November 7, 2012
Desperately Seeking Susans
When I heard about Desperately Seeking Susans, an anthology of Canadian poets called Susan, I was instantly delighted and knew this would be a book I’d have to get, and not least of all because it would probably include a poem by Susan Holbrook. So you can imagine my excitement when it all came together and I learned keeping Holbrook company would be Susans Briscoe, (Suzette) Mayr, Telfer, Olding, and Sorensen (oh yes, she of the A Large Harmonium fame!). The anthology (so reads its jacket copy) “brings together Canada’s most eminent Susans… paired with Canada’s emerging Susans”. It’s also edited by Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, who wrote the wonderful Sweet Devilry (which won the Gerald Lampert Prize in 2012) and is author of a few of our favourite picture books.
Now I have very good intentions when it comes to poetry; unlike many people, I even buy the stuff. But I find sitting down to read it altogether challenging sometimes, because I’m a book devourer, and poetry doesn’t always lend itself to being digested in such a manner. And so it says something about Desperately Seeking Susans that I read it over the weekend, and that reading was such a pleasure. Not that many of these poems could be read in one go– I had to read most of them twice or three times but the nice thing about the anthology was the range of poems, that each one would require a different kind of mental muscle, and so I never got exhausted. Every time I turned the page, I would discover something different and new.
Discovery is the key here. Not being the most avid poetry reader, here is where I’ve discovered some of those “eminent” poetic Susans for the very first time– Goyette, Elmslie, Ioannou. I loved the range of subject matter, from “The Coroner at the Taverna” by Susan Musgrave and “9 Liner” by Suzanne M. Steele about the war in Afghanistan, to poems about children, about elderly mothers and fathers. I love that the book’s epigraph is a poem called “Susan” by Lorna Crozier, and that the book has been blurbed by Susan Swan. I loved the first poem, “First Apology to My Daughter” by Susan Elmslie, which ends with the tremendous last line, “I taught you the ferocity of hunger,” Sue Goyette’s heartbreaking, beautiful poems about grief, Susan Holbrook’s “Good Egg Bad Seed”, which I had to read in its entirety to my husband before we went to bed on Saturday night (“You subscribe to Gourmet magazine or you don’t want fruit in your soup./ You get Gloria Steinem and Gertrude Stein mixed up or you get the Bangles and the Go-Go’s mixed up.”).
I loved Susan Glickman’s “On Finding a Copy of [Karen Solie's] Pigeon in the Hospital Bookstore”, imagine a poem like Suzannah Showler’s with the fantastic title, “A Short and Useful Guide to Living in the World”. I was always going to love Susan Olding’s poems, which are “What We Thought About the Chinese Mothers” and “What the Chinese Mothers Seemed to Think of Us”. I could go on and on; there is everything here.
I love this is a book founded on such a fun premise, and how the richness and quality of the work did not have to suffer for that fun. It is an essential addition to the library of any Susan, or to anybody who loves poetry, or anyone who doesn’t know yet how much she really does.