Meniscus is a journey through the mind, poetry its means of travel.
From descriptions of a stormy, painful childhood and mental illness to reflections on love, New Brunswick-born physician and poet Shane Neilson delivers strong images and lines exploring much with quick, deft phrasing and choice diction.
Four groups of poems feature a strong narrative line throughout, abundant in intimate and revealing language. Neilson opens the collection with a poem called Recovery. He then uses the first grouping of poems, which focuses on the violence of a father against his family, as a starting point to access the evolution from mental to emotional states.
Following a narrative arc, we glimpse the frightening as well as the emotionally epiphanic. In The Beaten-Down Elegies we witness the terrible pain of violence where there should be love. Using metaphors drawn from the land and labour, with allusions to religion and drinking, much attention is paid to hands, to work, to the hard business of making a living. The speaker tells us, "I try to look like an accountant / at his ledger, but look instead on a fixed // post: totemic, obscure. In the end there is fear."
In the second section, Manic Statement, we see a dissolving self, an identity fragmented. An interior world at risk: "Your fortune is to collide, / collapse and wake up // to wreckage. Sanity / is the worst injury, tomorrow // the wound."
In the third grouping, Seized, there is physical fragmentation. Exploring seizures, physical and emotional, seems to be the business of this collection. Meniscus is never more visceral than in this section, with its "electrocuted songs" and its "sound like a thousand cannons." We follow the speaker's off-balance balcony fall from ambulance to hospital, from seizure and delirium to the aftermath of "the dream procedure."
And, finally, the fourth section, titled Love Life, knits the experience of pain into something foreign and shared, engaging the senses in another kind of upheaval. Poems that follow the various states of delusion, or fear, are juxtaposed against sensual poems of love, physical and emotional.
Meniscus is a collection about the deep-down difficulties of life expressed in language that knows where it's going. These poems are rife with sound and shot through with images that stop and grab your attention. A physician's sense of diagnostic diction and a poet's sense of arresting image makes a forceful combination.
Heather Craig is a poet and writer based in Grand Bay-Westfield.