Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Katia Grubisic's WHAT IF RED RAN OUT

Katia Grubisic's initial collection, What if red ran out, reminds me of the work of Karen Solie, Ken Babstock (image, allusion, overview), and several other contemporary Canadian poets. Heady comparisons, but it can work against one, as well. The Banff Centre -- amongst other people and organizations -- is thanked in the postscript, and a derivative feel, if not an outright workshop-fretted editing process, prevails. It's to Grubisic's credit that invention frequently overcomes the well-worn path, if we can posit an anxiety of influence towards writers only a decade into their art: "[T]his one hewed out a burr,/between a reed and a bittern,/the rasping of wheat and the wear/of a rubber belt in the heart/of a machine" ("Raven on the Watertower") is a finely worked rhythm. But invention without control is like a dream -- sometimes vivid, but also disconnected, and in danger of evaporating. And even the inventive images can be blinded by preciosity, as in this from the closing "To take away, or be slowly taken": "I revert/to that night, closer to its ancient glittering eye, when I tried/to resuscitate the dark's ancestral smell." This is synesthesia on performance-dulling drugs. As one honouring concrete detail, Grubisic shines. In this vein, check out "Strawberry Jam" and "Prelude to Jumping in the River". The best poem in the book is "Paradise, Dam, North Shore", where action is marvelously tied to thought in a surprisingly deft late metaphor.