Monday, April 30, 2007

a brief note on the poetry of Sandra Ridley

trinity test site

drove a truck from los alamos new mexico
for the view from a rolled down window

kept his dry eyes open behind dark goggles
until a shock sense of fingers burning

outside smell of skin, memories of sparkler sticks
and birthday cakes not distorted white white

flash of magnesium phosphorescence
nowhere a shadow just sway of joshua tree

what he came for he couldn’t find
only melted sand, small hard bubbles

nubs of pale green glass, filled his pockets full
would be gifts for happy children

Perpetually modest and quiet, Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley, originally from Saskatchewan ("always a wheat farm girl," as she writes in her bio), has been publishing increasingly interesting poems in more than a few places lately, including Carousel, Grain, Queen’s Feminist Review, Taddle Creek, The Peter F. Yacht Club and ottawater, and the Huntsville Festival of Arts’ anthology, Fringe Festival Poetry, with a chapbook of ghazals recently accepted by prairie publisher JackPine Press scheduled for 2008 publication. After seeing poems there and here for a while, and her recent honourable mention in the Diana Brebner Awards sponsored by Arc magazine, it's always good to see something new by Ridley; however rare that seems to be (although lately less so).

Variation On Last Summer

Their beginning was better than she had planned:
a palm pressed to the pulse in her ankle,
then his lips.

That season tilted with a red leaf in August,
when the moon was still in July.
Buffalo stones darkened among foxtails, and grasshoppers
shifted from path to ditch. His hum,

Months have fallen away,
and she wants to re-invent the ending.

That path led through a stand of poplar
to barrels of creosote held down by black tarpaulins
and oiled rope.

She dipped his hand, parsed the wound.

A few weeks ago, Ottawa poet and publisher Max Middle put a few more of his Puddle Leaflets out, including poems by Gregory Betts, Adam Seelig, Gary Barwin and "Somewhere On A Saskatchewan-North Dakota Highway (Two)" by Ridley. Ridleys' poems over the past couple of years seem far more traditional than what she has been working on lately, working a marvellous prairie flow in the tradition of the "prairie long poem" in her "Somewhere On A Saskatchewan-North Dakota Highway" (I look forward to seeing the entire poem when it's finished), that includes the line "Here does not resonate. Here insists." The compactness of the earlier pieces seem to have been pulled slowly apart, in lines just as compact and cutting, but weaving in more of a considered, slow flow, even as they ride off the distances of prairie horizons. There is a lovely kind of smooth rhythm and clean spoken wisdom to her lines, almost weaving her prairie through the rhythms and lines the way Phil Hall works through his Ontario, or in the best of the poems by Saskatchewan poet Alison Calder from her Wolf Tree (Regina SK: Coteau Books, 2007); there is a slow kind of quiet wisdom here worth waiting on, and worth waiting for. We know she's quietly working on a full collection, but how long do we have to wait? I could go on waiting forever, although I would prefer not to. Until then, just listen to these lines from the same poem, "Somewhere On A Saskatchewan-North Dakota Highway (Two)," as she writes:

This car won’t push eighty and we can still identify the hurt.
Our choices haven’t yet become the typical blur.

There is a rolling highway line.
There is a wearing away of white paint.
There is an undeniable habit of longing.

Soon there will be acres of night.


No one forgets the uncorrectable details of broken promises
or the composite memory of photo booth smiles.

No such thing as subtle discontentment.
We can’t go back. If you really wanted to, you would.


We learn to draw out our need for light;
what shadows
and empty spaces imply.

The distant hills hide a threadbare swallow nest;
hoarfrost on barn plank, cracked by the weight of old heaving.

We learn that all that is protected cannot stay flawless.

We could make-believe a home in one of these small towns,
or any place that passes as friendly in the dead of winter.


A newborn aurora trembles between words and persuades us.

It might have been easier to give in to what has let us down.
Again. The car is quiet,
but for the drone of four wheels on grey snow.


Off the sore lip of horizon is another smoke stack; maybe
a nursery for rockets, or the last rural mythology.

A chain link fence runs parallel to the highway; a remnant of perimeter
remains secured.

A missile silo condo is for sale.

It pushes up from buried silver sage and grass.
Six feet of concrete with corrugated metal offers a cheap gesture of rescue.
We think we could be safe here.

I could feed you sugarplums forever.


Anonymous said...

People should read this.

Su Rogers said...

I do.

I did.

I love it.

Su Rogers