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Sunday, June 14, 2009



by Paulette Dubé

What is worth noticing?

It depends on who’s noticing, what’s their particular lens, and where are they looking.

True enough, this comment could be said about any poet and yet the new poems of Paulette Dubé seem to forefront the first steps on the Buddhist noble eightfold path: right mindfulness, right concentration, right view. A stick taps the chime, a note sounds, the sound overtakes, reverberations fill the room, fading becomes focus.

first MOUNTAIN is a collection of such moments. First MOUNTAIN is also a book of 183 poems, a half a year’s days that chronicle one spring to the next in a small town not far from Jasper in the Rocky Mountains. The year begins with the shining light of a “basket moon” and leaves flexing “sturdy nutmeg arms”. Days ticking onward through three seasons until we one more reach the spring(ing) “first crocus/ courageous outrageous flower/ furred to brave snow streaked land”. Over this year a house was built, a knuckle skinned, animals arrived, animals died, a day was named, we learned a recipe for cough syrup. Days heap upon us, to use Lisa Robertson’s phrase. They do in small ways. Events are exposed with clarity: Owl eats a nectarine, a raven arrives on a fence, a last bee flies “around me round/ and round, seamless”.

One hundred-thirteenth day:

memories permit

us to speak on things our heart

tends to in the night

When I was younger and had more time, my dreams included reaching a master level in chess (I soon learned the disadvantage of not starting young in order to hardwire synapses in a chessy sort of way). I improved the most by solving chess problems from Laszlo Polgar’s Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations, and Games. Yes, his daughter Judit is now a top GM. I reached about the halfway point of first MOUNTAIN when I began to really be bothered by a feeling I couldn’t quiet put my finger on, it was this: the poems reminded me reminded of doing chess puzzles. The brevity, the tight construction of each poem, the reoccurring elements, the personal yet slightly disengaged viewpoint, the required focus, and the clues suggesting a path of engagement were all similar.

The starting point for Dubé is the perceived, which she then modifies with both a sense of a larger entity and the interior dialogue with repetition triggering resonance. Here’s an example:

Sixtieth day:

hold the first creek ice in your hand

it is enough, if you worry about glaciers

smell the ice on your wrist as it melts

it is enough

Animals abound throughout, each named like those of Milne. Magpie is a frequent visitor. Squirrel appears. Crow is a common characters, but not quite the trickster as in Native mythology, never embodying the somber mythological tones of Ted Hughes but more as duende/child of a larger living world. Water is seen as essence and Creator rules the unseen. In these poetic oblations each thing seems to have a purpose in a teleological world, yet, although named cleanly, the quiddity of animals and nature is more ephemeral than we first realize. She writes:

through a door some see as a fork in the tree

miracles take on the height two eagles can scale

For me this is the theme of the works in this collection. In many instances such as this Dubé provides the Japanese koan for our contemplation. I’m reminded of Gert Jonke who in Homage to Czerny: Studies in Virtuoso Technique has an artist who suspends between two trees a painting of nature, which is fully indistinguishable from nature. A simulacrum may also be a framing device.

Playing counterpoint to such metaphysical musings are poetic games, most notably are couplets, a touch of concrete poetry, or this, “Crow, Raven, Owl of Night” -- ringing a Blakean bell. Other poems offer aphoristic advice, “a thorn of experience is worth a wilderness of warning” or “a trail is born/if it is taken” or “to closely step in the tracks of another/makes the path easier/but less your own”.

The year passes, too slowly, too quickly. By this I mean we read a few at a time and when we reach the end of the book we long for more. Outside my window a box of baby chickadees squeak rhythmically every couple minutes as their parents return with food. The day is cloudy and cool. I’m beginning to adjust to the world on Dubé’s terms. The poems forced me to settle down and begin to accept the natural world as described at the author’s speed. Think of walking through the woods where the ground is covered with irregular spots of sunlight. Each poem is a patch of that light, brilliant in on its own and in context, delicate and viewable, beautiful as an element of the whole. And like most excellent poetry it provides the impetus for spiraling ideas. Sound the chime.