The Blue Hour of the Day, by Lorna Crozier
Reviewed by Candice Daquin
As Lorna Crozier approaches sixty years of age, she remains youthful in her perspective. Her writing is unafraid of herself in that way that youth lends us, and yet has found wisdom and insight that few in their twenties would have the tools to express — an achingly unpretentious, exquisitely raw language and willingness to engage the reader at a primal level. She is afraid but willing to stand in her own shoes as a human being with “Something you can chew on, / something you can spit out, / something you can share.” Perhaps the stark and straight-forward alacrity to share her deepest feelings is what makes Crozier so popular, she is the sort of woman we’d like to talk to and know, not simply read, because she is not anonymous, she is infused in her words and her words are like those high-pitched sounds of her poem Their Smell; “we never hear, / what our bodies know.” Crozier is a way of knowing differently.
The Blue Hour of the Day (Selected Poems 2007) is dedicated to her mother who passed away in August 2006. At first glance, the resonance of this collection appears to be random; taken from her body of work going back to the seventies. But look closer and themes appear, tapestries of her beloved prairie community, growing up in Saskatchewan, the many landscapes she has journeyed to, the grotesqueness and glory of humans, little joys and unforgettable moments of horror. In a poem like “Dictionary of Symbols,” she at once has the tongue of a patient earth-loving teacher, and a wild spirit tossed on the prairie, roaming: “She wants to show him / the moon, its calm indifference / on a summer evening when all her children / are sleep, when her husband kneels on a bed / in another house, entering a woman / from behind, so he can watch himself / disappear into the flesh.”
Her article entitled: “Who’s Listening? In Countries Like Ours Where Poets and Artists are Seen as Eccentric and Out of Place by the Television-watching Populace” (NeWest Review 14.3 (1989): 22-24) speaks to her wish for more involvement and passion in poetry, a means to divine that which cannot be understood, that which we lose with our fascination for quick-fixes and garish entertainment. Her frustration is sometimes palpable: “I don’t know what to do. / I pray for wind, for sun, I pray for my father to speak / before he turns to crystals as he turned to ash.” This is work that touches on the eternal divide between optimism, and giving in to loss: “Call it hope, I say. / Despair, he replies.” In essence, Crozier points to the growing disparity between our emotional lives and physical actualities and why as a poet she excels, able to articulate that metaphysical hungering for things we don’t even quite know we want.
“Counting The Distance” is a series of haunting congeries staged around the subject of family and each poem addresses a different experience of a member of that family, either directly or through another’s eyes. In “The Younger Sister: Too Close To Things” she says, “Even then / I knew she came too close to things. / Nothing I could do would make her stop.” Crozier describes the unfurling of beauty, witness to things not of this world, a green-eyed Ophelia whose future goes unsaid through hints of impending tragedy and allegory. In her fate we sense a universal sister who will be sacrificed; a real and yet timeless person, that dichotomy of existence Crozier articulates so adroitly. In the adjoining poem, “The Older Sister: Hunter’s Moon” she continues; “It is said if you kill a buck / his wife will seduce you, / lead you through the grasslands / till you are lost. That fall / our father was distracted.” Here the speaker changes voice and shifts perspective, the family poems are the voice of a child’s, then an onlookers, a member of the family, even a shape-shifting animal, all witness to the family’s buried secrets, unwilling witnesses to muted tragedies like a series of painfully articulate music boxes.
Crozier’s capacity for holding on to love creates some of her most enduring images. She turns her attention from sadness to mercy, rendering a tender fidelity among the collection of moments – moments others have forgotten – with unnerving accuracy, Crozier’s role is to notice who is missing: “Everything at this moment / conspires / to make her invisible.” Her compassion is brewed with a heavier reality, unraveling secrets and tears into the light, because, “We are made / of mostly water / and water calls to water / through centuries of reason / children fall / light and slender / as the rain.” Prairie light infuses “The Origin Of The Species” influenced by the sense of space, vast grasslands and Cormac McCarthy’s wonderment, the poem reads, “Now, ready for the wind / she made it lean and boneless, / its mane and tail visible.” Here we understand an insatiable urge to run on the heels of a dust devil, curled inside invisibility and speed without boundaries, closed doors or secrets.
Questions of mortality appear in “Evolution In Moonlight” where we’re told “Stars are wasps dipped in silver, / they chew holes in the darkness / to build their paper nests.” Here Crozier describes the process of becoming truly human: “What you’ve called a soul / hovers just beneath your skin.” She understands that we cannot save those we love from pain and our connectivity is what holds us together as witnesses: “as we wound around each other, / her fingers in my mouth, my hand / holding her heartbeat, a wounded wren / I cannot save from grief.”
Crozier illuminates a poetic landscape of natural things, strange unfathomable emotions, never to be repaired, anguish and life running ahead with the “voice of crow,” the “voice of rain,” following. Out there in nature, a true sense of all things, their apartness and connections to us, and how this relates to ourselves: “We live with who we are and not / what we once wanted.” Crozier’s poetry is the opposite of a polarized world, painting in the observed spaces between events. Her words blur boundaries and find new ways to describe the process of making connections, as in “Ways Of Leaving” where she describes how; “We looked back, saw the car again, / the man rolling down his window, / the woman shouting now, No! / We smiled at that, / not knowing then we would leave each other / just as absurdly, three years later.” Crozier is like an omnipresent witness, able to capture the essence of our secrets and make them palatable enough to swallow and comprehend.
Famously quoted as saying, “Nothing I have ever written is worth the smallest branch of an old-growth tree” it is Crozier’s gentle humility in a wounded landscape that breathes life into her imagination’s realm of hypnagogic prairie memories, the savannah grasslands visited by seasons, their elements of sorrow, joy, and ephemeral voices. The thickly rooted themes of family that return in a dream; an ossifying marriage withering and regrouping; a land of drought and hope and that dreamscape lying beneath our unwilling surfaces, ripe for exploration. These continuous images are thronged with quickening metaphor; they blaze with awareness of symmetry and disfigurement in life and “That kind of heaviness. / the one the heart knows, its small gut / full of lead.”