Book Review: The Red Element

Catherine Graham’s third collection has more goose bumps per page than any collection in recent memory. Sticking to the poetic doctrine less is more, this collection is a tour de force in minimalism. Utterly lacking in self indulgence, the reader can literally sense the words missing from the page in her ruthless scraped back editing, tight as a ballerina’s bun. Particularly shocking are the pieces recalling the speaker’s neighbour as a victim of parental abuse, the sparseness of the writing allows one to viscerally recall the childhood state of lacking the language to expose evil-doers “The red throbs as she’s rushed/ into the room with no pillows./ We know it’s where the beatings take place./ Where the arms fly up and land wooden.” Sympathy for children’s lack of franchise is powerfully implied. Doll’s eyes, quoted here in its entirety, recalls Eliot’s imagism, “Bubbles at the end of red stems. The illusion of looking out if looking in.” Her steady hand and firm voice are breathtaking. Also of note is that while being minimal, her voice is not reserved. It is a fully emotive voice, assured enough to be diaphanous, for instance, “like grass under rain, I’d begin”. These poems are refreshing in that they do not feel like forced poetic exercises, visits to museums or zoos, nor do they bear the strain of having to “tell-all”. They are empowered images, graceful sparks. (Angela Hibbs)

by Catherine Graham, 57 pgs, $11.95 Insomniac Press, 192 Spadina Avenue Suite 403, Toronto, ON M5T 2C2

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