Dark Water Songs

By 
Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes
Inanna Publications and Education Inc., 91 pages, $18.95
Reviewed by 
Emily Milliken

The poems in Dark Water Songs touch on the political, the natural, the concrete, and the abstract. From the streets of Toronto to tropical islands, “From Perth to Edinburgh by Rail” (21) Soutar-Hynes takes us through urban and rural landscapes following the “crimson certainty” (61) of her heart’s inclinations.

The collection is divided into four sections: “In the Manner of Tides,” “Close to Home,” “Slippery,” and “Other Gravities.” Not surprisingly, water—the sea, the tides, the river, the lake—figures prominently in the work, as does the stuff of water—islands, salt, sand, and lighthouses. This theme runs so strongly through the first two sections that even a poem like “Implicated” (16), which makes no mention of water and is political in tone, brought to mind an aging leader of a small island nation.

This theme loses strength by the sections “Slippery” and “Other Gravities.” Sailboats and anchors still pop up, but as a reader, I was becoming more aware of and more interested in the glimpses of the poet’s life seen almost as “clusters of intimacy” (75) in the poems.

Narratives are partially told but mostly obscured. “Discernment” (73) is one example, where Soutar-Hynes uses landing a plane in fog as a metaphor for perspective. Near the end of the piece, a third person appears in parenthesis: “Beautiful, she said of your heart’s / steady beat: I saved you / a picture.” This dialogue changes the “pockets of turbulence preferable to disaster” earlier in the poem to a comment on this relationship. But that’s all we really get of it.

“The Weight of Storms” (40) beautifully depicts the frozen existence of deep winter in Ontario: “No birds at the feeder / no squirrels foraging / through lilacs frozen antlers.” The poet uses this environment as a metaphor for the tone set by argument between intimates. “We play our separate / hands from separate rooms—/ lost solitudes—awaiting ploughs / to pry us free.” These snippets appear throughout the book, scattered between abstract meditations like “Perhaps” (52) and observations of the natural and constructed world.

Soutar-Hynes’s use of space, line-breaks, and stanza breaks lends many poems in the collection not only the poet’s voice—I can hear her pauses, hear how she would likely read aloud—but a concrete quality. I truly hope that the island-like shapes formed by poems like “Along Rosedale Valley Road” (56) depict archipelagos found in some old atlas.

As I read Dark Water Songs, I was increasingly aware of the poet’s consciousness, or the “brisk salt of / [her] waking thought” (31) and the effect left me curious about her, her work, and her life.

Call for Submissions: 38.1, In Translation

Room invites you to submit writing about getting lost (and found) in translation. Editor Rachel Thompson seeks your best work in any written language.*

The "In Translation" issue will explore conversions from one form into something else. Have you written tongue-fumbling poetry about living in a land where you're learning the language? Fiction that considers the mathematical movement of a body from one point to another? Non-fiction about tumultous semantic quibbles? If so, please consider submitting.

Interview with Creative Non-Fiction Writing Contest Judge, Sarah de Leeuw!

Room magazine's writing contest is officially open! Submission deadline is July 15th 2014. To kick things off, we spoke to our Creative Non-Fiction writing contest judge, Sarah de Leeuw about a few of her writing habits and tips for aspiring applicants

Women’s Words: An Anthology

Women’s Words: An Anthology Cover
By 
Ed. by Shirley A. Serviss and Janice Williamson
University of Alberta Faculty of Extension, 204 pages, $20.00
Reviewed by 
Carrie Schmidt
For the past twenty years, the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension has offered summer writing workshops for women. This anthology is an astonishingly apt representation of work produced through those workshops; it captures the spirit of a workshop environment: the pieces (poetry, non-fiction, fiction) are brief and the content is varied in tone, subject matter, and quality. The editors of this collection were deft and thorough.
 
The work of over seventy-five women is represented here; providing a fair review of a work featuring so many diverse voices is difficult. There are pieces that made me immediately note the author’s name so I could search for more of her work. There was one piece I described in great, excited detail over the phone to my mother during a conversation about birth and loss: the words in this anthology are about sparking conversation, continuing a dialogue—telling a story. Telling many stories. And, inevitably, there was work that made my eyes glaze over—I am not keen on writing about writing and there are several pieces in here about writing. 
 
But even within those were wise words; a crisp essay by Eunice Scarfe summarizes the spirit of these workshops and the act of writing in general: “To write does not depend on education, occupation, age, gender or intellect. It depends on choice. You choose to write, or choose not to write.” 
 
This is, ultimately, an inspirational text. And I don’t mean inspirational in that you can update your Facebook status with a pithy quote, or put it on a magnet on your fridge while murmuring “how true.” Well, you can if you like, of course. It’s inspirational in that once upon a time, these stories and poems didn’t exist, but now they do—these women put pens to paper (or fingers to keyboards) and this anthology is the tangible proof of “doing” rather than thinking “hmm, maybe I should write.” Whether through quick stolen moments or hours of anguished toil/fevered bliss, these writers wrote, and that is the inspiration. Some of the writers whose work is fea-tured here have names that are instantly recognizable as solid contributors to modern Canadian literature; others may one day be recognized, and perhaps for others this is the only time they will see their names in print. And there’s something kind of fantastic about that. 

Pages

Currently on Newsstands

  • Queer Issue
    Room 41.3, Queer
    Edited by Leah Golob

    In this issue:

    Adèle Barclay, Joelle Barron, Nicole Breit, Mary Chen, Lucas Crawford, Jen Currin, Pamela Dodds, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Jess Goldman, hannah harris-sutro, Leah Horlick, Sam Jowett, Ness Lee, Annick MacAskill, Alessandra Naccarato, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Marika Prokosh, Amal Rana, Siobhan Roca Payne, Leah Sandals, Hana Shafi, Arielle Spence, Samantha Sternberg, Sanchari Sur, K.B. Thors, Corey Turner, Jackie Wykes

    .

Subscribe to Room Magazine RSS