The Trouble With Beauty

12 November 2014

The Trouble with Beauty
by Bruce Rice
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$16.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-572-6

After completing poet Bruce Rice’s exquisite collection The Trouble with Beauty, the following question resounds: how can anyone not just appreciate poetry, but also help from falling deeply down the well in love with it? I consumed the bulk of the work in a coffee shop with an espresso machine, the conversation of strangers, and speakered-jazz trying their best to divert my attention, but Rice held me fast with his deeply-affective poems that explore landscape, the passing of time, the Self, and-as the title suggests-the beauty of it all.

Disclaimer: I know Rice, a seasoned Regina poet and editor, but when I read his work I completely disassociate the poems from the person. Great poetry enables this. Some poets manage a few good lines in a book. Some a few good poems. Rice hits the emotional jackpot line after line, transporting readers into a higher-planed world of light, passing clouds, and “the shallow brown river\that seems not to move, all the while cutting away the time we have left.”

The Contents page itself reads like a poem as you scroll down the list of titles:

Glossary of Hills
along some rivers
Deer Dream
Rodeo Rain
On the road watched by horses

Coincidental poetry, or intentional? I expect that all is intended by this poet who looks (“remains of the roses the wind took apart”) and listens (“branches click as if they were talking to horses”) so closely one might consider super-powers are involved.

Rice credits photographers (and other poets) in his Acknowledgements. I argue that many of his images deliver almost photographic clarity themselves. In “Rodeo Rain” he shows “horse trailers\scattered like pieces of jigsaw puzzle\that just won’t fit.” In “Bicycle Notes” he describes a stone barn’s roof as “a well of timbers,\shingles draped like chain mail over a body\that has somehow forgotten to fall.” In this thick-for-poetry book that succeeds page upon page, one of my favourite images is “Last year’s round bales fall apart, become the shoulders\of an animal of hay.”

Rice speaks of the truths no one addresses: “graveyards have things to say, and say them gently.” Reading “Community Cemetery”-the poem this quote is lifted from-makes me want to dash to the nearest graveyard with paper and pen. That’s the power of inspired writing. It moves us, even physically.

In a piece that honours his province, “Saskatchewan,” Rice imagines God walking on the prairie, coming to a three-stranded barbed-wire fence, and pushing the wires together “so He could get over-\the first time anyone had done that, getting the knack,\the beginning of something one does that everyone does.”

The careful, accomplished poet eloquently addresses aging as “backing into a sunset.” Gorgeous.

The Trouble with Beauty satisfied a place in my being that needed filling. Praise to the publisher, Coteau Books. I will keep this sublime volume within reach.


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