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Read The Globe and Mail review

The Globe and Mail
Saturday, May 6, 2006
“...Bachinsky’s British Columbia is the gritty, working-class, lower-mainland world of malls, trailer parks and freeways/ superb in all their trash and glam, a late-capitalist, flashing-neon wasteland populated by teen mothers and future delinquents . . . living on allowance/ and pilfered pills. Imagining T.S. Eliot returned, in a Canadian woman’s body, as a punk rocker, takes you only partway to grasping Bachinsky. She’s less concerned with ‘culture’ than the human condition. I hear Alden Nowlan or Patrick Lane in her lines.

Bachinsky is a poet of deep human empathy. Her project, in Home of Sudden Service, is to explore the voices of the disenfranchised. Her valley is the Fraser Valley, but also more generally, the ‘valley’ of sprawling, North American, suburban ennui, where place is displaced into the anonymous ghettoizing forces of globalization. The poems in Home of Sudden Service are multivoiced, often spoken from the point of view of ‘valley’ youth, as in the collection’s title poem: The last year of high school, I got a job/ as a pizza delivery person, drove burning hot/ stacks of Hawaiian-with-extra-cheese around/ all night in my Volkswagen Rabbit. The radio/ always playing something like ‘Smoke/ on the Water’ or ‘Crazy on You.’

It’s impossible not to empathize with the speaker in Of a Place, who is three days late and failing French/ 9 for the second time, or Jenni in the four-part poem For the Teen Moms at the Valley Fair Mall: The first time Jenni had sex, she was thirteen and the/ condom broke inside her and she thought: I have AIDS.

Bachinsky’s finger is firmly on the pulse of real life in Century Twenty-One, and the voices in her poems are utterly compelling. Bachinsky’s formal choices are equally striking: Sonnets and villanelles serve, in some instances, as containers for her vernacular voices. The pull of formal constraints against the aching desires of the poems’ speakers often creates a breathtaking pitch of emotional intensity.

The collection’s final sequence, Drive, is a poignant garland of 15 sonnets tracking two sisters on a road trip across Canada. The recurring lines that, spun from the base sonnet, braid the subsequent sonnets together, reflect to a marvellous degree the Canadian road’s interminableness and the obsession inherent in sibling relationships.

Elizabeth Bachinsky is one of those rare poets capable of negotiating poetic forms with rigour and testing their limits, while never losing sight of the strange, dark music of what it means to be human. We should expect great things from her.
—Jeanette Lynes, The Globe and Mail