Leah Horlick’s debut collection of poems, Riot Lung, offers its readers an inspired celebration of urban and small town experience that will perplex, transfix, enlighten, but also move, those coming of age in a radical time. Most of the poems (except one) are written in the confessional mode, that is, in the second-person. The poems are highly evocative, written with a keen eye for imagery and with a rhythm and free stanza structure that the poet has made her own. The range of subjects varies widely, from sex education in a Saskatchewan town to what the lights in St. Louis reveal in a transient moment of wishing. The poems in this collection demonstrate the complexity of feeling that the confessional poem can bring to those with a longing for life in their poetry.
The poems blossom with the senses, with breaks that seldom truncate their line, but rather, extend an image’s duration and resonance. This causes the poems to flow without breath, without an inclination to pause or withhold. Yet, the poetic is somehow controlled. The images are free to arise and to coalesce around centers intuitively held and released, such as in this description of a beloved’s most memorable feature, in the poem, “Grey Area”:
It doesn’t bother her so much, that grey area beneath her
collarbone–just that it’s not
grey, the way a pigeon isn’t grey. More like an oilslick, shift-
shining green and violet
over charcoal feather smears.
Horlick prefers streaks of incidental pigment and spontaneous splashes to a calculated composition of line. Nowhere is this more evident than in the poem, “Surrealust”, in which the speaker contemplates a lover’s interest in Frida Kahlo. By the conclusion of the poem, the speaker and her addressee “are a mess of secondhand colour,/red shawls, green hummingbirds/and bathtubs”. In “Tabula Rasa” the Other, the ink, and the page engender a climax of blushing skin, an effect that is alarmingly immediate and profoundly tactile.
Several poems reflect upon the speaker’s lovers and friends, past and present. “Menagerie” recalls moments when sickness and death visited the speaker’s and her lover’s pets. It is an intriguing poem, one that grasps the subtle differences in how death is understood and related to. In “Righteous”, the speaker remembers the events surrounding her first kiss in daylight, in public space, at a time when the boundaries between self and world are interpreted and traversed.
There is an articulate distance present in the title poem, “Riot Lung.” In it, the speaker and her addressee are in different cities, but linked in states of mind. From Manhattan, the speaker contemplates a close friend’s activism at the G8 Summit in Toronto. A sense of the significant, of the urgent and audacious, appears in the speaker’s awareness of her surroundings, after September 11th. It is a poem that contemplates the everything that’s possible, while evoking an ethic beyond words, country, and geography. It is with an exuberantly poetic sensibility that Horlick possesses “a four-chambered hand grenade/in the left side of [her] ribcage”.
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