A week for writers and lit lovers

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Some of the Most Honest and True Poetry I have ever read....

A review of Rona Shaffran's Ignite by James Edward Reid in the poetry magazine Vellum says everything I feel about this great book. Ignite is available at The Northern Women's Bookstore along with Cistern of My Body, a chap book containing earlier versions of a few poems in Ignite. Ignite is also available at Chapters and Amazon.

Ignite by Rona Shaffran
(Winnipeg, MB: Signature Editions, 2013, $15.00 CDN, 96 pages)

 Review by James Edward Reid

For Rona Shaffran, the ground beneath her feet is important. The linked poems in this collection present some of the most honest and true poetry I have read recently. Ignite opens with a sequence of poems bathed in mid-winter light. The heat in a relationship between a man and woman has gone cold, emotionally and sexually. Its dying embers are described clearly by the woman, especially in the first three poems of the book. “Impasse” contains these troubling and fearless lines about her partner’s arrival home:

You scan my body

as though looking

for an answer and say,

 I forgot

to pay

the electric today.

 As he climbs the stairs, her partner is more concerned about his new “navy Nubuck shoes” than about her. So concerned, he thinks:

I notice

the double scallop

of your hips

as you stand

there on the landing,


your wedge of dark curls

a challenge

I just can’t

seem to face.

While reading these lines, just for a moment, I thought I heard echoes of Sexton talking to Roethke.

But the voice here is Shaffran’s own, speaking the naked truth in the woman’s voice, and then in the man’s. This is daring, high-wire poetry that requires perfect balance between the female and male personas. This balance and credibility in a dialogue between two voices is difficult to achieve convincingly, yet in Shaffran’s hands, it appears to be easy—it isn’t.

The second section of Ignite opens with an epigraph from “Life is Motion,” a poem by Wallace Stevens devoted to “Celebrating the marriage / Of flesh and air.” This section includes poems set on an island where there is a change, or transition, to a place where love and passion are re-awakened, as is evident in the poem, “Ignite:”

Supine on moist sand,

my spine curves

to meet the lissome earth

 Kindled by a tangelo sun,

I ignite

into life

The third and final section of Ignite is the shortest and one of the strongest in this noteworthy collection of poems.  The epigraphs in Ignite quote the mid-20th century poets Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, and Wallace Stevens. Sexton’s work was deeply personal and sometimes troubled. Roethke’s distinctive poetry, such as “In a Dark Time,” was also troubled. And Stevens’ was brilliant and often cool. The best of these influences and a number of others are apparent in the sometimes cool and hot bursts in Ignite.







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