Past Imperfect

By Suzanne Buffam. House of Anansi, 69 pp, $16.95, softcover.

Winning the CBC Literary Award for poetry pretty much secures a publishing contract. Being mediagenic, widely published, and part of a new wave of young poets doesn't hurt chances either. So what does it mean when a poet eschews conventional wisdom and waits seven years after CBC success before launching her debut collection?

In Suzanne Buffam's case it proves that, for writer and reader alike, good things come to those who wait.

Past Imperfect is a solid collection that covers some traditional poetic turf in an intriguing and original manner. Whereas some poets are still stuck on rehashes of "shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Buffam offers up such original lines as "Wind enters the spruce/and comes out wearing sparrows" (from "Happiness Is Not the Only Happiness") and "I was hoping to change things by staying the same" (from the title poem). This isn't to suggest that Buffam is the next Shakespeare, but how refreshing to read such graceful, unadorned lines.

Among its central conceits, Past Imperfect delves into the interconnectedness of things. Readers will sense this not only from the content and its penchant for revealing consequence but also from the subtle way the poems play off each other. On first glance, a poem about a bridge may seem to be specifically about a bridge or a poem filled with insects may seem to be simply a poem filled with insects, but as the narrative continues the book's many affinities conspire into a whispered chorus.

As a whole, this collection works against the type of poetry book often published in this country wherein loud narratives specifically designed to win literary contests fill the pages. Its sections' divisions felt a little arbitrary, though that's a small quibble. Less experienced poets may have a tendency to jackhammer their way to epiphany, but Buffam lets her contemplative images wash over readers. These are quiet poems whose birds and wasps flutter and buzz your ears long after you've read them.