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Patricia Keeney

Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1991. 94pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-828-6 (cloth) $ 23.95, ISBN 0-88750-S29-4 (paper) $11.95. CIP

Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up
Reviewed by Ian Dempsey

Volume 20 Number 1
1992 January

This is poetry as revelation of per­sonal life, intimate detail. As the poet says, "our private story is public." Is it gossip or more than that? The poems seem to take us through a disintegrating marriage. The poet is the "other woman." But first we are in Nepal (with her lover?). After five poems in this first section, "Sunrise on Nagarkot," we are returned to the scene of the crime back here, in the second section, "Not Even Singing" —back down from the mountains, and having to deal with the intimate and mundane horrors of a family breaking apart. The poet sees into the gore and mess of the destruc­tion over her lover's shoulder: the social worker, petty acts, deliberate hurts, stealing of the children (who, raised on music, are now "not even singing"), the lawyers. Now there is a Christmas to get through, a house to settle up. There is more travel — Russia this time. And more hurts. And the trip with his children and her daughter to France, the attempt to blend the families, the frustrations: "we make love in the morning/ despite all our children." Bickering, fights, doors slammed and solitary walks. They get married, travel to Aruba in the Caribbean.

The last section is "After the Glow" and the poet has a baby. She watches her daughter grow and fight for inde­pendence. The poet returns home to England. There are random scenes as life goes on, but the man she struggled with and joined seems absent.

It may be unfair to the poet to see this as her own story, laid out in a clear continuum, but one is tempted to believe this, even though poetry is seldom so journalistic. This is intimate stuff, the sort of information that a person in other ages would have recorded in a diary or confession, to be published only after her death. Looking more closely, though, one can sense that the poet has not revealed much about herself. The tempestuous business of the marriage break-up is the experience of the man she is coolly rescuing from the wreck. The intense emotions that one would expect in her, dealing with this man and their attempts to unite their families, are transmuted into fine, careful images that remove us from newsprint and the Ann Landers confes­sional:

Wonder is the air in our belljar,
after the glare, telling stories in the
warm black spaces
everything is new

The image is a laboratory, an experi­ment, being exposed to the gaze of the curious. After all that, in spite of all that, the poet's real work goes on — creating something new and wonderful, out of sight, in a vacuum, hidden even from herself.

It's good to be reminded by these worthy poems that the poet's work is not simply gossip and confession, but experience raised by art to revelation.

Ian Dempsey, Cambridge, Ont.
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