Cattail Skyline-Personal Connections

Joanne Epp’s new book of poetry Cattail Skyline

If you are like me you have a kind of love-hate relationship with berries. I LOVE eating them but childhood memories of picking them in prickly heat amid clouds of mosquitoes are also vivid. Joanne Epp captures the two sides of the berry experience perfectly in five poems about berries in her new book Cattail Skyline.

Joanne made me recall the discomfort of….. branchfuls of prickles that scrape the forearm skin

but she also brought to mind the…… sharp sweetness…… of newly picked berries and the way berry jam…….. eaten on a fresh bun after school ……tasted…. cool and tart.

Photo of Joanne Epp from the Canadian Mennonite University blog

I so enjoyed the tour of rural Saskatchewan Joanne gives us in her How far can we follow part of the book. Many happy days of my childhood were spent on my grandparents’ farm near Drake Saskatchewan so Joanne’s experiences and evocative descriptions rang true for me.

Red Winged Blackbird on a Cattail- photo by David Driedger

Lanigan Creek from this section of poems gives the book its title

Swaying on cattails, the blackbirds—

yellow-headed, red-winged—see it all:

their domain and one intruder.

I sidestep down the bank, crouch low.

Blackbirds whistle. I wait.…….

Below the cattail skyline, time

becomes elastic. The silence hums.

With a teacher at the Goldstone school in Phnom Penh where I worked as a volunteer

I have spent a fair bit of time in Cambodia and so it was Joanne Epp’s poems about her visit there that perhaps resonated with me most as she described the country’s ambience with lines like

the monks in orange yellow robes some of them just boys

the air’s too thick to wade through

Buddha looking down from his dais pink and smiling

sticky rice and cans of Coke for sale.

Photo taken during my visit to the Tuol Sleng high school in Phnom Penh

Like Joanne, I visited Tuol Sleng a former high school turned interrogation centre during the Pol Phot regime. Thousands of people were tortured and killed there and Joanne’s words captured the scene graphically

In the bare room, an iron bed,

shackles, chains.

Photo on the wall verifies

the bloodstain on the floor.

On the footbridge in Omand’s Creek Park

I have biked through Omand’s Creek Park more times than I can count and have picnicked there while canoeing down the Red River. In her set of a dozen poems Joanne takes us through a whole year in the park telling us what is happening there each month. On my most recent visit I noted things from Joanne’s April entry about the park.

Welcome the warbler, the mourning dove,

startled wings rising from footpaths.

Welcome the prelude to leaves, red

stamens clustered on maples.

Welcome the footbridge rising from water,

the creek receding, fish odour of mud.

My grandparents’ tombstone in Winkler Manitoba- photo by Al Loeppky

Cemeteries are one of my favourite places to visit so the eight poems about cemeteries in Cattail Skyline were very meaningful. For me the lines where Joanne best captures the experience of a cemetery visit are…..

you range back through decades, reading grey limestone

obelisks, concrete pillows, slant markers in granite. A

marble tablet, date of death: 1908—the oldest stone your

haphazard search has discovered. Almost ninety years

before your son’s birth—your grandparents were children

then. What else was here? Wagon tracks, pine seedlings

in rows, houses small against the horizon—straight lines

scratched into the landscape. You look up: against the tall

hedge, a cloud of tiny flying things. A shimmer—

I am not a poet so I always appreciate it when a poet can bring to life experiences of mine in beautiful and memorable ways. Joanne Epp did exactly that for me with Cattail Skyline.

The poems in her collection which will resonate with you might be quite different than mine but you are sure to find them.

Other posts……..

The Tree of Life by Sarah Klassen

Two Poets on Prayer

Poetry and Teenagers

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Poetry, Winnipeg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.