Though her fans were delighted when she won the 2006 Metcalfe-Rooke Award for Canadian fiction, few knew why Patricia Young, twice shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Poetry, moved unexpectedly to prose.
The former University of New Brunswick writer-in-residence answers that question in Here Come the Moonbathers, her first volume of poetry since 2000.
Assembled and revised this spring in a blue house overlooking Fredericton's St. John River, Young's new poems are provocative. They pinch. They prod. There's anger to which you'll say Whoa! until you've thought things through.
The dazzling lyric voice, pictorial quality, empathy, and terror of Young's Ruin and Beauty: New & Selected Poems (House of Anansi) is conspicuous, as is the poet's interest in the close connection between love and loss. What appears to have changed is the attitude toward experience that informs her writing.
Although Live Trap whimsically contrasts a boy's behaviour with that of rodents, its true subject is perception - tricks of the brain. Mice "[f]ar-seeing and fatalistic / but also capable of Houdini-like feats . . . light up the mind's nether regions, / always an afterimage, the thing that just was."
In Nocturnal, assonance, consonance, and kinetic lines help illuminate age and gender differences.
By day, "human cannonballs" (aligned with "phallic" cattails) hurl themselves from docks; girls (the moonbathers of the title) reject "noon's buttery spit." Precociously "wise to the moles threatening / to hatch tiny brown / spiders / on the downy / smalls of their backs," they slide into "gelatinous black water" after dark.
Desolate the Gooseberry records how it feels to lose a father ("Summer's elsewhere, a butterfly behind glass"); Mother Tongue highlights family life's astonishing gifts: "In each nest // a small miracle rubs against a great sorrow."
Before Sleep, A Conversation confronts fear head on:
She says, I was thirty-eight before I got it -
I mean, really got it - that I'd die too.
That sucking sound isn't the river, he says, it's the sound of us dying.
Though many have experimented boldly with poetic form, few have matched Young's proficiency: The haunting repetition of the pantoum suits The Day the Pigs Got Loose, Jack(s)knife and Miracle of Language perfectly.
In Praise of Poetry (or Why I Stopped Writing It) shows even strong writers what to aim for. Grievous Road, Melt (Patricia Young on climate change), Adoption, 1962, and Deluge will take your breath away.
- reviewed by DIANE REID