Excerpt


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Full review in The Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail Book Review, published Friday, Aug. 7, 2009

In Lousy Explorers, Laisha Rosnau writes about the “things unanswered ... under water and in the sky,” the “fathoms deep, [the] dark matter,” and of the lousy explorers “who try to go to those places/ in [their] minds.” Such explorers delight in their “heavy grace” and then, the poet suggests, “sink/ deeper.”

It's an interesting choice for titling Rosnau's second volume of poetry, which explores marriage, motherhood, moving and other moments of significant transition and transformation. I'm drawn to that phrase, “heavy grace”: it speaks somehow of what it is to be human, of the weight of mortal wonder. While the lousy explorers of this poem, like so many of us frail and flawed humans, “make a mess/ of things, strip and exploit, squint blindly at stars,/ block what should flow,” one could never consider Rosnau anything but a deft explorer of the heart; she writes with passion, honesty and precision.

Lousy Explorers offers a sharp and knowing take on the world; it acknowledges the cost of being human, of change, with an unflinching yet compassionate eye. “I have to learn to forgive my skin/ as neither perfect, nor proof of me/ ending, the world beginning,” Rosnau writes in If Thunder is Anything.

Such recognition of skin as interface, as porous conduit to the world, speaks of the rawness, the openness of this writing. The poem's initiating action – swimming in a lake while under threat of lightning – could be a metaphor for the mood of most of these poems. Danger, beauty, immersion, shift; an edge, an electric ambiguity gives dynamic tension to the work.

And earlier in the same poem, she writes, “If you must/ compare my body to something/ make it a comma – albeit with more/ curves than that coy eyelash–/ a symbol that says: there is this/ and wait, there is also this.”

This last obliquely encapsulates Rosnau's poetic: the unexpected, almost underhanded, gesture that unsettles, beautifully, and the sly and lovely wit of rendering something most common, and showing it, astutely, as a prelude to something more. There is this, and there is also this ...

The subtlety with which Rosnau evokes the range of human emotion is striking. Ambition, vulnerability, thoughtlessness, desire – so much is laid bare by the smallest of details: a mother in real estate, who keeps her children's pictures ready by the door in case they're needed to liven up a sale home; the young girl who lies outside listening to her mother and her lover's cries of passion until it's too dark to see the pages of her book; the young girl who drops her Shirley Temple and finds it dries “the kind of sticky that comes with sweet”; the young woman with a bungee cord for a belt – “easy access,” she tells a potential lover.

A creeping sense of wild underscores everything in this volume, burgeoning with possibility and threat, colliding with (and subverting) the domestic. In the opening poem, Bushing Suburbia, a felled birch sends out runners beneath the grass – “there is something happening/ under there, forests unplanted,/ the hidden lightning of fine shoots/ branching, taking hold.”

What is wild is unstoppable; it is relentless, change and renewal, destruction and re-growth. It frames and contains the whole book. The volume's final poem, Epidemic, folds together many of the book's themes, juxtaposes marriage, a move into a new home and community, and pregnancy with an onslaught of beetles that strips the local forest of its trees. It's an unlikely but telling juxtaposition, as are so many of the convergences Rosnau employs.

In language assured and eloquent, Laisha Rosnau offers an edgy, big-hearted plunge into those moments of shift that show us at our most human. And reminds us that how one accommodates oneself to change, how one embraces and lives inside it, is a mark of one's humanity.

Marnie Parsons is a writer and editor in St. John's.