Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences, by Jan Zwicky
Gaspereau Press, $18.95, 73 pp, softcover.
Simple syllabic slices of language are installed into the scant pages of Jan Zwicky's latest book of poetry, Thirty-Seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences. Zwicky, who recently won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Award for Robinson's Crossing at the BC Book Prizes, teaches philosophy at UVic, and it's the philosophy of the everyday that informs this work. She focuses on objects so familiar that they escape notice, and studies them intently. The results are both contemplative and funny. In "Small Song: Laundry" she writes:
Bellied out, aloft, and flush with sun,
like meadow-mist beside the morning river:
how tired we made you!
And how tired we had become.
Then she studies something huge and compresses it into a tight verse that says more than any novel could, as in this excerpt from "Small Song: Prairie":
the dead light of the salt marsh
and the hammered brilliance
of the dugout under wind;
even the rain in its night singing,
the night rain in its forgetting,
is a kind of light.
The poems are perfectly paced and small: like pinpricks of light on the page. The tension in the book comes only once in the "Unsong: August" where disparate images are placed side by side: "geraniums" as "the highway flashes past."
It is otherwise a quirky collection in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is mixed with washing dishes and Frédéric Chopin's "Berceuse" is used to call for sleep:
Sleep, I'd be so happy
if you'd come to me.
The little darknesses
begin to fall: one by one
trees sink into the forest,
ripples sink into the dark silk
of the lake. I'd be so happy
if you'd come”¦
Zwicky works in joy without being overly sentimental, makes an "old grate" a poetic icon, and leaves space for the silence always lurking at the edge of words. She is not at all afraid of the quiet.