Brick Books, 2014
“Beautiful, Astonishing, Wondrous,” the opening poem in Deanna Young’s recent collection, House Dreams, places the reader mid-air in a ‘futuristic insect-god’ of an airplane as unknown turbulence causes a split-second meditation on life and death. Without flourish, the poem contemplates the afterlife:
Not that there’s nothing after,
I’d argue, just that
everything’s here. Heaven
and hell in equal measure on this
short-haul domestic flight that is
our time on Earth.
The poem hits a note that assures the reader of a reverent examination of life without sentimentality. The self-possessed tone, vivid imagery, and evocative phrases of Young’s first poem is maintained throughout the collection, engaging the reader in universal themes of love and fear and the unsettling quiet that often shows up when least expected.
House Dreams is divided into five sections. “Barachois”, a coastal lagoon separated from the ocean by an ephemeral sand bar, provides the name for the first section. As saltwater breeches a sand bar and swirls into a lagoon, so too do dreams of these poems ebb into the light of day. A dreamt accident casts terror into the early waking hours like a slant of light through an opened curtain. Nightmares reverberate as premonitions: “the flash of heat on your face / just enough to scare you. They’re snapshots of possibility, / like gentle warnings from a relative who loves you”. (24)
The night is quickly established as an enemy in many of Young’s poems, none more so than in “Vieil ami,” that begins, “Evening surrounds the house / like wolves.” (23). “Survivante” is a poem that achieves a delicate state between awake and dreaming with haunting acknowledgment: “A scream, I know would wake me, / but the contract between brain, / body, will, it’s severed. / He’s cut the wire again.” (28)
The second section of the collection, called “The City”, moves in a more urbane direction, away from the haunting woods and isolated coastal landscapes of Barachois. Themes of ageing and survival move into the forefront, starting with “The Linden Tree,” a homage to struggling by in difficult times:
You gathered yourself in,
as a mother gathers children around her
in the cold or in foreign places,
more luminous after. Each time
what looked like death
never really was.
But loneliness and personal angst are not the only themes explored in Young’s poetry collection. The tone shifts considerably in “The Humanitarians,”where it assumes an observatory distance from the action. The end result is a detached, somewhat sardonic view of six people heading home after completing their humanitarian work in Haiti, with their motives and inner lives on full display. The poem’s strength is in observations that lie flat, allowing the reader to bring her own multi-dimensional viewpoint to the page.
The section entitled “Westmoorings” takes the reader on a journey into a foreign land where themes of isolation, security, race and wealth are explored from an expat’s point of view. The exotic location and myriad of difficult relations are examined by a keen and compassionate mind, making for an interesting journey that is as much internal as external.
The poet Ted Kooser wrote: “There’s something to be said for mystery, if handled with care: A little mystery can help make the poem memorable. Too much mystery though, and you’ll discourage most readers.” I thought of Kooser’s words as I read some of Young’s poetry, such as “Helen,” a haunting poem in the first section. It is unclear who the speaker is addressing, and nor is Helen’s identity revealed, other than to say she lived alone on the mountain for many years with “Who knows what / peering through the window while she bathed.” (27) I found the intrigue too mysterious to enjoy this as a poem. Placed toward the end of the collection, “Mythology” also has a similar shortcoming, with the details too vague to be understood. The collection requires some patience, but there are many stunning, crystal clear poems that pack emotional wallops.
One poem, “The Faith of Dogs”, is as delightful as it is unexpected. In it, the speaker makes a heartbreaking discovering of two German shepherds in an abandoned home, waiting for their owner to return. There’s a rugged edginess to the voice in this poem, making it one of my favorite poems in House Dreams. What’s most exciting about this collection is the range of voice Young brings to the page. From tender and compassionate to rebellious and full of tough-talk, each poem is distinct in its own way.
House Dreams is Deanna Young’s third collection of poetry.
Rochelle Squires, a former journalist, is completing her Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing through the Opt-Res program at UBC.