USEREVIEW 012: Blistering Words for a Burning World
Hollay Ghadery both employs and subverts the expected repetitions of a pantoum to confront the shifting recurrent patterns that characterize humankind’s ambivalent responses to environmental disaster in this experimental review of Blaze Island (Goose Lane Editions, 2020), the fifth novel of Catherine Bush. In both content and form, Ghadery’s review at once affirms the concerns at the crux of Bush’s work while also grappling with the daunting reality that words are not action, that text is not enough.
ISBN 978-1-77310-105-7 | 365 pp | $24.95 CAD
What does one do with such a thought? With all the panic and the rage? Everywhere I look I see ice melting while everyone else hops into their cars and orders their takeaway and flies off to Ibiza, all the silent deniers believing life can go on as usual. One night I woke up screaming out of a dream about a tidal bore of ocean water pouring over me.
Look, I see ice melting while everyone else hops into their cars and orders their takeaway and I wish I could pretend that it’s not happening too — but I know the earth is melting because I can see ships disappear below the horizon; can recognize each of my children by the way they thrash in their sleep. I can feel it coming strong: the dull self-absorption of oceanliners
and I wish I could pretend that it’s not happening too, but I know the earth is melting because different stars are visible from different latitudes, so the lovers of the world are wrong: we don’t all share the same sky; are separated by more than we think. The dull self-absorption of sunburnt tourists at swim-up bars, tipping mini bottles of shampoo and not looking up to see
different stars from different latitudes. So? The lovers of the world are wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. We romanticize fear: think skating on slob ice proves the world is cool. The cataract sky, clear. The earth-weep, distant and worlds of ocean, clean. And the words of Ocean are: it’s not that nothing lasts forever, just that we’re scared it will last longer than we can love it. *
* Words of Ocean are from Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.
A brief explanation: When confronted with a concept as terrifying as climate change, as we are in Catherine Bush’s Blaze Island, I turned to the security of form poetry, choosing a pantoum. In a pantoum, the second and fourth lines of each quatrain becomes the first and third of the next, and the last line is often (but not always) the same as the first. I hoped that the comfortable predictability of this form would give me the footing I needed to tease out the immense feelings provoked by Bush’s novel. It’s a book that has stayed with me, that I think about almost daily and has the power, I believe, to awaken people from their apathy. For people who are not apathetic, it has the power to encourage us to do more: to not give up.
I started this review by taking a favourite excerpt of Bush’s novel — one that I felt captured my anger and anxiety — and broke it up into the first stanza. As I began writing, however, I found having to repeat two lines from the previous stanza of only four too severely limited my movement: I could not explore my response to Bush’s work as much as I would have liked. So, I corrupted the form slightly, using only the second line of each quatrain in the next one. I also scrapped the last line convention altogether.