: “Boys see you for the first time/They see you they see you they see you/gliding mid-flight/Can’t touch you/Can almost touch you”.

Such vulnerability leads to ruin, and yet: “I don’t want to be gentle/or wear the comfortable footwear/of common goals/or join the queue/to pull a ticket to collect on insufficient blessings”. Addiction too begins with the promise of wonder, and ends with the need for “commerce”: “my stiletto signals are answered by the dull thud of men’s shoes”.

Some images suggest contemporary violence against women. It’s easy to read Robert Picton’s crimes in the lines of “The Field”: “Here lie the bodies, here the bellies . . . This is the field that was mined . . .”

Though such phrases beg for an emotional response, this is not romanticizing the victim. Rather, Quinn seems to speak of the dark places in all women’s experience. Here is the choice that is no contest, between leaving “to swim/in the dark glitter of dead stars” and staying “to chase pot roasts and roses . . .”. In the risk-taker’s life, blood and violence are never far away: “. . . bruises that faded to yellow/and left so quickly/I never knew them in their proper shade of blue”, but so is ambivalence: “and I’m still not sure if it’s you I should have been”.

If Quinn’s woman makes dangerous choices, she doesn’t dwell in regret: “A million miles of white for the girl I meant to be”. She could remember “that tired history of secret wishes/all the goods [she] could have been,” but she doesn’t. She insists on being “found not saved” and says, “Your boat is too small for our revolution”.

Quinn also claims a wordless kinship between women and animals, not only in the title poem “Questions for Wolf”, but in many others. (This reminds me of Greek mythology, of Jason and Medea. Jason is cerebral, while Medea represents what is wild, instinctive and of the flesh). The metaphor is painful, as in “. . . our ferocity . . . learning to sit with begging thoughts”, but this animalism also gives Quinn’s woman the power to survive: “But oh look at you now/nostrils flaring/chuffing your breath”. So ultimately, paradoxically, there is hope.


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