Sunday, August 14, 2011

Paramita, Little Black by Suzanne Robertson

Paramita, Little Black is the first collection of poetry by Canadian writer Suzanne Robertson. It was published as part of Guernica's First Poet Series, which is made up of first full poetry collections by authors 35 and younger.  At a slim sixty pages, this is really just an introduction to the author. Surprisingly for such a short collection, Robertson presents a variety of styles including a prose poem, "Fear of Death Confounds Me" which contains these stunning sentences:
"Elbows carried the delicate heads of newborns, hearts were stranded in their lifeboats, marriages were ditched in middle age, though not hers. The past grinds a thick lens from memory, tricks us into looking back: the way longing hangs like a woman's stocking in the shower, it leads to the medicine cabinet filled with multi-coloured pills, thoughts of not continuing."
While definitely one of my favourites in the collection, Roberston offers some lovely, more traditionally formatted, poetry as well. For example, in "Sibling of the Air" she writes:
"tomorrow died peacefully
in her sleep,
and yesterday dole out
second chances, gathered
your family around the oak table,
and everyone wore apologies
on their faces,
and laughed so hard
in the deepwooded heart
of today, day, day."
That said, there are poems, or at the very least, parts of poems- as several of them are quite long, the collection itself contains only 15- that left me quite puzzled, lines like "Freckled hands that are the opposite / Of lies" that I simply failed to grasp, even within their context. The message of certain poems, for example "A Conversation with Horizon", left me slightly unclear and it felt as if Robertson had not quite reached the level of clarity present in other poems in Paramita, Little Black. As with any poetry, it is hard to say if it is the author or the reader who didn't manage to cross the bridge to comprehension and understanding, perhaps there is simply an image I am missing. Perhaps not.

It may be due to this being a first collection, but there would be a poem like "The Prescription" whih felt like a jumble of images that left me perplexed and disenchanted, followed by "Flying" in which Robertson writes "We're all immigrants this close to heaven." and ends the poem with the subtle and powerful image:
"We are all flying to Winnipeg

We might've loved each other,
had we ever met."
This isn't a consistent collection, just as there are ups and downs with the success of the poetry, there is a variety of styles, one is written entirely as as a conversation, another is a prose poem, and yet another, "Signs", contains a large amount of profanity that in the context of so much subtle beauty and language feels brash and out of place.

Still, what I keep coming back to is that Paramita, Little Black is a first collection and although some of the poems could have percolated a bit longer, there are sparks of brilliance. When I finished the collection, I wondered if Robertson had saved her best for last, the second to last poem being the title one, "Little Black" in which  Robertson writes:
"If knowing is a sharp, shiny instrument and feeling
is a serrated edge then surrender must

be the hand that holds everything."
While the collection ends with the poem "October" which captures with heartbreaking clarity the pain of loosing a beloved pet, beginning with the lines:
"When that scrap of velvet died in our arms it was
any sorrow I carried.
Grief was exactly 21.2 pounds of flesh and fur."
It is clear this is an emotional topic, the poem is actually dedicated to Little Black, the dog who the collection is also named for, and the strong love Robertson clearly felt for him provides a springboard for her best work, when she isn't trying to be clever or profound but just being honest and raw. Although Paramita, Little Black was a shaky collection, in Robertson's best poetry there is a pure and beautiful voice that would encourage me to pick up any future collection she might publish- this was her first go, and I have a feeling she will only get more confident and sure in her voice.

Release Date: March 1st, 2011
Pages: 60
Buy the Book
Source: Netgalley

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