I usually open a poetry collection expecting that the first few pages will provide a reasonably good sense of the author’s style and subject matter. In the opening pages of Rove, by London ON poet Laurie D Graham, I correctly gleaned that this writer would address a veritable smorgasbord of issues: political, environmental, First Peoples’, agricultural, poverty, health, and urban vs. rural. I also learned that this rapid-fire poet writes mostly in couplets, she often begins her lines with imperatives (“Say fluorescent lightbulbs will save\the earth, say there’s a heart” and “See the branches of the suburbs blossom wild with bungalows”), and that hers is indeed a distinct new voice on the CanLit scene.
Further into the book I realized that she also weaves in personal family history, and that I was often surprised and delighted by the myriad twists and turns this daring writer takes.
Rove is a long poem that reads partly like a rant,
(“say the numbers, tell the Wheat Board where to go,
say it fast like an auction and move to the city,
say minimum wage and grunt while you work,”)
partly like a prayer, and partly like memoir. (The poet’s ancestors are Ukrainian, and the Notes in the back decipher Ukrainian, Cree, Michif, and French words.) Graham, however, does not sacrifice the lyricism poetry is known for in her compelling poetic narrative. Just try saying this line aloud: “Now, in citied sleep, the sweepers sluicing the avenue\after the music’s turned off,” and you’ll understand.
This engaging social commentary realistically surveys the prairie-Graham grew up in Sherwood Park AB and has paternal ties to SK-and its people. The poet writes of working dogs “Punch” and “Bullet” and how “one was shot, mistaken by the neighbour for a coyote”. There is also hockey here, a curling rink, “yarn and roses, crab apples, zucchini\old grass clippings in a garbage bag.” These are sweet remembrances, but by contrast there is also nostalgia for a way of life that’s been lost:
“and the Pontiac dealership that sits there now, streetlit so bright
the whole hamlet can’t see the stars it used to.”
Occasionally the poet’s memory fragments even begin with the word “Remembering.” She remembers “geese moving, lake to park,\swaying the air between eavestroughs”. She recalls the hummingbird that accompanied her mother “as she walked back to the house with her hands full\of every colour of sweet pea imaginable.” I found numerous memorable “mother” images, including: “Your mother’s lips red like a brake light.”
Rove reads like a river, sweeping the sediment of cultural and personal history together as it sweeps readers up with it, “Dizzy from the journeys we’ve made.” It’s both forceful and dreamy, critical and congratulatory. It is a book of place: a story of oil and Edmonton; of immigrants managing in the new world; of how disconnected our cities make us, and the reasons why we flock to them. It is a lament for “Home calling like a horn through fog.” It is a life.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM