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THE PAINTER'S HOUSE:
Bridget Sprouls reviews Jo Slade's newest poetry collection.
Bridget Sprouls was born in New Jersey. Her poems and stories have appeared in Steps Magazine, Scrivener Creative Review, Casino, The Red Wheelbarrow Poets Anthology, and The McGill Daily. Bridget has also been a music reviewer for Times Square Magazine. This past year her fiction was broadcast on CKUT Radio Montreal and shortlisted for the Atlantic Writing Prize.
The Painter's House
(Salmon Poetry, 2013)
€12.00 paperback. Buy from Salmon Poetry
Jo Slade’s new collection The Painter’s House is organized thematically into six sections, which explore memory, displacement, creative isolation, painting, and human sympathy. Many poems include a geographical tag as part of the title or a quote to orient the reader, spatially and emotionally. What unifies the collection is the poet’s search for meaning and an emotional connection to her world. Slade conveys this struggle in her poem 'Leaving', about a boy who throws a tantrum at the beginning of a sea voyage. The events of the poem serve both a narrative and allegorical function: After his tantrum, the boy watches through a porthole, ‘"Look Mam the pier is moving”’ and the poem’s speaker states, “Home’s back there — / it’s where we’re leaving.” This last line gives the title of the poem its final word, while suggesting in a much broader sense that home must inevitably be elsewhere.
The reader travels through France and Italy with Slade as she searches for personal meaning and relationship by interrogating spaces of creativity and spirituality—Rodin’s studio ('Mysteries of the Heart II') and the Church of San Francesco Arezzo, Tuscany ('In a Church in Arezzo') among others. While these poems illustrate Slade’s powers of observation and her hunger for a transformative experience, the most evocative of her poems reveal the subtler aspects of transformation itself, as in her poem 'Taste':
I like the way he cuts meat
the way he bites flesh, savours the taste.
He isn't handsome but he eats with pleasure.
These lines are like a series of close camera shots, ending with a complete view of the diner whose description highlights once again Slade's theme of emotional engagement.
In 'Small Memory', the speaker conveys her sense of detachment by speculating on a homeless man while keeping vigil at the bedside of a woman who is dying. Eventually the two individuals are brought together in a romantic vision:
I imagine them dancing —
I watch their bodies meld and glide across the square
then float high above the buildings
like lovers in a Chagall painting.
In this instance, the speaker seems to be idealizing her own sense of disconnect, creating from it an image of fantastic beauty. While she suspends the figures and they lose distinctness, they also begin to approximate a work of art.
Certain poems in the collection dissolve into the abstract, which on reading feels like a sudden slackness or loss of concentration. The world of the specific and subtle becomes that of clones waving different flags.
Even so, there are many acutely reflective gems in The Painter’s House, whose articulation of the search for meaning within a state of dislocation hits very close to home.
©2014 Bridget Sprouls
'Through the Glass Mountain': a review by Bridget Sprouls