Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Blue Hour of the Day, by Lorna Crozier: A review

A series of reviews of books by authors featured at our 2010 May 9 through May 11 Veterinary Medicine and Literature conference. These books will be available at the Bookshelf in Guelph, Ontario for the conference.

The Blue Hour of the Day. By Lorna Crozier. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2007. 252 pp. Paper $22.99.

Reviewed by Hilde Weisert, Society for Veterinary Medicine and Literature

“Non-human animal” – that’s what we say, these days, to show we know that a simple “animal” refers not only to “them,” but to all of us. No such qualified terms are needed in Lorna Crozier’s world. “Animals” in all their manifestations – two-footed or four, serpentine or feral; crawling out of the sea, grazing in the pasture, or dancing on the sand – are vividly present throughout the poems in Crozier’s wonderful The Blue Hour of the Day, a selection from eight major collections of her work over a distinguished career.

Where animals appear in these poems – which is on almost every page – it’s rarely for Crozier to contemplate anything as distant as our relationship with them. Instead, they give form to our own desire, delight, devotion, or sense of loss. “What Comes After” begins:

    I am my own big dog.
     Walk, and I’m at the door;
     eat, and I take what I offer,
     lie down, and I curl on the floor,
     my heavy head between my paws…

As in Denise Levertov’s “Talking to Grief” (“Ah, grief, I should not treat you / like a homeless dog”) the dog is the – dogification? – of loss, but the poem’s dogness is so true that it honors both the real canines in our lives, and what we make of them.

These are poems teeming with life and its constant transformations, a lush shape-shifting where the fox travels across the night and “One minute he’s a cat, the next a coyote” (“It Is Night”). The heart is “a winter hare. Soft-pawed and quick” (“Remember the Heart, Little Mole”); a snake is “the first saxophone / in the world” (“The Start of the Blues”); the soul is “bright-eyed / and feline, each paw placed/so carefully” (“Evolution in Moonlight”). Light – another constant presence – is also physical (in this case, equine!), needing a “shape to move inside, / a likeness tawny and thick-maned” (“Apocrypha of Light”).

Crozier’s metaphors are no mere literary device to show how two disparate things are alike, but the rich reality revealed by her glorious imagination. In the whimsical and memorable series, “The Sex Lives of Vegetables”, even vegetables are sentient and sensual. I urge you to read “Cauliflower” or “Brussels Sprouts” aloud tonight while you prepare dinner.

Like that time of day the book is named for, the creatures in The Blue Hour of the Day are always on the verge of turning into something else, being and becoming their inner and other selves one paw or mouth at a time. When you read this book, you will know again why the word “animal” has its origins in “anima – breath, soul”. You’ll also understand something new about poetry, the tame, and the wild, and have had much pleasure in the process.

If a Poem Could Walk

     It would have paws, not feet,
     four of them
     to sink into the moss
     when humans blunder up the path.

     Or hooves, small ones,
     leaving half-moons in the sand.
     Something to make you stop
             and wonder
     what kind of animal this is,
     where it came from, where it’s going.

     It draws nearest when you are most alone.
     You lay red plums on your blanket,
     a glass of cool cider, two sugar cubes,

     knowing it is tame and wild –
     the perfect animal –
     knowing it will stop for nothing
         as it walks
     with its four new legs
     right off the page

If, indeed!

Lorna Crozier will be doing a public reading the evening of May 8 at the Bookshelf in Guelph, Ontario, and speaking at the Veterinary Medicine and Literature Symposium

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