Friday, July 03, 2009

Amanda Earl on Catherine Owen

2 fires

The gum-rutted edge of the knife
sparked – Victory Square’s old coils
spreading stone in the hot pond the suite became
– not popcorn as the byline read – but crack,
shattering the housecoat & cat image
:innocence. Seconds took the cantilevered
frames, spun possessions to charred
replicas in Pender’s heritage navel.
Iggy Pop & Dal’s Orchestra, Ms. T’s
and the steam room, views
from an émigré’s paintbrush, Rutger’s
negatives, Fred’s tiny birds.
The hostel wall sliced clean as black
cheese, bunks rayed nude to the weather
as thousands of eyes stare smoke-wise,
register the uninsurable landscape.
The kindling snickers, infernos,
skips from bromed crown to sapped
root, gallops its desert over Okanagan
mountain, the valley’s rut, takes the town
in its wisp of indifference and chucks it refugee
from board & plank castles to flee
the mounds of smoke rolling towards them, the fires
that cannot be fought at night.
The next day & the next, its mass
of recklessness gathers, turning black
the briefly tamed crop, stick and parched
the acreage though bombers parturitioned
with floods loosen drop after drop,
silver, into the unseen extent.

by Catherine Owen, Fyre, Alberta Series # 5 (above / ground press, 2008)

2 fires sparked me right away with the sound of “gum-rutted” in the first line. my chief obsessions when it comes to poetry are sound, rhythm and imagery. Owen ignites the poem with the internal uh rhyme of “gum” and “rutted.” to me this use of rutted with gum is also unusual and it gives me pause, which is good. the image of the gum-rutted edge of the knife sparking is visually compelling and then there’s the line’s rhythm and knife-edge ending. the s repetitions of sparked/square/spreading stone. the image of “old coils spreading stone in the hot pond.”
i love the well-painted visuals in the first part: “the suite became/--not popcorn…but crack,/shattering the housecoat…” Owen’s adept at creating a clear and riveting picture with few words: “Seconds took the cantilevered/ frames, spun possessions to charred/replicas…”
the juxtapositions are intriguing, the level of detail: “views/from an émigré’s paintbrush, Rutger’s/negatives, Fred’s tiny birds.”

“The hostel wall sliced clean as black / cheese…” is a powerful, effective and unique image. i can imagine the wall sliced off as if from a block of cheese and the black makes me think of the bubbly texture of burnt cheese. then “bunks rayed nude to the weather” i have never heard the word “ray” used as a verb like this and it compels me. i like the image the final two lines of this first fire create, and the eyes/smoke-wise rhyme is not too cheesy at all here because it serves to accentuate the end of the line. i like the juxtaposition of “thousands of eyes” with “uninsurable landscape.” the small and numerous vs the vast empty.

next fire- again with the internal rhyme: “kindling snickers, infernos/ skips” four lax i sounds in a row, evocative of the quick small movements of catching fire. then there’s the beautiful adjective “bromed,” the closed o matching the short a in sapped and opening to the ooo of root, all the o and a variants evoking the fire’s unpredictable movement across the landscape. and it’s back to the images which efficiently and effectively paint a picture in few words: “gallops its desert over Okanagan mountain.”

i like the use of “refugee” here: “chucks it refugee/from board & plank castles to flee…”
again not the way i’ve ever seen it, not the syntax i’ve witnessed for it before. i have to go back and read those two lines again; this is what i like a poem to do, to make me go back and reread, not for content or meaning so much as to enjoy the structure, its movement, the imagery and the tone, the word choice, the sound.

i like the momentum of this second part from kindling snickering to the fire galloping, then mounds of smoke rolling towards them, to mass recklessness, to an unseen extent. there are very few colours here: black and then silver. it reminds me of a black and white print, the imagine of the mountain fire etched into my brain.

i like the way the two fires are contrasted: one inside a building, the other across the landscape. the rhythm in the second fire varies from the first, there’s more largesse, more movement from tiny to very big. i like the structure of two dealing with same. i like the subtleties, the lack of direct reference to specific people, yet they are there all the way through both parts of this poem: from the items that have been burned to the indifference of the town. there but not there.

i like poems like these because i can read them over and over and focus on a different aspect, different sounds. i envy the writer her precision here, her word choice is spot on and her rhythms are tight and controlled. the poems are from Fyre, Alberta Series # 5, Catherine Owen (above/ground press, 2008) and a pdf is available for download here:

Amanda Earl’s most recent chapbook is “Welcome to Earth – poem for alien(s)” (Book Thug, 2008); She has also published two additional chapbooks “Eleanor” and “the Sad Phoenician’s Other Woman” (above/ground press, 2007, 2008). Her poems appear most recently in the Windsor Review (Windsor, Ontario); Van Gogh's Ear (Paris, France), Variations Art Zine (Sarnia, Ontario) and In/Words (Ottawa, Ontario) and is forthcoming in Rampike (Windsor, Ontario), and Ryerson University's Whitewall Review. Amanda is the managing editor of and the Bywords Quarterly Journal and is the angel of For more information on upcoming readings and recent publications, please visit

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