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book review

Susan Glickman

In Susan Glickman's The Smooth Yarrow, the poet makes her subject the depth and breadth of, as one poem titles it, Average Life. Her chief music is the human body, its composite breaks and gurgles.

Glickman's topics are typical, but she finds incorrigible depth in poems like Down in the Mouth, about a toothache:

And what do they do, anyway?

Pulverize the occasional apple? Keep me from lisping?

The dragon's teeth sown by Cadmus sprang into fully armed warriors

And helped him found Thebes and thereby Western civilization.

My teeth just sit there and bitch.

The flippancy and humour of the above might mark the verse as "light," but there's a lot happening even there, with the allusion (left unexplained) to Cadmus and the assonance ("Thebes" giving way to "teeth," among others).

For all her agility, Glickman does sometimes get stuck in her tricks. Shoes and Hats play on this, faced off on opposing pages – they are near rewrites of one another. Here Glickman's maturity covers her comfort: Knowingly leveraging her own sweet spot, she tunes and retunes her tessitura through repetition.

Elsewhere, the poet is more plainly stubborn. Her account of finding a copy of Karen Solie's Pigeon uses 12 chatty lines to document its final point, when any one would be enough. But this is an extreme example, and Glickman's gaze is dissipated by welcome rhetorical variations, catechisms such as the incredible Snow/La Neige, and eulogies such as Breath.

Now a mid-career poet, Glickman has settled into a battery of effective tools and favourite topics. The Smooth Yarrow finds her at her best, able to leap tall ennui in a single bound.

Jacob McArthur Mooney's latest collection is Folk.