What more can be said about the RMS Titanic? After 100 years and countless books, articles, and movies, is there a new way of looking at the disaster? Vancouver poet Billeh Nickerson finds a fresh angle in his latest book, a suite of poems inspired by the famous shipwreck.
Unlike Nickerson’s two previous, humorous collections, this new volume has an unavoidably sombre tone. Nickerson is a plain language poet who believes less is more. He has a sparse, almost Zen-like way of writing and is a master of the spare line. He proves skilled at evoking powerful images of the mythic vessel, taking the reader on a journey from the ship’s construction right through the death of the last survivor.
The poems are presented in six sections, two of which are called “Impact.” The first of these deals with the physical impact of the ship and the iceberg; the other focuses on emotions surrounding the event and its aftermath. A section called “Voices” consists of found poems created from actual quotes or journals, allowing victims and survivors to tell their stories in their own words.
The poems are delivered with the tenderness needed in any treatment of such an enormous tragedy. In the process, Nickerson shares forgotten ephemera and relates heartbreaking tales of passengers and their kin. Writing about the experience of an orchestra member, Nickerson says, “one family received an invoice / for the balance owing / on their loved one’s uniform / which startled them / as they believed / they’d already paid so much.” This book is full of simple grace, and honours those affected by the wreck of the great ship.