Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog


The following review appears in Prism International, March 17, 2015.

Glad and Sorry Seasons
Catherine Chandler
Biblioasis, 2014

Catherine Chandler’s Glad and Sorry Seasons is a successful illustration of the ways in which we as humans search for meaning in the face of passing time, the way in which we take pleasure and comfort in ordinary details and are simultaneously baffled and pained by them. The juxtaposition of artificiality, the poet’s expert use of constrained poetic forms—especially her characteristic sonnets—and a piercing sincerity makes this collection aching and beautiful.

In the collection’s opening poem, a sonnet titled “Coming to Terms”, the speaker struggles with the loss of a child. Chandler writes: “[I] go about / my business as my crooked smile displays / the artful look of ordinary days” (11). It is this blend of the “artful” and the “ordinary” that really strikes me. In the opening poem the speaker is bowled over with grief, “in search of you [the lost child]. And God.” She describes this grief through specific actions: discarding maternity clothes, peeling away ceiling stars, and unweaving “the year I’d entered on your christening dress.” Everyday actions, domestic activity and “ordinary days” are things we rely on for meaning in times of confusion and grief. Chandler mimics the momentum of moving on—searching for meaning or God or happiness—with the momentum of her metre and her rhyme. I was reminded of William Wordsworth’s “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room,” in which he points out that structure can be an enormous consolation in the hugeness of life. The search for solace within and through poetic forms is strengthened through Chandler’s attention to everyday details and activity, the duplicity of a very human inward intensity and a controlled outward presentation.

Woven throughout the book are earnest joys and frustrations about love, faith, doubt, and how to survive winter, as in “Full Snow Moon”, which begins with the simple statement: “The moon is full again.” (15) The speaker observes the full moon, the “latticed frost” on her window, and “the crystal crust / of Lake Saint Louis glows as if embossed / with pearls” and relays this information back to the readers so that we are struck with the beauty of the winter scene. The speaker’s exhaustion with winter and her inability to find answers about how to live in the world, however, are revealed as she expands her portrait of the personified moon:
… she’s counted on,
through human inconsistency and pride,
to reverence the rising sun each dawn
and keep her promise to the ocean tide.
It is difficult not to empathize with the speaker when she discovers that the moon’s promises are not enough consolation: the moon “is a distant, lurid face, / her silent O no answer as to how / on earth I’ll ever … muddle through to spring.” The poem admits to “human inconsistency” and the human desire for consistency, our need to make meaning out of things like the moon and the passing of months, and it is for this (in)consistency that I encourage you to pick up this book.

“Intervals” is one of the most moving poems in Glad and Sorry Seasons, in which a man with Alzheimer’s tries to catalogue his life. The desire for control—expressed aurally through the rhyme and controlled metre—juxtaposed against portraits of such failed attempts at memory-keeping, and meaning-making is striking and sad and, it seems to me, hopeful. Though it seems as though asserting control and finding meaning is often futile, the individuals in Chandler’s poem keep trying. This hope is important to the success of the book. While the poems, like “Intervals,” are sometimes at risk of sentimentality, with the music of the poems highlighting the drama of the “sorry seasons,” overall the tightness of the forms support the poems’ explorations, carrying them beautifully with their full emotional weight.

“It’s raining” (“Il pleut” by Albert Lozeau) is one of the ten translations in the collection, and it returns to the idea that a poem—whether a sonnet or not—can be a place to carry sorrows: “Poets, hold your hearts / like baskets out, despite your pain.” (56) As a whole, however, it is still the hope, the reaching-after for meaning, that strikes me most about the whole collection. Chandler’s sense of longing and joy is particularly wonderful in “Sonnet Love” (41) where her speaker says, “I love the way we’re called to referee / the mind-heart match-up in its scanty ring” and concludes by observing “Life’s unpredictability defies / clean dénouement. I love the way it tries.” The book acknowledges the pain and messiness of life and the way that we, as humans, try to shape the unshapeable in order to feel like it makes sense to keep on going.

Note: Although many of the poems don’t give a direct indication of gender identity, for readability, I’ve referred to the speaker of the poems using female pronouns.

Ruth Daniell was named the winner of the 2014 Young Buck Poetry Prize by Contemporary Verse 2 and is a current nominee for the Pushcart Prize for poetry published in One Throne Magazine. Originally from Prince George, BC, she now lives in Vancouver, where she runs Swoon, a literary reading series on love and desire that she founded in 2013. She has been honoured twice on the longlist for the CBC Poetry Prize. Her poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in various journals across North America and online, including The Malahat Review, Room Magazine, The Maynard and Arc. 
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