Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Shadow LakeDarkness. The lake
with its language of swallowed things
Sick with distance, they
as if following a shoreline
They rise from the centre
The air is rich with unfinishedness
Things want to be free
without having to be lost
THE FORTY-ONE POEMS in Brian Henderson's Year Zero are concerned with the mysteries of life and death, specifically of dying and being born. The poet draws on the experiences of losing family members and close friends, and later, of the birth of his children, to create this work, his eighth collection of poetry.
There is a sculpted, perhaps carved, quality about these poems; they have three-dimensional form that makes them seem more like charming figurines than words on a page.
Henderson's pain when faced with so much grief is startlingly convincing, as is his awe at the birth of a baby. The imagery is often surprising, always exacting. The emotions are raw, powerful, devoid of all sentimentality.
But I have two misgivings about these poems. First, they are frequently obscure. Second, Henderson's free verse sometimes seems to slide into actual prose -- as in these lines, which are laid out as such:
Flung out. I can't really imagine that final flungoutwardness. The Chinese elm spends itself in a storm of seeds that the steep noon sun seems to make clatter with light. You are spilled. Released.Prose or poetry? Perhaps it's time for a new definition.
Still, this title may interest teachers of English in college or senior secondary schools.
Recommended with reservations.
Maryleah Otto is a writer and former children's librarian in Toronto. She has had four books for children published since 1985.
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