29 April 2009

by Allan Safarik
Published by Hagios Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$17.95 ISBN 978-0-9783440-4-7

I am always keenly interested in reading the poems of writers who have selected to live in small Saskatchewan towns – as have I — rather than our largest cities, and seeing how that experience flavours their work. Acclaimed Dundurn, SK writer Allan Safarik is among my favourite poets, and thus it’s always a treat when a new Safarik title turns up and he again illuminates that which is beautiful and profound and right before us, though we ourselves fail to see.

In the past I’ve praised this 2005 winner of the Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry for an eye and ear that pay attention to the smallest of creatures and details, and in his latest book, Yellowgrass, published by Hagios Press, Safarik — like a tour guide for the almost invisible and overlooked — again treats readers to his astute sensory perceptions and literary prowess.

First, a few titles from Yellowgrass: “All About Dying in Bed,” “Nothing Defines Humanity like the Essential Rat,” “The State of the Insect Economy,” and “Portrait in Grassy Dress.” Ah, we say, skimming the Contents page, here’s a poet who understands that even the title of a work deserves great attention, and we lick our lips at what’s to come.

And what is to come includes lines that read like miniature poems: “The fragrance of night depends upon tree pods,” he writes in “Desert.” From “Moonlight Dogs”: “Far out on the Hutterite meadow\deer jump at the moonlight”.

There’s “A flock of white geese\longer than a train” in the poem “Map of the Road.” And look, in “Mule Deer on the Hanley Road,” how he transforms a barbed-wire fence into poetry, describing it thus: “Thin line of the horizon stapled\along the edge of the wind”.

There’s also much fancy in the book, including talking and dancing animals, giants, and dream fragments. Many of the poems are simply good fun. In “Rumours From Heaven,” Safarik writes: “Everybody\smokes\in heaven\with the\windows shut\to maximize\ the buzz”. Another poem, “Elephant News,” begins: “At the reading room in the Franc[e]s Morrison Library\the elephant can’t find news about his species\in the domestic or foreign press”.

Safarik is also a storyteller, and some of his best pieces – like “Visitors,” “Unknown Details,” and “Neighbour” – relay interesting anecdotes about relationships in a poet’s concise manner. Like the houseflies that often appear in Safarik’s work, we feel like the proverbial “fly on the wall” as he describes scenes of domestic distress and confusion.

It’s clear that the poet also keeps one eye on the larger world, fraught as it is with economic crises, ecological issues, and war. Safarik, then, is the best kind of seer. From the local coffee shop, where directions are imparted (“Follow the gravel\past the Mennonite church\until you reach the canal\then right to the crossroads\for eleven miles\you’ll come out\by Eugene’s barn\near the correction line\From there it’s easy”) to a hotel in Moscow, from prairie grain fields to Baghdad’s streets, Safarik writes deftly about the world we live in and share with the beasts.


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