USEREVIEW 091 (Capsule): Iceland Is Melting and So Are You
Iceland Is Melting and So Are You (Book*hug Press, 2021)
ISBN 978-1-77166-722-7 | 92 pp | $20 CAD | BUY Here
The second poetry collection from Australia-based Canadian poet Talya Rubin, Iceland Is Melting and So Are You is a climate elegy for the Anthropocene. By turns doleful and playful, even comic, the collection is organized into four sections — ‘Dead Ice,’ ‘Tidewater,’ ‘Drift’ and ‘Chatter Marks.’ ‘Dead Ice’ comprises many of the collection’s strongest poems, contained lyrics where the speaker’s attention is squarely focused on her everyday life and the world around her. Environmental devastation and climate catastrophe are explored from a personal angle, through the speaker’s travels, memories and observations of the “natural” world, with notes of surrealism and wry humour coming into play.
Gradually, the collection opens up as the poet expands both the subject matter she considers and her use of poetic form. At the very end of the first section, ‘Scattered Blossoms’ and ‘Tidewater’ move into ancestral stories of war and genocide. Some poems, like ‘Taste the Feeling™,’ which begins with the line “The Neanderthals would have loved Coca-Cola,” veer right into the absurd. While most of the book’s poems do not adhere to any traditional form, I did note a semi-regular use of rhyme and repetition (in particular, several poems are punctuated by anaphora), as well as a propensity for poems written in fixed-length stanzas — most often couplets and tercets — and even a sestina (‘The Disappearance of Clouds’), one of the trickiest of traditional fixed forms.
Throughout the book, Rubin calls on geological knowledge, Romantic poetry and modern sloganeering, with frequent use of direct and indirect discourse, a kind of polyvocality rising like static in the background of the speaker’s first-person lyrics. The connective tissue among these pieces is their articulation of an affective experience, sadness tinged with fury tinged with resignation as the poet takes in the reality of a dying world.
The predilection for monosyllabic words in the book’s title poem lends it a sleepy, slow rhythm. ‘Iceland Is Melting and So Are You’ calls to mind the traditional English-language ballad with its shorter lines and the echoing effect of its repetitions and half-rhymes:
There is a portrait of a fisherman
in my hotel room. He stares
at me in double —
once on the wall and
then again in the mirror.
I can’t escape his gaze
even when I am sleeping.
Fish shed after fish shed
Too much fishing, too little fish.
Too late now.