Sina Queyras' new poetry collection battles the numbing speed of modern life, a hallmark of which the web-savvy poet excels at in her blog about life and the arts, Lemon Hound (also the title of her 2007 Pat Lowther and Lambda Literary award-winning poetry book). Chipping away at the expressway's faux-finish tarmac in favour of a more natural past, these poems offer contemplation as an antidote to a too-fast-and-furious fate.
Contemplation being the terrain of romantic poets, language similar to that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth surfaces throughout Expressway in phrases such as "A winter look; God stripping the trees, / Forms I skimmed, what freedom storms" amid references to cell phones and car crashes. These poets' attachment to nature freed them to tap into their own trajectory, a skill much valued by Queyras, who writes: "The expressway is a straight line, / but the crooked road / remains the road of genius." In one poem even Wordsworth's dog is commended for its path-finding.
The first rendition of a Blake-inspired title that recurs throughout the collection, A Memorable Fancy, reads, "At the toll booth she stopped to ask who was in charge of the expressway, or future". Equating expressway with future is refuted later when a figure designated "Other" posits the future is not revealed in rushing, but in pausing. Bodies of water – "...What is a lake / But a pause?" – are considered especially meditative zones. Dorothy Wordsworth, a presence who skirts these furtive pools, appears in Some Moments From a Land Before the Expressway reading letters from her brother, operating in a time when slowness was prized, enabling such observations as "Excessive simplicity calm and rich ... Feasting in silence, lingered."
Rapidity is generally given short shrift in Expressway, the disdain born out of a basic question, "What if the world / Is all action?" At stake is a detachment from truth. Queyras uses vehicles as metaphors for this danger as they separate us from the road, tricking some into believing that "vehicular vistas had precedence." Unlike the relationship between car and expressway, she notes in Cloverleaf Medians & Means, "There is nothing between me and my poems. / There is nowhere between you and your expressway." Poems link us together; "...the poem is a connector" providing those "tiny fracture(s)" needed to see truth.
To get to that connective tissue, the protective seal must be broken, and if you "dig hard enough" you reach the deeper meaning. The second coming of poem A Memorable Fancy sees "skins being shed" and veins swelling like the arteries of roadways, revealing the "tiny poems". In addition to poets, Three Dreams of the Expressway shares that it's also "women with their pickaxes unmaking" and "artists ... buy unstopping" that also can manage this constructive mining.
Crash enumerates the hazards we need to debunk, addressing how the pile-ups caused by speed wind up to nullifying carnage. Overall, Queyras makes a strong case for slowing down enough to discover our own paths, which, even if "well-trodden," are often the wisest.
Janine Armin is coeditor of fiction collection Toronto Noir and New York editor of short fiction hub Joyland.ca.