Ascent Aspirations Publishing, 2012
In her introduction to Small Corners, Vancouver Island poet Pat Smekal says, "The oldest albums on our storeroom shelf have little black corners to hold the photos in place. It's as if important moments were captured and held, not to be forgotten."
While going through old family fonds (and thereby becoming my hero!) Pat pauses to remember some of the people she finds held by those gentle black corners and then honours them, not necessarily by keeping the physical artifact but by writing poems about them.
The result is a lovely little book that not only treats us to wonderful stories, but to the occasional snapshot of the subject matter as well. Smekal is a very skillful narrative poet. The stories she tells in only a few lines stay with you. Listen to the first stanza of The O'Reillys of Dunbar Street, 1946:
Catholic, our grandmother said,
and left it at that. The O'Reillys,
with twelve non-stop kids and a hole
in the door for the cats, lived strictly ramshackle
on the other side of Dunbar Street.
Know anybody like that? I sure do. Want to hear the rest of the story? I sure did.
Pat Smekal experiments with various forms in her work. There's a very effective palindrome. A rondeau whose chilling ending belies the musical, upbeat form. And there are five sevenlings, seven-line untitled poems arranged in two tercets with a stand-alone punchline, if you will, that somehow marries the first two stanzas. Smekal is very good at these:
Basil and Alma Silk
no extended ties
the score's at love
curtains for him
confusion for her
a second cousin gets the gold watch
Just because I'd like to try one myself, here is a sevenling for Pat:
Pat keeps wondering if
someone let the cat out. If she's
really a poet. If it'll rain.
She paints word pictures,
plants poetry gardens in the worst weather,
breaks bread with narrative and lore.
She will bring you avocados. You have only to ask.
This is the poet's fourth chapbook collection, and it's one to savour.