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Whetstone

by Lorna Crozier

Whetstone, the 13th collection of poems published by multi-award-winning poet and University of Victoria professor Lorna Crozier, is a disappointing read. Not often downright awful – though certain strained metaphors and similes are jarring, as when yellow warblers are “like sparks/from an old-fashioned Zippo with a flint/that needs replacing” – these poems have the feel of having been composed on autopilot, the product of habit rather than inspiration.

Primarily, this feeling of connect-the-dots composition comes from Crozier’s incessant recycling of a set of stock poetic tropes. One of the most obvious examples is her use of “light,” which by my count makes 39 appearances in only 61 poems. And this is only considering instances of the word itself, not taking into account dozens of other manifestations in the form of sun, stars, moon, and various other gleamings, glintings, shinings, and glimmerings throughout the book. Given that Crozier has already published two books (Everything Arrives at the Light and Apocrypha of Light) with light-oriented titles, she would probably do well to stop mining this vein of imagery.

Besides light, darkness (along with shadows and night), wind, water (snow and rain), silence, stillness, souls, and the dead all recur with great frequency. These vague elemental iterations feel like a shortcut for achieving gravitas, as does Crozier’s tendency to rely on rhetorical questions and mysterious abstractions (e.g. “the unnamed” and “the can’t-be-seen”) to carry weight in her poems, rendering them more poetical than truly poetic.

The dullness engendered by stock repetition is abetted by an unadventurous approach to form and syntax. For the most part, Crozier hoes the same old row of free-verse anecdote and lyric that has been the dominant mode since the middle of the last century. There is a prosodic anonymity to these poems, which often feel more like baggy prose than tight verse.

Crozier does occasionally limn something in taut strong language – as in the title poem, wherein the eponymous whetstone is “Flat, black, and shot with mica” – but such moments are rare glints in an otherwise grey pile of gravel.