By Brenda Schmidt
Published by Thistledown Press
$20 ISBN 978-1-77187-154-9
How interesting to watch a poet’s repertoire grow and change over the years, and learn what’s freshly inspiring him or her. For some it’s nature, a new relationship, travel or a loved one’s passing.
Trust Creighton poet, visual artist and naturalist Brenda Schmidt to eschew the usual. This Saskatchewan Poet Laureate has turned to the lowly culvert for inspiration in her latest title, Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road and it’s a romp.
This handsome collection begins with a short essay that introduces us to the kind of writer Schmidt has become. While she and her husband are driving down the Saskatchewan road, the poet blurts out questions some may consider inane. But, she writes: “Nothing I say surprises him anymore. He knows better than anyone how difficult writers can be to travel with, due in part, perhaps, to sensory overload, all these places flying by, all these junctions, private roads and keep out signs, the mind filtering the 100 km/h stream of information for connections ....”
Indeed, connections are key in this book. Always fascinated with culverts, Schmidt has mined her own memory and discussed culverts with a variety of folks, incorporating their experiences into poems (written in various forms) that illuminate, surprise and entertain. We learn culverts are used for more than controlling water flow; they’re also places to make love, drink wine and play guitar (a culvert has “great acoustic”).
Cliff swallows nest in culverts and thieves store stolen goods in them. Children, of course, race makeshift boats toward them in spring. Who doesn’t remember “the official footwear,” rubber boots with “the top two inches/folded down?”
Italicized quotes throughout the poems give the collection a storytelling flow. All the good stuff of poetry is here. There’s sound —“The hazard lights click like heels” and a culvert “glugged like anything.” The similes include “your hair falls/like a prayer plant.” I admire the liberal use of personification — “The Big Dipper handles breath/gently, turns and washes it” and “The stiff-lipped/culvert is the only one/whistling here.”
One of the many standout images is “your fists wet/commas at the end of your sleeves.”
Schmidt is highly attuned to nature. These poems are alive with birds and bears, and they lead us across fields and ditches. Being Saskatchewan, there’s also wind. And I love the clever play on former premier Lorne Calvert’s name — “There’s a little Lorne Culvert in all of us!”
There’s much more going on in most of these poems than the casual reader might notice. Internal rhymes, multi-purpose line breaks and, in the longish four-sectioned poem “A Culvert Blown into Four Pieces,” one story is told via the italicized first line of each tercet and another, with more detail, when one reads each line chronologically.
In the superb piece “Elegy,” Schmidt writes: “I’m not good at this./I’m not good at anything/that involves looking back/at the meltwater slowly/filling in my boot prints.” Bull. This is a skilled poet having good fun, and inviting us all to join the party.
— This book is available at your local bookstore or from www.skbooks.com.