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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Photo on the wall verifies
the bloodstain on the floor.
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.
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.