By George Fetherling, January 3, 2013 (December 2012 Issue)
Rhea Tregebov opens her seventh poetry collection by telling us about a visitation she had that unexpectedly put an end to a period of literary silence: “You thought all the poems had grown up / and left home. / You didn’t expect to find one / putting its little hand on your face.”
This is a book about cycles, such as the poet’s geographical progress from Winnipeg to Toronto, then from Toronto (“I’m such a sorry mess I’ll miss it”) to the West Coast, where she teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Most of all, it centres on the cyclical experiences of families, of watching children becoming adults and adults eventually dying (or in her father’s case, getting lost in dementia): “My father can’t draw the hands of the clock, / can’t draw its face. In his own hand, the pencil / falters, rests.” “Family Dinners,” the last of three poem sequences, is the heart of the book, uniting Tregebov’s themes of childhood, maternity, and decay with gardening, dining, and impermanence.
Tregebov has always been a poet’s poet, but never more so than here. Honesty of feeling and honesty of expression are the author’s twin talents. There are no wasted words in All Souls’, nor any wrong ones. Even in the longer poems, her concision is remarkable. Although serious, she is never solemn. In fact, this collection, more so than any of her previous ones, shows a playfulness in her use of line breaks.
Such is the dexterity of her voice that Tregebov can seamlessly slip in her translation of a poem by Federico García Lorca. Likewise, she has the skill to include the sort of travel poems for which Canadian poets seem to have a special fondness. A poem about Prague begins: “The streets of the living are among the streets of the dead, / the houses of the living among the houses of the dead – / three centuries of dead packed close, stacked twelve deep.” From most writers, these lines would sound macabre. Coming from her, they sound peaceful and reassuring.