CM February 16, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 18

image worn thresholds.

Julie Berry.
London, ON: Brick Books, 1995. 106pp, paper, $11.95.
ISBN 0-919626-75-0.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Liam C. Rodrigues.

*** / 4

margaret's madhouse

demons hang from doorknobs
devils lurk in the dark of keyholes
bite the meat of her hand
doors have undone her
once she loved a man

touching him her hands turned to wings feathered white

having the baby was the worst blood follows her now down all the shining hallways

In the persona of a poor poet reflecting on the evolution of his craft, Czeslaw Milosz wrote that "The first movement is singing,/ A free voice, filling mountains and valleys./ The first movement is joy,/ But it is taken away." Milosz wrote The Poor Poet in Warsaw in 1944 -- a particularly devastated city in a worn-out, war-torn world. Eastern Europe was on the threshold of change, and the veneer of hope had worn thin. Milosz knew what gave birth to the spirit of poetry -- but, in a landscape politically ransomed, "a cynical hope" was at best what lingered of the poet's lyrical voice.

Although, Julie Berry crafts her poems out of a different context, worn thresholds is an odd combination of Milosz's poor poets: boisterous and lyric, but also reflective and political. One cannot escape the gender politic that forms Julie Berry's world picture: there are children, and then there are men and women. In innocence we are together, but while being in the world, we become estranged, men from women, women from men. Berry is a woman who laments, is even somewhat angered by, the estrangement. In this respect, there is much of the later poor poet in Julie Berry. She is truthful, but I am not sure that I always like it.

Published in May of 1995, worn thresholds is Julie Berry's first collection. As her brief bio tells us, however, her work may be familiar: her poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in such journals as Room of One's Own, Quarry, and Canadian Forum.

A formidable first volume, worn thresholds is divided into five sections, containing close to sixty poems. Often lucid, yet simple, most of the poems benefit from Berry's skilful use of the short line and clipped rhythms. In "the dissection kit," for example, the juxtaposition of varied line lengths, the broken rhythms, and the stark absence of adjectives create a vision of the world that permeates the book:

the case is empty now
i threw it out
afraid to think
where all those instruments have gone
but a woman needs to know such things
a woman must keep house better than that

Although I am still deliberating exactly how to feel about Julie Berry's take on things, worn thresholds is an interesting collection of poems for this very reason. It conveys a tangible persona. Whether the author is present here or not, there is a great sense of a narrative character: one who looks out and sees a landscape unadorned and a humanity simplified.


Liam C. Rodrigues is a Toronto-area writer interested in art, architecture, poetry, and all that liberal arts stuff.

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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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