Flutter, by Alice Burdick
Reviewed by Candice Daquin
Alice Burdick’s second major poetry collection Flutter (2008) published by Mansfield Press reminds the poetry patron why verse continues to thrive despite any attempts to trivialize it. The rise of the Kindle may not be such an enemy to the printed word when that word can reach beyond its printed or digital constraint and continue to affect the reader. Nova Scotia poet Burdick’s collection is a fragile leaf of memories and annotations, as antithetical to convenience-food as you can get. Burdick is the slow-cook Artemis of poetry — her words abound with illuminating arcs of clever consideration taken from her years in the city and yielding thoughts coiled like shell necklaces of her adopted countryside. “Always a man stands, scythe in hand to cut down the / earth. Constant betrayal of growth not a lesson learned. / Perpetual blade to life. Habit helps no plant.” She blends a watercolor pallet of muted imagination over her chosen landscapes so adroitly that the raging pace of modern life seems finally removed and even, obscured by Burdick’s lore and rhythmic pulse of a semi-rural life.
It would be far too tidy to fit Burdick’s work into a pastoral or even cubist representation, she doesn’t observe any tradition with enough attention for any one mould, she exists instead outside of the linear defying moulds like a child protégée. Burdick’s words go beyond usual confine with enough knowledge of how to muster any wordplay she proves that she needs no plume. “Butterfly on the convex screen, / so unfortunate, / little being. / Not this season, / the next, we’ll invent you / and a pill / to swallow.” Living inside the moment comes first, reaching through the page and presenting a beating heart or the wet fur coating of a bud is what Burdick is cherished for, her ability like a passionate cook to imbue essence and taste even in the pallets of those doused with doubt. Whether we can simply call her a wordsmith or something more in the mode of seer, her obvious love of writing does not dishearten those longing for words that can catapult us into another’s fantasy-rich mind.
Cities imagine they tremble with activity but Burdick’s nervous vigour spins as fast as a loom, eager to offer an alternative. Her invigorating twitching verse is not always palatable so much as earnestly curious, like thoughts just created and fresh for consideration. Burdick holds no punch in her menagerie of such considerations, not always obvious but seated with a firm belief that words and engaged poetry, have a use that exceeds the dirty distractions otherwise presented in life. “some horses snicker near the fence / at our clumsy tonguing’s of iced babyhood. / They learned to stand immediately, / not like us with our giant and frail pins. / wimps fear empty floors.” Could Burdick be the ‘slow-movement’ chef of Nova Scotia poetry?
In unpretentious hue Burdick spits out those inner-musings like a weaver over a carpet loom modulating color from space. A highwayman of images, Burdick’s magpies finds the gems in the nest and scoop them out into sunlight, both embarrassed and relieved: “Adult men lick balls of cold fat / perched on cones, as experience / would dictate … / Fraught with choristers, / this one road with paved over and over again. / I will soon be a stream instead.” Burdick returns like Mary Webb to earth, sprouting our appreciation of humanity through universal shared memories and simple fascinations. As she says, maybe; “Unexpected old people / determine the future, and why not?”
Throughout Flutter, Alice Burdick reaches into the primordial soup of human nature. Our interaction with ourselves, those things we hardly realize and other boats capsizing and colliding against us — this confused state made sensible in only a way poets can muse. It’s both the easy juxtaposition of lush wordplay (“You see the dog? / he’s straining against his fancy rope.”) and a tangle of plump-imagery taken from the mouth of nature (“the heaven’s foam. Loon slides; / I look she dives / below circles that open / into sleek horseshoes”). This work is found as far from cityscape as we recognize, alongside exclamatory shouts even the ardent city slicker can relate to: “Look at me with those silken blinkers / You won’t glue the hopeful past back / onto the present.”
An intelligent bold voice without pomp and ceremony, Burdick’s landscapes and rural experience have influenced her in ways that extend her durability and lend more attention to her observations, perhaps because we ourselves have forgotten to look where she still inhabits.
Sometimes her longer poetry loses its overall thread but her words, like yarn, eventually roll back into a ball we can hold, tasting long, in our mouths. Burdick doesn’t insert herself; she inserts life like gnawing flashbacks to a world before interruption, where anxiety came in ribbons across the sky rather than the blink of a computer screen. Ageless Burdick could be your cod liver oil-administering grandmother, a crocheting mother of folk-lore or your demure lunch-date, discussing environment and history. One gets the impression Burdick could be hiding behind us watching our every misstep, or pointing out spit on the pavement before we slip. Her processing unwinds so effortlessly it seems animated: “I don’t mean to stink, / but it’s my natural smell. / I heat up like black coffee / and burn your tender tongue.” If it’s exact meaning or precious prose you’re after, you might flutter past this offering. Otherwise, chances are you’ll appreciate this jostling landscape, vibrating behind the warmth of things we all know but forget: “I don’t know what you want, / but I can hold the window open / while you lean out and grab stands of wheat and sand.”