Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

The Smooth Yarrow

by Susan Glickman

Susan Glickman’s newest collection opens with a Celtic incantation about aspiring to embody the virtues of nature. The yarrow sticks alluded to in the title are used in conjunction with the I Ching as tools of divination. In accordance with those referents, The Smooth Yarrow calls on ancient wisdom, is earthy and enigmatic, and trembles with embodied memory and premonition.

The first section of the book is the most arcane and fully resolved, replete with images of witches and persecution, accidental injury and natural decay, salves and wishful thinking. In “Witch’s Tit,” Glickman explores how women were once said to possess bodily marks that proved they were witches. She reasons, convincingly, “That the hand of God / if it bothered to write to us at all would surely be less / inscrutable.”

The poems in “Old Stories” are sketchier, smaller in scope, and more playful. “Hats,” for example, opens with the observation, “Hats just can’t keep a straight face!” Serious subjects do intervene: “Breath” is a meditation on death, focusing primarily on the passing of Glickman’s father, which leads to “a room full of sobbing relatives / a room I hated being dragged to, which felt obscene to me.” It is an evocative, haunting poem that leaves existential questions suspended in the air.

The final section, “In the Garden,” brings the work full circle. Glickman reflects on plants and weather, as well as insect and animal behaviour. Individually, these poems have an intimate, quiet quality that makes them lovely and accessible. But Glickman’s interest is deeper: she draws on the regenerative and uncontrollable qualities of nature as sources of inspiration – even though cultivating these interests has historically made women suspect.

Glickman’s writing is defiant: like yarrow, it is lean and strong, not only beautiful, but possessed of myriad healing properties.

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