Review of (alive) by Susan McMaster

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Rhea Tregebov, (alive): Selected and new poems (Wolsak & Wynn, 2004)

reviewed by Susan McMaster

(alive): Selected and new poems by Rhea Tregebov is the kind of book we soon may be unable to buy as poetry publishers fold: thick, good paper with room made for 3- or 5-line poems alone on a page, and lovely 4-colour cover. Arranged in the traditional manner, the collection selects from Tregebov’s five books, published between 1982 and 2001, in order, and adds a handful of new poems at the end.

This structure remains a satisfying way to track a developing voice, from her youthful parallels to the Dick and Jane readers — “the ball comes up / page after page / without changes”; through an implied biography of leaving home, love, marriage, birth, illness; to a full voice that goes anywhere — into history, science, medicine, culture — with authority. The dense and much longer poems of the later books turn back again, for example, into the deep past of her grandfather’s imagined world and pull it into a Winnipeg present when

the family rose as one
[to turn off]
Don Messer’s
Jubilee… because there
is no irony in country music; you have only
the one hand not the other.
Unlike the red, cold, sweet and sour
heart of beet soup.
 

Tregebov plays at the edges of contemporary science as she seeks to understand

complicated systems
like the dinner table, the tulip.
The ultimate question
why is there
something rather than nothing.

Winding throughout the book are prickly and convincing imaginings into the minds of her son, her mother, her father, her husband, her friends as they negotiate, death, loss, separation, return, surprise. Quiet, compellingly readable, intelligent, satisfying in its hidden craft, this collection held me close for a sunny afternoon, left me musing and enriched.

 

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