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Paulette Jiles.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1984.
137pp, paper, $12.95.
ISBN 0-7710-4421-6.

Grades 12 and up.

Reviewed by Donalee Moulton-Barrett.

Volume 12 Number 6
1984 November

If you were to navigate the heavens, you would encounter some fascinating sights. But you would also, especially after several sightings, find part of the heavens mundane and ordinary. So it is with Paulette Jiles's collection of poetry Celestial Navigation.

The strongest section in Celestial Navigation is "Waterloo Express," a selection of poems reprinted from Jiles's book of the same name. In these poems, Jiles is intimate with her subject matter and speaks from this very powerful position. In "Dallas," for example, Jiles recounts the dusty, dawn truck ride into that city. She ends, emphatically, with these lines: Sliding down onto the blank and shadeless plains/That burn and burn like chili peppers,/We are deadheading to murderous Dallas.

The least satisfying poems in the book are those where Jiles takes an issue (as opposed to an event, or even a character) and discusses it. These poems, and there are several, are bone dry and predictable. Also lacklustre are the "Griffon Poems," about the 1679 loss of the ship, The Griffon. In "Where They Disembarked," the opening poem of the section, Jiles writes: I drown and drown (you are here too, in/this flotsam, it's like being/killed by washing machine).

Here Jiles is trying to be clever, and it shows. There is none of the natural description or pounding rhythm of the Waterloo poems, for example. But perhaps these disappointing poems are so obvious, and so grating, because when Jiles writes well, as she often does, she writes very, very well indeed.

Donalee Moulton-Barrett, Halifax, NS.
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